Converse Firsts: Five newcomers in the All-Star Game
First-time All-Stars enjoy invitation into exclusive club
The manner in which he earned his trip to Houston only serves to punctuate the message an NBA legend planted in his mind last year:
"Scottie Pippen once told me to enjoy the experience of being an all-star because you never know about the future," Arenas told the Washington Post. "They don't promise you anything in this league."
Perhaps Arenas will deliver that point to to the five first-time All-Stars in this year's midseason classic. The following is a look at each one of the players that will be competing in the NBA All-Star Game for the first time:
Chauncey Billups, Guard, Detroit Pistons – Forget All-Star reserve, some are calling Billups the league's MVP. Unquestionably, he's the glue of the Detroit Pistons, owners of the NBA's best record. Billups is averaging 18.9 points and is third in the NBA in assists (8.5 apg) despite never having averaged six dimes per game on a season. Remarkably, he's second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.78 to 1), and does the little things like hit free throws (.910) and three-pointers (.431). Billups hit clutch baskets at the end of games time and time again, and is a true leader, on and off the court, for the Pistons.
Chris Bosh, Forward, Toronto Raptors -- Twenty and 10. That's what Bosh told this reporter before the start of the season, and despite the loftiness of his goals, he's managed to come close to achieving them. The third-year forward has nearly doubled his scoring from his rookie year, from 11.5 points per game to 22.4. That puts him third in the points per game category among power forwards and centers. Bosh's rebounding averages aren't in the double digits, but at 9.2 per game, he ranks 15th in the league. The most impressive thing about Bosh? Had he never left Georgia Tech, he'd still only be a senior. In other words, this NBA All-Star could still be playing with college kids.
Richard Hamilton, Guard, Detroit Pistons -- Hamilton was always known as a mid-range scorer, a guy who would burn you for jumpers off curls from 18 but usually not the three-pointer. In his first All-Star season, Hamilton's game has experienced something of a makeover. He's first in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage (0.456) and is also shooting .504 from the field -- impressive for a guard, or anyone, for that matter. The effect of those feats has been realized in the form of a career-best 21.6 point per game scoring average.
Pau Gasol, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies --
Scouts regard the fifth season in a player's career as a make or break year. Pau Gasol was on the hot seat at the start of this season, and he answered the call. Gasol has elevated himself from a borderline star to All-Star, and the Memphis franchise now knows they can build the team around him. Thus far, Gasol's averaging 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.98 blocks per game. The offseason activity that led to the departures of James Posey, Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells for more experienced veterans who could stretch the defense -- Bobby Jackson and Eddie Jones -- has helped take some of the defensive focus off Pau in the paint.
Tony Parker, Guard, San Antonio Spurs --Gasol will be the first Spanish player to ever to appear in an All-Star Game, and similarly, Parker will be the first French player to do so. What a season it's been for Parker, who ranks No. 2 in the NBA in field goal percentage (.544), which is simply unheard of for a 6-2 guard. Parker's 19.4 point per game scoring average is well above his previous career-high (16.6 last season), and the success he's enjoyed in four full seasons in the league has allowed him to win more playoff games than any player in NBA history before the age of 24.