Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

The Missing All-Stars

-- Akshay Manwani / @akshaymanwani

Following the announcement of the 2012 NBA All-Star starters a few weeks ago, the reserves for the All-Star Game to be held at the Amway Center in Orlando on February 26 (Feb 27 if you are in India) were announced this past week. While there is no way one can grudge popular opinion in the selection of the All-Star starters, the reserves, which are selected by the coaches in the league, are certainly open to scrutiny.

And after all the contrasting views on the matter over the last few days, I, too, have decided to weigh in with my opinion. Ex gratia of course.

For the record, the results of the 2012 NBA All-Star balloting resulted in Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks), and Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) being chosen to start in the East. Voted to start for the West are Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers), Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers), and Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder).

Then on February 9, Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) and Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) headlined the announcement of the All-Star reserves. Joining Pierce on the East squad are Chris Bosh (Miami), Luol Deng (Chicago), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers), Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), and Deron Williams (New Jersey Nets). Nowitzki, meanwhile, is joined on the West team by reserves LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns), Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma).

Before getting down to my take on the matter, it is important to note that, in my opinion, winning should be the most important factor while determining an All-Star reserve. It is the cardinal principle that reinforces the notion of team results over individual reputations. It’s only after paying heed to this thumb rule that everything else should follow. The only other thing that matters in the selection of an All-Star reserve then is the player’s form in the present. Not what he has done in the past, but what has he done for his team in the months leading up to the All-Star Game. Also, it is not an exercise in who makes the most beautiful plays, but who makes the most effective ones. And, therefore, a cold, hard look at stats is a must while getting down to this exercise that enhances players’ reputations.

Having laid down the main premise of my argument, let’s take a close look at the stats of the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves (current season and career stats). Just below their numbers, I have also thrown in the stats of those players who look like worthy contenders to the announced Eastern reserves:

Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves' Stats
Paul Pierce (Boston)F240.4180.3805.
Chris Bosh (Miami)F280.5010.2698.
Luol Deng (Chicago)F230.4300.3687.
Roy Hibbert (Indiana)C270.4980.0009.
Andre Iguodola (Philadelphia)F-G280.4480.4026.
Joe Johnson (Atlanta)G280.4290.3693.
Deron Williams (New Jersey)G280.4100.3393.
The Challengers' Stats
Ryan Anderson (Orlando)F270.4380.4237.
Josh Smith (Atlanta)F280.4630.2929.
Rajon Rondo (Boston)G190.4910.2004.
Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee)G270.4160.3433.

A cursory look at the above mentioned numbers suggests that Deron Williams may have been picked on his reputation alone. Agreed that Williams is averaging 3.5 PPG more than his career average of 17.4 PPG, but the Nets are languishing at 8-21 and are among the bottom three teams in the Eastern Conference. Williams’ selection, therefore, contradicts the ‘winning is all important’ criterion. To that extent, Rajon Rondo makes a suitable claim to replace Williams, because between Brandon Jennings, Williams and Rondo, the Celtics’ player is the only one whose team has a winning record.

However, the same reasoning extends itself differently regarding Paul Pierce’s selection on the East reserves. Boston may have a winning record, but the Celtics have made their least impressive start to the regular season since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the franchise in 2007. Ryan Anderson and Josh Smith, although with vastly different games, could, instead, have replaced Pierce at forward, simply because, both, Orlando and Atlanta are better placed than Boston in the regular season standings. And if I had to pick one, I’d go for Anderson. No player in the league has made as many 3-pointers (80) as Anderson this season. He is scoring a career-best 16.4 PPG in just his fourth season in the league and his presence on the floor, with Dwight Howard at center, punishes opponents for double-teaming Howard.

Similarly, here’s a look at the numbers of the Western Conference All-Star reserves and the players who challenge them:

Western Conference All-Star Reserves' Stats
Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas)F240.4610.2396.
LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland)F280.5130.1678.
Marc Gasol (Memphis)C280.4950.16710.
Kevin Love (Minnesota)F-C260.4540.36713.
Steve Nash (Phoenix)G250.5630.4482.610.
Tony Parker (San Antonio) G280.4550.2222.
Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma)G270.4660.2814.
The Challengers' Stats
Rudy Gay (Memphis)F280.4520.3616.
Kyle Lowry (Houston)G260.4020.3615.
Monta Ellis (Golden State)G230.4400.2703.
James Harden (Oklahoma)G270.4630.3644.
Paul Millsap (Utah)F260.5150.3089.
Al Jefferson (Utah)C230.4770.0009.

On looking at the numbers, the situation in the West appears not too different from that in the East. Steve Nash leads the league in assists, but the Suns are struggling to stay in playoff contention. With that being the case, James Harden should have replaced Nash at guard in the Western Conference reserves. Harden has been indispensable to OKC as sixth-man and has played a big part in the Thunder having the best record in the league currently. And if the Celtics could send four players to the All-Star Game last year, it wouldn’t hurt anybody if Harden combined with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to represent the Thunder at Orlando this year.

Finally, Paul Millsap should have got a spot ahead of Rudy Gay and Dirk Nowitzki on the Western reserves. The reason I say that is because even if Dallas is currently better placed than Utah and Memphis, the Western Conference is a lot more competitive this year than the Eastern Conference. Already these three teams have exchanged places this season since Dallas made a revival by winning four straight. In that light, Millsap, averaging nearly a double-double this season, should have edged out Nowitzki, who is nowhere near his career average this season. Also, since Memphis, with an almost similar record to Utah and already represented by Marc Gasol on the reserves, it would have been good to see Utah being represented by Millsap in Orlando.

And so if I’d had my way, it would have been Rondo and Ryan Anderson for Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in the Eastern reserves and James Harden and Paul Millsap for Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki among the Western reserves.

All stats and regular season standings are after games played on February 13, 2012 (IST)