It seems a little silly to even include Corey Maggette in the Clipper a Day series. After all, I've written over 5,000 words on Maggette this summer in a mere two posts (a lot more than 5,000 total). Rather than re-hash all of that, I thought I'd focus on a single question: Can Corey Maggette make the All Star team this season?
At first it seems a ridiculous exercise. How could a guy who was rumored to be offered in trade for such mediocre NBA talents as Mike Dunleavy Jr, Brent Barry and James Posey get any consideration for the All Star game? He couldn't get off the bench last season - clearly MDsr doesn't consider him an All Star.
But I would submit that it's not out of the question. Sure it's a long shot - having more in fact to do with the Clippers early season prospects than with Maggette himself. But stay with me a while.
It's clear that - right, wrong or indifferent - scorers get noticed at All Star time. It's equally clear that Corey Maggette can score. He averaged 22.2 points per game in 04-05 and 20.7 points per game the season before that. And if you think his defense or other shortcomings will automatically keep him off the team, I have two words for you: Rashard Lewis.
Sure, his scoring has dropped the last two seasons, but the decrease is almost entirely attributable to a reduction in minutes. He averaged 20.3 points per game last year after the All Star break, back in the starting lineup and receiving 36 minutes a game.
It is almost a forgone conclusion that Corey will average 20 until Elton Brand's return. For one thing, his points per 48 minutes have been fairly consistent for years, and he should get enough minutes as a starter to average 20. For another, he will be the focal point of the offense in a way he has never been. Is it possible that his offensive game will suffer without Brand on the floor to command the defense's attention and draw double teams? Sure, it's possible, but it seems more likely that by sheer number of touches, Maggette's scoring will increase, even if his shooting percentage suffers some.
For those paying attention, the way Maggette scores will also generate interest. A foul-drawing savant, he will probably be among the league leaders in categories like free throws attempted, free throws made, points per shot and effective field goal percentage. Some people notice long jumpers and dunks. But some people notice a guy who averages 20 points on 14 shots.
Another factor to consider is the Clippers increased pace. Maggette averaged 20.3 after the break last year, and that was in the Clippers walk-it-up, feed-the-post offense. If indeed the Clippers get out and run, Maggette will finish a fair number of those breaks. The pace alone will increase his scoring average - the fact that he is a monster filling the lane will increase it more. Does the increased pace actually mean he's a better scorer than he was before? Of course not, but we all know that raw numbers get noticed, which is a big reason why there are always three Suns on the All Star team.
During the 28 games last season after the All Star break, Corey demonstrated improvement in many aspects of his game. He's a much better rebounder than he was 3 seasons ago, and a better playmaker as well. The absence of Brand will mean more rebounds for someone. If Corey can increase his recent 6 boards per game to 7 or even 8, making him one of the best rebounding small forwards in the league, he'll get additional attention.
He needs to make jump shots, and the occasional three. Early last season, for whatever reason, he could not make a jump shot to save his life. He began the season missing 25 of his first 27 three point attempts, but he shot 35% from the arc after the All Star break. He'll never be a great jump shooter, but he needs to make enough to be a threat and set up his forays into the lane. And by the way, his career percentage from the three point line (32%) is much closer to the way he finished the season than the way he started it.
Of course, we are talking about the Western Conference, where even Elton Brand rarely finds room at the All Star Inn. There are simply a bevy of talented forwards in the west. The glut will be alleviated somewhat by the trades that sent Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph and Lewis east, and by the injury to Brand. Still, Tim Duncan, Shawn Marion, Carmelo Anthony, Tracey McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki are essentially givens barring injury, Carlos Boozer and Josh Howard made the team last season, and Pau Gasol is healthy again. Maggette would have to do something pretty special to get noticed in that group.
More importantly, the team would have to overachieve in Brand's absence. As was the case for Rashard Lewis in 2005 when Seattle had one of the top records in the West, if the Clippers can be in playoff contention when the team is selected, coaches will look at their roster for players worthy of consideration. If however the team is 20 games below .500, there is of course little hope regardless of how much he scores.
Still, if you bump the given 20 points per game based on increased touches, increased pace, and fast break baskets, it's not unreasonable to think that Corey could average 25 points per game in Elton Brand's absence. If the Clippers are in contention, it would be very difficult to leave a 25 point per game scorer off the team.
And what happens next? Well, as is the case with everyone in our Clipper a Day series so far, Corey Maggette can become a free agent at the end of this season. If he makes the All Star team, or even if he puts up the numbers that warrant consideration, he will certainly opt out of the final year of his contract. Whether or not there are teams with cap space interested in making a huge contract offer (Rashard Lewis again comes to mind) remains to be seen.
In the end, I highly doubt that Corey will make the All Star team. The Marianas-trench-deep-talent in the West, combined with mediocre at best prospects for the team, make it extremely unlikely. I do not doubt however that Corey will put up All Star like numbers. Unfortunately, that may signal the end of his Clipper career.