By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
Feb. 3 -- No, the NBA All-Star game doesn't have the same impact as the MLB All-Star game because it's purely an exhibition. But it is the glitziest and most exciting exhibition in the world, which is why there's always great anticipation for the NBA's ultimate celebration.
The Finals is a celebration of NBA basketball as well, but it's different. With every possession played under a microscope, The Finals is more a celebration of the game and the competitiveness therein. The All-Star game is a celebration of the game as well as the artform it can become when halfcourt sets go the way of the fastbreak tomahawk.
The MLB All-Star game is the only one that even rivals the NBA's, as the NFL's is played a week after the Super Bowl (which is kinda like going to a party on Sunday when you already rocked on Saturday) and the NHL's is...well...I just can't get into a hockey game unless it's for a National Championship or Stanley Cup.
Sadly (and partially because I'm rarely inside watching MLB over the summer), I can't even recall recent MLB memories. You have Torri Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a homer. That was pretty cool. Um... Um... See what I mean? Am I the only one who just isn't vibing baseball right now?
Conversely, there have been countless unforgettable moments in the NBA's midseason classic just over the last 20 years or so. Right off the top of my head, you have Magic Johnson's perfect game three months after telling the world he was HIV positive, Michael Jordan's fadeaway J over Shawn Marion, and that sick overtime game during the league's heyday when Rolando Blackmon willed his free throws in. The NBA All-Star game rocks, and that's why everyone has to watch.
All this All-Star talk got me thinking about why the Major Leagues allow an exhibition game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. Is Bud Selig serious? Has he gone Milwaukee mad? You play 162 games plus three rounds of playoffs, and you let one puny exhibition game determine home and road for your championship? When you think about that math, you wonder why anyone sweats a single regular season baseball game unless they have fantasy, or other, business on the line.
Which brings us back to the greatest exhibition in the world. So great, in fact, I will be dedicating the next couple columns to the 2006 NBA All-Star game in Houston, treating it from a fantasy perspective.
This week, I offer a helping hand to the coaches who will be voting on the seven reserve spots for each team. They don't need the help, but just in case they're reading, we are picking the All-Star reserves based on their fantasy ranking over eight categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, FG%, FT%, and threes made).
As announced on Thursday, the starters for the Western team are Yao Ming (24th eight-cat player), Tracy McGrady (26th), Tim Duncan (23rd), Kobe Bryant (fourth), and Steve Nash (sixth). And in the East, the starters are Shaquille O'Neal (103rd), LeBron James (second), Jermaine O'Neal (39th), Allen Iverson (eighth), and Dwayne Wade (seventh). I'll add an eighth reserve for the East, because an extra player will be needed to fill JO's spot.
Bummer about that two-month groin injury. That's about as cool as losing an ear in a horrible nightclub mishap. But the show must go on, and so it shall without JO.
Kindly reserve a spot for these deserving dudes in Houston...
Western Conference All-Star Reserves
6 - Shawn Marion, Suns - (8-cat rank: first): The Fantasy MVP at the halfway point is the first reserve on the Western Conference All-Star team. When chosen this year, it'll be Marion's third All-Star appearance in the last four years (and yes, he was snubbed the year he didn't make it.)
Marion is the No. 1 fantasy player (as pointed out by Bill Walton during last Sunday's Suns-Cavs game) on the strength of 21.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.9 steals, 1.1 threes, and 51 percent shooting. The fans may never vote him to the starting lineup, but it's a good thing the coaches know what the fantasy world has known all along.
7 - Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves - (tie-third): Garnett, like LeBron, has come up mostly empty in the clutch this season, but, like LeBron, the numbers are phenomenal once again. The assists are currently 4.5 for KG, but there's still time to get that average back to five for a seventh straight season with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. KG's well over a block (1.4) and a steal (1.2) and his .534 field goal percentage is the best of his career.
8 - Elton Brand, Clippers - (tie-third): That's right, freaks, EB is tied with KG. How about that? And how fantasy-friendly is the Western Conference? With Matrix, KG, King Kobe, Brand, and Nash, the West sports five of the top seven fantasy players. Brand, who was probably the Reality MVP for November, really hasn't slowed down, as his stratospherical ranking attests.
Not unlike Garnett, Brand helps in every category but threes, styling 5-cat and 8-cat owners with 24.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 blocks, 0.9 steals, 52 percent from the floor, and 77 percent from the stripe. Brand has made the All-Star team only once, as a replacement pick by commissioner David Stern, but the coaches will beat Stern to the punch this year.
9 - Ray Allen, SuperSonics - (10th): Is there a cooler customer in the NBA than Walter Ray Allen? His name is cool. His nickname, Jesus Shuttlesworth, is cooler. But his stats are coolest of all, ranking him into the end of the first round in 12-team leagues. (I just took a break from writing this to offer Carmelo Anthony for Ray-Ray straight up. We'll see...)
After averaging a career-high 23.9 ppg last season, Allen has upped that mark to 25.0 because he's nailing 3.5 threes per game, hitting 90 percent from the stripe, and a decent 44 percent from the floor (and climbing, by the way). Plus, Allen pulls 4.2 rebounds, dishes 3.5 assists, and steals 1.6 a night. (The dude who currently owns Ray, Man Named Gater, is a big Melo fan...)
10 - Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks - (11th): Last week I busted Dirk for being a little too much like Mehmet Okur with the 8-cat stat line, but I jinxed my man Memo in the process. Over the next two games he averaged 12.5 points on 30 percent with just 6.5 rebounds before bouncing back with 28 & 11, two steals, two blocks, and two threes Wednesday against Denver.
Anyway, Dirk is clearly in another league, ranking 11 to Memo's 35, thanks to strong numbers in six outta eight cats (25.9 ppg, 8.4 boards, 1.5 threes, 1.1 blocks, 47 percent, and 89 percent). And he's still solid in assists (2.6) and steals (0.7). The days of this German legend going by -irk because he never played D are long gone, but we may have to lower-case the D in dirk because of only 1.1 blocks and 0.7 steals. He's been one-plus and one-plus on the B/S for the past six seasons. Ironically, the Mavs are all the way up to ninth in fewest points allowed, despite reduced defensive stats from their superstar.
11 - Marcus Camby, Nuggets - (12th): I know Camby was hospital quiet from Dec. 28 through Jan. 27, and I realize his numbers are down since returning from right pinky surgery, and I realize he missed Wednesday's game with a shoulder injury. But please do not lose sight of his dominance before blocking his way to the injured list. Despite the rusty return, Camby is still averaging 15.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, and 1.5 steals on the season.
If Camby is selected by the coaches as a reserve, it'll be his first All-Star appearance. Last year, Larry Hughes missed the All-Star game because of a lengthy injury, but finished the season on the All-Defensive First Team because he led the league in steals. This year, it could be Camby missing the All-Star game because of the 20 DNPs, before making All-Defensive First Team and leading the league in blocks. Camby's currently third behind Samuel Dalembert's 3.3 bpg.
12 - Rashard Lewis, SuperSonics - (15th): I know we've been talking about nicknames ad nauseam in recent articles, but I've got another one for you: Rashard Lewis, Ninja. If you're lucky enough to own Rashard, you know how he sneaks up on the competition and carves out their hearts by the end of the week. He sneaks up on people because they sleep on his 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, and .479 percentage from the field.
Wanna turn a superstar into a ninja superstar plus another solid player? Wanna pull off the old one-for-two to fatten up your lineup? Well, if you own Paul Pierce, offer him up for Rashard (check their numbers below and you'll be amazed at how similar they are) and, say, Manu Ginobili (you know, the supersolid whose value is relatively low right now).
13 - (if necessary) Chris Paul, Hornets - (18th): Only Jason Kidd averages more rebounds (5.6) among point guards, he's playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb, and he's tied for third with 2.3 steals.
Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves
6 - Gilbert Arenas, Wizards - (ninth): I predicted Gilbert would lead the league in threes, but I should have tabbed my man Ray-Ray, who is gunning away with the three-point race this year. Arenas leads the Eastern Conference with 2.5 threes per game (106 total), but Ray-Ray is way out in front with 144 bombs.
7 - Paul Pierce, Celtics - (13th): Last week we compared Dirk's numbers to Okur's because it seemed like a good idea at the time. As told, it wasn't my best take of the year, but not one I want back, either. Similarly, Pierce and Lewis are right there in the fantasy standings with surprisingly identical stats.
Pierce: 25.5 ppg; 1.4 threes; 7.4 rpg; 4.6 apg; 1.4 spg; 0.5 bpg; .479 FG%; .770 FT%.
8 - Jason Kidd, Nets - (14th): Kidd may be 32, but he isn't showing signs of slowing down. Quite the contrary, actually, as Kidd's 14 ranking is quite a bit higher than last year's 8-cat ranking of 21. Kidd is the only player in basketball to average at least seven rebounds and seven assists, and he's supplementing those strengths with 1.9 threes, 2.0 steals and 14.8 points. As always, the .419 field goal percentage could use some work, but whadaya gunna do?
9 - Gerald Wallace, Bobcats - (16th): Two weeks ago we broke down the race for Most Improved Player and Crash Wallace was leading as the column went to web. I know he's out for at least a couple more weeks, but like Camby in the West, you have to recognize and reward the man for 32 unbelievable games.
Crash remains the only NBA player with two-plus blocks and two-plus steals. Plus, increasing his field goal percentage to .541 has raised his scoring average to a career-high 14.5. I'm telling you, David West and Boris Diaw immediately spring to mind when thinking about MIP candidates, but no one saw Wallace making the dramatic across-the-board improvements. At least not in any fantasy rankings I saw.
10 - Chauncey Billups, Pistons - (17th): If you think King Kobe is the MVP over Mr. Big Shot at this point of the season, you probably also think the 35-pound Nicole Richie is hotter than the 100-pound version. Well, neither are hot, but you get my point. If you favor King Kobe--who plays team ball only when it's convenient--over Billups, who understands better than anyone how to walk the fine line between passing and scoring, then ya just don't get it.
And it's not like I'm underestimating the stats, as Billups is ranked among the elite fantasy players this season thanks to 19.3 points, 8.5 assists, 2.3 threes, and 92 percent from the line. Oh yeah, and he is the floor leader for arguably the greatest team ever--at the halfway point. Billups will finally make his first All-Star appearance this season, and he may even add a League MVP and another Finals MVP trophy before all is said and done. Don't sleep and don't hate...
11 - Chris Bosh, Raptors - (20th): This is why Bosh can't be a Most Improved candidate. The dude was solid last season, but he's pretty darn close to spectacular this season, keeping his value in the second-round range all season. Bosh has made steady improvement each season, culminating with 22.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, .506 from the field, and .815 from the line in a true, blue breakout season.
Word on the street is that the firing of the Bros. Babcock is going to help the Raptors re-sign Bosh this summer, as the kid is tight with toughlove coach Sam Mitchell. (Babcock seriously panicked with the Carter trade--one of the worst in league history, but you have to give him credit for drafting a pair of solid NBA forwards in Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, trading Rafer Alston for Mike James, and signing the speedy Spaniard, Jose Calderon, when there wasn't much interest from other teams.) Regardless, the Raptors might as well board up the windows and lock the doors to the Air Canada Centre if they let Bosh slip through their hands.
12 - Vince Carter, Nets - (21st): Hard to believe Vince was so human in November, when he averaged 21 points and three assists. Those numbers weren't down for long, however, as VC upped them to 26 and five, respectively, in December and January. He came alive after Richard Jefferson told him to stop worrying about his teammates and start attacking the opposition whenever possible.
RJ spoke, VC listened, and the result should be another official All-Star appearance for Vinsanity, although, this time the coaches--not the fans--will invite him to Houston. Carter has a great thing going in New Jersey with Jefferson and Kidd, but imagine how good Carter and Bosh would be in the same lineup. Remember, Vince is on record criticizing Raptors' management for drafting Bosh instead of trading the pick for a proven veteran. If that take was any indication, here's hoping VC doesn't follow in the footsteps of fellow Tar Heel Michael Jordan to the front office.
13 (the JO spot) - Michael Redd, Bucks - (22nd): You gotta love the overall game from Redd this season. He isn't just scoring a career-high 25.3 points on the strength of two threes per, .447 from the field, and .854 from the line, he's grabbing 4.6 rebounds, dishing 3.1 assists, and stealing 1.1 per. Redd has the Bucks looking like a playoff team, so I'll be a little surprised if he isn't invited to his second All-Star game.
NBA TV fantasy expert Rick Kamla's Living the Fantasy column appears weekly on NBA.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org