By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 21 2010 7:05PM
We know the 10 players who will be on the floor as the 59th All-Star Game tips off in Dallas on Feb. 14 (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Now it's time to consider who the seven reserves should be for each conference. That's exactly what the Eastern and Western Conference coaches will be doing over the next couple of days, with their votes determining the 14 remaining All-Stars to be announced next Thursday, Jan. 28 during Inside the NBA on TNT.
With Allen Iverson taking up a spot in the Eastern Conference starting lineup thanks to the fan vote, the thinking might be that at least one deserving All-Star will be staying home for Valentine's Day. But this is the Eastern Conference, where it's difficult to find 12 guys on good teams who deserve the "All-Star" label.
Yes, playing on a good team is a requirement. And with only seven teams at .500 or better in the East, the pickings are slim. Of course, there's always an exception to the rule, when a guy's numbers are just too good to ignore. Danny Granger was that guy last year. David Lee is that guy in 2010.
Speaking of Lee, he's part of a suddenly strong group of Eastern Conference centers. Last year, center was easily the East's weakest position. With few candidates even worth considering, we had to use Chris Bosh, a power forward, to fill in the reserve center spot. This season, Bosh can be placed at his real position and we still have three or four guys, all 25 or younger, worth real consideration at center.
Meanwhile, the conference's guards have taken a step back. Of the East's top 30 players in efficiency (efficiency = pts. + reb. + ast. + stl. + blk. - TOs - (FGA-FGM) - (FTA-FTM), only seven of them are guards. And that includes Andre Iguodala, who has spent equal time at forward, and Gilbert Arenas, who has been suspended indefinitely.
Without further ado, here are the seven guys, including four potential first-timers, who should be making the trip to Dallas to represent the Eastern Conference ...
Joe Johnson, Atlanta (27-14)
21.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.9 APG
With the addition of Jamal Crawford, the Hawks have more depth and firepower in their backcourt, but Johnson is still the man on the team with the third best record in the East. He ranks sixth in the conference in scoring, 11th in assists and seventh in made threes, while shooting 45 percent from the field, an improvement over each of his last two seasons. At this point, it's hard to fathom that Johnson, who will likely be making his fourth straight All-Star appearance, was traded by the Celtics in the middle of his rookie season.
Rajon Rondo, Boston (27-13)
14.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.6 APG
It's a good thing we don't need to choose between Johnson and Rondo, because that would be difficult. Rondo is surrounded by three future Hall of Famers, but he has proven to be perhaps the Celtics' most valuable player. He's playing with more consistency and confidence than he ever has, averaging career highs in points, assists, steals and field-goal percentage. He leads the league with 2.51 steals per game, leads the East in assists per game, and is one of only three players under 6-foot-8 in the NBA's top 25 in shooting.
Three Hardest Snubs:
Tragic Shaft: Andre Iguodala (PHI)
Maybe Next Year: Derrick Rose (CHI)
Team Record Hurt Him: N/A
The Next Three Out: Ray Allen (BOS), Raymond Felton (CHA), Mo Williams (CLE)
Chris Bosh, Toronto (21-22)
24.2 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.1 APG
Chris Bosh is the only player in the NBA's top 10 in both points and rebounds per game. On merit, he should be a starter alongside LeBron James and Dwight Howard in the Eastern Conference frontcourt. But since the fans voted Kevin Garnett in, he'll just be our third lock to be a reserve selection. Averaging career highs in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage, Bosh has taken his game to a new level. The only knock on him is the Raptors' status as the worst defensive team in the league. But after an ugly 20-game start to the season, Toronto has improved on that end and, not coincidentally, moved up the standings.
Gerald Wallace, Charlotte (21-19)
18.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 1.9 APG
As a four-category guy, Wallace has always been a fantasy stud, but he's elevated his game in his ninth season. The only original Bobcat left on the roster, Wallace is poised to become the franchise's first All-Star. His improvement has helped Charlotte earn the league's best record in January and be in position for their first ever trip to the postseason. Averaging 3 ½ more rebounds than he ever has in his career, Wallace ranks fifth in the league. He's also one of just four players with at least 60 steals and 40 blocks.
Three Hardest Snubs:
Tragic Shaft: Antawn Jamison (WAS)
Maybe Next Year: Luol Deng (CHI)
Team Record Hurt Him: Danny Granger (IND)
The Next Three Out: Caron Butler (WAS), Stephen Jackson (CHA), Troy Murphy (IND)
David Lee, New York (17-24)
19.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
Always known as a great rebounder, Lee has developed his offensive game quite a bit over the last two years under Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. He's become one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league and has expanded his shooting range to where he can knock down a 15-footer with consistency. He's averaging career highs in points and assists, is again among the league leaders in double-doubles, and ranks third in the East (behind just James and Bosh) in efficiency. Defense is still an issue and the Knicks have the same record as they did at this point last season, but they're within reach of a playoff spot.
Three Hardest Snubs:
Tragic Shaft: Al Horford (ATL)
Maybe Next Year: Joakim Noah (CHI)
Team Record Hurt Him: Brook Lopez (NJN)
The Next Three Out: Andrew Bogut (MIL), Kendrick Perkins (BOS), Brendan Haywood (WAS)
Josh Smith, Atlanta (27-14)
15.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.8 APG
This spot comes down to Smith or teammate Al Horford. Give it to Smith for his superior overall game. The 2005 dunk champ has always had the talent to be an All-Star, but it has taken some time for his game to mature. Smith has kept from launching bad shots from the perimeter, is getting to the basket more, and also creating for his teammates. He's shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field and dishing out a career-high 3.8 assists. As always, he's a defensive force, the only player in the league averaging at least two blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
Paul Pierce, Boston (27-13)
18.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.7 APG
Our final selection comes down to Andre Iguodala, Antawn Jamison and Pierce. Iguodala edges Jamison slightly in efficiency, while Jamison's Wizards are a game ahead of Iguodala's Sixers in the standings. But both Philly and Washington are closer to the 3-38 Nets in the standings than to Pierce's Celtics. The Truth's numbers are down slightly from last season, but he's still the Celtics' leading scorer and still one of the best go-to guys in the league. This would be his eighth All-Star selection.
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