By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
The All-Star starters are set, so the real drama, as is often the case, is who will fill out the reserves (they'll be announced Feb. 9 on TNT). Our picks for the Eastern Conference are below. For Fran Blinebury's look at the West, click here.
There are a whole lotta "shoulds" that make the already-tricky process of selecting All-Star reserves even more complicated.
Good teams should have two All-Stars. Teams with losing records should have none. Players should be chosen at their official positions, a requirement on the fans' ballot but sometimes ignored when the conference coaches' cast their votes.
The problem stems from disparate agendas -- fans favor big names, stats and home-team affiliations in what, ultimately, is a popularity contest. Coaches go by numbers, too, but also seem to overlay priorities that aren't always a good fit.
Let's start with that first should. Just because the Chicago Bulls have been out front in the East again this season, they aren't materially different from last year. Point guard Derrick Rose does the heavy lifting and has a well-oiled crew around him -- starters and backups -- for a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Forward Luol Deng was playing like an All-Star, sure, but the torn ligament in his left wrist and his subsequent absences have diluted his case.
And what about teams such as Philadelphia and Indiana, winning with ensembles much like Denver and Utah in the West. It's always possible to designate an All-Star in those circumstances ... but two?
The unofficial view about .500 records is strictly a coaches' thing. It allows them to preach the ol' "team success comes first, individual glory follows" ethos and makes their voting decisions easier. But great players can end up on inferior rosters and it's simply arbitrary to blame them for that.
"I was in that position a couple of times," Miami's Chris Bosh said Wednesday in Milwaukee. "It's not a testament to productivity. I think it's more difficult when you're under .500 to stay consistent. Because you can [pack] it in any night. You have to have a strong mindset to come out there and still compete."
Bosh also has been a "center" in the All-Star Game, even when he fought that label during his Raptors days. Ideally, all five positions would be two or three deep in All-Stars in each conference. But personnel occasionally gets imbalanced and that's not reason enough to put another Jamaal Magloire on the squad.
So with that in mind -- that we'll be ignoring most of the shoulds -- here are our choices for the seven Eastern Conference reserves:
Joe Johnson, Atlanta (16-6)
19.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.7 apg
Since Al Horford was sidelined by a torn pectoral muscle on Jan. 11, Johnson has dialed it up, averaging 21.5 points to help the Hawks to a 9-2 mark. They are 11-1 when he scores at least 20, 6-1 when he passes for five or more assists. Josh Smith is another Hawk deserving of consideration, but Johnson has been shouldering the responsibility for which Atlanta is paying those big bucks.
Rajon Rondo, Boston (11-10)
15.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 9.4 apg
Rondo has said that, if he's not back soon from his right wrist injury, he'll skip the big weekend in Orlando. But he almost certainly will beat his self-imposed deadline and could return as soon as Friday vs. New York. Rondo is averaging career highs in scoring, field-goal percentage (51.7%) and rebounds, all of which make sense given his ascendancy as a player, several of his teammates' decline and the Celtics' needs.
Chris Bosh, Miami (16-6)
20.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg
Bosh stepped up noticeably when Dwyane Wade was out for the Heat, helping that team to an 8-1 mark in Wade's absence. He has scored 20 points or more 11 times, including four games of at least 30. LeBron James has the MVP numbers but this sure isn't the year for Bosh's streak of six All-Star appearances to end.
Paul Pierce, Boston (11-10)
17.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.5 apg
The days of the Celtics automatically deserving two, three or more All-Star slots are over (with their current group anyway). But Pierce has been the most spry of the aging Big Three, topping 20 points eight times and leading the club in assists in eight games while playing a career-low in minutes (33.1).
Roy Hibbert, Indiana (15-6)
14.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
It's always possible that the East coaches could fiddle around with this spot and slot in Bosh as a way of adding an extra forward. They also could look to Tyson Chandler or Joakim Noah if determined to select a true center. But Hibbert should be their choice, thanks to the improved season we all expected from him a year ago. His minutes are up, his fouls are down and he's even finding teammates better for assists over the past couple of weeks.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee (10-11)
20.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.6 apg
The coaches might get bound up in assessing the Bucks' record but maybe they should look at it this way: Where would Milwaukee be without Jennings? He plateaued last season but can't be accused of that now (his shooting especially is up from 39% to 43.6%). With Andrew Bogut going down, Jennings is having to be D-Rose Lite with a deep but star-less supporting cast. He got it done vs. Miami Wednesday with 31 points (7-of-14 from the arc), eight assists, four steals and no turnovers.
Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia (16-6)
13.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg
The 76ers are as much of an all-for-one, one-for-all bunch as the NBA can boast right now, but Iguodala has earned some All-Star love. He's a high-energy, two-way guy with a career-best PER of 19.2 and a strong resume at crunch time. Plus this one should be easy, considering coaches love voting for players like this.
Danny Granger, Indiana -- Granger has cranked up his scoring lately and is a feisty leader for the Pacers. But Indiana insiders think Hibbert rates the nod over him, if only one goes.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland -- The rookie has been terrific, legit beyond the "someone has to get numbers on a bad team" qualifiers. He'll have to settle for All-Star Saturday, though.
Ryan Anderson, Orlando -- Ninth in PER, 14th in True Shooting Pct. Too bad, because it would be nice for Orlando fans to have someone to cheer in the big game.
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