Thursday, February 11, 2010

The NBA All-Star Game: Come on In, You're All Invited, Except You, Josh.

Two weeks I reported on the injustice of excluding the ambidextrous duo of David Lee and Chris Kaman from this year's All-Star game. I am happy to report that my advocating, um "journalism" has yielded some results. David Stern and the coaching staffs of the Eastern and Western Conferences listened to what I had to say and have corrected their errors.

David Lee will play for the East, replacing Allen Iverson, who will miss the game for "personal reasons." Specifically, his daughter is ill and Iverson has missed the last week of Sixers games to be with her. Makes sense that he would miss the festivities. Especially as he shouldn't even be there in the first place, unless being an All-Star is a lifetime achievement award and not a recognition of a player's work during the actual season. Oh wait, I forgot, it is. More on the 1992 All-Star game in another post. For the record, here are Iverson's numbers for this season:

14.4 points, 0.4 3-pointers, 4.7 assists, 0.6 steals on 44.8 percent shooting from field and 80.3 percent from the line.
Let's compare Iverson against an unnamed Player B in some of the same stats:

Player B: 10.2 points, 0.9 3-pointers, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals.

So who is this mysterious unnamed Player B? Keen-eyed regulars of Yahoo Sports' Player Profiles might recognize him. He is the average guard in the NBA. Yes, Allen Iverson scores 4.2 more points but hits 0.5 fewer 3s, dishes 1.8 more dimes and snares 0.2 less steals...THAN THE AVERAGE NBA GUARD!!!

I loved AI as a player. He was the scariest sub-six-footer ever to lace them up. He is a no-question first ballot hall-of-fame player. His jersey was the top seller throughout the '90s and early '00s and justifiably so. But, sentimentalism aside, he had no business starting for this year's All-Star game. Of course, I am making this argument as if the All-Star game actually mattered any longer. But the reality it is as watered down as the league itself.

Let's take a quick look at the number of players (and more importantly players' agents) who will technically be able to call themselves 2010 All-Stars:

Eastern Conference Starters
G: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers (out: personal reasons)
G: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
C: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
G: Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
G: Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
G: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
F: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
F: Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats
F: Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
C: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
F/C: David Lee, New York Knicks (Replaces Iverson)

Western Conference Starters
G: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
G: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (injured)
F: Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
F: Tim Duncan San Antonio Spurs
C: Amar'e Stoudemire Phoenix Suns
G: Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets (Replace Chris Paul)
G: Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks (Replaces Kobe Bryant)
G: Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets (injured)
G: Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers (injured)
G: Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
F: Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
F/C: Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
C: Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers (Replaces Brandon Roy)

That makes 28 All-Stars for 2010. And in ten years when Brandon Roy can point to being an All-Star in 2010, who, if even he, will remember he wasn't even on the team? There have to be replacements and injuries are part and parcel of NBA life but this year has been egregious. And, honestly, if not for the election of Allen Iverson and disastrously close near-election of Tracy McGrady, this wouldn't be that big a deal. It certainly is no worse than the Pro Bowl, where every Pro Bowler from the Colts and Saints were replaced by other players. There were 11 such players.

Yet, despite this inflation still professional sports organizations find ways to exclude worthy players. Josh Smith is a better forward than at least three others on the Eastern team. Whom?

1. Al Horford. This one isn't even close. Smith is far more disruptive on defense and far more dangerous in the open court. While Horford's improved game has helped the Hawks this season, the single biggest reason for their improvement has been the play of Smith. Smith no longer jacks crazy threes and is working within the offense. On defense, he remains the same a blocks and steals machines who may gamble a bit too much but whom the other team always has to think of. Horford poses no such threat.

2. David Lee. I know, I know. I spent so much time pimping him two weeks ago, now I am saying he shouldn't be an All-Star. No, actually, that's not what I am saying. It's juts that despite his career year, he isn't better than Smith. As much as the All-Star game likes to showcase a few white guys, there is no way Lee should be ahead of the force that is Josh Smith, whose defense is far beyond his. Besides, as I pointed out two weeks ago, Lee should be there ahead of Horford. There is room for both he and Smith on the team.

3. Kevin Garnett. Ow. My soul hurt when I wrote KG's name. It's time to face facts. KG is not what he once was. He still has a jumper and still makes good passes from the high post but the tireless defense? The erasing of guards when they blow into the lane past the first defender? The thunderous dunks in transition? All gone. Josh Smith is the better defender now and far more explosive on offense. Sure KG remains a better shooter but that's about it. In all other phases of the game I take Smith before Garnett. Yeah, I am not looking forward to this match-up should it occur in the playoffs. But if does come to pass can we just give KG this weekend off, so he can rest and perhaps improve the health of his knee? Did that sound like wishful thinking? Yeah? Crap, it was.

Taking aside defense and all-around better play, the last reason Josh Smith should be on the team ahead of these guys is the wow factor. J-Smoove will wow you, especially in an all-star game where they allow dunks like Amsterdam allows pot smoking...and prostitution...and in this one club called the White Swallow... The point is we all expect to see vicious, consciousness-altering dunks during an all-star game and Josh Smith is a guy who can deliver them. Check the following video of his dunks and blocks:

Trust me, Smith could put an all-time in-game dunk down this season if given the chance. Of course, he wasn't given the chance and here we are with old-timers like Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett roaming the court. To Kidd's credit he should deliver a few lobbed alley-oops to someone on the Western team and that's about all we should expect of him. Though looking at the Western Conference roster, they don't have too many crazy dunkers. If we wants the goods from Kidd, he better toss it Stoudemire's way because those alley-oops to Tim Duncan and Zach Randolph? Well, I hope you like bank shots. Garnett? He'll probably just scowl and set illegal screens against Pau Gasol.

The other glaring omission? Monta Ellis. I get that he's hurt now (sprained ankle) and that he probably couldn't go any way but come on. This kid is the closest we have to the old Iverson in the league right now. Little guy, scores at will, never looks satisfied, seems relentlessly driven. Get his ass in the All-Star game! Or for Christ's sake, if you going to have a dumbass H-O-R-S-E contest in the weekend, why wouldn't you invite the guy who can do this:

Maybe I ask the impossible but all I want is a game where both sides care. It doesn't matter if the defense is inconsistent. We want a show after all, but don't let it be non-existent. I mean is it too much to ask the East to get pissed off after years of everyone talking about how much worse they are than the West? And is it too much to ask of the West to get cocky and try to humiliate the East? Because if they try to do that, we might actually get something other than showboating in the game. We might see some pride. If we saw that, I would forgive the omission of Josh Smith. This season. Next year you have to get this guy in the game!

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