The NBA’s 58th All-Star Game is all set to be played in Phoenix on Sunday, Feb. 15. All it needs is some players.
One will surely be Kobe Bryant, who after the first ballot returns leads all Western Conference players with 719,252 votes, followed by Yao Ming’s 529,290. That’s not close. Chris Paul follows Bryant at the guard position with 406,220 votes, while Tim Duncan (442,203) and Amar’e Stoudemire (370,470) lead Western Conference forwards. Pau Gasol ranks fifth among forwards with 260,374 votes. At center, Shaquille O’Neal (227,273) trails Yao, and is followed by Mehmet Okur (162,139) and then Andrew Bynum (155,689).
Let’s take a look at the whole ballot, and then summarize the positioning of each Lakers player:
2009 Western Conference All-Star Balloting – No. 1
Forwards: Tim Duncan (SA) 442,203; Amar’e Stoudemire (Pho) 370,470; Carmelo Anthony (Den) 327,233; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 261,952; Pau Gasol (LAL) 260,374; Ron Artest (Hou) 214,063; Bruce Bowen (SA) 121,739; Shane Battier (Hou) 115,981; Josh Howard (Dal) 113,456; Luis Scola (Hou) 82,344; Lamar Odom (LAL) 78,422.
Guards: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 719,252; Chris Paul (NO) 406,220; Tracy McGrady (332,222); Manu Ginobili (SA) 166,981; Jason Kidd (Dal) 162,286; Tony Parker (SA) 161,638; Steve Nash (Pho) 142,410; Jason Terry (Dal) 105,345; Chauncey Billups (Den) 87,172; Brandon Roy (Por) 78,071; Rafer Alston (Hou) 73,613.
Centers: Yao Ming (Hou) 529,290; Shaquille O’Neal (Pho) 227,273; Mehmet Okur (Utah) 162,139; Andrew Bynum (LAL) 155,689; Greg Oden (Por) 71,366; Andris Biedrins (GS) 65,496; Al Jefferson (Minn) 46,242; Tyson Chandler (NO) 39,467; Marcus Camby (LAC) 25,824; Chris Kaman (LAC) 9,104; Brad Miller (Sac) 6,892.
Kobe’s huge lead in the Western Conference should only grow as the season goes on. If Kobe isn’t voted in as a starter for the 11th time in his career (every year but his rookie season and there was no game in 1999), then “The Office” is a terrible show that’s never funny and has bad actors. We don’t even need to bother discussing this.
Pau’s case is a bit more interesting. First of all, I’ll argue that he should be an All-Star. He’s very clearly been the second-best player on an 18-3 team, and has the numbers to back it up: 18.0 points (20th in the West); 9.2 rebounds (7th); 3.4 assists; 0.95 blocks; and, perhaps most impressively, 57.1 field goal shooting, which ranks fourth in the league behind three players that score mostly on dunks and layups (Nene, Shaq and Emeka Okafor). While Pau is unlikely to be voted in as a starter ahead of Duncan, Amare, ‘Melo or Dirk, one would think that the NBA’s coaches value and respect Gasol’s game enough to put him on the squad. Even if the just mentioned four players all get into the game, it’s hard to think that the coaches would rather have Artest, Bowen, Battier, Howard or Scola, who trail Gasol in votes. A few other players not yet cracking the vote minimum are Carlos Boozer (who’s been hurt); David West, who was an All-Star last season; Zach Randolph, who – no matter what you say about him – is averaging 20 and 11; LaMarcus Aldridge; and Al Jefferson, who’s actually listed as a center but is averaging 21 and 10 and could get in as a forward/center if Minnesota wins a few more games. Yet and still, do you think any of those players are more deserving than Pau? Me either.
Unless Sun Yue makes a few calls to China on Bynum’s behalf, it’ll be quite difficult to jump Yao as the West’s starter at center. But there’s a good argument for Bynum being the West’s No. 2 center, particularly when we consider that his numbers should keep improving all the way up to the All-Star Game. Right now, he’s averaging 13.3 points, 8.9 boards (8th in the West), 1.95 blocks (7th in the NBA) and is shooting 56 percent from the floor (9th in the NBA). Andris Biedrins is putting up impressive numbers (15.2 points, 12.4 rebounds) but is on a bad team, just like Al Jefferson. Were Bynum the focal point of a team’s offense (like Al) or its only big man (like Biedrins), his numbers would probably rise to their level. As for the other two besides Yao ahead of ‘Drew, Shaq’s 15.4 and 8.4 are fine, but he doesn’t play the second side of back-to-backs. Okur’s numbers are right there with Shaq at 15.2 and 7.8, but the Turk is really more of a perimeter-oriented player on offense and doesn’t protect the rim on defense. Marcus Camby’s playing well, but Chris Kaman, Brad Miller, Tyson Chandler and Greg Oden shouldn’t threaten Bynum too much – it’ll be more about if Drew’s production continues to progress as it has in the last few weeks. If so, the kid’s first All-Star berth could be his reward.
Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher
While Odom’s currently the 11th player in terms of votes on the All-Star ballot, and certainly has All-Star caliber skills, he probably isn’t getting enough playing time on L.A.’s talent-laden squad to make as good of a case as other players. So with Lamar, let’s monitor his play (and minutes) heading into the next round of votes.
Fisher is the fifth Lakers player on the ballot, but with point guards like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Baron Davis and now Chauncey Billups out West … Well let’s just say it’ll be tough.