Marc Stein: Anthony Davis
NBA coaches have received their All-Star voting instructions.
And here on Stein Line Live, they'll receive all the guidance they'll need to make their choices following the same official guidelines ordained by the league office.
West head coaches, like their East counterparts, are being asked to vote for seven reserves from their conference by Tuesday at noon ET under the following conditions:
1. Coaches must vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.
2. Players must be ranked 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 West, as announced Thursday night, are Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant at guard, with Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love in the frontcourt. The West bench, which will be announced next Thursday on TNT, would look like this on ESPN.com's mythical ballot:
Backcourt: 1. Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); 2. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
All-Star voting is the one instance in which I promise you coaches all over the West wish Paul and Russell Westbrook were 100 percent right now. It would make their voting jobs considerably easier because those two obviously rank as automatics when healthy.
The uncomfortable reality at the moment is that all of these decisions get a lot more complicated if CP3 and Russ are both unavailable for selection. So you fully expect Paul to be selected even if no one knows just yet whether his separated right shoulder will heal to the point that he can actually play. Then it becomes incoming commissioner Adam Silver's job to worry about injury replacements if Paul, like Bryant, decides that he can't go.
Westbrook is all the way out of contention after his third knee surgery in less than eight months, but simply hearing Paul say this week that he hopes to be back in time for New Orleans -- and you can understand why an All-Star Game there means so much to him -- is surely all the incentive West coaches will need. The numbers take care of the rest: CP3 is averaging 19.6 points and 11.2 assists per game, which puts the Clippers' reigning All-Star MVP two full dimes ahead of No. 2 assist man Curry's 9.2 average.
Harden, meanwhile, can bank on another All-Star nod despite the increasingly loud dismay with his defensive contributions. Last season's need to save his energy for offensive exertions would seem to be lessened on this Rockets team, after all the help Houston general manager Daryl Morey has brought in, but Harden's overall statistical production (24.3 points per game to rank fifth in scoring along with his 4.9 boards and 5.4 assists per game) can't be ignored.
Frontcourt: 1. LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers); 2. Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets); 3. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
Aldridge isn't quite an MVP candidate, as some Blazermaniacs would contend, but that's largely because Durant and LeBron James are the league's only legit contestants in the MVP race. Portland couldn't have realistically hoped for more than the 24.2 points and 11.6 rebounds coming nightly from Aldridge, who never really even flirted with averaging a double-double in his first seven NBA seasons.
The new ballot format that did away with centers starting last season wound up hurting Howard more than any other player in this season's voting. Given all the drama that has swirled around him for the past couple seasons -- as well as the public's historical reluctance to show much sympathy to the game's best big men going all the way back to Wilt Chamberlain -- you certainly don't anticipate an overwhelming amount of sympathy to be shown. The coaches, though, aren't about to snub Dwight when he's averaging 18.6 points, 12.6 boards and 1.8 blocks for a top-five team out West.
Then there's Nowitzki who, at 35, is not far away from delivering a 50/40/90 shooting season while maintaining a spot in the league's top 10 in terms of PER. I like Nowitzki’s chances far better than most because he’s exactly the sort of universally respected vet that coaches can’t resist going for. And the lack of a clear-cut candidate from San Antonio's ensemble cast -- it's no treat trying to choose Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and even Manu Ginobili as the top Spur so far based on their playing time and production through the first half of the season -- should only enhance Dirk's odds after a rare All-Star Weekend off last season.
Wild cards: 1. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers); 2. Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)
Do the Blazers deserve two All-Stars when the Spurs, on this ballot, have none? I would say yes based on how far Portland has exceeded expectations and how much Lillard's shotmaking and fearlessness have contributed to that level of overachievement. Supporters of San Antonio's Parker will undoubtedly howl in protest, but Lillard has done almost as much to transform the Blazers offensively as Aldridge, which can't be ignored.
And when it comes to the chore of making a seventh and final selection in the West -- and thus snubbing another 10 or so worthy contenders -- I can't deny that I was swayed not only by The Dragon's crafty left-handedness but also the irresistible pull of Suns Fever.
DeMarcus Cousins and New Orleans' own Anthony Davis were enticing options for this last spot, as they both possess better all-around numbers than Nowitzki despite being unable to match Dirk's impact in the team-success department, but I felt as though the Suns deserved an All-Star more than any other club outside of the West's top six.
Consider it our thanks to Phoenix for supplying one of the few uplifting storylines in a first half filled with depressing injuries all over the NBA map. And Dragic is obviously the most worthy of the Desert Cinderellas, especially given the Durant-esque load he has to shoulder now with fellow lead Eric Bledsoe injured.
The West’s foremost snubs: Mike Conley and Parker, Cousins and Davis and then Duncan, Zach Randolph, David Lee, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Pekovic and Ty Lawson.
Only now they're linked in a way that has players all over the NBA map wincing.
Nothing inspires dread among professional basketball players like a knee tear -- or, worse, an Achilles rupture -- but hand fractures have officially reached epidemic status in this league after Tuesday night here in Dallas. That's because MKG, in an eventual 89-82 loss to the Mavs, suffered a fate eerily similar to the displaced fracture that KO'd his former Kentucky colleague Davis just two nights earlier in New York.
Throw in the similar setbacks suffered recently by J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce and that's four significant NBA hand injuries in less than a week ... though it must be noted that Redick's diagnosis (which includes a tear in his elbow) is the most severe.
Davis, Pierce and now Kidd-Gilchrist have all absorbed displaced fractures just since Friday. And this one hit MKG and the Bobcats hard, presumably shelving 2012's No. 2 overall pick for at least a month and -- for all the cracks about MKG's wayward shooting -- has robbed first-year Charlotte coach Steve Clifford of his best perimeter defender on a team that relies on D more than any other just to stay in games.
"It's a hit," Clifford said after the Bobcats' frustrating fall-from-ahead defeat. "It's a big hit."
And it left Kidd-Gilchrist dazed to the point he was spotted staring in disbelief at the new splint on his left hand for several minutes before reporters were waved in to ask him exactly what happened.
Then the 20-year-old almost didn't know what to say once he finally started fielding questions.
After needing the assistance of Bobcats PR man Josh Rosen to pull on a looser-fitting team shooting shirt, instead of the shirt he was sporting when he walked off the team bus, Kidd-Gilchrist could only shake his head when The Unibrow's name came up and said: "I didn't know it was going to happen to me."
Even worse: Kidd-Gilchrist revealed that, unlike Davis, he has no idea how he suffered the injury. Davis is convinced he suffered his injury when his left hand hit the rim at Madison Square Garden; Kidd-Gilchrist didn't even realize his plight until he looked down at his left hand in the third quarter and saw that his ring finger was completely out of alignment.
"It was [pointing] the wrong way," MKG said. "That's it.
"I was really surprised. I didn't feel anything at the time. ... It happens in this league."
It seems to be happening almost every day.