Exclusion = Explosion
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
Feb. 11 -- By now you know whoís heading for Houston and whoís hanging out pina colada-style over All-Star weekend. (By the way, congrats to Gilbert Arenas on the personal invite from David Stern as the replacement for injured starter Jermaine OíNeal. Talk about feeling like you belong.)
What you might not know, however, is which excluded players are going to explode after the long weekend. You also might not know who shot JFK Ö or whether Jim Morrison lives Ö or whether life originated from Adam & Eve or the Big Bang. Sadly, youíre on your own regarding those controversial issues, but youíve got a friendly freak when it comes to our beloved NBA.
Remember the 2002-03 season, when Kenyon Martin missed the All-Star game by the hair on his chinny chin chin? He went on a rampage following the break that wonít be soon forgotten. See, weíre still talking about it. K-Mart tore the league a new one toward the end of 02-03 and itís no coincidence he made his first All-Star team the following season.
So who are this yearís K-Marts? Which excluded players can be counted on for a spike in digits when the NBA gets back to work on Feb. 21? And whose star is going to shine brightest in Houston?
The answers lie within Ö
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets: Melo was very outspoken about not being an All-Star as a rookie and I thought he needed to have his head examined. This year, Melo has been a clear-cut All-Star from opening night, averaging a career high 25.8 ppg, but for the third straight season he will chill during the main event. Melo told reporters basically that it wasnít a big deal for him this year, but you know it has to burn him at some level. Combine that likelihood with Meloís scoring hikes of 19.8 (pre-All-Star) to 22.2 (post) last year and 19.4 to 24.3 in his rookie season, and you just might see Melo raise that average over 26 ppg for the season.
Dwight Howard, Magic: After two automatic trips to All-Star for the Rookie Challenge, Baby Shaq will start earning his invitations next season. I havenít heard if Dwight is ticked off about not going, but knowing the kid, Iíd say heís taking it in stride. And heís consistently taking it to the next level, averaging 14 and 12 in November and December, and 16.5 and 13 in January and February. Do I hear 18 and 14 over the last two months?
Jason Kidd, Nets: When asked about missing this yearís All-Star game, Kidd told reporters: ďI don't think I'm heartbroken. But it's a reward that shows you are doing something right, playing at a high level.Ē In other words, Iím not ticked, but Iím ticked. Last year Kiddís numbers increased from 14.1 points to 14.8 and 7.9 assists to 8.7 before and after the All-Star break. I do not see an explosion with this exclusion, but I do see a bump similar to last yearís.
Mehmet Okur, Jazz: Okur admitted to allowing himself to start thinking about getting an invitation to Houston, and he was reportedly disappointed to learn the coaches didnít vote him in. Memo recently told reporters: ďI thought I was there. But it's all good. I'm happy for Pau.Ē Okurís scoring and field goal percentage have dropped for two straight months, but the long weekend should allow the Bad Turkish Man to catch his breath and come out swinging down the stretch.
Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz: I know how important the NBA All-Star game is for most foreign-born players, and AK47 is no different. Itís like a message to everyone back home that they are making it big. Like Memo, you know AK47 is disappointed, and like Memo, you know heís going to do something positive about it. Kirilenko averaged 11. 3 points on 36 percent shooting in November, 13.9 on 40 in December, and 18.9 and 48 in January. If he ups those averages to 20 and 50, respectively, his owners will be going places.
All-Star MVP: Last year, had the West beaten the East, King Kobe would have won MVP honors with his five-cat line of 16-6-7-1-3 while Allen Iverson would have walked away with 15 points, nine dimes, five thefts and nothing else. So, you know King Kobe is close to winning his second All-Star MVP award - and itís gonna happen this year. This is the year of individual achievement for King Kobe, who is going to follow up the second-best scoring game in NBA history with his first scoring title and second All-Star MVP award.
Rookie Challenge MVP: I donít care if Chris Paul is missing games right now because of crash landings on back-to-back nights this past week. (How bad did you feel for Chris when his head bounced off the hardwood on Wednesday? I still canít believe the bad little dude played in the second half.) A.k.a ROY is the best player in the Rookie Challenge (thatís right, better than Dwight Howard) and the best player usually wins Rookie Game MVP. Amare Stoudemire won it in 2004, Gilbert Arenas won it in 2003, and Jason Richardson won it in 2002, just to name three of the past four seasons. Paul is going to show the world how fast he is with the ball in a wide-open, street-ball atmosphere.
Slam Dunk Champion: Nate Robinson wonít win because he isnít short enough. Sorry, but 5-9 isnít nearly as impressive as Spudís 5-5. Josh Smith wonít successfully defend his title because his conditioning isnít what it was last year and I think his inconsistency this year can be traced to complacency. Josh has had some killer dunks this year, but not as frequently savage as last year. I saw Hakim Warrick pack in Alonzo Mourningís mug in the Puerto Rico game and I canít wait to see what Meloís right hand man has in store. But I gotta give the nod to Andre Iguodala, who will bring the moniker ďIggy HopĒ to life on All-Star Saturday Night. Heís got 360s, heís got windmills, heís got the hang time to do whatever he wants in midair. Iguodalaís a lock to win the dunk contest.
Three-point Champion: Definitely the toughest field to handicap because of the parity over the history of the event. Past winners have included big names like Larry Bird and Ray Allen, and past shootouts have been won by unlikely guys like Tim Legler and Voshon Lenard. So itís too easy to pick a superstar champion like Ray-Ray and too hard to take a beat-up defending champion Quentin Richardson. Raja Bell has been killing it this year, ranking second in threes made, but the pressure of his first shootout may get the best of him. Chauncey Billups and Jason Terry are two of my favorite fantasy players because of their ability to get hot and hit seven threes in a game. That said, this event shall be owned by Dirk Nowitzki, who will put the icing on the cake that has been the best year of his career. Dirk recently was named European Player of the Year by FIBA because he finished third in MVP voting and led Germany to the finals of Eurobasket2005.
Skills Champion: The field for the three-point shootout is awesome, but the quartet on stage for the Skills competition packs more punch than Led Zeppelin. Dig MVP and defending champion Steve Nash, All-Star starter LeBron James, All-Star starter Dwyane Wade, and future Rookie of the Year Chris Paul. Last I checked, Nash was the only dude with an instructional video for basketball skills, so Iíll take him.