Give and Go: 2014 All-Star Game draft: Team Golliver vs. Team Mahoney
Golliver: James Harden, Rockets
Even those frustrated by James Harden’s neglectful defense will acknowledge that his skills as a scorer and a play-maker are more than enough to put him into the “Best two guards in the league” conversation. He trails only Wade with a 21.3 PER and he’s averaging 23.8 points per game, seventh-most in the league. The decision here was between Harden and Carmelo Anthony, and I opted for the former for three reasons. First, because it gives me another positional monopoly, forcing Team Mahoney to fill out its backcourt by settling for lesser players or playing guys out of their natural positions. Second, because Anthony just won’t have the opportunity to shine on my Durant-centric roster, while the Durant/Harden combination proved fruitful for three seasons in Oklahoma City. Third, because Harden is a foul-drawing savant, getting to the line more than eight times per game this year, tops among all guard. Having a player who would relish the challenge of trying to get either George or James into early foul trouble would be a big asset in a one-game showcase.
Mahoney: Tony Parker, Spurs
Even with Harden off the board, I’m not terribly worried about the shooting guard position; George will likely have to stay on the floor as much as Durant does anyway, and there are so many quality point guards in this bunch that I’d be fine with playing one of them (including Curry) out of position at times.
I do need another ball handler in the mix, though, and Parker immediately jumped out. He isn’t the shooter that Lillard is, and in that might seem to compromise my plan to maximize floor spacing as much as possible. But lost in Parker’s many strengths is his terrific work off the ball; as brilliant as he is when attacking the rim, Parker makes sharp cuts that are difficult for any defense to handle, and with those should strain Ben’s coverage in other ways. Thus rounds out a roster that bubbles with potential for constant motion. We’ve seen what players like Parker, James, Curry, George, and Davis can do when allowed to make catches on the move. But put that group together — and add in a facilitator like Noah — and things could get crazy.
Beyond that, I like that Parker is a yin to Curry’s yang, capable of charging more aggressively into the paint than his counterpart. It will take speed, finesse, and plenty of crafty plays to get the best of the Hibbert/Howard combo, and in choosing Parker I expand my team’s capacity for all three.
Mahoney: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
This is more of a move for depth than anything else, as Anthony — along with James and George — completes the three-man wing rotation likely to play out the majority of the game. He’s an awesome scorer to snag this late, and one whose less attractive qualities should be disguised in the context of such a talented roster. When given the opportunity to play with other stars, Anthony has generally engaged as a defender and relied less on dribble-heavy isolations. Both go a long way in helping him fit in with this bunch, where he’ll pull double duty as a deadly off-ball option (Anthony has made 46.2 percent of his spot-up threes for the season, per Synergy Sports) and spot creator.
Golliver: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
I’ve ridden the Kyrie Irving pendulum of emotions just like everyone over the last 12 months. His scintillating all-around performance as the youngest All-Star last year — 15 points in the All-Star Game, a Three-Point shootout win, 32 points in the Rising Stars challenge — has given way to lots of losing in Cleveland and, this season, accusations of ball-hogging, loafing on defense and pouting. The looming question, of course, is how much of the blame falls on Irving and how much of it should be attributed to the Cavaliers’ culture. It seems more than reasonable to expect Irving to play his best ball and be on his best behavior when he is surrounded by the best players in the world; if the 2013 All-Star Weekend wasn’t sufficient evidence, his standout play for USA Basketball last summer should provide additional reassurance. Here, Irving will simply be asked to back up Paul and do his best to make Parker work on defense. Irving has the moxie, handle and overall ability to fill that role with ease.
Golliver: Damian Lillard, Blazers
My nine-man rotation is more or less set. Everyone from here on out would only be called upon for situational use. Damian Lillard joins the roster as a designated gunner in the event that Stephen Curry starts to get rolling towards one of his patented insane shooting performances. While Curry is clearly the better overall player, Lillard is shooting 40.9 percent on 7.1 threes per game, quite comparable to Curry’s 40.2 percent shooting on 8.3 threes per game. If there’s one major weakness with my rotation, it’s outside shooting, as Paul (35.6 percent), Irving (36.2 percent), Wade (39.1 percent on less than one attempt per game) and Harden (32.3 percent) aren’t shooting the lights out from deep this year. If the floor did start to shrink around Durant, we would turn to Lillard for a little space creation.
Mahoney: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
A no-brainer choice and a perfect situational selection. I’m in the same position as Ben in that the majority of my playing rotation is already decided. What’s left is to fill out my depth chart and pick up a few specific counters, both of which make Nowitzki a great fit. It’d be nice to get one more big to complete my lot of power forwards and centers, and in that regard Nowitzki is the easy choice over Paul Millsap. Beyond that, I love the way that having Nowitzki on the floor would free up most every offensive actions. As a screener Nowitzki is downright magnetic, forcing opponents to surrender driving lanes as to avoid giving him an open jumper. He’s an awesome source of scoring in difficult spots, too; when the offense really jams he might be an even more attractive option than Love, if only because Nowitzki’s fadeaways from the post tend to render the defense irrelevant. Minutes might be scarce with defensive specialists and more balanced players logging minutes at power forward and center, but I’m thrilled to have Nowitzki all the same.
Mahoney: John Wall, Wizards
With my frontcourt settled, how could I take any of the remaining players but Wall? He isn’t a perfect fit and won’t likely see much time, but the divide in value is too great between him and the other guards still available to make any other choice. At worst I’m coming away with a terrific athlete and passer, fit to make the kind of cross-court feeds to the corners we’ll need to break down Team Golliver’s defense. He might even contribute a bit defensively, too, as Wall can be disruptive in the kinds of chaotic situations my team will look to create. I have no objection with adding a player this good and this quick, particularly with one of my final selections.
Golliver: DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Kudos to the 24-year-old DeMar DeRozan for his career year: 22 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game, numbers that would have looked like overly optimistic projections two years ago. There’s no question he’s been an integral part of Toronto’s success.
That said, his only role on Team Golliver is giving Durant a two-minute breather.
Golliver: Paul Millsap, Hawks
Unfortunately, Paul Millsap will get rewarded for putting Atlanta on his back following Al Horford’s injury by getting a DNP-CD for Team Golliver. That’s tough to say about anyone who is averaging 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists while ranking in the top 10 at his position for PER, but there just aren’t any available minutes with Durant, Aldridge, Howard, Hibbert and Griffin in front of him on the frontcourt depth chart. Perhaps Millsap, who I expected to earn an All-Star spot as soon as he signed with the Hawks back in July, can get some run in the event that Griffin accidentally gives himself a concussion by dunking ferociously on someone.
Mahoney: Joe Johnson, Nets
Only because Arron Afflalo, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, and Kevin Hart were unavailable.
Honestly, though, I don’t mind having Johnson on my team, even if he isn’t the worthiest of this year’s All-Stars. His jack-of-all-trades game vibes well with my roster’s versatility, and it’s nice to have a more conventional shooting guard type in reserve if the situation calls for it.
Here’s how the two teams stack up on a depth chart. Starters are noted in italics. Final thoughts from each GM are included below.
PG Stephen Curry | Tony Parker | John Wall
SG Paul George | Joe Johnson
SF LeBron James | Carmelo Anthony
PF Kevin Love | Chris Bosh | Dirk Nowitzki
C Joakim Noah | Anthony Davis
GM’s take: Any team stocked with All-Stars is bound to look good on paper, but this particular roster is fast and flexible in a way that will prove difficult for any opponent — even Team Golliver — to handle. The depth chart doesn’t even do it justice; James could wind up playing any given position; Curry would make for a nice shooting guard complement to Parker; George will be cross-matched to guard Durant for much of the game, making his shooting guard designation functionally irrelevant; and Davis could slide down to power forward, with Bosh logging minutes at center. We’ll have the ability to manipulate lineups and matchups as the situation commands, enabled by the prevalence of shot creation, passing, perimeter shooting, and defensive versatility throughout.
PG Chris Paul | Kyrie Irving | Damian Lillard
SG Dwyane Wade | James Harden
SF Kevin Durant | DeMar DeRozan
PF LaMarcus Aldridge | Blake Griffin | Paul Millsap
C Dwight Howard | Roy Hibbert
GM’s take: Team Golliver accomplished all of its goals. We surrounded Durant, the league’s hottest player, with a starting lineup that includes four guys we feel are the best all-around players in the pool at their respective positions. Our bench offers good positional balance, strength inside, two big match-up problems for opponents (Griffin and Harden) and two complementary options for the back-up point guard position. Our biggest hole — depth at the small forward position — is irrelevant because we are planning to ride Durant to 50 points in 46 minutes. Our biggest concern is handling the devastating James/George combination, but we like our available personnel at the 2/3 positions and see our interior players as capable of helping out and as clearly superior to their positional counterparts.