What did the fans get right? What did they get wrong? Should Kobe Bryant be part of the All-Star Game? And what does John Malkovich have to do with all of this?
Let’s get right to it.
1. Which Eastern Conference player should have been an All-Star starter?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER: If we went back to the old way of voting and had to pick a center instead of three “frontcourt” players, it would have been interesting to choose between Andre Drummond, Pau Gasol and Hassan Whiteside — each of whom has their relative merits. But since that is not the case, I’ll chime in by saying that Dwyane Wade is no longer one of the top two guards in the East. Far from it, actually, and Jimmy Butler is probably the most deserving guy who got left out of the starting five.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR: This would have been a much tougher question had Kyle Lowry not overtaken Kyrie Irving in the final round of balloting, because then the East’s entire backcourt would have been undeserving of a starting All-Star nod. Lowry’s Toronto Raptors are second in the East, while Irving has played just 15 games and isn’t anywhere near his top form yet. So thank the fans for fixing that, but blame them for giving Wade the nod over Butler, who has been the best two-way shooting guard in the league this season. Yes, better than Klay Thompson. Yes, better than James Harden. And sorry, Raptors fans, but yes, better than DeMar DeRozan.
MICHAEL SCOTTO, COLUMNIST: You could make a strong case for Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside in the frontcourt, both of whom play for winning teams. Drummond has five 20-point, 20-rebound games already this season while leading the league in rebounding (15.5). Whiteside leads the league in blocks (3.85) and has a triple-double of points, rebounds and blocks twice already this season. He will be paid handsomely this summer as one of the top free agents on the market. Jimmy Butler also deserves credit for being one of the best two-way players in the game while leading the league in minutes (38.1). Despite guarding the opponent’s best wing player, Butler still shoots 45 percent from the field (.450) while averaging 22.4 points.
2. Which Western Conference player should have been an All-Star starter?
SHERIDAN: No question it is Golden State forward Draymond Green, whose spot is being taken by Kobe Bryant. (How does a guy who spent all those years as a shooting guard get onto the ballot as a frontcourt player?) I can’t argue with Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook as the two guards, although Chris Paul has done a little more to carry his team (during the absence of Blake Griffin) than Westbrook has done for the Thunder. But Green has been the second-most important player on a historically great team, and his absence is the most glaring.
BERNUCCA: The West player most undermined by the selection criteria is center DeMarcus Cousins, who is fourth overall in scoring and rebounding. Furthermore, the Sacramento Kings are 7-3 in January, and Cousins is averaging 30.9 points and 13.8 rebounds. Those are Shaq numbers, fans. However, I agree that Green is the West player most undermined by the balloting. If any team deserves two All-Star starters, it is the record-setting Warriors. Green is 13th in rebounding, sixth in assists, 17th in 3-point shooting and first in triple-doubles. As KGB said, “Pay that man his money.”
SCOTTO: Green leads the league with eight triple-doubles and has averaged nearly a triple-double for the Warriors, the league’s best team. While Stephen Curry is the most talented player on the team, Green is right behind him in terms of most valuable due to his versatility scoring, rebounding, passing, clogging the passing lanes and blocking shots. Based on statistics, Cousins has proven why I ranked him as the league’s best center entering the season. If the format had a center position to fill as a starter, he’d get the nod by a landslide.
3. Should Kobe Bryant be participating in the All-Star Game?
SHERIDAN: Absolutely. The coaches would have voted him in as a sympathy pick even if the fans had not made him the No. 1 vote-getter. The whole show is going to be about Kobe in his 20th and final season, and rightfully so. He has been the most competitive player to come down the pike since Michael Jordan, and even though his numbers this season are unworthy of All-Star merits, his career accomplishments need to be celebrated at the league’s showcase event. If the basketball gods smile on us, the West will be training by one point with five seconds left and possession. I want to see Kobe get the last shot, and I will be rooting for him to nail it.
BERNUCCA: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Cincinnati Reds fans voted their players into seven of the eight starting positions for an All-Star Game. Commissioner Ford Frick stepped in and replaced three of them with more deserving (and highly popular) players. This is the sort of power that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should have over the selection process by both fans and coaches. The All-Star Game is for the fans, who deserve to see Bryant in this setting one last time. Had Bryant not made it, the commissioner should be allowed to add a 13th player, for “basketball reasons,” as his predecessor once put it. And if Bryant had to be added to the West roster, a voted starter may have stepped aside to allow Bryant to start, a classy move Vince Carter made for Michael Jordan in 2003.
SCOTTO: Yes! Fans made it clear they want to say goodbye to Bryant at the All-Star Game by making him the leading vote-getter. He is considered the Michael Jordan of his generation and deserves a proper send-off in his final season. Nothing would be more fitting than a shot at the buzzer to win the game, of course. Bryant has been a four-time All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011). He should go out trying to win the award for the fifth time. Whether you think he should start or not based on his stats, there’s no question he’s earned this All-Star farewell due to his legacy.