At the midpoint of the NBA season, as the Lakers continue spiraling into an abyss of their own making, it's time to try to avert our eyes from that multi-car pileup of a basketball team and consider some difficult choices.
We're not referring to which teammate, coach or front-office employee Kobe Bryant decides to incinerate first with his laser-like glare, but rather a topic far more mundane: the annual selection of the All-Star reserves.
There wasn't anything egregious in the fans' selection of the All-Star starters for next month's extravaganza in Houston: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett for the East, and Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard for the West. All but one, Howard, are deserving. I'll be honest: With the logjam of talent in the West, if the fans hadn't voted Howard in, he would not have made my list of Western Conference reserves. It's not all his fault -- health and coaching have played significant roles -- but the addition of Howard to the Lakers has basically made them unwatchable.
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But in an effort to make pro sports' best All-Star game as watchable as possible, the annual midseason report is devoted to my picks for the seven reserves from each conference. As you will see, the East was a relative breeze. Filling out the Western Conference roster was like trying to figure out a way for the Lakers to make the playoffs, though let's be honest -- not that hard.
Despite continuing to toil for a bad team, Irving has raised his stock exponentially in league circles. A glance at Hoopdata.com confirms what our eyes have seen; Irving has been the fourth most efficient offensive point guard in the league, behind the excellent company of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. Irving should get used to not having his All-Star weekends free, and his summers, too, as Team USA officials are likely to elevate his role in the program going forward. Holiday has been invaluable to the Sixers, keeping them afloat in Andrew Bynum's absence. Holiday easily beats out the Nets' Deron Williams -- who has played better of late but isn't Brooklyn's most dynamic player on most nights -- and the Bucks' Brandon Jennings.
It's a good year for big men in the East, even with Bynum not yet playing his first minute in Philadelphia. Chandler remains a defensive force and leads the league with a .674 field-goal percentage. He's been the Knicks' glue through some tough times. Pierce is back in assassin mode as he tries to push the Celtics toward one more playoff run. Noah was a no-brainer. He does so many things at both ends of the floor that contribute to winning, which the Bulls continue to do without Derrick Rose.
Bosh's poor rebounding has been well documented, but that's not enough to keep him off my All-Star roster given his high-level offensive production. The Nets' Brook Lopez has been the league's most offensively efficient center to this point in the season, but this is where it gets tough in the East. The Pacers, without Danny Granger, have the third-best record in the conference and are the top-rated defensive team in the league. How can they not have an All-Star? It's a testament to their roster balance and the job Frank Vogel has done that, even when you concede that the Pacers need an All-Star, it's almost impossible to decide which one. David West has been rock-solid, and his leadership in the locker room has galvanized the team. I went with George because the Pacers' success is all about defense, and while George's defensive numbers aren't staggering, he guards the toughest matchup every night. The Hawks' Al Horford is another notable snub.
Pretty straightforward here. Harden has justified his quest for a starring role, as only Bryant has a higher efficiency rating among shooting guards, according to Hoopdata.com. Westbrook has his flaws, all well documented, but that doesn't change the following facts: Only Paul, the best point guard in the world, has been statistically better this season, and Westbrook does pilot the team with the best record in the league.
At 36, in his 16th season, the wondrous Duncan is having his best season in at least four years. Lee's efficient offensive game and stellar defensive rebounding have helped the Warriors become one of the surprise teams of the league in the first half. The 'Dubs certainly are worthy of sending two starters to Houston (see Curry, Stephen below). Marc Gasol is the most important defensive player on the West's top-rated defensive team, but how do you leave the best power forward in the West off the All-Star team? Aldridge also gets the nod over the Thunder's Serge Ibaka, a tough call.
The more Gregg Popovich asks Parker to do, the more his star shines. It's tempting to lump Parker into the Spurs' graybeard group, but at 30, he's still in his prime and at the height of his powers. Curry leads the league in 3-point percentage (.464) among NBA regulars and finally is showing how broad his impact can be now that he's been healthy for a significant period. Both get a difficult nod over Ibaka, whose expanded offensive game has been a revelation, as well as over Gasol (you know, the good one, as in not Pau); Portland's Damian Lillard; Utah's Al Jefferson; Denver's Kenneth Faried; and the Spurs' Manu Ginobili.
All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday night at 7 ET on TNT. Until then, on to the rest of my Midseason Awards, which highlight the people I believe are in the lead at the halfway point for the various regular season honors:
MVP: Kevin Durant, Thunder. Durant and LeBron James are virtually indistinguishable at both ends of the floor when you look at their Synergy numbers. Surprisingly, Durant has a higher combined average of blocks, steals and charges drawn (3.06) than James (2.63). This will go down to the wire, and the fact that Durant has led OKC to the league's best record at the halfway point gives him the slightest of edges.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah, Bulls. Noah does it all, posting the league's fourth-highest combined total of steals, blocks and charges drawn, while playing lockdown defense in most play types.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, Clippers. Really not up for debate.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls. I tried to warn everyone that the Bulls were going to be a problem, and they've played beyond even my expectations without their injured superstar. Thibodeau is neck-and-neck with the Pacers' Frank Vogel, who could have easily won this award last season and deserves the utmost consideration again.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers, Warriors. Like the previous honor, this is a completely subjective award. A strong case can always be made for R.C. Buford for keeping the Spurs humming along; Sam Presti, for not being afraid to trade James Harden; Billy King, for turning the perennially awful Nets into a top-five team in the East (though he had to fire his coach to do it); and Gary Sacks, who added the right supporting pieces to the Clippers (though most of the work with the roster was done before he was elevated to GM). I'm going with Golden State's Myers, the lone success story thus far in the agent-to-front office phenomenon. The Warriors are not only fun to watch, they're good -- and will be dangerous come playoff time.