On Tuesday night, we officially crossed the midway point of the NBA season: exactly half of the total regular season games had been played. With a clear picture of where some of the teams and players stand, the league braces for its mid-season exhibition – All-Star Weekend – which is just a few weeks away. All-Star Weekend is the NBA’s gift to its fans, a collection of their favourite stars from their favourite teams on the same stage.
And so, I bring to you the new edition of the NBA India Fan Mailbag, where I will be answering some of the best questions asked by you fans on the NBA-India’s Facebook page. In this edition, the focus is looking ahead at the All-Star Game and how the NBA’s top contenders can prepare for the second half of the season.
Kaushik Lakshman: Would you change the All Star voting system? If yes, how? Do you think any of this year's picks don't deserve to be there?
A loaded question that deserves a loaded answer: ‘Deserve’ is a tricky word when we speak of the All-Star Game. It is, after all, an exhibition match-up that highlights the league’s best and most popular players. In most cases, the best players are the most popular. Fans are allowed to vote for their favourite stars to start the game, while coaches pick the best amongst the rest who ‘deserve’ to be there. I think this is a fair system and I wouldn’t change a thing. The NBA needs to give the fans what they want, even if they want less deserving players. In naming the reserves, the coaches are thus able to bring the snubbed deserving players into the spotlight. The league’s 24 best usually make the final lineup in the game. A few every year – like Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett this season – will sneak into the starting lineup despite potentially ‘undeserving’ output, but fans want to see them play, so they play.
Rohit Coehlo: This year, are we gonna see a tougher competition from the get-go at the All-Star Game or is it going to be the usual, where they play 3 quarters and fight it out in the 4th if its close?
The All-Star Game has always suffered from an identity crisis between competition and exhibition, and the players themselves oscillate between wanting to entertain and wanting to win. That is why, the unspoken ASG format – three quarters of relaxed play and one quarter of competitive basketball – is so prevalent these days. It’s a well-deserved funfest for many players, who want to have fun on court without serious consequences next to some of the most incredible talent in the world. But make no mistake, all of these guys are serious competitors and all of them want to win, especially in a game that is one of the most watched sporting events in the whole world. The last few All-Star Games have come down to an exciting finish; we can expect the same this year.
Aaradhya Dixit: Who would be the deciding factor if the game is a draw or almost draw near the end?
One of my favourite theoretical ponderings of these loaded teams: Out of all the stars, which star will have the most mojo when the going gets tough, in clutch moments. In a close contest, there will be game-changers aplenty on court at the All-Star Game. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and possible reserves like Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all have the ability to take the big shots or make the big plays. But I predict that the deciding factor this year will be last year’s deciding factor and All-Star MVP: the Thunder’s Kevin Durant.
Kavipal Singh: How much do you agree with Kobe saying that his years playing with Shaq are reason for more rings and less MVP awards?
Kavipal above is quoting this Kobe Bryant interview by Chris Palmer on ESPN, where Bryant mentioned that he only won one MVP award because he sacrificed a lot playing his early days with Shaquille O’Neal. To answer your question Kavipal: yes, Shaq is definitely the reason that Kobe has more rings, since he was the most dominant force in the league – especially in the post-season – back in the early 2000s when the Lakers won their three-peat. But would he have more MVP awards? That is definitely a point of contention. In the Kobe-Shaq era in LA (1996-2004) Kobe would still have had to go head-to-head against other MVP caliber superstars, like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, and of course, Shaq himself. Kobe’s numbers without Shaq may have been better, but he would’ve perhaps won fewer games without the ‘Big Diesel’ too. MVP awards go to winners, and better numbers wouldn’t have necessarily won him more games or more individual accolades.
Siddarth Sharma: Can the Lakers and the Celtics make the playoffs?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The two teams that have collectively won 33 NBA championships but are both looking far from comfortable this season. The Celtics sit eighth in the East, but have a healthy 3.5 game lead over the next place 76ers. Known to be late bloomers, Boston is sure to improve as the season goes on and eventually qualify for the playoffs. They might even jump up a rank or two. The Lakers, who are currently between 11th-12th place in the West, are a different issue. They have an uphill struggle ahead to try and clinch a playoff spot, and none of their other contenders (Jazz, Rockets, Trailblazers, Timberwolves, Mavericks) are going to give them any easy breaks. I predict that the Lakers will improve in the second half of the season as well, but it still might not be enough to overcome the slow start and make the post-season this year.
Gurpreet Singh Gulati: After seeing the way Tracy McGrady is scoring in CBA, should any NBA team try to add him in their roster?
McGrady is one of the fan favourites, and has played many years at the NBA All-Star level. I’ve been tracking T-Mac’s exploits in the Chinese Basketball Association too, and after an underhwelming season with the Atlanta Hawks, he has begun to play well again in China. But big scoring numbers in other leagues don’t always translate to NBA success. There are a lot of players getting big numbers in China, like Quincy Douby, Shavlik Randolph, and Sundiata Gaines, but their NBA prospects aren’t necessarily looking any better. The NBA presents stars with tougher competition and requires them to be dominant on the defensive end, too. He still has NBA talent, sure, but it is unlikely now that any team will take a risk to bring him back to the league anytime soon.