The All Star Reserves are going to be announced in about an hour, so I guess this is my last chance to get on record with a final prediction. I've touched on the subject a couple of times this year, but what is the final verdict?
Given the mindset of the coaches who pick the reserves, the first place I look in order to research the most likely reserve choices isn't the scoring leaders, nor is it the PER leaders -- it's the NBA standings. Because the coaches who pick the reserves have always shown a preference first and foremost to reward players on winning teams.
In the West, that system doesn't really help all that much, because there are currently 11 teams at .500 or better, and only 4 below .500. The one thing we can reasonably do is to eliminate any players from those bottom 4 teams, with apologies to Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat and Monta Ellis and maybe even to DeMarcus Cousins, all of whom are playing at or near an All Star level. Nash is the real omission, and he might well make the team if I was choosing the players I thought were the 12 best in the West. But my goal here is to predict what the coaches will do, and they won't have an All Star from an 11-14 team when there are so many players on winning teams this year.
West Guards (2): Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. These two are relatively easy. The Thunder have the best record in the NBA and will get a second All Star after Durant the starter, while San Antonio has the second best record in the west and Parker has been carrying them.
West Forwards (2): LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love. Again, pretty straightforward. Both the Blazers and Wolves have overachieved so far, and Aldridge and Love are their team's undisputed stars. Love' numbers are otherworldly, while Aldridge is perceived as a snub from last year and will get some compensatory votes for that. Plus, he's been fantastic.
West Center (1): Pau Gasol. Here's where it gets tough. The two required guards and two required forwards don't give much leeway, and there are some pretty clear cut choices for those four spots. But the reserve voting process allows coaches to fudge position and vote for a player who plays the position, even if it's not his primary position. So Pau Gasol or Tim Duncan or even Dirk Nowitzki is a possibility here. Another complicating factor here is that Nene of Denver, Marc Gasol of Memphis and Al Jefferson of Utah all play for good teams that arguably deserve an All Star, but don't have a clear cut candidate. I envision the vote for this spot being split among about six or seven candidates, with Gortat possibly getting a couple of votes in there. In the end, I think Pau probably emerges. He'll get some votes here, and some votes as a forward, and it will all add up to more votes than his brother gets.
West Wild Cards (2): Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Millsap. And it gets even tougher. The final two spots can go to a player at any position. I don't think it will go to a guard. The backcourt candidates are Nash, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin of Houston, James Harden of Oklahoma City, Ty Lawson of Denver and Ellis. Ellis and Nash play for sub .500 teams and won't get the votes for that reason. Lowry and Martin will likely split the vote as the best candidates from the Rockets, depriving Houston of any one All Star. Lawson's Nuggets squad is so balance that they'll deservedly take pride in not having an All Star. And Oklahoma City will already have two All Stars, making voters reluctant to send a third. (The same might work against Pau, but there are two many factors in his favor, specifically getting votes at two positions.)
So I think both of these spots will go to bigs. You have to deal with Duncan and Nowitzki, both of whom have All Star game streaks going back for years. Duncan remains productive on a per minute basis, but he's at a career low 27 minutes per game, and I think voters will opt for other choices. Nowitzki hasn't really been playing like an All Star this season, but it's not like he hasn't been good, and coming off a Finals MVP performance, it's hard to imagine that voters won't reward him. Dirk is in.
The last spot is going to come down to reputation versus reality with some team performance thrown in. I've long since said Nash won't be there because of his team's record, but his body or work combined with his outstanding season so far could conceivably carry the day. He's been great. It also helps that there seem to be more big guys that could split the vote. Paul Millsap of Utah is the most deserving of this spot. It would give the surprisingly competitive Jazz an All Star, and Millsap has been terrific. But with future Hall of Famers named Duncan and Nash as his competition, the underexposed Millsap has a big problem. I'm going to say that Millsap gets the final spot, but I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about this one.
The East has the opposite problem of the West: there may not be enough good teams to populate an All Star team. The East has just seven teams above .500, eight with losing records. But it's not so easy to eliminate as a matter of course players like Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving and Greg Monroe from consideration.
East Guards (2): Joe Johnson and Kyrie Irving. This is a surprisingly murky category. There are no obvious choices. Rajon Rondo has the reputation and recognition, but has missed multiple games, and hasn't been as great as usual frankly. Deron Williams plays for a bad team. Kyrie Irving plays for a bad team AND is a rookie, a double whammy. Let's say Joe Johnson gets in, because for some reason Joe Johnson always gets in. Irving is my second guard choice over Williams because New Jersey has been worse than expected while Cleveland has been much better than expected. It's unusual for an All Star reserve to be chosen from a team with a losing record, but it helps if the perception is that the team is overachieving.
East Forwards (2): Paul Pierce and Chris Bosh. This is pretty safe. Pierce and Bosh are actually at the intersection of solid performance, great name recognition and good team records that usually characterize All Star selection.
East Center (1): Roy Hibbert. Indiana has had one of the top records in the conference all season, Hibbert is their only player with a PER over 18 (he's at 19.5) and he's a clear cut choice at center in the East. Hibbert is in.
East Wild Cards (2): Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith. Iguodala is pretty safe. Philadelphia has been at or near the top of the conference all season, and Iguodala is their best player. He's in. Josh Smith is having a good season for Atlanta, and I just think this could be the year he finally gets into an All Star game. There will be a temptation on the part of the voters to put a Chicago player into the game. The Bulls have the best record in the conference, and the voters are going to want to reward that. But will they give their votes to Carlos Boozer or to Luol Deng? I'm guessing they split the vote and Smith gets in ahead of either Bull forward.