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ChicagoJ
01-26-2004, 03:54 PM
Who will make the all-star cut?
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Updated: January 26
12:49 PM ET

The fans have spoken. The media have spoken and spoken. Soon, the
coaches will get their say too.

The final All-Star Game voting tallies won't be announced until
Thursday, but if all goes according to current voting trends, Vince
Carter, Jermaine O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Ben
Wallace will be in the East starting lineup. Kevin Garnett, Tim
Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Steve Francis and either Shaquille O'Neal or
Yao Ming (the one race still too close to call) will start in the
West.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. The East starting five is
solid. At least, this year, Carter is actually playing. The West
starting five is a bit shakier. TD and KG are obvious choices. Kobe
is an interesting fan vote given his legal troubles at the moment.
But given the contenders at the two guard position (Ray Allen,
Emanuel Ginobili, Michael Finley) can you blame them? Francis is
about the fifth-best point guard in the West this season, but who's
counting.

Once the starters are announced, the league will turn to the coaches
to make the final seven selections. Predicting what they'll do has
turned into a laughable proposition.

The all-star selection process is one of the great unsolved
mysteries left in the universe. There is no rhyme or reason. No
pattern. No logic. Might as well sacrifice small animals, throw
their innards on the ground and let a shaman or two divine the
stars.

The fans would vote in Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley if they
could. Everyone thought LeBron James would be a shoo-in with the
hype and the shoes. Go figure that, per the latest NBA results, he
ranked behind Carter, O'Neal, Wallace, Iverson, McGrady and Jason
Kidd in fan voting in the East. The fans want to see the stars, the
flash and the dunks. Period. There's nothing wrong with that.
The media love to rail on the fans for getting it wrong. Of course,
we too, rarely get it right (witness the Jazz and Bucks). We're
great at hyping our pet projects or making selections that bolster
preseason predictions -- but what do we know?

The coaches have the better chance of getting things right. They do
more than peruse box scores or breath heavily over the latest flavor
of the month. They're less likely to be swayed by a good player
putting up great stats on a horrible team. And they're more likely
to give a guy who busts his butt every night (read Ron Artest) over
a no-substance scorer (read Shareef Abdur-Rahim). They also have
grudges. That's why you'll never see Rasheed Wallace or Latrell
Sprewell get any love this time of year. Again, nothing wrong with
that.

With that said, here's the part where I tell you to ignore all of
that and listen to me. I don't, however, have all of the answers. My
all-star ballot doesn't make much sense either. Is it OK to vote in
a guy like Zach Randolph, whose entire team needs to be checked into
a rehab center? I have no idea. What about a guy like Brad Miller?
His numbers are all at career highs, and he's a key player on the
best team in the Western Conference. The Kings would be lost without
him. But, is he really among the best six or seven big men in the
West? It's debatable.

Company policy forbids me from mutilating squirrels, so, for the
second year in a row, I went for the next best thing. I called up
five successful GMs and asked for their perspective. I respect the
GMs' opinions for a couple of reasons. One, they see the whole
picture. Skill, work ethic, bang for the buck, marketability and
character all play into it for them. Second, they see the whole
league. GMs are constantly scouting other players, looking for a
good fit, or that guy who will put them over the top. It's not an
exact science. But to these five guys, all of whom wished to remain
anonymous, it's as close to science as any of this gets.

While no one agreed on everything, here's a rough consensus of who
should be flying first class to Los Angeles in February.

Eastern Conference Starters

G- Jason Kidd, Nets
G- Tracy McGrady, Magic
F- Ron Artest, Pacers
F- Jermaine O'Neal, Pacers
C- Ben Wallace, Pistons

Comments: All five GMs agreed that Kidd, O'Neal and Wallace were the
best at their positions in the East. McGrady and Artest garnered
four votes, with one vote going to Paul Pierce and another going to
LeBron James.

There aren't any huge surprises here. Baron Davis is having,
arguably, a better season than Kidd this year. What kills Davis,
according to the GMs, is his 38 percent shooting percentage and his
love affair with the 3-point shot. Everything else -- points,
assists, steals, defense and ability to carry his team -- is great
this year. McGrady is having a down year, especially when you
compare it to what he did last season, but he's still the most
talented swingman in the game. Artest should finally get the love
this year based on his tough defense (Will he actually defend in the
All-Star Game?), emerging offensive game and his calm demeanor this
season on and off the court.

O'Neal may be the only guy in the group having an MVP season. He
continues to mature every season and has turned into the East's most
dominating big man on the offensive end. I always get a kick out of
putting Wallace at center. He doesn't play the position, hasn't for
the past two season[s], but in the size-challenged East, he's as close
to an All-Star as you can get. All 15 starting Eastern Conference
centers just don't make the cut. So you must move on to the
second-best power forward in the East and that's Wallace by a
landslide.

Eastern Conference Bench

G - Paul Pierce, Celtics (5 votes)
G - Baron Davis, Hornets (5 votes)
G - Allen Iverson, Sixers (4 votes)
G - Michael Redd, Bucks (3 votes)
F - Vince Carter, Raptors (3 votes)
F - LeBron James, Cavaliers (3 votes)
F - Lamar Odom, Heat (3 votes)

Comments: Everyone knows that the East is very guard heavy, but this
is a little ridiculous. Depending on how you rank positions, there
are six guards here and just one forward, Odom. Carter and James can
technically be listed at forward because of their size and the
positions they play on their team, but objectively, they're closer
to guards than they are to forwards. What happened to the rest of
the forwards? The problem is there are few players worth voting for.
Odom barely made it in with just three votes. The Nets' Kenyon
Martin got two votes, the Cavs' Carlos Boozer and the Nets' Richard
Jefferson got one each. No one else even garnered so much as a vote.

The nature of the guard-heavy East also produced a two interesting
snubs. The Knicks' Stephon Marbury and the Pistons' Chauncey Billups
garnered just two votes each. Marbury was probably hurt the most
because of his teams' poor records. Billups has been huge for the
Pistons this season, but his numbers, when stacked up against the
other top guards in the East, aren't as convincing.

Western Conference Starters
G- Sam Cassell, Timberwolves
G- Peja Stojakovic, Kings
F- Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves
F- Tim Duncan, Spurs
C- Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers

Comments: Garnett and Duncan were the only unanimous selections this
year. Stojakovic edged out Kobe, 3-2. Shaq beat out Yao Ming 4-1.
Cassell edged out Steve Nash 4-1. It's tough to argue much of
anything here. Stojakovic at two guard? I let that slide. It was
clear that the GMs weren't comfortable voting in Kobe and were
looking for an out. If we let Eastern Conference GMs vote Ben
Wallace in at center, then why not Stojakovic at the two. He can
play the position and does it about as often as Wallace plays
center.

Cassell was a little bit of a surprise. He's having a career season,
but given his inability to make the team previously, it's nice to
see the voters put the past behind them. Shaq may not be having a
great season, but the fact that, whenever he does play he's
dominating, gives him the edge this year.

Western Conference Bench

G- Kobe Bryant, Lakers (4 votes)
G- Steve Nash, Mavericks (3 votes)
F- Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (4 votes)
F - Brad Miller, Kings (3 votes)
F - Pau Gasol, Grizzlies (2 votes)
F - Zach Randolph, Blazers (2 votes)
C - Yao Ming, Rockets (5 votes)

Comments: There's room for plenty of healthy debate here. Let's
start with the guard snubs. Ray Allen, Michael Finley, Steve
Francis, Emanuel Ginobili, Mike Bibby and Gary Payton got one each.
Allen would've been a lock had he played most of the season,
according to several GMs who left him off the ballot. There was a
feeling that he just hadn't played enough to earn a spot. Francis
is, by all accounts, having an off year, though the GM who voted for
him said we shouldn't penalize him for trying to play with Jeff Van
Gundy's system.

One GM, in love with Ginobili, thought he was the second most
important cog on the Spurs. Bibby has been great this year, but gets
lost in the shuffle with so many Kings. Payton has been good for the
Lakers, but like Bibby, just got lost in the shuffle a little bit.
The West is big heavy, so it was no surprise to see them grab five
of the seven other spots. Yao was the only reserve everyone seemed
to agree on. It was a little surprising that one GM left Nowitzki
off his vote completely. He's struggled this season, but not that
much. There was a popular sentiment for Miller who, in addition to
scoring and rebounding, has turned himself into one of the best
passing big men in the game.

After that was really wide open. Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko,
Elton Brand, Erick Dampier, Carmelo Anthony and Rashard Lewis all
got one vote each. In my mind, Kirilenko is more deserving than
Randolph based on his overall contribution to his team. The Jazz are
winning and Kirilenko is getting it done in every category.
Randolph's scoring and rebounding numbers are better, but he gives
up as many points as he scores every night on a terrible team. It's
also surprising that three teams with winning records -- the
Nuggets, Sonics and Jazz -- don't have any representatives on the
team.

But what do we know?

"This isn't rocket science," one GM said. "You just kind of vote
your gut and try to keep the past out of it. But bottom line, this
is just personal preference. The coaches will see things differently
and I could absolutely see a guy like Kirilenko or Dampier, who give
them fits every night, get in. We'll find out soon enough."
Spoken like a true shaman.

Joe All-Star

Now that we've got that out of the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't
mention five guys who didn't get much support for their all-star
bid. Whether it's because their team is terrible, their play isn't
highlight-reel quality, or they've just appeared on the radar,
here's my vote for five average Joes "almost all-stars" who are
doing special things in the NBA this year.

Andrei Kirilenko, G, Jazz
The Stats: 16.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 2.1 spg, 47 percent shooting
The Skinny: He may be the most complete player in basketball. His
numbers are never flashy on the surface, but dig a little deeper and
he's pretty amazing. He became just the third player in the past
decade to have a game in which he scored at least five points, had
five boards, five assists, five blocks and fives steals. The fact
that he's already done it twice this season is just amazing. He
won't make the all-star cut this year, but Kirilenko has been the
big reason behind the Jazz's surprise run this season.

Andre Miller, G, Nuggets
The Stats: 15.9 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.3 rpg, 1.6 spg on 46 percent
shooting
The Skinny: The Nuggets added two big weapons to the worst team in
basketball last summer -- Miller and rookie Carmelo Anthony. While
Anthony himself is also worthy of all-star recognition, Miller was
given the keys to the Nuggets' offense and he's been running it to
perfection. The fact that he's bounced back from a horrible season
in Los Angeles proves that Miller isn't just a guard who puts up
good numbers on a bad team. He's also a leader capable of turning
around a team when he has the right talent around him.

Carlos Boozer, F, Cavs
The Stats: 13.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg on 50 percent shooting
The Skinny: Lost in all of the LeBron hoopla is the emergence of
Boozer as one of the most dominating power forwards in the Eastern
Conference. Not bad for a second year player who mysteriously
slipped into the second round on draft night. Boozer seems to
improve by the game. When LeBron went out with ankle injury, Boozer
proved that he can be a lethal scorer in the paint as well. He's
averaged 23.5 ppg, 16 rpg and 1.5 bpg over his last four. With Cavs
GM Jim Paxson slowly weeding out distractions, it may be just a
matter of time before Boozer works his way into the All-Star Game.

Emanuel Ginobili, G, Spurs
The Stats: 12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.9 spg
The Skinny: The Spurs have one of the most boring, traditional and
lethal offenses in the league, but thanks to Ginobili, it now has
the requisite spice to make it palatable. Ginobili has been amazing
for San Antonio, especially when Tim Duncan is struggling or out
altogether. His quickness and gambling on the defensive end have
made him one of the team's most valuable players in the plus/minus
stats. In a conference with a dearth of great two guards, give
Ginobili another year to get his feet wet and he should be well on
his way to his first all-star selection.

Elton Brand, F, Clippers
The Stats: 20 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg on 53 percent shooting
The Skinny: Don't hate the guy just because he plays on the
Clippers. The former all-star will likely be passed over because the
Clippers are struggling once again, but there isn't a more
consistent double-double guy in the NBA. Brand may not be exciting,
but the consistency in horrible conditions is enough to impress us.
Honorable Mention: Erick Dampier, Warriors; Shawn Marion, Suns;
Donyell Marshall, Raptors; Keith Van Horn, Knicks; Jim Jackson,
Rockets; Richard Jefferson, Nets; Chauncey Billups, Pistons.

The Kids

While we're at it, the league is set to announce the rosters for the
Rookie-Sophomore game this week as well. They've traditionally done
a pretty good job of getting it right, but just in case there's any
confusion at the league office, here's our take on who should be in.

Rookie All-Stars
STARTERS
G - Dwyane Wade, Heat
G - Kirk Hinrich, Bulls
F - LeBron James, Cavs
F - Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
C - Chris Bosh, Raptors

BENCH
G - Leandro Barbosa, Suns
G - T.J. Ford, Bucks
G - Raul Lopez, Jazz
G - Keith Bogans, Magic
F - Jarvis Hayes, Wizards
F - Josh Howard, Mavericks
C - Chris Kaman, Clippers

Comment: The top five are pretty easy to pick. All five have been
outstanding at their positions. Given their relative draft
positions, none of it should come as big surprise. The bench isn't
that controversial either. The biggest snubs are Udonis Haslem of
the Heat and the Jazz's Aleksandar Pavlovic getting pushed out by
Lopez and Bogans for the last positions on the team. Still, when you
look at this list, there's no question that this is one of the best
rookie classes ever.

Sophomore All-Stars
STARTERS
G - Frank Williams, Knicks
G - Emanuel Ginobili, Spurs
F - Tayshaun Prince, Pistons
F- Carlos Boozer, Cavs
C - Yao Ming, Rockets

BENCH
G- Ronald Murray, Sonics
F- Amare Stoudemire, Suns
F - Jiri Welsch, Celtics
F - Drew Gooden, Magic
F - Mike Dunleavy, Warriors F/C - Mehmet Okur, Pistons
F/C - Nene Hilario, Nuggets

Comment: This group was considered a huge success for a rookie
class, but it pales in comparison with the Class of 2003. Yao,
Stoudemire, Boozer and Ginobili all look like they have star written
on them. Prince, Murray, Nene, Gooden, Dunleavy and Welsch also
appear to have a bright future. Last year's point guard class was
awful, however. Frank Williams and Jaric were the best that we could
come up with, and neither player has done more than impress in small
stretches.

What's also interesting is who's not on the list. Caron Butler was a
starter last season but has struggled to rebound from offseason knee
surgery. Dajuan Wagner was supposed to be the second coming of Allen
Iverson, but injuries have wreaked havoc on his young career. An
injury to Jay Williams, another starter from last year, may end his
career. Several other players are just now starting to come around.
The Wizards' Jared Jeffries, the Clippers' Chris Wilcox, the Lakers'
Kareem Rush, the Suns' Casey Jacobsen and the Bucks' Dan Gadzuric
are having promising seasons, but not enough to make the cut this
season.

ChicagoJ
01-26-2004, 04:01 PM
Thanks for posting. My computer monitor is still out, and I'm banished to distant computer labs to work.

There's one more article to come... but my boss is making me work today so I haven't gotten it yet...