All-Star reserve picks: West team
Who's headed to Houston? Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin already have been voted Western Conference starters by the fans. Now our panel hands in their reserve ballots.
1. Who should fill the West's first backcourt spot?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: James Harden. If all that scoring isn't convincing enough, consider that while relying on Harden to star every night, the Rockets are likely to defy expectations and make the playoffs in the tough-as-nails West (quite possibly against Harden's old Thunder in the first round).
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Westbrook is probably as good as he's ever been as a distributor, ranking sixth in the league in assist percentage while posting a career-best turnover percentage. He's not the prototypical point guard -- he's better. Hide your mascot, Houston, because Harden is a surefire All-Star.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Russell Westbrook. The most physically overwhelming point guard in all the land. Because he's so explosive on the court, he was practically built in a lab for the All-Star Game. His PER is a career-high 23.7 thanks to an improved 3-point shot and a sharpened passing arsenal. At the end of the day, the only player who can stop Russell Westbrook is Russell Westbrook.
Daniel Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: Russell Westbrook. His shooting is down, but he's improved so much in every other respect that he and Kevin Durant are leading the best Thunder team yet after losing what seemed like an integral playmaker.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: James Harden is as good as he is frustrating to watch. His proclivity for fake whiplash and scoop shots that search for defensive contact comprise a maddeningly effective strategy on drives. It's powered his production to All-Star-lock status. He's scoring nearly 26 per game while leading the league in free throw attempts.
2. Who should fill the West's second backcourt spot?
Abbott: Tony Parker. The Spurs are chillingly good -- in a league where team accomplishment is All-Star secret sauce. And this intensely professional assassin is looking more than a little like the guy who was once Finals MVP.
Foster: James Harden. Harden's points, rebounds and assists per game numbers have only been reached 55 times in NBA history. Only one of those 55 seasons (Pistol Pete Maravich in '75-76) didn't result in an All-Star bid. Leaving him off would be a historically bad decision.
Haberstroh: James Harden. One of the best scorers in the game who has sneaky, top-secret athleticism. Harden came off the bench last season and now he's about to become the ninth player in the last decade to average 25 points and five assists in a full season. That is, if he keeps this up.
Nowell: James Harden. Leading a surprising team hanging around the top eight of the conference, Harden has more than proved his qualifications for franchise-player status.
Strauss: It's hard to fault Russell Westbrook's less than efficient shooting when Oklahoma City has the league's best offense. Actually, instead of faulting his shot hunting, we should be praising his court vision. Russ averages over eight assists for the once one-on-one Thunder. He also played excellent defense on a mascot.
3. Who should fill the West's first frontcourt spot?
Abbott: Tim Duncan, and he'll be backing up Dwight Howard who has been less individually productive and on a far worse team. I imagine Duncan would prefer a weekend off, but he has played far too well for that.
Foster: Tim Duncan. Duncan is posting some of the best numbers in his illustrious career, and his defense at age 36 is a big reason the Spurs have the third-most efficient defense in the league. If Kevin Durant and LeBron James weren't so otherworldly, we'd be talking about Duncan for MVP. It's a crime he's not an All-Star starter.
Haberstroh: Tim Duncan. Are we sure he isn't Benjamin Button? When most players hang 'em up, Duncan has raised his scoring average by two points each of the last two seasons since turning 34 years old. The guy can barely jump over an iPhone yet he's blocking shots more often than any point in his career. At this point, I'm guessing he'll be an All-Star until he is 60 years old.
Nowell: Tim Duncan. Duncan doesn't care about this, but he's simply been too good this year to ignore.
Strauss: Marc Gasol is the best defensive player in basketball and that should count for an All-Star selection. It's just gravy that he's also the best passer at his position. ASG selections don't always reward subtle greatness, but I do hope that Gasol gets his due.
4. Who should fill the West's second frontcourt spot?
Abbott: Marc Gasol. He is an important offensive player for a good team, the Grizzlies. But the reason he belongs here is that he anchors the best defense in the conference. He knows what he's doing on an end of the court that is usually sidelined by All-Star selection, but need not be ignored entirely.
Foster: Marc Gasol. Gasol's raw numbers are down, but he's defended his position as well as anyone and his passing from the high post is consistently brilliant. Those contributions put him above some of the more one-dimensional frontcourt scorers in the Western Conference.
Haberstroh: Marc Gasol. I would say that no big man plays both ends of the court as well as Duncan, but then I thought of Gasol. He's the anchor of the best defense in the West and offensively, he's this generation's Arvydas Sabonis. If you didn't know how good a passer he is, you will after this All-Star Game.
Nowell: Marc Gasol. An amazing passer, a strong shooter on a cruddy offense and a heady defender who makes the most of his relative lack of athleticism with his smarts.
Strauss: David Lee has such a complete offensive game. The long jumper creates space on pick-and-rolls. The shot fake allows Lee to drive via his deft handle. When the defense crashes, Lee laser-points passes through the interior and out to open shooters beyond the arc. David Lee may not seem a dynamic talent, but he's nearly unguardable on the move.
5. Who should fill the West's third frontcourt spot?
Abbott: Good answers here include David Lee, Serge Ibaka, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrei Kirilenko, DeMarcus Cousins or Kenneth Faried. But I can hardly imagine the coaches who do the choosing will ignore Dirk Nowitzki, out of respect for his past work.
Foster: David Lee. Another high post genius, Lee is shooting a ridiculous 47 percent from 16-23 feet and is by far the best passer out of the worthy power forwards. He scores more points per game than Zach Randolph, secures more rebounds per game than LaMarcus Aldridge, and shoots a better field goal percentage than both players.
Haberstroh: David Lee. Tough choice here between Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Al Jefferson. However, I have a rule that stipulates that in the event of a tie in the All-Star Game, I go with the supreme passer because the All-Star Game is boring without passers. Ergo, Lee is my guy. A lock for 20-and-10 every night, but he's got a higher assist rate than Tyreke Evans and Joe Johnson.
Nowell: David Lee. Howard's inclusion in the starting lineup means I'm forced to cut some extremely deserving players, and Lee has been a revelation this year with improved defensive effort and tremendous passing.
Strauss: Zach Randolph actually plays big minutes for an elite defense. While he's not as important to said defense as Marc Gasol, I'm shocked at how far Z-Bo has come on that end of the floor. There are a few candidates here, of roughly equal production and status. Frankly, I give the edge to Randolph because the idea of Z-Bo in an All-Star Game amuses me. Also, I give the edge to Z-Bo because Dwight Howard hasn't exactly helped the Lakers zoom to new heights.
Bonus No. 1: Who should fill the West's first wild-card spot?
Abbott: Russell Westbrook. He simply must be in this game, and if he were in the East he'd be a lock to start.
Foster: Tony Parker. Parker has long been one of the most effortless scorers in the game, and he's still regularly getting to the rim with ease and finishing over the trees. Parker's true shooting percentage is almost the same as James Harden's and he's 12th in the league in PER and 10th in points per game. He belongs.
Haberstroh: Tony Parker. The engine of the eternal Spurs. Parker remains the only perimeter player besides Kevin Durant who shoots at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from downtown and 80 percent from the free throw line. Parker rarely busts out his 3-point shot but players can't play off him like they used to. News flash: He's not just a speed demon anymore, folks.
Nowell: Tony Parker. I'm as bored of him as I suspect you are, but he's playing at least as well as ever, on a Spurs team playing at least as well as ever.
Strauss: In the West, two of the most deserving reserves are the players I'd least like to watch. Tony Parker is an expert at running San Antonio's system, sans mistakes. He's done that to the tune of a 58 percent true shooting mark and eight assists. Give the man his All-Star spot, I guess.
Bonus No. 2: Who should fill the West's second wild-card spot?
Abbott: Stephen Curry. He has played long and productive minutes on a vastly improved Warriors team. And with crazy 3-point shooting and passing skills, he's the kind of crowd-pleaser people want to see in exhibitions.
Foster: Stephen Curry. Leaving off Randolph and Aldridge is tough, but Curry may be having the best 3-point shooting year ever. No player in NBA history has averaged at least three made 3-pointers a game on 46 percent shooting like Curry has so far this season. Add in his underrated defense and rebounding, and Curry gets the nod.
Haberstroh: Stephen Curry. He may not be quite Steve Nash, but he's the rightful heir to Nash's throne. Curry remains the only player in NBA history to average at least three 3-pointers and six assists per game. The guy is shooting 54 percent since Christmas from 3-point land. I mean, that's just unfair. He's the best shooter in the league and an improving playmaker for the season's surprise team. All-Star.
Nowell: Steph Curry. Did you know Curry is shooting 46 percent on seven attempts from 3? Couple that with his much improved defense and the quality of his team, and Curry is edging out deserving inclusions Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Serge Ibaka. Blame Dwight Howard.
Strauss: According to advanced metrics, Stephen Curry is averaging 46 percent shooting on a bajillion 3-point attempts per game. Unlike so many other 3-point snipers, Curry takes many of these off the dribble. Golden State's offense is primed by the defensive attention given to this unique weapon, and this unique weapon deserves the near-unique distinction of "Golden State Warriors All-Star."