Give and Go: 2014 All-Star Game draft: Team Golliver vs. Team Mahoney
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth. This week: A re-drafting of the 2014 NBA All-Star teams.
The imbalance between the NBA’s two conferences extends to the All-Star Game rosters, where top West snubs like Anthony Davis and Goran Dragic would have been sure-fire selections had they played in the East. Here, The Point Forward throws all 24 All-Stars into a pool, conducting a snake draft to achieve a better balance in talent between the squads.
A few quick notes: Davis has been subbed in for Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is currently sidelined with an injury and is expected to miss All-Star Weekend. All other players — including Clippers guard Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a shoulder injury but is expected to play in the All-Star Game — are assumed to be at full health. The priorities of the draft are 1) to build the best team and 2) to build the most exciting team, in that order. Lineups and minutes distribution are totally up to the coaches and explained below.
Here’s the full 24-man player pool, in alphabetical order, for reference: LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George, James Harden, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Joe Johnson, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and John Wall.
Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Heat
There’s really no losing with either James or Kevin Durant, and I thought long and hard about taking the latter in the top spot. Durant is the NBA’s most brilliant scorer, and with his ability to handle the ball, make plays, defend a few positions, and shoot from anywhere, he’d be a great fit with just about any group of players. There’s also something to be said about whether James — whose effort has come and gone this season, particularly on defense — would really be locked in for an All-Star game in the same way Durant likely would be.
Ultimately, though, the flexibility that comes in drafting James overwhelmed any potential risk for me. He remains the best basketball player on the planet, and has the unique ability to leverage both the post and high pick-and-roll as a scorer and passer. His defensive buy-in would also give me an elite across-the-board option in coverage, as James could slide over to defend almost any of this season’s All-Stars. That’s big, and I love the possibilities it provides as I wade a bit deeper into the player pool.
Ben Golliver: Kevin Durant, Thunder
It says a lot that my reaction to James going off the board first was equal parts horror and relief, rather than total horror. James would still be my top pick for a seven-game playoff series with equally matched teams, but I’m more than happy to “settle” for Durant in this one-game, stars-only festival format. The All-Star Game scoring record is held by Wilt Chamberlain, who poured in 42 points in 1962, and my team will be constructed such that Durant (who has scored 30+ points in the last three All-Star Games) will have every opportunity to set a new record. Given how well Durant is playing and how easily he’s been scoring — he’s No. 1 in the league in PER, Win Shares and scoring, and he averaged 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 54.9 percent overall, 43.6 percent from deep and posting a whopping 131 offensive rating in January — Chamberlain’s mark could very well be in jeopardy come Feb. 16 in New Orleans. Much like Scott Brooks, I plan to ride Durant for as many minutes as he can give, so finding a back-up small forward will not be a high priority.
Golliver: Chris Paul, Clippers
Durant was an easy choice but this one is considerably more difficult. Chris Paul or Paul George? What will make Durant’s life easier: selecting the premier point guard in the game to set him up or picking the best remaining perimeter defender to ensure he can breathe a bit easier when he has the ball? As frightening as the James/George combination is as a counter to Durant, the pick was CP3, for a few reasons. First, the absences of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose thin out the top of a deep point guard crop, leaving Paul as the clear standout from the pack, especially when both sides of the ball are taken into account. Paul’s 27.5 PER is more than four points better than the second-best point guard, Stephen Curry, and that’s the biggest gap at any of the five positions. Paul is intelligent, competitive, in his prime, coming off a 2013 All-Star Game MVP performance, and stands the league’s leading assist man, dishing out more than 11 per game. That package, plus the knowledge that I will have the match-up at the all-important point guard spot, is too much to pass up.
Mahoney: Paul George, Pacers
Last week’s game between the Heat and Thunder made one thing abundantly clear: Asking James to both run an offense and defend Durant for a full game comes at a cost. With that, it’s critical for me to find another high-level defender to throw at KD on either a full or part-time basis, making George the easy pick of those remaining. This year’s All-Star team isn’t exactly well-stocked with perimeter defenders; Carmelo Anthony might be the only player left with the size and speed to physically match up with Durant, while Joe Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, and James Harden would all be woefully overmatched.
George, on the other hand, is one of the few players in the league who can theoretically give Durant trouble. I suspect he — as the more dedicated on-ball defender — would end up drawing the primary assignment. That puts James in a position to lurk behind every play as a potential help option, and gives me a strong foundation for containing the most dangerous player on Ben’s team. Add in at least one quality defensive big and I’m in a good spot.
Mahoney: Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry isn’t the best player still available, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pair James with the best shooter in the league. The range in itself is fun as a spectacle, but I’m primarily motivated by the insane draw that Curry has on opposing defenses. Already my team has a lot of creative potential on the wings, making shooting at the point a priority.
Enter Curry, who not only has as quick and true a release as you’ll find among these All-Stars, but also demands that opponents stay attached to him at all times. Anything less than full defensive commitment could allow Curry to become the All-Star MVP, as few players in the game can match his capacity for scoring explosion.That’s invaluable when I’ll likely have James running the show for significant portions of the game and George doing important work as a complementary creator. The shooting and playmaking balance between those three has my team building from a position of advantage.
That said, I am a little nervous about having to manage Curry’s limitations on the defensive end, particularly against All-Star-caliber opponents. In competing against typical NBA competition, there’s usually somewhere to hide Curry without significant penalty — a floor general point guard or a spot-up wing shooter, neither of which can really attack Curry consistently enough to cause problems. In a game like this one, though, there’s nowhere at all for Curry to hide. He’ll likely start by going head-to-head with Chris Paul at the point, and while my first two picks established the start of a good help system, that matchup could be tough.
Golliver: Dwight Howard, Rockets
It’s no surprise that the top five picks have all been perimeter players, nor is it much of a surprise which five players were selected given the format. Our top goal was winning before entertainment, though, and the possibility for a monopoly on the low-post centers is too much to pass up. Only three of the 24 players selected to the All-Star Game are traditional centers — Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah — and the voting ballot change to remove the “center” designation and lump in the bigs under the “froncourt” umbrella made a big impact this year, as Howard won’t start in the real game for the first time since 2007 and Hibbert was beaten out for a starting spot by three small forwards (James, George and Carmelo Anthony). Howard is averaging a cool 18.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks for the Rockets, whose defense has improved from No. 16 last year to No. 10 this year with his addition. I’m certainly not crazy about the reports that Howard spent the 2013 All-Star Game doing locker room impressions of Kobe Bryant, but he fits the roster’s goal for strong, two-way play. Howard is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate while being more than capable of making teams pay for loading up on Durant and finishing pick-and-roll lobs from Paul.