The NBA All-Star Game starters have been announced, and for the fourth season in a row the fans have selected Blake Griffin to represent the West from the opening tip. It's Griffin's fifth straight All-Star selection. On the other hand, for the second season in a row, Chris Paul will not be a starter in the All-Star Game.
The West starting team this season will consist of Stephen Curry (the top vote-getter in the entire league), Kobe Bryant, Griffin, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol.
Bryant is of course the outlier in that group. While the West is so incredibly awash in talent that you could quibble endlessly over whom should make the cut and whom should start, it's more than clear that Kobe does NOT belong among the elite players in the West at this point. Of course, the fan vote is there for a reason, to give the average person a voice in the selection process, and Bryant is more recognizable and more popular with the casual NBA fan than almost anyone. Fate has probably intervened with a solution at this point at any rate, as Bryant's torn rotator cuff (just diagnosed today) could keep him out of the game, freeing up an All-Star selection for a more deserving participant — everybody wins.
The crazy thing about Paul, considered the indisputable "best point guard in the world" not so long ago, is that even if Bryant does demure, Paul will still miss the starting cut in all likelihood. James Harden, who scores more and plays the shooting guard position that would be vacated by Bryant, would probably get the starting nod. Note that Harden received more votes than six of the players who will be starting in New York. The choice of an injury replacement will be up to Commissioner Adam Silver, but the choice of starter will be up to Coach Steve Kerr.
Crazier still, there's really no guarantee that Paul will even make the 12 man squad. If Bryant frees up a spot that will help, but the West is so crazy deep that many incredibly good players are going to be left out, and with the Clippers currently mired in sixth place in the West, there could be a "They don't deserve two All-Stars" backlash against Paul.
Some will say that Griffin doesn't deserve the honor, but it's not very difficult to make the case for him. His rebounding is down (way down, and it's definitely a problem) but his assists are up — at a level seldom seen from players his size. LaMarcus Aldridge will be mentioned as a snub, and he is certainly a great candidate. But while Aldridge has rebounded better, Griffin's playmaking is so far superior to Aldridge's that it's at least a wash, if not advantage Griffin. Then when you consider that Griffin's TSP (.549) is much better than LA's (.524) it's easy to justify Griffin's selection.
(EDIT: Aldridge has just undergone surgery on his left thumb, and as he's projected to miss the next 6-8 weeks, he likely won't be playing in the ASG anyways.)
Of course, it still comes back to those fans, and Griffin's high flying dunk act is what people want to see in the All-Star Game. Between Griffin and Anthony Davis, there are going to be a LOT of dunks for the West this year.
The East team consists of John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol. The East is far less deep than the West, but even so, Carmelo's name jumps out as a big red flag. Sure, he's Carmelo Anthony and he's averaging 24 points per game. But he's also on the worst team in the NBA — so he must be doing something wrong. The fans frequently get the vote wrong — but two starters so undeserving in the same year is pretty rare.
And yet the fans got some things right. Marc Gasol, playing in a small market in Memphis, is far from the "populist" choice in the West. He's quite deserving — but I'm still surprised that he got the votes. Likewise in the East Kyle Lowry getting the start from the only team outside of the United States is a well-deserved departure from the norm. Lowry absolutely belongs — it would be a travesty had he not been selected — but even so, the fact that the fans got it right is to be commended (thank Bieber).
The fans also pushed Stephen Curry over the top as the overall vote leader, ahead of LeBron James, in the last weeks of voting. Curry is the best player on the best team in the NBA right now — but it's been a long time since LeBron wasn't the top vote getter.
Of course the real intrigue starts now. In the West you could easily fill out two All-Star teams before running out of worthy candidates, while in the East it will be difficult just to identify 12 deserving names. Reserves will be announced in one week, and that's when we'll find out if Paul will miss the All-Star Game for the first time since his third season in the league.