Hibbert, Stephenson Still Have Chance to Make All-Star Team

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by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

January 28, 2014

A number of Pacers will be on hand at the upcoming 2014 NBA All-Star game, which will be held in New Orleans on Feb. 16. Frank Vogel and his staff will lead the Eastern Conference team and Paul George was named a starter last week.

The reserves will be announced Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. during a special on TNT. As that is going on, the Pacers host the Phoenix Suns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The question many want answered: How many Pacers will be added to the team as reserves?

Unlike the starters, the seven reserves are decided by the conference coaches. They vote for two backcourt players, two frontcourt players and three wildcards. By now, the NBA has all of the votes in hand because they were due by Tuesday morning.

It’s very typical for head coaches to reach out to other coaches within the conference to politic for their own guys. Frank Vogel did just that, both by email and text. One thing in particular he pointed out is how important his guys are to their system. He told coaches to not just read into the numbers, but instead understand what the player does for the Pacers, the only team with single-digit losses (9).

Roy Hibbert seems to be a sure thing. If the NBA hadn’t eliminated the center position in the All-Star game, as they did last year, he would’ve been a starter because he received the most votes of any Eastern Conference big man.

Hibbert is the anchor of the league’s-best defense. His talents at the rim allow the other guys to play closer defense, knowing that if they get beaten Hibbert is there.

The Pacers’ durable center is averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and shooting 46 percent from the field. His 2.6 blocks per game average ranks second to only New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (3.1) and he’s holding opponents to 40.5 percent in shots within five feet from the rim.

If he does make it, as he should, it would be Hibbert’s second All-Star appearance. He first earned the honor back in 2012.

The tossup is fourth-year guard Lance Stephenson. His numbers are way up: 14.2 points (from 8.8), 7.0 rebounds (from 3.9) and 5.3 (from 2.9) per game. Stephenson, who worked with a shooting coach over the summer, is also making nearly 50 percent of his shots.

More importantly, he’s the ignitor, the energizing player on the Pacers that not only gets his teammates going, but the entire crowd at the Fieldhouse. He’s a solid defender, has great ball handling skills (though he sometimes dribbles too much), finishes well at the rim, and is nearly unstoppable on the fast break.

But he’s also unpredictable, and sometimes his celebratory dances or trash talk rubs opponents the wrong way.

Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, who was with the Pacers the past two seasons and was integral to Stephenson’s growth, believes Stephenson should be in.

“In my estimation, I think he’s played well enough to earn a spot on the All-Star team this year in the East,” Shaw told Pacers.com.

“At the end of the day, he’s a guy now that coaches have to game plan for. Whether you like his antics or not, he’s effective and his team is winning. A lot of times, it comes down to being a popularity contest but what I think it should be judge more on — they have the best record in the league. If you have the best record in the league, there needs to be some weight given to that. If he’s one of the guys that’s driving the team that has the best record in the league and he has numbers that can stand up against any other guards of his position, why shouldn’t he get consideration for that?”

When I asked Clippers coach Doc Rivers whether Stephenson’s occasional showboating could hurt his chances, he said that it’ll certainly be considered into coach’s decisions.

“I think coaches consider everything,” he said. “Being an All-Star is elite in every way, not just basketball.”

Stephenson’s competition figures to be Washington’s John Wall, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and Orlando’s Arron Afflalo. One argument that can help Stephenson’s case, is that shouldn’t the NBA’s best team have a number of All-Stars for their talents, and also as a reward?

“I think their wins speak for themselves,” Rivers added. “Honestly, I don’t think a lot about the All-Star game. It’s one day when you think about it. It’s a big day for that kid, whoever makes it.”

For what it’s worth, all four of TNT’s NBA analysts — Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill — that appeared on their program to unveil the starters last week have both Hibbert and Stephenson on their list of All-Star reserves.

“Chuck, I owe you an apology,” Shaq professed. “This kid is an All-Star.”

“He’s definitely an All-Star,” Barkley added.

With an announcement coming Thursday night, we won’t have to wait long to find out.

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