Fans who took part in All-Star balloting, take a bow. You got nine out of 10 right.
Yes, you again chose with your heart instead of your head, as you have done on an annual basis for as long as we can remember.
But unlike past years – when your infinite wisdom voted undeserving players such as A.C. Green, Dan Majerle, Steve Francis, Ben Wallace and an injured Yao Ming as starters – at least this time your choices won’t cost anyone who truly deserves a berth. In a rather nice coincidence, the most popular players also are the best ones.
The final voting will officially be announced tonight on TNT. It was unofficially announced Jan. 12, when the first returns were released and looked like your typical North Korean election — almost. There were runaways at every position, but there were dissenting votes.
We’ll save you an hour of pomp and punditry and announce the starters now: In the Eastern Conference, it will be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at forward, Dwight Howard at center and Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose at guard. In the Western Conference, it will be Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant at forward, Andrew Bynum at center and Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul at guard.
Although Kevin Love deserves to start ahead of Griffin (yeah, he does, and Chris Sheridan discussed the Love v. Griffin debate on the Boers and Bernstein show on 670 WSCR in Chicago), all 10 starters chosen by the fans are legitimate All-Stars. That shifts the burden to the coaches, who when choosing the reserves must pick two guards, two forwards, a center and two other players and should be looking past the usual suspects – many of whom are not having anything resembling All-Star seasons.
In the East, there could be as many as five new faces from a year ago as Al Horford, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will not or may not be back.
In the West, it could be six as Anthony, Deron Williams, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol and even Dirk Nowitzki will not or may not be back.
Reserves will be announced a week from today, so there’s still some time for a player to influence an opposing coach. And of course, we’re here to offer our assistance.
EAST RESERVES: Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Josh Smith, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Jennings, Joe Johnson.
WHY THEY SHOULD MAKE IT: Rondo has clearly been the best player on the aging Celtics and the only one to consistently play at an All-Star level.
It takes a lot for us to recognize rookies as All-Stars, but the 19-year-old Irving is a top-20 scorer, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and making the Cavaliers relevant again.
Jennings simply has carried the Bucks in the absence of injured Andrew Bogut and invisible Stephen Jackson. He has rediscovered his 3-point shot and is carving up defenses. Just ask the Heat.
Smith’s all-around play needs to be recognized and Johnson has come on after a slow start. They have more than made up for the missing Horford, who wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire when he was healthy.
Bosh may be an easy target for criticism as the third banana in Miami, but he is in the top 10 in scoring and shooting and clearly playing at an All-Star threshold. He was more of a question mark a year ago.
You can quibble with Hibbert, but the squad needs a center and Indiana should have an All-Star. Aside from Howard, the only East center with comparable numbers to Hibbert’s is Detroit’s Greg Monroe, whose team is abominable.
SIGNIFICANT SNUBS: Danny Granger, Ray Allen, Andre Iguodala, Deron Williams.
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T MAKE IT: A former All-Star, Granger (and Pacers teammate David West, for that matter) has not played anywhere near that level, although he may have turned a corner with his 36-point eruption Wednesday.
Among Boston’s “Big Three,” Allen is the only one worthy of consideration based on his play this season. Also, the Celtics are a .500 team; how many All-Stars are they supposed to have?
You cannot marvel at Philadelphia’s ability to thrive without a true star, then declare that one of its players is a star. Iguodala is a nice two-way player, but he is not in the top 50 in scoring and is shooting 62 percent from the line.
On first blush, Williams has terrific numbers. But he is shooting 41 percent, leads the NBA in turnovers and pilots a lottery team. Irving and Jennings are more deserving.
WEST RESERVES: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Tony Parker, Danilo Gallinari.
WHY THEY SHOULD MAKE IT: Westbrook’s slow start seems like it was six years ago. He is a top-10 scorer who has made as many daggers as Durant this season, including another Wednesday in Dallas.
The resurgent Rockets need representation, and Martin is their best candidate. Bryant is the only shooting guard averaging more points, and Martin has been doing his thing on a sore foot.
Love has teamed with Ricky Rubio to rejuvenate the Timberwolves and is the best power forward in the game. Better than Griffin, better than Amar’e Stoudemire, better than Bosh, and better than Aldridge, who nearly broke through last year and has to be rewarded this season. He is the lone constant on a wildly inconsistent Blazers team.
Among Grizzlies, Gasol is a better candidate than Rudy Gay. Among Gasols, Marc is a better candidate than Pau. Again, the reserves must include a center, and baby brother has career highs across the board, apparently intent on justifying his new contract.
Duncan’s devolvement and Ginobili’s injury have forced Parker to often carry the Spurs by himself. He has bounced back after a slow start and is averaging a career high in assists.
We initially chose Al Jefferson over Gallinari but felt like the Nuggets, who lead the NBA in scoring and fast-break points, warrant an All-Star more than the Jazz. “The Rooster” is having his best season and is going to be a regular in the midseason showcase.
SIGNIFICANT SNUBS: James Harden, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry.
If any West team deserves three All-Stars, it is the Thunder with Harden, who – sorry, Lou Williams – is the runaway winner of the Sixth Man Award., IMHO. But Martin and Parker are slightly more deserving because they have greater roles on their teams.
Nowitzki should be excluded for the first time in 10 years. His lack of conditioning is evident in his poor shooting and glacial defensive rotations. The only All-Star for the defending champions has been Rick Carlisle.
Jazz fans will probably split over whether Jefferson or Millsap is more deserving than Gallinari. However, keep in mind that Gallinari’s inclusion also bumps Nene, who is having a pretty good season himself.
Fantasy players love Lowry, but the truth is Martin is having a better season among shooting guards than Lowry is among point guards.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Thursday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.