For the first time in three years, the Clippers will have somebody representing them at All Star Weekend. In fact, two somebodies.
In February 2007, Elton Brand was left off the Western Conference All Star team. Last year, Al Thornton was snubbed by the assistant coaches who vote for the rookie team (although he finished with the more significant honor of first team all-rookie). But this year, Thornton will be playing for the Sophomores while Gordon suits up for the Rookies.
It is of course a relatively meaningless spectacle, but it's nice for the players to get some recognition. It's strange to talk about playing in anonymity in Los Angeles, the second largest media market in the entire league, but the shadow cast by the Lakers must make the players feel like they're on the Bakersfield Clippers. Except that the Californian doesn't run AP stories for Jam games.
It is a testament to a couple of good draft picks by the Clippers. The last Clipper to participate in one of these games was Chris Kaman, drafted in 2003, so there was a bit of a dry spell there. For the Thunder to have 3 guys in the game is not overly surprising - they had the second and fifth picks in 2007, the fourth pick in 2008, and all those guys are pretty much SUPPOSED to make this game - it would likely be viewed as a draft mistake (hello Mike Conley) if they weren't selected. But for the Clippers to have both guys in the game, drafting Thornton at 14 and Gordon at 7, is impressive. And most welcome considering the team's draft history.
Thornton, coming off his Rookie first team selection last season, starting every game and averaging 17.4 points per game, second among the sophs behind only Kevin Durant, was a lock to make the Sophomore team.
Things were not quite so clear cut for Gordon. He was up against the same numbers game that cost Al a spot last season. Last season's rookie crop was very heavy with forwards. Al would likely have been chosen ahead of someone like Mike Conley if it had simply been a question of picking the 9 best rookies at the time. But the assistant coaches who vote also have to try to balance the squads positionally.
This season's rookie crop is led by a group of talented guards - the 'big three' rookies of O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are all guards, and Gordon rounds out the four leading rookie scorers. With Rudy Fernandez playing for a winning team and media favorite in Portland, it seemed possible, if not likely, that Gordon could be the odd man out. The solution was to put Fernandez on the team as a Forward. Good decision.
So who are the snubs this season? Well, DJ Augustin of Charlotte is the highest scoring rookie not headed to Phoenix. He of course got caught up in the same numbers problem at the guard position, so it's not surprising that he won't be there. It's also not a travesty when you consider that he's shooting under 40% on the season. Yes, he's scoring, but he's taking a lot of shots to do so.
For me, the one questionable decision on the rookie team is Greg Oden over Kevin Love. (Hopefully my friends at Blazers Edge won't be too upset with me for bashing Oden again - just upset enough to give me a bump in page views.) Love is easily the best rebounding rookie (some kid name Jordan is second in rebounds per 48 among the rooks, btw). Love happens to be one of the best rebounding rookies in years , and he is scoring the same as Oden (though Oden shoots a much higher percentage). Even the team success argument doesn't eliminate Love - sure, Portland has a better record, but Minnesota has had a spectacular improvement recently, and Love has been a major contributor for them. It's not an egregious mistake by any means, and again not at all surprising considering how frequently Portland is on TV versus Minnesota. Oden's resume is great and he is a good choice for the game - but I would have taken Love if it was up to me.
A quick side note: if there was going to be an anti-Portland, anti-Pritchard backlash in the wake of memo-gate, this would have been a place to look for it: assistant coaches for the other 29 teams omitting Pritchard's prized picks from the big game. Instead, there are two Portland rookies on their way to Phoenix. Both are good choices, but neither are 'no-brainers.' If anyone was looking for a way to Pritch-slap the guy, they could have started here. They didn't. We've all got short memories - and for all of the hand-wringing over the Miles situation (myself included), it's over and done and no one cares anymore. Which is a good.
In a poll a few weeks back 54% of you thought that both Gordon and Thornton would be in Phoenix. You were right. Well played.