The East and Midwest are about being a little tougher, able to endure the elements other perhaps cannot, succeeding over the expectations.
Which in some ways describes Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, whose own story of achievement is remarkable and inspiring along with a full third of the Eastern Conference roster for next month’s Feb. 14 All Star game in Toronto.
Butler Thursday was selected by the Eastern Conference coaches as a reserve along with DeMar DeRozan of Toronto, Paul Millsap of Atlanta, Andre Drummond of Detroit, Chris Bosh of Miami, John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston.
They join previously selected Eastern Conference starters Kyle Lowry of Toronto, Dwyane Wade of Miami, LeBron James of Cleveland, Paul George of Indiana and Carmelo Anthony of New York.
Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, a player essentially passed over by every team in the NBA after having to attend junior college and then being considered a defensive specialist and subordinate player at Marquette. It’s an amazing rise to a player some consider the best all around shooting guard in the NBA.
Butler’s ascension in the NBA is one of the more uplifting stories in sports. His father abandoned the family at his birth and his mother kicked him out of the house to live in the street when he was 13. He eventually was taken in by the family of another student he met and never averaged 20 points per game in high school. He wasn’t recruited and went to Tyler Junior College, where his play was noticed. He accepted a scholarship at Marquette not even being sure where it was. There Butler averaged 12 points over three seasons and never more than 15.7. As a Bulls rookie and final pick in the first round of the draft, Butler averaged 2.6 points and didn’t play by coach decision in about half the games that season. He only had 20 starts his second season averaging 8.6 points. He didn’t become a regular starter until his third season when Luol Deng was traded.
Butler this season, his fitth, is averaging a career-high 22.3 points per game, fourth in the Eastern Conference and 11th in the NBA along with 5.3 rebounds and a career high 4.2 assists. Butler, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are the only players in the NBA who are averaging at least 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals.
The East team in some respects represents the best in overachievers with second round draft picks Millsap and Thomas among the reserves along with Lowry, picked 24th in 2006.
Among the Western Conference reserves also was a second round pick, Michigan State’s Draymond Green.
The other reserves added to the team were the Clippers’ Chris Paul, James Harden of Houston, DeMarcus Cousins of the Clippers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge and the Warriors’ Klay Thompson. They join Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, making his 18th and presumably final All-Star game appearance.
Bulls center Pau Gasol was left off the East team. His brother Marc was left off the West team. They were the starting centers at last year’s All-Star game. Pau had a good case to be an All-Star ranking in the top 10 in the NBA in double/doubles, rebounding and blocks and averaging a double/double, one of fewer than a dozen players in the NBA. But Drummond was the only center selected for the East team with the new format of only backcourt and frontcourt players.
Gasol earlier Thursday after Bulls practice said the omission of centers on the ballot likely hurt his chances. Gasol lost out to Anthony for the final frontcourt starting spot by 360 votes, one of the closest margins in fan voting history.
“It’s an honor,” Gasol said before the results were announced. “It’s recognition. I’d like to make it. I’ve played at a level where I should be recognized. It was too bad that I fell short of the starting lineup. The way that it is now it’s all point guards, shooting guards and small forwards in the starting lineups. It’s kind of unfair for the bigger guys who work hard and play well to not have the same type of shot. It is a game where people want to see those flashy guys. Let’s see if the coaches pay justice. Either way, I’m proud of how I’m performing this year at a very high level, amongst the best in the league regardless of whether I’m in the game or not.”
Other notable players left off were Dirk Nowitzki, Al Horford, Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson. Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin.
New Cavs coach Tyronn Lue will coach the East team by virtue of the Cavaliers’ best record in the East. Gregg Popovich will coach the West team. The Warriors’ coach is ineligible since coaches cannot coach in consecutive seasons and Steve Kerr was coach last year.