Sam Smith projects his 2015-16 NBA All-Stars
Fan voting began last Thursday. Go to Bulls.com/votebulls to see how you can vote
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By Sam Smith | 12.14.2015 | 1:45 p.m.
Toronto in February? Whose idea was that for a midseason break?
But that’s where the NBA will conduct its 2016 All-Star game Feb. 14th, the 65th and first ever outside the U.S. And where getting down will refer to adding more layering for their clothes.
Fan voting for the starters began last Thursday in a variety of social media venues. Voting will conclude Jan. 18 with the starters announced on TNT Jan. 21. Reserves will be selected by a vote of the coaches a week later. The first update of voting will be Christmas Day. But since I don’t yet know how many of those social media sites work-I’m looking for a paper ballot--here’s an early and first glance at who might/should/could be a 2015-16 NBA All Star.
I won’t be determining the starters; also, the ballot no longer separates centers but divides by guards and frontcourt players.
Jimmy Butler, guard, Bulls: Probably not a starter, though he could be if the Bulls improve their record. Which continues the remarkable journey of the kid from Tomball, as he likes to call himself, to be in the conversation as an All-Star starter a few seasons after many wondered if he could be an NBA rotation player. Butler is leading the Bulls in scoring and again averaging more than 20 points per game. The East is bunched among the top 10 teams, but as they separate more attention will go to players from the teams with the better records.
LeBron James, frontcourt/guard Cavaliers: He’ll certainly start and is having another terrific season, really doing more once again to carry the team with Kyrie Irving out and Kevin Love occasionally marginalized. James is among the league leaders in minutes and having to carry the team down the stretch in most games. However narrow the margin, they still lead the East.
Paul George, frontcourt, Pacers: The Indiana wingman has made an inspiring comeback from his broken leg with USA Basketball to having his best season thus far, ranking in the top five in scoring and leading a Pacers’ team that has changed its image and style and has returned to being a threat in the Eastern Conference.
Kyle Lowry, guard, Raptors: After falling back last season following the signing of a new deal, Lowry appears to have dedicated himself and has returned to being one of the league’s top scoring guards and a prime factor with teammate DeMar DeRozan in making the Raptors a top contender in the Eastern Conference.
DeMar DeRozan, guard, Raptors: Sorry Golden State, but only one team has backcourt teammates in the top 15 in scoring and that’s the Raptors. Though DeRozan doesn’t shoot the three pointer well, which is a weakness, he and Lowry both are averaging more than 21 points per game and proving a formidable duo for what looks like a top four team in the Eastern Conference.
Dwyane Wade, guard, Heat: He isn’t the high jumping, explosive player anymore. But Wade has been cleverly effective with tricky moves and still able to get to the basket with skill and scoring impressively, close enough to 20 per game. He’s also been healthier than predicted, which is good for the Heat and the NBA.
Andre Drummond, frontcourt, Pistons: The Detroit big man has become the dominant center in the NBA with his amazing rebounding numbers, putting up occasional 20/20 games. This from a player who a few years ago coming out of college was said would be too indifferent to have NBA success. He’s averaging three more rebounds than second place, a rare margin.
Nicholas Batum, frontcourt, Hornets: They’ve been perhaps the surprise team in the Eastern Conference, and his ability to make big shots late has given them a go to guy. Kemba Walker tries, but is often too small. He’s yet another reason for the shift in power as more Western Conference players have ended up on Eastern teams.
Kevin Love, frontcourt, Cavaliers: I was leaning to someone from the Hawks, possibly Jeff Teague as he makes stuff go there. But the Hawks haven’t been the same, and not just because of losing DeMarre Carroll. It’s been a tough recovery for Kyle Korver to previous form. With Kyrie Irving returning likely this week they’ll probably have the East’s best record at the break and deserve at least a pair of All-Stars. Love hasn’t been great, but his numbers are representative.
John Wall, guard, Wizards: I was leaning toward Bradley Beal, but the shooting guard having his best season is down again, this time with an early stress reaction that the team says will have him out a few weeks. Which likely means more. The Wizards have been somewhat of a disappointment hovering below .500 most of the season, though more because of front line issues. Wall has been a bit inconsistent, but his numbers are good as he’s second among guards in double/doubles behind Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.
Reggie Jackson, guard, Pistons: He hangs onto the ball a bit much, but he’s become an elusive scorer as their lead guard. They’ve also been one of the imrpoved Eastern Conference teams, a playoff contender with top rebounding center Andre Drummond. As it gets closer, more depends on record so his status could change if the Pistons fade. These last few spots remain interchangeable depending on which teams rise among the 10 now within a few games of one another in the conference.
Pau Gasol, frontcourt, Bulls: He could get the tiebreaker vote among several players given he’s playing less, though still averaging a double/double and still among the top 10 in double/doubles at seventh with a dozen after leading the league last season. But now averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career. Others who could easily slip into the final spot include Beal, Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh and Jeff Teague or Paul Millsap. Carmelo Anthony is scoring, but the Knicks seem to be driven as much by rookie Kristaps Porzingis. If the Knicks win more, Anthony could get in. There’s also Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, though they are more equal opportunity and he’s a poor shooting volume scorer. Plus, Avery Bradley probably has been more valuable. There’s Brook Lopez, though the Nets won’t win enough and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, who is averaging a double/double and with a wide league lead in blocks. But even his team doesn’t seem to play him enough in key situations and not often in the fourth quarter.
Kobe Bryant, guard, Lakers: It seems fairly certain he’s going to be voted a starter as probably the NBA’s most popular player in Asia. Bryant’s participation became a debate lately after commissioner Adam Silver on Sirius NBA radio said he’d like to see Bryant at the All-Star game in his final season. Of course, Silver can add Bryant even if no one is injured. Heck, Silver can make them play with their underwear on the outside. After all, there are no rules to this thing, which is an exhibition. This isn’t the USA team, where the score matters. Bryant won’t be added to that team. But he should be in the All-Star game and start. I recall Michael Jordan being selected, but not voted in, for his last All-Star game. Poor Vince Carter was practically mugged by the other players to give up his starting spot to Jordan. Ironically, longtime Jordan rival Isiah Thomas was East coach and lobbied Carter as well. Even the players will want to say they played with Bryant in his final All-Star game. It’s an exhibition for fans; if you are just the 12th man in line to be picked you’re barely an All-Star, anyway. The All-Star game is show business and Bryant will and should be there. It may also be the last playing season for Kevin Garnett, though no victory tour for him. Maybe also for Tim Duncan, but he’d never let anyone know. And no one really ever wanted to see him in an All-Star game, anyway.
Stephen Curry, guard, Warriors. That was easy. It will be the Curry/Kobe backcourt. Curry and the Warriors have been the stars of the league this season and it’s amazing to recall that just a few seasons ago in 2013, the coaches passed over Curry as an All-Star reserve even though Curry averaged about 23 points that season. But it was his first coming off missing most of 2011-12 after ankle surgery. He’s leading the NBA in scoring by a Jordanesque lapping the field more than three points over second place James Harden. It may be the first All-Star game in the last three decades fans will be more excited about jump shots than dunks because of Curry.
Draymond Green, frontcourt, Warriors: The fan balloting isn’t likely that sophisticated, but he makes the Warriors team run almost as much as Curry with his two-way game. Teams scheme for him almost as much as Curry. He’s a better version of the five-stat filler than Andrei Kirilenko was once advertised to become.
Klay Thompson, guard, Warriors: They’ll have to get at least three Warriors on the team with the record breaking start and talk and potential to break other longtime records. It’s been as much the impressive domination of teams, blowout wins and historic—thus far—margin of victory. Thompson seemed to defer to Curry some this season, though he had some physical issues. Still, he has one of the game’s purest shots and is as capable of huge scoring as anyone in the league.
Kevin Durant, frontcourt, Thunder: He’s back and he’s scoring, the latter no surprise. His foot problems haven’t reoccurred, though he was out with a hamstring injury. But he’s back near the top of the league in scoring with backcourt mate Russell Westbrook and they are one of the highest scoring perimeter combinations in NBA history even though Durant is a seven footer. Though no center.
Russell Westbrook, guard, Thunder: Durant’s sidekick is not so much sidekick anymore, though he has been more generous with the ball and is averaging almost 10 assists per game along with 26 points. He’s second to Drummond in double/doubles as a result and has three triple doubles. Rondo actually has four, but no one is putting Kings players on the All-Star roster. And getting to that, forget this case with DeMarcus Cousins as a star. I’d take Karl-Anthony Towns right now ahead of Cousins for his team play and knowledge of the game and am confident his team in two years will have more wins than Cousins’.
Blake Griffin, frontcourt, Clippers: It’s been impressive the way Griffin with all that physical talent has become an excellent shooter as well. It’s reminiscent of the way Karl Malone taught himself to shoot after being unable to shoot 50 percent on free throws as a rookie. Griffin is the most valuable player on his team with the slight decline of Chris Paul and perhaps still an All-Star starter as a popular commercial spokesman.
Anthony Davis, frontcourt, Pelicans: It’s been a disappointing season for the young star as his team once again has injuries and too often forgets he’s a young star. And Davis often looks like he’s unhappy about it. Like in previous seasons, his guards haven’t been much good at including him in a game that is so guard oriented in the NBA these days. Though he’s still a 23 and 10 guy and fourth in double/doubles being ignored. He’s that good. The curiosity is he’s one double/double behind Zaza Pachulia, who will not be on the All-Star team.
Kawhi Leonard, frontcourt, Spurs: The star of the Spurs? He is. It’s obviously a credit to the organization the way they’ve nurtured stars from Robinson to Duncan to Parker and Ginobili and now Leonard. Leonard, one of the league’s quieter people, makes plenty of noise on the court as probably the game’s best two-way player as he also leads the league in three-point shooting while being a premier defensive stopper.
James Harden, guard, Rockets: With some hesitation given the Rockets’ poor start, the firing of Kevin McHale and Harden’s fairly open disdain for playing defense. A lot of previous stars have not defended as well, but rarely as open as Harden. Still, it’s tough to ignore his offensive impact on the game as he’s second in the league in scoring at 29 per game. And best at luring officials into foul calls, which is not exactly a fan All-Star favorite tactic.
Dirk Nowitzki, frontcourt, Mavericks: It’s doubtful he’s retiring, and as he doesn’t jump he probably could play five more years. This could change dramatically in the next month, but the Mavericks have been one of the surprise teams thus far and if it holds would be deserving of having an All-Star. Who else but Dirk? Yes, Pachulia has those double/doubles, but not another James Donaldson as an All-Star. And no Deron Williams. Dirk probably is not quite playing at All-Star level, but close enough not to make it a big debate. Dirk deserves his own victory tour of some sort as the NBA’s greatest international player ever.
Damian Lillard, guard, Portland: Yes, they’re a team below .500. But if everyone worried about that they’d never fill out a Western Conference All-Star team with only six teams above .500. The Trailblazers have had some good wins even after losing almost their entire team from last season. As a result, the often overlooked and passed over Lillard has been asked to score more. The top scorer gets that much more defensive attention and he’s still in the league’s scoring top 10. Sorry, Chris Paul doesn’t quite impact the game as much as he did and the Clippers have been all over the place with inconsistency even with their supposed coup of retaining DeAndre Jordan. No Rondo because of the Kings play even as he’s put up great numbers. Wonder who’s a free agent? Not Andrew Wiggins quite yet and it’s tough to figure what’s going on with the Grizzlies, though no one has excelled and they even had Zach Randolph coming off the bench Sunday. Dwight Howard? Who? Actually, he’d have a shot if Harden ever passed him the ball. You probably could make a case for the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe over Lillard, and man will Lillard be mad again if that happens. Gordon Hayward is just close, but not ahead of any of the above dozen.
They the North.