My ’14 All-Star starters: Why Roy Hibbert edges Carmelo and more picks explained
Fans’ picks for All-Star Game starters will be announced on Thursday, but with the potential for debate abound, The Point Forward couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cast our own ballot for the starting lineups of both conferences. Below are the picks — two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference, per the league’s new rules — who by these eyes warrant featured spots in the Feb. 16 midseason showcase in New Orleans. (All stats and records are through Jan. 21.)
FC: LeBron James, Miami Heat
26.2 points, 6.5 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game; 58% FG, 37.2% 3PT
Even though LeBron has dialed his night-to-night effort down a bit, there’s still no debate here. “Coasting” just doesn’t even seem all that relevant in the case of a player this absurdly good on a team that has the luxury of taking its time.
FC: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
23.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game; 46% FG, 39.5% 3PT
George’s leap year has been an absolute delight. Beating out the rest of the East’s frontcourt players for a starting spot is only secondary; George is so splendid a defender and so thoroughly improved offensively that he warrants comparison to James and Kevin Durant, putting him in a realm of one-on-one competition on an entirely different plane.
FC: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
12.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in only 30.3 MPG; 46.5% FG
Carmelo Anthony will be a popular choice here, and likely the popular choice via the official fan vote. But if we’re talking about the Eastern Conference frontcourt players who have made the most profound impact this season, I have a hard time talking myself out of Hibbert, who has been the single most staggering defender in the league.
The Pacers are set for a historic defensive season, and while Hibbert has help through George’s top-tier wing defense, sturdy coverage options at every position and the guidance of coach Frank Vogel, it’s his unique abilities as a rim protector that make it all possible. Indiana could be a good defensive team even without Hibbert, but it’s only by channeling ball handlers in his direction that the Pacers are capable of truly outstanding work.
On some level, it also just makes more sense to me to reward the standout defender on the league’s best defensive team as opposed to a very good offensive player on the 20th-best offense. Anthony isn’t really to blame for the Knicks’ struggles to score consistently, and in many cases his ability to manufacture offense has kept New York from slipping further. I do think, though, that there is some responsibility for carryover between individual strengths and team strengths when discussing players of this caliber. One of the finest players at his position should at least make his team passable at what he does best. Anthony helps New York’s offense, but there’s not much worth celebrating in carrying a team to sub-mediocrity.
There’s risk here of conflating an individual award with team evaluation, but I aim more to point out the differences between Anthony’s merely positive influence and Hibbert’s transformational effect. Hibbert’s abilities as an interior defender provide the most compelling basis for the Pacers’ contention. Anthony’s abilities as an offensive centerpiece have been impressive (particularly in the face of the Knicks’ roster-stemmed adversity) but lack the same level of consistently positive influence.
To zoom out slightly: At worst, Hibbert is a useful offensive piece and rebounder with best-in-the-league defensive standing. Anthony’s offensive game doesn’t measure up to the NBA’s elite quite so favorably, and his own liabilities as a defender are so pronounced as to be damaging. Even then Anthony is only edged out by a hair; he’s had a fine season, truly, but Hibbert’s defense puts him just a cut above.
BC: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
18.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game; 54% FG
Wade is one of the few backcourt options on the board that I feel completely comfortable in choosing, which I realize is an odd thing to say regarding a player who has missed about a quarter of his team’s games.
Off the top: I don’t really see the 12 games that Wade has skipped as reason to disqualify him. On balance, he’s still proved to be one of the league’s best wing players and has found an essentially perfect balance in his work as a creator and complement. He’s played enough to establish a baseline of performance this season, and in effect has only missed time out of prudence. That Wade has willingly sat out to serve his and his team’s long-term interests isn’t much of a demerit in my eyes. The cautious approach hasn’t prevented him from otherwise playing at a high level or cost the Heat much in the grand scheme of their season, and it wouldn’t rule him out for the All-Star Game itself. What, then, would be the reason behind omitting him on the basis of games missed?
If this were a season with a more competitive group of backcourt candidates in the East, this might be an entirely different issue. One could see Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo or Kyrie Irving challenging for this spot under different circumstances, but none of them are currently in effect with Rose out, Rondo easing his way back from knee surgery and Irving underwhelming. All the more reason to appreciate Wade’s terrific work, no matter if he misses every fourth game or so in service of the long game.
BC: John Wall, Washington Wizards
20 points, 8.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game; 43% FG, 32.6% 3PT
This strikes me as a less contestable call, as Wall’s work as a shot creator has risen to a level worthy of this distinction. He nonetheless benefits from the aforementioned lack of viable alternatives in the conference, but in my eyes there’s a clear separation between Wall and the remaining candidates, especially given the burden he carries.
Other Wizards can create in spots — Nene dabbles in a variety of play types, and Bradley Beal can handle the ball a bit. But Wall’s case lies in just how much control he has to exert to keep the Wizards on track, particularly when giving up the ball too early to the wrong player could derail the offense entirely. Cogs like Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat are entirely useful, but the timing in positioning them to score is rather delicate. With that, Wall not only has to pressure the defense to create openings for his teammates, but he also has to set them up with perfect placement and timing as to maximize their scoring chances.
That’s a tall order, but one that Wall has largely managed. He’s making more impressive feeds with each passing season, and this one is no different. Few guards thread passes to corner shooters so accurately and consistently, no matter the traffic between his release and his target. Only four players create more points per game for their team by assist: Chris Paul, Kendall Marshall (!), Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry. Of those four, though, only Paul and Curry top Wall in total points created when accounting for scoring as well.
Wall still has a long way to go as a defender, and his jumper off the dribble is a sometimes-brutal work in progress. But Wall has made enough big-picture strides to deserve this honor. The 23-year-old should be a staple for All-Star consideration from this point forward.
Next page: Western Conference starters