All-Star reserves: Snubs, surprises
With Thursday's additions of the NBA All-Star reserves, the rosters are now set for New Orleans. But are they right? Our own team of All-Stars weighs in on the snubs and surprises of this year's squads.
1. Who's the biggest All-Star snub in the East?
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Kyle Lowry. That's easy. We complain that the fan vote is a popularity contest. Well, it appears the coach vote is one as well. That's the only explanation I can come up with for putting Joe Johnson in the game over the prickly Kyle Lowry, who has my vote for best point guard in the East.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Kyle Lowry. The term "snub" is in danger of losing all meaning from overuse, but it might be appropriate with Lowry. The Raptors guard ranks third in the East in WARP (8.7), ahead of everyone who was chosen as a reserve. And with Toronto atop the Atlantic, team performance doesn't explain his omission.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: Kyle Lowry, who likely missed the cut because he plays in Canada and he's notoriously salty. Setting aside how that description makes Lowry sound like poutine, the Raptors point guard clearly deserved to go based on merit. He's first among East point guards in player efficiency rating and, unlike so many other point men, he defends doggedly.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Kyle Lowry. DeMar DeRozan is actually the better player for this format, but Lowry is the more deserving player based on regular-season performance. He's sixth in PER at his position in a golden age for point guards, and his bulldoggedness is the driving force of this Toronto turnaround. But, hey, all those defensive centers will be fun in a shooting contest.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Al Jefferson. He's the most productive center in the East and has Charlotte in the playoff mix in his first season with the Bobcats. I certainly have no problem with Joakim Noah making the team, but Jefferson is the only thing Charlotte has going well on most nights.
2. Who's the biggest All-Star snub in the West?
Haberstroh: Anthony Davis. The guy is fifth in PER and plays for the host city, which was the biggest shocker for me. I get that he's not a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but The Brow is everything the All-Star Game should be about.
Pelton: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was the only player among my All-Star reserves that coaches didn't select, but it's hard to blame them for going with Tony Parker instead. Parker is perfectly deserving in his own right.
Strauss: Anthony Davis, by the length of his wingspan. Davis played some shoddy pick-and-roll defense this season, but I doubt that's why he missed the cut. The main reasons for the snub are that his teammates were either bad or hurt, his team is in a small market and he's still new on the scene. I'd still favor Davis on the team over Dwight Howard, based on AD's statistical edge.
Verrier: Anthony Davis. LeBron James made his first All-Star Game his sophomore season, one in which he finished with a 25.74 PER. Davis, now in his second season, currently has a 26.81 PER, fifth-best in the NBA. It can't be the injuries -- Chris Paul has missed three more games this season -- so apparently the coaches think Davis' bad teammates will ride his coattails to the game, too.
Wallace: Anthony Davis. The league's leader in blocks and one of the most versatile big men we'll see in some time shouldn't have been shut out in his own hometown. Perhaps one of incoming commissioner Adam Silver's first executive orders should be finding a way to get Davis on the West roster.
3. Which East All-Star is the biggest surprise?
Haberstroh: Joe Johnson. Prisoner of the moment pick. The Nets have played well this month, but this isn't a January appreciation award. Johnson has been electric in the clutch, but he's an average player for the other 90 percent of the season. Truth is, if Johnson played up to his reputation, the Nets wouldn't need last-second miracles.
Pelton: Joe Johnson. Johnson has been better in January, when his Brooklyn Nets have surged, and a series of clutch shots surely helped his chances with East coaches. Still, according to Basketball-Reference.com Johnson is the second All-Star reserve chosen by coaches in more than a decade with a below-average PER (his is 14.9; average is set at 15), and unlike Luol Deng two years ago Johnson is neither a top defender nor on an elite team.
Strauss: Joe Johnson. I mean, what in the world? The East teams are bad this season, but it wasn't so bad that selecting Joe Johnson made sense. This is the kind of pick that makes it look like coaches are behind by two seasons on player evaluations.
Verrier: Joe Johnson. Fittingly, a player known most for his inconsistency is rewarded for his most consistent month of games in some time. Unfortunately, the season started before the new year. The East is rough, but it isn't "Joe Johnson, All-Star" rough.
Wallace: Paul Millsap, only because it takes a real appreciation for someone who's willing to do the dirty work and make all of the hustle plays to recognize Millsap's true value. He has really filled the void after the Hawks lost leader Al Horford to a season-ending injury.
4. Which West All-Star is the biggest surprise?
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Haberstroh: Damian Lillard. As my man Kevin Pelton pointed out on Twitter, I'm struggling to see how four reserve guards make sense given how stacked the crop of West big men is this season. Lillard has had a great season for a surprise team, but objective measures point to Davis and Cousins as more deserving.
Pelton: Tony Parker, I guess? The only thing that really surprised me was four guards making the reserves. Because of the way coaches vote -- two guards, three frontcourt players and two utility players -- typically the votes get split so that the last two spots on the roster go to one guard and one big man. That wasn't the case this year.
Strauss: Tony Parker wasn't a total surprise, but it's rare to see perimeter guys get in with so few minutes played (fewer than 32 MPG). Parker probably deserves a selection if we're judging on a per-minute basis, but if we're leaning heavier on total time played, Goran Dragic should have made it.
Verrier: Damian Lillard? Tough to say any of these guys doesn't belong -- perhaps maybe Paul, who has missed almost a month of games and might opt out anyway -- but Lillard's nod has more to do with team success than I'm comfortable with, especially with guys among the top 10 in PER, such as Davis and Cousins, left on the cutting room floor.
Wallace: Chris Paul. If healthy, this is a no-brainer. But considering how many games he has missed for the Clippers this season, it's clear the coaches picked Paul purely out of respect for his status in the league. I can certainly see why Russell Westbrook needs an explanation right about now.
5. East or West: Which roster is better?
Haberstroh: West. I'd actually argue that a lineup of West reserves of Chris Paul, James Harden, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard would beat the East starters. Let's make it happen to start the second-half, Scott Brooks.
Pelton: West. Ha, that's a good one! Even without any real contributions from injured Kobe Bryant, the West roster has combined for 86 WARP to the East's 71. Of the top 11 All-Stars by WARP, eight play for the West. On paper, this matchup is as lopsided as East-West games have been all season.
Strauss: If defense is played, I prefer the East roster. Even without Lowry's defense, you're still shutting down the opposition with the best defensive center (Hibbert) and two of the game's best perimeter defenders (LeBron, Paul George). The West should have a great offense, but they claim surprisingly little defensive talent.
Verrier: West. How is there an underdog in an All-Star Game? Maybe give the East its counterpart's bench and call up the rest of the worthy Westerners left outside of the cut.
Wallace: The West is built to score 200 points in New Orleans, with so many versatile and prolific scorers. Unless the East decides to really play some defense throughout in this game, this one will get ugly in a hurry.