My ’14 All-Star starters: Why Roy Hibbert edges Carmelo and more picks explained
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
30.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game; 50.2% FG, 41.1% 3PT
Calls don’t come much easier than this. Durant has an unimpeachable résumé: He’s been the NBA’s best player this season, has balanced a massive workload with high efficiency and is doing it all for one of the best teams in the league. If there is a single, persuasive argument as to why Durant wouldn’t deserve a spot in the West’s starting lineup, I know not of it.
F: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
25 points, 13 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 0.9 steals per game; 45.9% FG, 38.6 % 3PT
Love’s individual success has contrasted sharply with the Wolves’ deflated record. On most every night, he’s the best thing Minnesota has going. Love has evolved into one of the game’s most prolific point generators. His bulk scoring (fourth in the league in points per game) comes through incredibly flexible means, dependent on situational matchups and Love’s own inclinations. He’ll power his way inside for post-ups as easily as he’ll step into a quick-fire three-pointer — a combination that makes Love almost impossible to guard without trade-offs elsewhere on the floor. That potency as a catch-and-shoot threat, in particular, causes all kinds of problems for defenses; such is inevitable when an opposing big man is forced to float out to the perimeter and chase Love around screens, responsibilities that test the integrity of entire defensive systems.
The 25-year-old Love also acts as a rebounding catch-all and a productive passer. Few are capable of mounting so complete an assault on the standard box score. Love fills it up across multiple columns, dominating the game offensively and bailing out the Wolves’ iffy defense with his ability to close possessions with a rebound. His case would be even more complete if he were a more competent defender.
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
24.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game; 47.6% FG
Aldridge is an unusual talent, and his success at the center of the NBA’s best offense has more than earned him a place as an All-Star starter. Portland’s offensive structure relies on many things — the shooting of Damian Lillard, the flexibility of the Blazers’ wings, the ability of every player to read and react as necessary. But no single factor is more crucial than Aldridge’s capacity to create advantages and convert difficult shots, particularly from zones on the floor that are typically inefficient. It takes a special player to turn long-range post-ups into a healthy diet, and Aldridge is just that.
Plus, he separates himself rather cleanly from many other candidates with his defensive abilities, both on the ball and in help situations. Aldridge isn’t so effective to salvage Portland’s still-underwhelming team defense, but he’s legitimately helpful in coverage and his presence has coincided with a 6.7-point swing in points allowed per possession, according to NBA.com.
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
23.5 points, 9.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game; 44.2% FG, 38.3% 3PT
A remarkable shooter, a spicy ball handler and an awesome, fluid passer — Curry doesn’t just deserve inclusion in the All-Star Game, but we also flat-out need him there. The spectacle in his play alone is worth an All-Star berth, though Curry makes it easy by also ranking as one of the league’s best offensive players. His gravity is unmistakable; few players draw such concerted defensive attention so far from the basket, and fewer still are capable of then breaking down the defense the way Curry can.
He commits a ridiculous number of turnovers in the process, but Curry’s shooting is so demanding of defenses and so lethal that the giveaways are almost beside the point. He influences the game on an every-play level offensively. When he’s without the ball, a defender still has to stay glued to Curry, no matter what happens elsewhere on the floor. When he’s in control of the offense, every dribble and hesitation bears the threat of a pull-up jumper, which on average for Curry holds an effective field goal percentage of 50.2, per SportVU. He’s basically a walking cause for defensive overreaction, which in turn opens up scoring chances for every other Warrior.
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
24.3 points, 5.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game; 44.9% FG, 33.5% 3PT
This is Chris Paul’s spot, but Harden gets the call with CP3 injured. His credentials are well-established at this point: Harden may be one of the NBA’s sleepiest perimeter defenders, but he’s such a creative dynamo on offense that it’s impossible to deny him. Houston is one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring teams in large part because of Harden’s work as an impetus. His ability to maintain an exceptional true shooting percentage while playing such a prominent role anchors Houston’s scoring. His endless foul-baiting buoys the Rockets’ league-best free-throw rate. And Harden’s drive-and-kick work activates so much of his team’s offense – whether through direct pick-and-rolls with Dwight Howard or a pass out of a drive leading to the pass leading to the pass leading to an open three-pointer.
He’s a gaudy scorer and an effective passer, but moreover: So much of an elite offense can be traced directly back to Harden. That counts for quite a bit, and in this case gives Harden the edge over a very competitive crop of Western Conference guards.