NBA Saturday: 2014′s First-Time All-Stars
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Who Will Be First-Time All-Stars?
With just a week to go before the start of training camp for some teams, buzz for the upcoming NBA season is as frenetic as it’s been since the craziest part of free agency wrapped up back in July. Part of that buzz is trying to decide which players will break out this season, but for those players who have on some level already broken out, the next step is getting named to an All-Star team.
Last year, Lang Greene wrote this gem about potential first-time All-Stars, and of the 11 guys he suggested, four ended up being named to the team: Kyrie Irving, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler and James Harden. Some others, like Josh Smith, John Wall and Rudy Gay, were terrific guesses, but there was no way that, out of 26 potential All-Star roster spots, 11 of them were going to make it. Somebody had to fall short, even if it’s a borderline crime that they did (see: Stephen Curry).
This year’s list of potential first-time All-Stars includes a lot of players who have either deserved the opportunity before or that seem on the cusp of seriously breaking through in 2013-14, but remember to temper your enthusiasm about these guys; not a single one of these gentlemen is getting in as a starter, and a considerable number of the 16 reserve slots are going to be filled by guys who have already been there.
If we guess that the fans vote in Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah for the Eastern Conference, and Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard for the Western Conference, that still leaves an incredible list of previous All-Stars that are likely to receive serious consideration: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Deron Williams, Luol Deng, Al Horford and Rajon Rondo in the East, as well as Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, James Harden, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love in the West.
In short, this isn’t going to be an easy year for guys to join the club. But that won’t stop them from trying. Here’s the list of the most likely players to make their first All-Star team this year:
Gay will get his first full season with the Raptors in 2013-14, which means we’ll also be given our first opportunity to see what he can do as the unequivocal leader of an NBA franchise. He’s only averaged over 20 points per game once in his career, but signs are pointing toward him getting there this coming season, particularly on a somewhat stripped-down Toronto team that will rely heavily on Gay and DeMar DeRozan to pour in the points. His ability to make the All-Star team probably will depend on whether the Raptors have a winning record at the break, and whether Gay can figure out how to score more efficiently. He’s right there, but he sort of has been his entire NBA career.
As far as snubs from 2013 are concerned, none were more painful than Steph Curry, who went on to have one of the most memorable postseasons of any player last year. His numbers were insane (remember, he broke the single-season record for three-pointers made last year), and he is definitely on the up-and-up as an NBA star, but the competition in the West is so fierce that he might bump into the same problems this season that he faced last year. He’s going to have to knock out one of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Tony Parker or Kobe Bryant to find his way on that Western Conference All-Star roster and, obviously, that isn’t going to be easy.
Every year, Smith makes this list because of his defensive prowess and jaw-dropping athleticism, but despite the fact that he’d be a perfect fit for the midseason exhibition, he still has never made an All-Star team. Perhaps his move to Detroit will help him finally earn a spot on the team. He’s not likely to have a bigger role there than he did in Atlanta, but if Detroit’s as good as they should be, they’ll have a representative in the game. Smith is as good a guess as anybody for whom that player might be.
Of course, if it’s not Josh Smith who is representing the Pistons on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, it could very well be Greg Monroe, who is gearing up to play his first full season at power forward. This should allow him to up his scoring numbers and his scoring efficiency, and if he does that he could end up the best offensive big man in the Eastern Conference. He’s not flashy, but neither is Tim Duncan. He could be poised for a big year.
At some point, we have to look judiciously at John Wall and decide if he really does have what it takes to be a premier NBA talent. He certainly signed a premier contract this offseason worth $80 million over five years, and that means the Wizards are ready for him to start delivering on a top-tier level. The end of last season was a good omen of things to come this season, as Wall averaged 22.1 points in March and 23.9 points in April, and at 23 years old, he’s the perfect age to have a major breakout season for the Wizards. Health, though, like it always is with Wall, will be the major concern. With Rajon Rondo potentially missing a good chunk of the first half of the season, Deron Williams sharing stats with a star-studded lineup and Dwyane Wade growing a year older, this may be one of the few instances in which a member of the new guard actually dethrones one from the old.
Well, the numbers are there. That much really can’t be argued, and a strong case can be made that he should have been added to the All-Star team last season. However, Cousins’ polarizing personality probably doesn’t make him a favorite among opposing coaches, who are responsible for naming the All-Star reserves. If Cousins walks the straight and narrow this year, though, and puts up career-best numbers across the board, he’ll be right back in consideration for a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team. Much more polarizing personalities have made the squad before him.
Obviously, we’ll have to wait for February to roll around to find out which, if any, of these players will actually make the All-Star team, but it’s a good bet that at least one or two of them will be added. Last season was a perfect time for a new batch of seven first-time All-Stars to squeeze out some older and more disappointing players, but that won’t be quite so easy this year, particularly for guards in both conferences.
Adam Silver Doesn’t Think Tanking Works
About two-thirds of the way through this upcoming NBA season, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver will take over for current NBA Commissioner David Stern when he finally retires after a long career atop the league’s iron throne.
In a recent interview with the Milwaukee Bucks’ official site, Silver talked about a number of things, most notably tanking, which isn’t something he’s particularly fond of.
“I don’t think [tanking] works, because culture is critical,” Silver said. “And I don’t think you can build a winning tradition with an undercurrent that ‘it’s better to be bad.’ I’ve never seen it be successful. It makes me nervous that it has to be asked, so I recognize it’s something the league has to focus on.”
The league’s going to have the opportunity to focus on tanking plenty this upcoming season because there are a healthy handful of teams that are going to employ that particular rebuilding strategy in the wake of a loaded 2014 draft class.
The strategy gets a bad reputation, and there are plenty of examples of seasons in which the worst team did not get the best player in the following summer’s draft, but Oklahoma City has seen a lot of success after bottoming out for a few years to amass high draft picks. Cleveland was awful the year before getting LeBron James. Philadelphia is doing everything they can right now to give themselves the best shot at Andrew Wiggins.
So is Silver suggesting that, eventually, there will be changes made to the way draft picks are awarded? It seems unlikely, mostly because there are going to be teams that are legitimately awful every year, whether they’re tanking or not. Legitimately bad teams shouldn’t be penalized because purposefully bad teams are gunning for the top picks. Some fans complain about tanking, and it’s true that nobody wants to pay good money for a cruddy live NBA experience, but some of this stuff is unavoidable.
Tanking is here to stay, at least as long as there’s a draft that gives bad teams a good chance to get a franchise-saving player. Wiggins, for example, is worth tanking for. We’ll see this season which team is willing to sacrifice the most for those higher odds.