LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers confer during hte game with the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center on December 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Bulls won 114-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Let's just start by saying that All Star voting is over. I mean, obviously voting is still open, but the preliminary results released Thursday are completely unsurprising, and the players currently ahead in the voting will indeed be your All Star starters. It's done. Of course, it was done before it started, but the point is it's done.
There are a couple of reasons for this - first of all, in most cases, there's simply a correct answer, and even the most ardent contrarian would find it difficult to argue against the choice. Dwight Howard? Yup, he's the starting center in the East. I mean, you can have all kinds of fun with the LeBron-Kobe debate, but it doesn't extend to "Is LeBron one of the two best forwards in the Eastern Conference?" or "Is Kobe one of the two best guards in the Western Conference?"
By my count, seven of the ten starters (including the entire Eastern Conference lineup) fall into the consensus pick category. Most experts, and the vast majority of the fans, would agree that the player is the correct choice as All Star starter. Bear in mind that this is all based on historical performance, bolstered by two weeks worth of games that indicate these players have not suffered serious decline; it goes without saying that if any of these players suddenly entered a massive slump, you could argue against them, but I don't expect that to happen. The no-brainers then, with any necessary additional explanation, are as follows:
- Derrick Rose, East guard - Did he deserve to win the MVP last season? No. Is he one of the two best guards in the Eastern Conference? Wages of Wins style Rajon Rondo love aside, sure he is. It also helps that Deron Williams has had a very bad start to the season by his standards.
- Dwyane Wade, East guard - Other than making some sort of "he's been hurt, he shouldn't start" argument, Wade is obviously the best guard in the East. He's off to a relatively slow start, but he'll be fine.
- Carmelo Anthony, East forward - I've never been a big fan of Carmelo, but honestly who are the alternatives at forward in the East? Amare? Bosh? Boozer? Carmelo is the popular choice, and pretty much the correct one as well.
- LeBron James, East forward - Late game situations aside, this is the ultimate no-brainer.
- Dwight Howard, East center - Oops, I was wrong above, THIS is the ultimate no-brainer.
- Kobe Bryant, West guard - Who would you argue for other than Kobe? Russell Westbrook? He wishes he were Kobe - he has all the flaws, without nearly all the skills. Ginobili is a great player who doesn't get the recognition he deserves in these sorts of things, but he's hurt so the point is moot.
- Chris Paul, West guard - Kyle Lowry has had a great start to the season, but Paul is so far superior on his career that I think we can assume that he'll be the better choice in the end.
That leaves three other starters, all in the West, where we know who they will be, but you could make a viable argument for someone else. Let's look at them.
West center. Andrew Bynum will be named the All Star starter at center in the West. Why? Because (1) he plays for the Lakers, and (2) there's no clear-cut alternative. Given the relative anonymity of the other candidates (guys like Marcin Gortat, Marc Gasol and Nene) Bynum would have to play terribly not to win the popular vote, and he's not playing terribly - he's playing really damn well. Al Jefferson might be the best alternative, but he's not even really a center. Let's face it - if DeAndre Jordan is currently second, we see the impact of market size and popularity in the voting process pretty clearly. Bynum will win if he doesn't get hurt, and he's probably the right choice.
West forwards. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin are currently leading the voting, and they will win. I don't mean to imply in any way that either of them are less than deserving of the honor of starting in the All Star Game. The only reason that these are not complete no-brainers is because of the insane depth at the forward position in the Western Conference. By my count, their are six forwards in the West that are deeply worthy of All Star consideration, and that's not counting the injured Zach Randolph or the declining Tim Duncan (and Duncan will no doubt get significant consideration as a lifetime achievement award). In addition to Durant and Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowiztki would all be valid starters at forward in the West. And that's ignoring Paul Millsap who is playing great in Utah. The shame of this isn't that only two of those guys can start, but that some of them will likely be left off the team altogether due to the glut at the position. (If you gave both wild card spots and the reserve center spot to these guys, you could squeeze them all in, but that's unlikely.)
Durant and Griffin will win because this is a popularity contest, and they're the most popular. It's just nice that they are also ultimately worthy of the honor. Love is the only other candidate who approaches the fan appeal of Durant or Griffin, and frankly rebounding and three point shooting don't make great highlight reels quite like monster dunks.
Incidentally, I predicted that Griffin would start in the All Star game back in May. It wasn't super-insightful or anything, but I did do it. If you want more explanation of why he'll start you can read that post, as it goes into a lot of depth on the subject. There's even a cool chart.
So there you have it. Yes, there will be two Los Angeles Clippers starting in the All Star Game in Orlando in February. No, a Los Angeles Clipper has never started in an All Star Game before. (World B. Free was a starter as a San Diego Clipper in 1980.) And yes, four of the five starters for the West will come from Los Angeles, giving the rest of the country one more reason to hate LA.