1. Tim Duncan: All-Star Starter in the West
Chosen as an All-Star starter for his 10th NBA All-Star game, Tim Duncan is believed by many to be one of the best in game. While his resume, which includes four championships, two regular season MVP honors and the Co-MVP award of the 2000 NBA All-Star Game, certainly reflects an All-Star caliber player, his performance thus far this season equally warrants his participation in the 2008 exhibition game. Currently leading his team in both points and rebounds with 19.9 and 11.5 respectively, The Big Fundamental has been the team's leader all season long. Known for being calm, cool and collective, the Virgin Islands native has often made clutch plays down the stretch to ensure his team gets the win. So far, the former MVP has registered 31 double-doubles. While missing four games in December with an ankle injury, Duncan has played and started in the remaining 47 games. His coach Gregg Popovich believes his superstar is more than deserving of the honor. Besides being physically gifted, the 6-11 power forward has the attitude and character that has helped him to rise above the rest. Popovich explained to the Daily Times: "I always talk about being the most fortunate guy in the league. I have the easiest job because my superstar wants to practice every day."
2. Yao Ming: All-Star Starter in the West
A fan favorite for the All-Star Game, Yao Ming made his first appearance in the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2003, and has been voted on to the West's squad each year since. Missing last year's game due to an injury, Yao will be at full strength in the 2008 event. As the recipient of 1,709,180 votes, the 7-6 center's production on the court this season can account for his continued popularity. Currently averaging 22.2 points and 10.8 boards, Yao has dominated the paint and nailed shots from the field. Tough to defend because of his skill and size, Yao welcomed Chinese National Team teammate Yi Jianlian to the NBA by outplaying him and the Bucks twice this season. After discovering he was selected as a starter for the West for the sixth time, the Rockets' big man told the Houstonist, "I would like to thank all fans from around the world for voting again for me this season. It is always an honor to be named to the All-Star Game. I really look forward to this year’s game since I was unable to play last year even though I was voted as a starter.” With Yao motivated to make up for lost time, will the East be able to take down The Ming Dynasty?
3. Steve Nash: All-Star Reserve in the West
Still going strong at 34 years old, Steve Nash will be making his sixth All-Star appearance in the 2008 game. While the fans may not have voted him in, Mr. MVP had little to worry about as coaches recognized his contributions this season and selected him as a reserve guard for the West's squad. Currently leading the league in assists with 11.7 dimes per game, Captain Canada has been the catalyst for the Suns' run-and-gun offense all season long. On Jan. 22, the Suns guard had a particularly impressive night, registering a season-high 37 points to go along with 10 dishes, leading Phoenix to a 114-105 win over the Bucks. While his forte is passing, the 37-point performance reaffirmed that Kid Canada can do it all. In addition to participating in the All-Star Game, the 6-3 point guard will also compete in the Three-Point Shootout as he and four other contestants will attempt to triumph over the 2007 Three-Point champion, Jason Kapono.
4. Dirk Nowitzki: All-Star Reserve in the West
Currently 35-18 and trailing only New Orleans in the Southwest Division, the Dallas Mavericks are an elite NBA team. Dirk Nowitzki is the heart and soul of the talented squad and was awarded the league's MVP honor last season for his contribution to the Mav's impressive 67-15 regular season record. Chosen as a reserve for the 2008 All-Star Game, this will mark the German-native's seventh All-Star appearance. Throughout this season, the seven-footer has continued to impress basketball connoisseurs with his ability shoot from the field and patrol the paint. In his 10th season in the league, the Mavs' power forward reached a milestone in his career on Feb. 6. En route to Dallas' 107-96 win over Milwaukee, Nowitzki registered his first triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 dimes. Heading into All-Star Weekend, the Mavs' star player is pacing his squad with 22.8 points and 8.8 boards. While he is the leader of one the best NBA teams, only time will tell how Dirk will fare when he plays among and against the league's most talented athletes. Also, Dirk will have the opportunity to compete in the Three-Point Shootout, filling in for injured, Kobe Bryant.
5. Al Horford: All-Star Rookie Challenge Participant
Chosen third in the 2007 NBA Draft, Al Horford has made an immediate impact on the young Atlanta Hawks. Starting 44 games thus far, Horford is averaging 9.3 points and 10 boards. He leads the rookie class in rebounds and double-doubles with nine. With his solid stats and starting role, it is no surprise this first-year, who often tops Dave McMenamin's Rookie Rankings, was chosen to play in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam during All-Star Weekend. While the two-time NCAA National Champion entered the league with three of his former Gator teammates, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green, the Dominican native will be the sole Florida alum in the contest.
6. Juan Carlos Navarro: All-Star Rookie Challenge Participant
Hailing from Spain, Juan Carlos Navarro is a 27 year-old rookie. He played in Spain for FC Barcelona prior to entering the NBA. In 2002, Navarro was chosen by the Washington Wizards with the 40th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, and in August 2007 his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for a future first round pick. Making an immediate impact on the Grizzlies squad, the experienced first-year has started 17 games this season and averaged 10.7 points. At the beginning of the season, the Spanish import circled on his calendar the Nov. 24 matchup against the Wizards. Having been drafted by Washington, La Bamba told the AP,"I was really looking forward to doing well and playing well against the team that drafted me." With a little extra motivation, the rookie tied his season-high with 28 points, en route to a 124-118 victory. Making 101 three pointers thus far this season, the Memphis shooting guard has become one of the Grizzlies' lethal weapons from downtown.
7. Luis Scola: All-Star Rookie Challenge Participant
Formerly known as one of the best non-NBA basketball players, Luis Scola has finally made his grand entrance into the world's most well-known basketball league. Prior to his NBA career, Scola played professional basketball in Spain for highly-regarded Tau Ceramica. Drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 55th overall pick in 2002, Scola didn’t begin playing in the NBA until his rights were traded in 2007 to the Houston Rockets. While the Argentinean import admits that he has had to adjust to the NBA, the 27 year-old rookie has proven to be a solid addition to Houston's squad. Since placing the 6-9 forward into the starting lineup on Jan. 27, 2008, the Rockets have won seven of their eight games. Playing on the first-year's squad in the 2008 Rookie Challenge game, the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship MVP will try to end the five-year sophomore win streak.
8.Yi Jianlian: All-Star Rookie Challenge Participant
Yi Jianlian is one of the league's most celebrated rookies. Arriving from China, he headlined newspapers and was the topic of choice for sports shows across the country at the start of the season. Many believe he is among the next generation of NBA superstars. Previously playing professional ball in China, the 20 year-old was drafted in 2007 with the Milwaukee Bucks' first-round pick (sixth overall). An immediate starter, Yi is averaging 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 27.0 minutes. When the young Buck faced former Chinese National Team teammate Yao Ming in Houston, the matchup had a record breaking global audience that was believed to exceed 200 million. Milwaukee's power forward registered 19 points and 9 rebounds in the Bucks' 104-88 loss. While Houston's Chinese import logged a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, Yao said to Yahoo Sports, "I hate to say this, but he may be better than me." Off to a good start, the Rookie Challenge will provide fans an opportunity to see how the seven-footer matches up with his peers.
9. Andrea Bargnani: All-Star Rookie Challenge Participant (Sophomore Team)
Expectations were high for Andrea Bargnani, as he was chosen as the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. While he was a reserve in the 2006-07 season, the Italian import has started 33 games this year and is currently averaging 10.3 points and 3.7 boards. While many critics question whether or not Bargnani was worth the first pick, his teammates believe the seven-footer has shown great improvement this season. Veteran teammate Darrick Martin told HOOPSWORLD, "You can see he's making a conscious effort to try to be better, so that's the maturity I see. The biggest thing (is) helping on defense. He's conscientious of plays happening where last year he just didn't know what was going on. Now he can see plays happening, he's coming over and trying to help out on defense and with rebounding." Participating as a first-year in last year's Rookie Challenge, Bargnani registered 12 points and only one rebound in 23 minutes. As he partakes in the event as a sophomore, Toronto's big man will have an opportunity to show how far he has really come.
10. Peja Stojakovic: All-Star Three-Point Shootout Participant
In his 10th year in the league, Peja Stojakovic is posting the best three-point percentage of his career. Shooting .478 from beyond the arc, the Serbian native currently ranks third in the league with 139 treys made. Making Hornets history on Nov. 6 against the L.A. Lakers, the New Orleans forward nailed 10 shots from downtown, missing only three three-point attempts. Registering a total of 36 points, Stojakovic's performace helped his team grab a 118-104 win over the Lakers. Currently averaging 16.3 points, the three-time All-Star has been chosen to compete in the 2008 Three-Point Shootout contest during All-Star weekend. Having won in 2002 and 2003, the 20 year-old will attempt to dethrone the 2007 champ, Jason Kapono. The sharpshooter will also be taking on Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Daniel Gibson and Rip Hamilton. While Stojakovic's taken the most three-point attempts of any of the contestants, he has also made the most, nailing 1,334 threes throughout his NBA career.