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NBA Saturday: Who Will Be First-Time All-Stars?
Posted By Joel Brigham On December 15, 2012 @ 6:00 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Who Are The Potential First-Time All-Stars?
At this point, over a quarter of the way through the season and after the first round of All-Star balloting was released to the general public, we’ve gotten a pretty good sense of which players have the best shot at making their first All-Star game this year.
Obviously Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and LeBron James are going to be back, most likely voted in as starters, but we’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of major talent from the league’s younger crop of players as well, and that’s going to make for an interesting couple of All-Star rosters by the time February rolls around.
It’s still a little too early to determine which of the following players will actually make the team, but it’s very likely that all of the first-time All-Stars are among those listed below:
James Harden, Houston Rockets – Of all the players mentioned here, Harden feels like the surest thing. He’s averaging 25 points per game, which is fifth in the league and only a couple points behind his former teammate Kevin Durant, but he’s also chipping in 5.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals and carrying himself like a genuine superstar. It would be shocking if Harden didn’t make the team, and who wouldn’t love to see him reunited with Durant and Russell Westbrook on a loaded Western Conference squad?
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks – We have this conversation every year it seems, but Smith is as deserving of an All-Star nod as he’s ever been. He’s the most well-rounded player on a better-than-expected Hawks team and has actually been much more of a leader now that Joe Johnson is in Brooklyn. His numbers really aren’t all that different from a year ago, when he also might have made the team were it not for Luol Deng taking the slot because the Bulls were so good in the regular season. This is a guy who deserves the honor, and this year is as good as any to get him in the game.
Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks – Efficiency does not always equate to All-Star selection, but 22 games into the season Chandler is shooting a ridiculous 70.8 percent from the field. His 12.6 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game aren’t quite as sexy as the next couple of Eastern Conference big men on this list, and his block numbers are as low as they’ve ever been in his career (0.8 blocks per game in almost 31 minutes of action a night), but he’s a huge part of New York’s success, and if they were going to get two All-Stars, he’d be the guy to supplement Carmelo Anthony in Houston, though him earning a spot would feel a little bit like a lifetime achievement award. Even without “centers” on this year’s ballot, there are two other guys that play the position that have been even better than Chandler this year…
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls and Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers – People have talked about these two guys as though it will have to be one or the other that makes the team, but it seems entirely plausible that both make the team as reserves. Varejao is leading the league with 14.9 rebounds per game, which is over two rebounds a game more than Zach Randolph in second place. He’s also scoring 14 points per game and chipping in 1.5 steals per game, too, while Joakim Noah is pouring in almost 14 points to go along with 10.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals. He’s also second in the league in minutes played and has been a big reason Chicago has stayed afloat like they have despite their injury woes. Varejao has slightly better numbers, but Noah plays for the better team and would be the only Bull represented at the game. No reason to choose, though, right? Why not just take both?
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers, Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers and Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks – Rajon Rondo looks like he’ll be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference squad and, considering his assists lead, that seems like a reasonable selection. Deron Williams is a lock to back him up, which already places two point guards on the East squad and leaves very little room for what has been an outstanding group of young floor leaders in the conference this year. Though injured for long stretches, Irving has been prolific in his second season; Holiday is third in the league in assists and has blossomed into a confident and effective leader in Philadelphia; and Brandon Jennings has been explosive offensively as usual, but is also among the top-three in steals this year, too. While Irving looks like the perennial All-Star waiting to happen, Holiday has had the better overall year. That doesn’t bode well for Jennings, but a couple of guys are going to be snubbed from this group. Who those guys are should make for an interesting debate over the next couple of months.
Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets – A year ago it seemed like Derrick Rose would never get voted as an Eastern Conference starter again because of Lin’s wild world-wide popularity, but as Lin has sort of evened out a bit as a player, so too has the Linsanity in All-Star voting. Still, it’s never wise to underestimate the strength of the Asian vote, and Lin could still end up a starter in this game, as our own Alex Kennedy recently pointed out. He’s in the mix, folks, and should remain there in perpetuity as long as he’s remains reasonably talented and healthy enough to participate.
O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks – Mayo has cooled off ever so slightly since starting off the season scorching hot, but he’s still scoring over 20 points per game and shooting over 50 percent from three-point territory. Who knows how that will change when Dirk Nowitzki returns, but over the first quarter of the season he’s been one of the most exciting breakout stars in the Western Conference.
There are still two months to go before All-Star Weekend in Houston, so a lot can happen between now and the final tally. However, these are the guys that seem most primed for their first real opportunity at taking part in the exhibition. All of them want it, but only a handful will get their wish.
Thompson Credits Everyone Else For Breakout Year
With Monta Ellis long gone, the onus was always going to fall on second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson to pick up a bigger portion of the scoring burden in Golden State, and so far he’s done precisely that, averaging 16.4 points. He’s the third highest-scorer on the team, posting almost four full points a night more than his rookie campaign.
However, he gives little credit to himself and instead praises Stephen Curry and David Lee for being so good (and healthy) that other teams have to focus on everyone other than him.
Of course, his own abilities, including a much-improved defensive game, also have played major roles in his breakout campaign, all of which he discusses in the following interview with HOOPSWORLD:
Belinelli Comes Alive!
To say that Marco Belinelli’s tenure with the Chicago Bulls started out rocky would be a bit of an understatement. Because of some poor early outings, Belinelli ended up at the end of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s bench and as a result never really got himself going offensively, which was the one reason the Bulls signed him in the first place this past offseason.
But then Richard Hamilton tore a plantar fascia in his foot and opened up an opportunity for Belinelli to show that his career-high 11.8 points per game in New Orleans last year weren’t just an example of a player taking advantage of big minutes on a bad team. Now, after only scoring in double digits three times in his first 15 games as a Bull, Belinelli is averaging 19 points over his last five games in Hamilton’s absence.
That’s how you take advantage of an opportunity.
“It’s the NBA, so you never know. You just try to be ready every time,” Belinelli told HOOPSWORLD. “This is a good team and I just have to do my job and be ready every time. I work a lot all the time in the morning, then practice and take the opportunity.”
He does admit, though, that playing for Thibodeau on a team with high expectations was more challenging than he expected.
“Training camp was really hard for me, maybe the hardest in my life, but this is the NBA and this is what you have to do to play in the best league,” Belinelli said, adding that part of his early frustrations just had to do with learning the ins and outs of a new team.
“It was a new system and a lot of new guys for me,” he said. “It was a new system on offense and defense, so in the first couple of weeks I was a little bit nervous about that, but right now I feel really good. The team is great, I love everybody on the team, the coaching staff and Coach, and we play in Chicago with some of the best fans in the world. It’s a great opportunity for me to play in this city.”
Hamilton, who could be out at least a few more weeks, has always been a player Belinelli admired, and he’s using this opportunity to learn from him as his short-term replacement.
“Rip is one of the best guards in the league, so I do try to play like him. We will see, but I am so happy to play with this team right now, to play with him, everybody,” Belinelli said, seemingly aware that the word “play” was the key word in his sentence.
He’s playing now, and he’s showing how effective he can be when given the opportunity. The plan for him was to help fill Kyle Korver’s shoes at half the cost, and he’s only just now in the last two weeks or so proven that he’s capable of doing that. And, as a result, he’s out of Thibodeau’s doghouse and should continue to contribute long after Hamilton returns with two healthy feet.
Not everybody is able to take advantage of their opportunities, but Belinelli has, and the Bulls are just as grateful for that as he is.
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