Coach Moreau’s West All-Stars
My picks for the Western Conference had an added sense of difficulty, as All-Star-caliber players like Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili missed a significant number of the first 20 games of the season. That made it impossible to select them at this point in the year, which opened the door for some other well-deserving players – younger guys and players laboring on bad teams.
This gives the Western Conference team a significantly different look. However, it is safe to say that all of the above will be in the discussion come February and some of the current members of my team will get bumped. And keep in mind this is not a popularity contest or a life-time achievement award – this is performance up to this point of the season. And there are some big names missing. Let the arguments rage on.
PG – Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
: 19.8 pts, 11.8 ast, 2.8 stl
He was runner-up for the MVP last year and has brought the Hornets back from a slow start with his drive, passion and will to win. He leads all Western Conference point guards in scoring, assists and steals, and just his presence on the court makes New Orleans a contender. He’s scoring a little less, but his assists and shooting percentages are up for the second-best team in the West. Don’t leave him out of the MVP conversation.
SG – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: 25.0 pts, 5.4 reb, 4.3 ast
He’s playing fewer minutes, so his scoring is down a little. He’s also not shooting as well from three as in past years, but he is the man on the best team in the West. The Black Mamba is still the premier closer in the game, and there isn’t a player in the league who doesn’t fear guarding him with the game on the line. He may not be wowing fans as much during the regular season, but don’t be fooled. He will elevate his game at the necessary time.
SF – Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets: 21.3 pts, 8.0 reb, 3.6 ast
Leads Western Conference small forwards in scoring and rebounding, and Melo has spotted defending on a regular basis for the Nuggets – a clear result of his experience with Team USA this summer. His scoring is down, but his rebounding and assists are up from last year. He is shooting more threes and making a higher percentage than at any time in his career. His 33-point third quarter against Minnesota was one for the ages and he sees a real chance to advance in the playoffs with the addition of Chauncey Billups.
PF – Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: 26.3 pts, 9.2 reb, 2.5 ast
Skeptics are quick to point out Nowitzki’s and Dallas recent playoff failures, but Dirk is putting together a fabulous season and has his team back in the early playoff hunt – winning 7 of their last 9 games. He’s been on fire in the month of December, averaging 31 points on 50% shooting, and his 26.3 scoring average is the second-highest of his career. The Mavs just may be better than we think, and Dirk should get his chance to quiet the doubters at playoff time.
C – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
: 20.8 pts, 10.8 reb, 1.8 blk
Forget the “Duncan is really a power forward” arguments. He plays center for this Spurs team, and kept them from falling off a cliff when All-Stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were out with injuries. Scoring more than he has in his last four seasons, his presence on the court at both ends makes his team a contender. Duncan is still one of the best passing big men in the NBA and the anchor of the Spurs defense. One of the all-time greats playing again at an elite level.
PG – Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets: 17.7 pts, 7.0 asts, 2.5 reb
Nothing illustrated Billups value more than the drastic change of fortune for the Nuggets and the Pistons after the trade for Allen Iverson. The Pistons went in the tank when Chauncey left, and the Nuggets went from entertaining eighth seed playground team to a serious contender as one of the top teams in the West. Billups is the definition of “floor general” with his steady hand and ball distribution. His presence, production and his direct influence on the success of his teams make him an all-star in any conference.
SG – Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers: 22.3 pts, 5.2 asts, 4.6 reb
Roy has been the leader of a young, up and coming Blazer team, and his efficient play in the first quarter of the season has the Blazers right in the thick of the early playoff race. He is second among Western two-guards in scoring, but it’s his all-around game and his value to his team and that earns him respect around the league. You won’t find him in many highlight reels, but you will find him in the All-Star Game as one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA.
SG – O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies: 20.8 pts, 4.2 reb, 2.7 ast
Normally I ignore rookies for All-Star recognition this early in the season, but with the injuries to many key players, Mayo’s play for the improving Grizzlies has to earn him a spot. He is third among two-guards in scoring in the West, and his shooting percentages are better than Kobe’s across the board. He’s a threat to catch and shoot, or take defenders off the dribble for the mid-range jumper. He is already a solid defensive player and has become the Grizzlies “go-to guy” at crunch time.
SF – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 23.2 pts, 5.1 reb, 1.9 ast
Durant makes the team as a small forward, and is also the beneficiary of the early season injuries to the above mentioned players. His team is awful, but Durant is scoring more efficiently and his shooting percentages are vastly improved from his rookie year. He currently leads the NBA in three-point shooting at 48%, and is rebounding better and is more active defensively. It’s too much to ask him to carry his team to wins right now, but that is his next step if he wants to be a perennial All-Star.
PF – Amar’e Stoudamire, Phoenix Suns: 22.2 pts, 8.8 rebs, 1.1 blk
Although his numbers are down some from past years, Stat is still the explosive offensive force for the new look Suns. He’s finding his way around with Shaq clogging things up, but his 22 and 20 against Utah and 21 and 14 against Orlando are a sign of what is to come once Phoenix gets everything figured out and all of the trade rumors simmer down.
PF – Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: 18.0 pts, 9.0 rebs, 3.5 asts
He’s the quiet #2 man on the West’s best team, and he is the valuable piece that Lakers needed to make their Finals run last year. The return of Andrew Bynum has forced both to adjust their games, but Gasol continues to score inside and out, as well as rebound and dish as well as any combo forward/center in the league. Because the West is loaded at this position with more “star quality” players, Gasol can get overlooked. Not by me.
PF – David West, New Orleans Hornets: 21.0 pts, 7.3 rebs, 2.0 asts
To appreciate West’s value to the Hornets and his place among the league’s elite, check his stat lines against the league’s best teams: 25 and 5 against Cleveland, 23 and 14 against Boston, 21 and 12 vs. the Lakers. West elevates his game against the better teams, and he will show you his toughness and competitiveness around the basket or in the mid-range.
C – Yao Ming, Houston Rockets: 19.7 pts, 9.9 reb, 1.7 blk
The most important stat for Yao is 24 for 24, having yet to miss a game this season. Many are just waiting for the annual injury to occur, but when he’s healthy Yao is a steady, efficient scorer in the post and the interior anchor of a Rockets team that many feel can win the West. His minutes and scoring are down, but his shooting percentages are up. Hopefully fans will get to appreciate The Great Wall for an entire season and deep into the playoffs.
C – Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves: 21.7 pts, 10.2 reb, 1.9 blk
This guy just continues to dominate on the blocks for a miserable team, and may be the best pure low post player in the NBA. He’s got the fundamental repertoire of Tim Duncan, but adds the flair and creativity of a guard in the paint. He is at the mercy of his mediocre teammates, but piles up the numbers against some of the best teams in the league: 30 and 14 vs. San Antonio back in November, 28 and 17 vs. Phoenix, and last week in a three-game stretch against Denver, San Antonio and the Lakers, averaged 21.7 pts, 12.7 rebs and blocked 7 shots. His team stinks, but it isn’t his fault and he deserves some recognition.
– Due to fan voting Yao Ming will definitely be the starting center and not Tim Duncan. Yao Ming deserves it and is the best center in the West not Andrew Bynum. Tim Duncan will be the starting power foward. And the starting small foward will most likely be Amare Stoudemire. Which means Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony will most likely be picked by the Western Conference coaches to be on the all-star bench. There is question marks on OJ Mayo he’s only a rookie. And Kevin Durant and Al Jefferson are having all-star seasons but are playing on losing teams. So those three will most likely not be selected. The biggest left-out on this list is Steve Nash. He should definitely be selected. As for the Lakers, Pau Gasol should be an all-star and Andrew Bynum should get some consideration too.