NBA coaches must make their All-Star reserve selections for the 65th All-Star Game in Toronto by Tuesday afternoon.
In keeping with tradition here at Stein Line HQ, we're going to fill out our own ballot using the exact same guidelines from the league office that the coaches themselves must adhere to.
Those conditions are as follows:
1. Coaches must vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.
2. Players must be ranked on the coach's ballot in specific order of preference in all three categories.
3. Coaches are explicitly told as part of the voting process that the position at which a player "is listed on the All-Star ballot should have no bearing on your vote." Each coach is encouraged, furthermore, to vote for players "at the position he thinks is most advantageous for the All-Star team" and "not necessarily the one he plays most often during the season."
4. Coaches are obviously not allowed to vote for their own players.
The starters in the East, as announced Thursday night, are LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt, with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry in the backcourt. The starters in the West are Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard in the frontcourt, with Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.
The respective benches, which will be revealed next Thursday night on TNT, would look like this on ESPN.com's mythical ballot:
1. Chris Paul
2. James Harden
Harden was rightfully hammered early in the season for his indifferent start and the role it played in the Rockets' decision to fire Kevin McHale after a mere 11 games, but he has rallied to the point that he's up to No. 9 in player efficiency rating at a healthy 24.06, just two spots behind No. 7 Paul (24.41). For all the heat Harden generates by dominating the ball or his occasional coasting on D, as well as any whispered aspersions you dare to cast about supposed slippage in CP3's game now that he's 30, these two remain unquestionably elite performers who figure to be reflex picks for West coaches.
No sign of this season's supposed decline of the West can be found here. We're confronted with the usual ridiculously overstuffed menu of frontcourt options, which gets even more complicated as soon as you acknowledge that Green (and his eight triple-doubles) is an absolute lock to be chosen, with the mercurial Cousins not far off. That means Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and DeAndre Jordan are all vying for one spot -- or relying on the fickle nature of a wild-card nod. The success enjoyed by the Clippers (10-2) while Griffin has been out injured and the Pelicans' highly disappointing first half, harsh as those judgments might sound, led us to Aldridge along with our very coach-y belief that the Spurs, at 37-6, deserve a second All-Star. If you subscribe to the same thinking, Aldridge should strike you as more worthy at this stage than Tony Parker or Tim Duncan, given how well he's fitting in at both ends as a high-profile newcomer to an environment unlike any other in the league.
2. Dirk Nowitzki
It's hard to imagine West coaches, in real life, omitting both Blake and The Brow to make room for Aldridge and Nowitzki. But that's the bold matter in which we're doing it, based on the premise that the wildly overachieving Mavs deserve at least one All-Star, just as San Antonio deserves two. And just as Golden State, to us, deserves three as a reward for its 24-0 start and 74-8 pace overall. The fact that Nowitzki, at 37, remains so efficient and so clutch for a team that's arguably 10 wins better than anyone imagined ultimately swayed us, since he remains Dallas' best player despite his advancing age. Thompson, meanwhile, has quietly been deadly over the past two months and is a dogged two-way contributor after playing through a back injury -- without complaint -- that plagued him for the first few weeks of the season.
1. Jimmy Butler
2. John Wall
How much needs to be said here? Butler certainly has a case to be a starter because of his growth as a two-way force and emergence as the unquestioned best shooting guard in the East. Wall has willed the injury-battered Wizards to stay in the playoff hunt despite backcourt mate Bradley Beal's absence in 20 of the Wizards' first 41 games.
2. Chris Bosh
3. Paul Millsap
For all the justifiable dismay with his free throw shooting, which can make memories of Shaquille O'Neal's free throwing seem Curry-esque, Drummond is an automatic choice here. He has had an even bigger hand than Reggie Jackson in putting Stan Van Gundy's Pistons on course for a long-awaited return to the playoffs, while setting himself up to join Kevin Love, Kevin Willis, Moses Malone and Truck Robinson as the only players over the past 40 seasons to average 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds (though we should point out that Moses did it three times). Bosh's spot might not be as certain as Drummond's, but he has been Miami's most consistent two-way player, which is bound to appeal to East coaches in his bid to secure what would certainly be a headline-making return to Canada after all of Bosh's years as a Raptor. Millsap, meanwhile, is the one key Hawk who has taken his game up a notch in the wake of last season's 60-win campaign. What gives him an edge over teammate Al Horford is the chase for what's likely to be only one opening for Atlanta after sending four Hawks to All-Star Weekend in 2015.
An All-Star host city hasn't seen both members of its starting backcourt in the All-Star Game since 1972, when Jerry West and Gail Goodrich made the West squad for the host Lakers. Ending that wait alone is not a justification to put DeRozan on the East roster, but one could argue that he has been as good as Lowry so far this season as an increasingly relentless rim-attacker, helping the Raptors record the East's second-best nightly point margin (+3.8) and No. 2 plus/minus in the standings (eight more road wins than home defeats). We could have gone in a number of directions with our last opening before settling on Thomas, who capitalized on the fact that Kyrie Irving has been healthy enough to play in only 15 games while also narrowly trumping the all-around contributions of rugged teammate Jae Crowder to rank as the most influential Celtic of the season thus far.