Thursday evening, TNT revealed the starters for the East and the West in the upcoming All-Star Game. Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will represent the East while Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin will wear the red.
This leaves each team with nine spots for the coaches to fill -- two guards, two forwards/centers and two wild cards.
We'll concern ourselves with the frontcourt and wild card spots in this discussion of whether Al Jefferson should be an All-Star. Since the NBA eliminated the center position, Jefferson would have to beat out talented players at small forward and power forward, to boot.
The case for Jefferson is there. Charlotte's new big man is scoring over 18 points per game with 10.4 rebounds and a block. Were they to go solely on points per game, Jefferson would join Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap as the three reserve frontcourt players.
Jefferson hasn't just made his impact there, but it's definitely the main spot. After an ugly start in which Jefferson fought an ankle sprain and arthritis, he's since only had three games in single-digit scoring figures. His prowess has given the Bobcats a second dependable scoring threat with Kemba Walker. It hasn't been all diamonds and gold as 47.6 percent field goal shooting isn't quite the success rate you hope to have. In fact, that's his worst mark in his career. Some of that is ameliorated by a slightly increased free throw rate, and his overall offensive output is still impressive considering how well he's also done as a passer while decreasing his turnovers. Add in his rebounding and he's having a pretty great season individually.
Surprisingly, Jefferson's also been a big part of the Bobcats' defense, for better and for worse. When the Bobcats' defense is clicking, Jefferson plays within his limitations as a defender, holding down the paint with physicality, though not with athleticism or shot-blocking prowess. His weaknesses in mobility can be exploited, especially in comprehensive defensive breakdowns and sometimes he won't make the effort to try and block a shot at the rim. Still, Clifford's been able to get above average defensive output from Jefferson this season.
But a lot of things go into consideration for the All-Star nod, including team performance. After a strong start, the Bobcats came upon hard times with both their young wings injured for a significant part of December. They've recovered a bit in the new year but are still below .500, which could put Jefferson's All-Star chances at a disadvantage since other players on better teams have similar statistical output.
When breaking down Jefferson's shot, I'll begin with those three frontcourt reserve spots before going to the wild card.
Or two frontcourt reserve spots, I should say, because Chris Bosh is a shoe-in with his 19.2 points per game on 53-37-80 shooting percentages (field goal/three-point/free throw) and being Miami's defensive linchpin.
The major two players competing with Jefferson for the other two spots are Roy Hibbert and Jefferson's old teammate Paul Millsap.
Hibbert's probably in, too, on the merits of his defense, which is arguably the single most daunting individual part of Indiana's terrifying defense. He's not a great scorer but does it well for the shots he gets, making half of them. Hibbert also averages 2.6 swats a game with 7.8 rebounds for the best team with the best record in the league.
The other member of the Utah Jazz starting frontcourt Eastern exodus, Paul Millsap, has been doing well in the ATL with similar scoring figures. With 17.7 points per game shooting 46.8 percent from the field, Millsap has close per-game numbers. However, Millsap dwarfs Jefferson in scoring efficiency thanks to a dependable three-point shot and more trips to the free-throw line. With Atlanta's team success placing them behind the Heat with a record over .500, I can't help but put Millsap in the last frontcourt spot.
Though he's injured right now with an ankle sprain, Kemba Walker should be back on the court with plenty of time before the All-Star break [knock on wood]. And he's definitely been having the kind of season to demand consideration to be in the All-Star conversation.
His shooting has stabilized since his volatile start to the season making for his most efficient scoring season of his career. With a 3.3 percentage point increase in his three-point shooting, it's not hard to see why. Scoring 19 points per game, Walker has been vital to Charlotte's anemic offense. However, despite added offensive help with Jefferson, Walker's assist numbers have actually been down.
Defensively, Walker's not a stopper but has played his role well in stepping into passing lanes for steals or tipped passes and helping the Bobcats as a unit hound their opponents into poor shots.
Unfortunately for him, his team's record will probably hold his All-Star chances back. John Wall is having a better, more complete statistical season and his team's playing better, too. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have led the Toronto Raptors to a revitalization in the post-Rudy Gay era and will get more chatter, probably. My bet is on Lowry despite DeRozan's better scoring ability because Lowry's having a more widespread impact on the floor with his shooting and passing, though DeRozan's selection wouldn't surprise me a whole lot. He's been having a pretty good year.
With only two Wild Card spots to divvy up between a bevy of talented players, we now have to include guards too. My ballot has Lance Stephenson, DeRozan, Joakim Noah, Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Anderson Varejao, Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young (organized by team record). [EDIT: Arron Afflalo, too. Sorry I forgot him before posting this.]
All of these players are deserving of recognition, but I don't know how the coach voting will pick. Will they pick a guard and a forward? Two guards? Two forwards? I don't know. If it was me, I'd probably take one of each. Kemba would be a blast to see play in a pick-up game like this, but I think DeRozan should probably get the nod with season he's having. The frontcourt player is a bit more difficult. Joakim Noah could be the guy here with his impact on defense and on the glass for a team that's fifth in the conference. Jefferson should get a good look here. He hasn't been the defensive disaster like in past years and is still putting up big scoring numbers better than any other frontcourt player that hasn't already been picked.
The chances are there for both players, but it would surprise me a bit if either one gets in since players on better teams have better odds.