The timing of the All Star teams always catches me a little off guard. The game is in mid-February, but the teams are announced long before. The starters were of course announced Thursday night during the TNT broadcast of the Lakers-Cavs game, and the reserves will be announced during next Thursday's TNT broadcast. Which means that Chris Kaman's case is either made or it's not.
Which is probably a good thing. He's on enough of a role right now that the worst thing that could happen would be if he fell into a slump before the votes were cast. He's won two Western Conference Player of the Week Awards, the most recent one coming just a couple weeks back. Even the four games he missed with a bad back should help his case - the Clippers lost all four games without him, making them an even .500 with him in the lineup as of today. So if it's still a pre-requisite that an all star not play on a losing team, you can sort of make the case for Kaman.
He got a big boost when the starters were announced and Tim Duncan edged out Dirk Nowitzki to start at forward. Duncan was the logical choice to steal center votes when the coaches vote for reserves - with him in the starting lineup, Kaman truly is the logical true center to vote for. Might the coaches vote a seven footer like Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol into the center spot? Sure, they might. But it's much more of a stretch to call one of those guys a center than to call Duncan a center. Think about it - Duncan has start all season next to either Antonio McDyess or DaJuan Blair. In those front courts, who is the center and who is the power forward? In the case of Nowitzki, he plays next to Erick Dampier; Pau plays next to Andrew Bynum. No such confusion as to who is really the center for the Mavs or the Lakers. As such, I think few if any coaches will fudge there ballots that way - but I could be wrong.
As we've said before, there's also some competition among true centers. Marc Gasol, Nene and Bynum are all having nice seasons. But scoring is what tends to turn heads in All Star voting, and those guys are averaging in the 14 to 15 range, compared to Kaman's 20+, tops for all true centers in the league and 17th overall. With that disparity in scoring it's hard to imagine those guys getting too many votes over Kaman, despite their better PERs and the more successful teams they play for. I think it's significant that the coaches do the voting. A stat geek might look at Marc Gasol's PER and say, 'Hey, he should be an all star.' But if you're game planning for the Grizzlies, Nuggets, Lakers or Clippers, there's only one center who gets your attention and you say 'We have to figure out a way to contain that guy.' I'll give you a hint - he's American, and he's white.
As for the team argument, that always a tricky one. In the case of the Lakers, you'd be trying to make the case for Bynum as the third Laker All Star, and even then he's competing against Lamar Odom and Ron Artest on his own team. I just don't see a lot of 'team' votes for Andrew. Nene is in a similar situation - Carmelo Anthony is already in, and Chauncey Billups will get the 'Denver deserves two All Stars' votes. That doesn't leave any room on ballots for Nene. Marc Gasol is in an even stranger situation - he's the fourth leading scorer on a Grizzlies team that's currently the darling of the league. It's unclear who voters would choose from the team - Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo or Gasol. Which may have the end result of keeping all of them off the roster - but Randolph clearly has the best numbers.
So where does that leave us? Well, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Brandon Roy are lead pipe cinches for the team. For me, the next two are pretty much put Pau and Deron Williams. But neither is quite a lock. Gasol has missed 17 games which may cost him some votes, and Williams isn't a lock because Williams is never a lock (for some reason). Billups has a case and a reputation and is red hot since his return, but like Pau he's missed some games while his averages are a little off. In a total meritocracy, I'd give a spot to Zach Randolph. His numbers are awesome, his team is winning, and he's been a major snub in the past. But the reality is probably that Kaman will get enough 'pure center' votes to secure the last spot.
Bear in mind the mechanics. Coaches vote for two guards, two forwards, one center and two wild cards. Kaman is the best choice for true centers. So coaches who don't vote for Kaman have likely decided that there are seven guards and forwards that are so much more deserving that they must be on the team. In a perfect world, they're probably right. But the reality is probably that enough of them will see the word 'center' and fill in Kaman's name.
I'm not sure if Chris helped or hurt his cause with his comments to Chris Tomasson Thursday. Asked about the process the famously filterless Kaman said that Pau didn't deserve to be an All-Star because (a) he's missed so many games and (b) he's not a center. As is often the case when Kaman talks to the media, he makes a good point - but he shouldn't have said it.
It's nice to have Doug Collins lobbying for him on National TV. Collins was raving about Kaman's old school, back to the basket game. The name Kevin McHale was mentioned more than once. Kaman made Collins' list of reserves - so he's got that going for him. But I seriously doubt that very many coaches are going to leave Gasol off the way Collins did.
We'll find out Thursday.