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|Obviously can't argue with fans selecting Kobe and LeBron as All-Star Game starters.|
The first phase is selecting the starters, a chore that wraps up later Thursday when the league announces results of the fan voting for the chosen quintet from each conference.
But let's look at another question instead: Who should be going? In anticipation of today's announcement, it's my turn to tell everyone the 10 players I think are worthy of the honor.
As always, it's important to go over the ground rules before we get down to the nitty-gritty. For starters, I'm using the same ballot everyone else did. That means Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol are forwards, Manu Ginobili and Tracy McGrady are guards, etc. There's no switching allowed for me -- after all, it's pretty silly of me to complain about the fan vote unless I'm explaining what they ought to have done.
With that out of the way, let's get to the selections. We'll start in the West, where things are a bit more cut-and-dried, before turning to some messier situations in the East:
Paul's 30.13 PER through Wednesday's games is MVP-caliber, as is his stat line of 21.2 points, 11.1 assists and 49.9 percent shooting. So is the fact the Hornets are in the West's top four at the halfway point despite having only one other player above the league average in PER.
Bryant ranks seventh in PER and has dialed up his effort at the defensive end. Always a fourth-quarter force on D, his focus in the first three quarters has been notable as well this season -- it is one of many reasons the Lakers are much improved overall at that end.
But we're limited by the ballot, and a quick glance at the available forwards reveals Nowitzki as the best candidate to slide down to the 3. Though the Mavs have been a disappointment, Dirk has taken care of business, with the second-highest 40-minute scoring rate of his career and the league's ninth-best PER. And it's easy to forget that "disappointment" is a relative term (especially after Wednesday night's 34-point loss to the Bucks) -- the Mavs are 24-18, which ain't chopped liver.
Nonetheless, he's on the ballot as a forward, and at either position he's a home-run selection to be in the West's starting five. Duncan has quietly been the backbone of San Antonio's D more than ever this season, as the Spurs have left him as the lone shot-blocker on the front line. And he also took on a major early-season workload to keep the Spurs afloat while Tony Parker and Ginobili were out.
Duncan is a quiet fifth in the NBA in PER, and the Spurs are an equally quiet second in the West. Duncan sports career highs in shooting percentage (51.4 percent) and assist ratio, as well as his highest scoring average in five years at 20.4.
Speaking of offense, Yao's 54.4 percent shooting from the field and 86.7 percent mark from the line are both career highs, giving him the highest true shooting percentage of any player in the top 35 in PER. But that tells only part of the story. He's using his size to impact games on the defensive end nearly as much as he does on offense.
One can also argue for Orlando's Jameer Nelson here -- certainly he has had a lot more success on the team level -- but Harris' greyhound routine has turned an expected laughingstock into a playoff hopeful at the season's midway point. He's 12th overall and second only to Chris Paul among point guards with a 23.16 PER, and his average of more than nine free throw attempts a game is absurd for a point guard. In addition, it's hard to give too much weight to Nelson's W's without also taking note of the several last-second shots that Harris has made to lead the Nets to a win.
On a Heat team with few other threats to command attention, Wade is leading the league in scoring and is third in PER. And he has Miami poised to make the playoffs after finishing with the league's worst record last season. It's all quite a turnaround for a player who limped through 51 games each of the past two seasons -- he hasn't missed a single outing so far in 2008-09.
I won't dwell here since I just got done lauding him a few hours ago, but suffice it to say that anyone leaving this oval blank on his or her ballot has some serious explaining to do.
Bosh's numbers are superior in most respects. He has a better PER (23.27 to 21.34); he has played substantially more minutes (38.6 to 32.6); and his team's inferior win-loss record is easily explained away by comparing the people that surround them.
But Garnett is the ultimate choice for the simple reason that his intensity at the defensive end still percolates through the rest of the roster, allowing the Celtics to be among the league's elite teams at that end even while taking opponents' best shot every night. In the end, their numbers are close enough that the D puts KG over the top.
In continuing his ascension to superstardom, Howard is fourth in PER and leads the league in both blocks and rebounds. He's a strong threat to win the Defensive Player of the Year award and figures to be in the top five in the MVP vote as well.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.