NBA Midseason Awards

It’s finally time for one my absolute favorite weekends of the entire year: NBA All Star Weekend. And, since I’ve written more than 1,000 words about the NBA in my life, I’m bound by law to present my midseason award picks. Despite what Charles Barkley and the other members of the Today’s Basketball is Bad Cult would tell you, the game is better than ever, and it’s reflected in the competitiveness of the award races. All but one have a handful of legitimate candidates. Let’s jump right in.

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Rookie of the Year- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

It always feels weird calling someone like Embiid or Blake Griffin rookies when they were drafted a year or two before actually playing a regular season game. Still, them’s the rules, so JoJo is a slam dunk (get it? Because I’m talking about a basketball player? Anyway…) pick to win ROY. This year’s draft class STINKS, and, however limited his injuries make him, he’s clearly the best “first year” player. He’s already putting up superstar numbers. A smooth, athletic 7 foot 22 year old who puts up 20 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, gets 8 free throws a game, and shoots a decent 36.7% from 3? While playing only 25 minutes a game? While playing great defense (not the Hassan Whiteside™ “let me chase these 3 blocks so everyone says I’m good on D” brand of defense, either)? Please, keep telling me how the NBA was better before we had guys like this running around.

Apologies To: Dario Saric? Malcolm Brogdon? 20 games of Yogi Ferrell? My 2k player? Anyone??????

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Most Improved Player- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

After last season’s crazy second half, everyone came into this year expecting the world of Greek Freak, and, somehow, he’s surpassed them. Every non-3-related counting stat is a career high, and the advanced numbers love him, too. His offensive rating (essentially how many points a player accounts for (through scoring and assists) per 100 possessions) is nearly 10% better than last season. Per NBA.com, he leads the league in points in the paint per game, points off turnovers per game, is fifth in fast break points, and is second in loose balls recovered per game (?). The team is kinda bad, but I hate blaming a player so young for that. They’ve had injuries, and being that this is his first season as being The Guy, the roster is still a little wacky and not really built around him. Think I’m finally ready to confirm that he is, in fact, better than Kelly Olynyk and that the Celtics may have made a mistake.

Apologies To: Nikola Jokic (I think he’s surpassed Marc Gasol as my favorite big guy to watch. This guy’s awesome and I hope the Nuggets don’t screw up his career), Zach Lavine, Jabari Parker, Harrison Barnes

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Sixth Man of the Year- Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Kind of a sign of the times, but anytime someone has already broken the record for 3 pointers made by a reserve (set last season by my favorite Bosnian NBA player Mirza Teletovic) before the All Star break, I think they should have a shot to win Sixth Man. After booking a session at the Mike D’Antoni Career Rejuvenation Spa, Gordon is back to being a feared scorer after a couple of years on the scrap heap. He’s the second option on the second best offense (by both points and offensive efficiency) in the NBA. I’m sure Jamal Crawford will somehow wind up winning again, though.

Apologies To: Lou Williams, Javale McGee (only 90% joking)

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Defensive Player of the Year- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

For me, this was the toughest call to make. Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard could easily win this. Give me enough of whatever Doc Rivers spikes his Clippers Kool-Aid with and I’d buy into Deandre Jordan’s candidacy. Even Anthony Davis. But for me, it’s Draymond. He’s been a top 3 defender for three years now, and is the lynchpin to the league’s best (or second best. Depends on how you view Utah) defense. He holds opponents to under 40% in every area of the court besides 15-19 feet (somehow all three are allowing a higher field goal percentage at the rim than Eric Gordon and JR Smith). He just had a triple double with  10 steals. He guards every position at an elite level. He’s third in the league in Defensive Rating. He leads the league in self-created chips on his shoulder and false claims that no one believes in him. After two straight years where he could have easily won, this year he takes the crown.

Apologies To: Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Deandre Jordan, Marcus Smart, Chris Paul, Joel Embiid

No Apologies To: Hassan Whiteside (If you can’t tell, I’ll never pass up a chance to throw shade at Whiteside. He’s such a bum. He’s good at defense if being good at defense means abandoning all defensive strategy, positioning, and discipline to try and chase blocks and easy rebounds. He’s trash on offense too, but has the temerity to say Deandre Jordan can’t play offense? He stinks. He stinks and I hate him.)

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Coach of the Year- Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets

While it’s impossible to discount the positive effect not having Dwight Howard on the roster can have on a team, I still think D’Antoni deserves it. If you remember (why wouldn’t you?) my NFL Awards post, I hate when coaches take teams that sucked the year before and make them decent and get handed coach of the year. But D’Antoni has actually put in the best coaching season, and, without him, the Rockets would be nowhere near top of the West. When Daryl Morey was shaping his fantasy version of basketball by having James Harden created in a lab, D’Antoni had to have been an advisor. The fact that it took so long for Harden and D’Antoni to get paired up is a sin against basketball. His system totally unleashed Harden’s full game, and it’s propelled them to the third best record in the entire NBA. Take a look at that roster. They should be .500 at best! If there’s a way for D’Antoni and Harden to share this, they should.

Apologies To: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich

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Most Valuable Player- James Harden, Houston Rockets

You know the candidates here. You know the stats, you know the storylines. For me, Harden is having the best season (when did I become a Rockets fan?). The stats are there: third in scoring. First in assists. First in free throw makes and attempts. Second in threes made. Averaging 8 rebounds per game, which, any other year, would lead all point guards by a wide margin (did you know Harden is tied with MJ for the 12th most triple doubles in a season in NBA history?) Sure, he turns it over a ton, but so does Westbrook. His defense isn’t very good (*Charles Barkley voice* Who plays good defense anymore? Tell me, Ernie. Who????). He’s got his team in the 3 seed in the West, and though his supporting cast is better than Westbrook’s, it’s not a huge margin. It feels so wrong not to have the guy averaging 31-10-10 as MVP, but what are you gonna do? Harden is just having a better season.

Apologies To: Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kevin Durant (it’d be impossible to get all of them, but imagine if, like, 3 out of the top 4 MVP candidates on the same team? How many titles would they win? Could anyone stop them?), Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony

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Lebron EVISCERATES Charles Barkley

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ESPN– After years of being fodder for Charles Barkley to comment on in his role as an analyst on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” LeBron James has heard enough.

“He’s a hater,” James told ESPN of Barkley following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 104-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. “What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”

James had been stewing the past couple of days after Barkley took James to task for the four-time MVP calling out the Cavs for needing to fortify the roster with another playmaker to have a realistic shot at a repeat title.

“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above,” Barkley said of James last week. “The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”

“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.

“All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”

“Go watch the ’93 Finals when John Paxson hit the shot,” James said. “Barkley and Jordan were laughing and joking with each other during one of the games while somebody’s shooting a free throw. In the Finals. But, oh, nobody were friends back then.”

He had more words for Barkley too.

“I know he wanted to retire a long time ago, but he can’t,” James said. “He’s stuck up on that stage every week.”

James then issued a challenge, of sorts.

“And if this makes him want to talk to me, the schedule’s out there,” James said. “He knows every road arena I’ll be in. Don’t just come up to me at All-Star and shake my hand and smile.”

“I collect one paycheck from this,” James said of his role with the Cavs. “There’s the owner, Griff’s [David Griffin] the GM, I’m the player. Screw Charles Barkley.”

James put on his baseball cap and offered a parting thought as he prepared to leave the visitors locker room at the American Airlines Center to head to the airport for a flight back to Cleveland.

“I’m tired of biting my tongue,” James said. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Oh, snap! LeBron just went in on Chuck! So much so that I had to pull out a John Oliver/John Stewart/Tomi Lahren style headline to really drive the point home. I’m not sure if Barkley is even still alive after that vicious attack! Someone check his pulse!

I have two different feelings about all this. One part of me loves this. Not LeBron calling out Chuck specifically, but someone finally calling out my least favorite crowd in the world, the “today’s sports are soft’ crowd. They make me see red. They make my blood boil. They make me want to commit violent crimes. “Today’s NBA is so watered down,” even though there’s more superstars than ever, and more teams have stars than ever before. And the players are better now than they used to be. Sorry, but Russell Westbrook would average about 50 points 25 rebounds and 15 assists if Oscar Robertson was guarding him. “All they do is shoot threes.” My advanced training in mathematics tells me that 3 is, in fact, more than 2. Which would mean that getting 3 points if better than getting 2 points. Let’s say a team takes 50 3 pointers and 50 2 pointers. If the team shoots just 35% from 3, which is about league average, the 3 point shots would yield more points than the 2 point shots if the team shot 50% from 2. So I don’t get what the problem is. “The players are too buddy-buddy nowadays.” Sure, the Banana Boat Boyz are the most influential #clique in NBA history, but this isn’t a new thing. Your boy Barkley used to sidle up to MJ non-stop. Magic and the original Isiah Thomas would make out before games! It would have been X rated if the MPAA got their hands on the footage. And Charles Oakley, everyone’s favorite bastion of toughness and thuggishness, was Jordan’s lackey no matter what team he was on. “No one plays defense or plays physical.” People don’t realize how impossible playing defense in today’s NBA is. Like 80% of the league is dangerous from 3. Every guard is a freak athlete that can’t possibly be contained one on one, so when you send help someone is open for 3. And the big men are all absurd hybrids of traditional physically dominant bruisers and skilled guards. The fact that teams still find a way to get any stops at all is cause for celebration. And no, it’s not as physical as it was in the 90s. The games are also watchable. So I applaud LeBron for taking down the leader of the curmudgeon army.

But on the other hand, this is whole saga is vintage LeBron. The whining, the verbal and virtual subtweeting, the constant over-dramatics. I mean, everything Chuck said is true. LeBron is a huge baby that cries and stomps his feet when he doesn’t get his way. I mean, I don’t get what his problem is. They won the title last season with virtually the same roster! They’re still going to win the East fairly easily. He already has no real challenge until the Finals, and now he wants to eliminate that challenge, too? I guess I can’t blame him. I hate challenges. But I’m not trying to be considered the greatest basketball player of all time. I also don’t publicly masturbate to my performance in last year’s finals where he beat the greatest regular season team ever, which he cheapens by trying to make this year’s go around easier. Not to mention we’re getting pretty close to when he takes his annual mid-season vacation. But, hey, he’s a father which means you can’t criticize him. I’m so sick of this story, I’m so sick of Barkley’s mindset, and I’m so sick of LeBron. I can’t wait until he finally retires 10 years from now.

I was nearly perfect in my NBA All Star predictions

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So the NBA announced the All Star reserves tonight after naming the starters last week. And before we get into the injustice that is the Danilo Gallinari snub, let’s take a moment to recognize how accurate my roster predictions were. In my mind, I only missed one per conference. If healthy, Chris Paul would have made it and I can’t be held accountable for the unpredictability of injury replacements. I’m counting Klay Thompson as CP3’s replacement, and he probably took Lillard’s spot. So, in my mind, the only ones I missed were Paul Millsap over Jabari Parker and DeAndre Jordan over Karl-Anthony Towns.

Jordan over Towns is a little easier to swallow. Towns has the splashy point totals, but Jordan leads the league in rebounds and field goal percentage and plays much better defense than Towns. DeAndre is even up over 50% from the foul line! It’s maybe the most shocking development of the season. To quote Rocky Balboa, anyone can change! And, without Paul, the Clippers wouldn’t have had any representation, which seems wrong for the 4 seed in the West. So I have no real problem with this. KAT will make plenty of All Star teams in the future. And to anyone saying I’m using alternative facts by saying I only got one wrong, in my original piece I said that I didn’t want to take four Warriors and that I agonized over which one to take, proving that I knew full well there was a good chance Klay would make it. So, really, I did call it. Anyone saying otherwise is just part of the liberal agenda trying to take me down! Very unfair!

Paul Millsap making it is a little more head scratching. Now, don’t get me wrong. Paul Millsap is a very good player. He’s versatile, unselfish, smart, and fundamentally sound. I’d love to have him on my team, and I think he can help anyone win. But this year he shouldn’t be on the All Star team. I hope people write this down, because this is rare. I actually admit I was wrong in my original prediction. I don’t know if I just overlooked him or what, but Joel Embiid needs to be an All Star. His numbers as-is are great considering he hasn’t played in two years and is asked to do everything for the Sixers. When you look at his eye-popping per-36 minute numbers and consider his defensive impact, he should be a lock. I mean, read this. He’s a beast. He’s the best center in the East already, and he’s getting better and healthier better every week. And, he’s the most entertaining player in the league. He’s a Twitter and Instagram legend, for crying out loud. At least let him do the 3-point shootout. Let him be a sideline reporter during the game. He’s got to be involved somehow. Ideally he’d be on the roster.

My NBA All Stars

As I’ve mentioned recently, the NBA All Star starters will be announced on Thursday, followed by the reserves being announced a week after. The starters will probably be wrong, since Dwyane Wade and Zaza Pachulia (yes, that Zaza Paculia) will be in the starting lineups and neither should be in the same state as the All Star Game. Moving past that, I’ve put together what I think the rosters should look like. All stats are accurate as of January 17, 2017.

EAST

STARTERS

thomas-isaiah-usnews-getty-ftr_7kqxdq3s1uhn1gpdmp1z56fvgIsaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics– I’d say you could call me a homer if Isaiah wasn’t one of the best ten players in the league this season. He leads the East in scoring, shooting career high percentages from the field and from the free throw line, and is top twenty in assists. In the pre-Harden and Westbrook world, leading the conference in scoring and still managing six assists per game was a rarity. He has completely dominated the months of December and January and has established himself as one of, if not the, best fourth quarter players in the league. The Cavs’ army of devoted fanboys doesn’t want to hear it, but he’s been better than Kyrie this season.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ersKyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors– The second backcourt spot was a toss up between the duo up north of Lowry and Demar Derozan. The Raptors have been the best team in the East outside of Cleveland again this season, and their offense is now operating at crazy heights, currently averaging more points per 100 possessions than even the Warriors. Though Derozan carried the team as Lowry got off to a slow start this season, Kyle’s been scalding hot since. It’s almost getting redundant at this point since you can seemingly say it every year, but he’s having the best season of his career. He’s averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and player efficiency rating, while shooting a Curry-like 44% on 7.5 three point attempts per game, and is second in the league in real plus-minus. He’s the true engine for the league’s best offense.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks - Game OneLebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers– It’s seemingly been a quiet season for Lebron, but he’s still been Lebron. Top ten in points and assists, still rebounding well, and is the best player on the best team in the East. He’s still flopping and overdramatic, still seemingly forgets the Warriors actually beat his team in the Finals two years ago and that it isn’t some one sided rivalry, but he’s still the best.

giannisGiannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks– The Greek Freak has become what everyone but Danny Ainge (shoutout to Kelly Olynyk! No, I don’t lose sleep over the fact that Giannis should be a Celtic! Why do you ask?) thought he could be. He is a (pun intended) freakish athlete that effects the game in virtually every way. He’s kept his offense at the level we saw at the end of last year, scoring at will inside, setting up teammates, and getting to the line at the highest rate of his young career. He still can’t shoot three’s, but when you can dunk from the three point line it doesn’t really matter. He’s a menace on defense and could become the fourth player ever to average 2 blocks and 2 steals a game.
chicago-bulls-jimmy-butlerJimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls– No one seems to notice or care, but Jimmy Butler has turned himself into one of the best player in the league and he keeps getting better. He’s singlehandedly kept a bad Bulls team afloat, and all his stats either are or are close to career highs. He’s third in the league in real plus-minus. I never thought he’d become this good, and I have no idea how much better he can become, but I’m not betting against him.

RESERVES

Los Angeles Lakers v Cleveland CavaliersKyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers– Kyrie is probably going to start in real life, and although he doesn’t crack my starting lineup, he’s still an all star. He’s having his best statistical season, and as the second best player on last year’s champions he’d probably make the team regardless. I don’t know how he’s only shooting 46% from the field, since whenever I watch him he never seems to miss. Everyone always wants to say he’s better than Steph, but there’s just something missing. His defense is still bad. He still doesn’t really pass, but that doesn’t matter when you have Lebron. I know there’s a lot of Curry fatigue out there, but I don’t think Kyrie is the answer.

kevin-love-ftr-042315_wpjp86vjxtqz1lpdo12prs6voKevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers– The best way to get into the #clique and make the Instagram pics is to play like the all star you were in Minnesota. He’s back to averaging 20 points a game, is top ten in rebounding, and is lighting it up from 3. Being on the best team in the East doesn’t hurt his all star chances.

maxresdefault1John Wall, Washington Wizards– Somehow always overlooked, John Wall is playing the best ball of his career and is probably the most underrated player in the league. He leads the East in assists and steals, is scoring more than ever, and is more efficient than he’s ever been. He’s leading a resurgent Wizards team that has exceeded expectations, partly due to Bradley Beal actually staying healthy, but mostly due to the fact that Wall has become a truly elite point guard capable of winning games by himself in the Eastern Conference.

derozanmvpDemar Derozan, Toronto Raptors-Mentioned above, but Derozan really carried the Raptors in the first part of the season, leading the league in scoring for a solid month. He’s cooled off slightly, but he’s still averaging a pretty efficient 28 points per game. He gets to the rim and to the line at will, and is a midrange marksman in a league full of 3 point gunners. He’s one of the most frightening players in the league attacking the rim.

635848408893220753-ap-46794507105-1Paul George, Indiana Pacers– PG13 is having another good season, but the league takeover that seemed imminent a few years ago has yet to materialize. His once elite defense has slipped this year, but his efficiency on offense has improved, with his highest field goal percentage since his rookie year. He can be streaky from 3, but he’s hot right now, and is the best player on a slightly lackluster Pacers team. In an East without a ton of legitimate all star candidates, though, he makes the team.

kemba-walker-121014-getty-ftrjpg_1f1vcl0978voj1qipxipij8znhKemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets– Fun fact: my freshman year at the University of Connecticut was the year that Kemba took over college basketball and dragged the team to the championship, so Kemba will always hold a special place in my heart. (For the mathletes out there, that would mean my senior year was the year Shabazz Napier did the same. Combine those two with the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, and I’ve seen a lot of winning in my life. I’m an expert in winning.) However, this is no sentimental pick. After the best season of his career last year, he’s been even better this year. His shooting percentages keep getting better as his usage rate goes up. The rest of the Hornets have been inconsistent, but Kemba has kept the team from free fall with his consistently good play.

121915_jabparJabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks– The last spot on the roster could go to a few different players, but my vote goes to the player I think will win Most Improved Player. The other half of one of the most exciting young duos in the league, Jabari Parker has really blossomed as a scorer. After shooting a Wade-esque 25% from 3 his first two years, all of a sudden he’s up to 41%, while steadily bringing his field goal percentage closer and closer to 50%. His defense is….not great, but his smooth, efficient offensive game gets him onto the roster.

Apologies to: Kristaps Porzingis (he should be up for sainthood), Joel Embiid (team is too bad), Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal.

No Apologies to: Hassan Whiteside for the most egregious stat chasing I’ve ever seen. He’s not a good player. Like, at all.

WEST

STARTERS

james-hardenJames Harden, Houston Rockets– These first  two entries won’t be very exciting because they really need no reasoning. For my money, Harden has been the best player in the NBA this season. The move to point guard has totally unleashed his unique skill set, and now he’s leading the league in assists and is third in scoring. He’s a beast.

russRussell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder– He’s averaging a triple double.

 

 

 

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Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors– Crazily enough, putting one of the most talented scorers in the history of the NBA with the two best shooters of all time leads to good offense. Durant has been predictably (and otherworldly) efficient, but his defense has been a surprise. Though he’s shown flashes of being an elite defender, he’s embraced that side of the ball this season and has been a disruptive force and is currently twelfth in the league in blocked shots. He’s a decent player.

120415-nba-kawhi-leonard-pi-mp-vresize-1200-675-high_-20Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs– Kawhi “Mr. Electricty” Leonard has taken the mantle of Spurs talisman and has fully committed to the role, quietly chugging along and showing no personality while doing it. But guess what? He’s still getting better. He’s transformed himself from an athletic rebounding specialist in college into an elite offensive player and terror on defense. He’s the best two way player in the league (Lebron doesn’t try enough on defense), and has vastly exceeded all realistic expectations for what his career could be. But it still feels like there’s untapped potential here. I don’t know if the Spurs got lucky or if they really are three steps ahead of everyone when it comes to scouting and player development, but they found another potential all time great to replace the one that just retired.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit PistonsAnthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans– This spot could easily go to DeMarcus Cousins, but I’m going Davis because of the absurdity of some of his stat lines. 50-15-5-5-4. 45-17. 41-16-4 steals. Seemingly every night, he’s doing something crazy. Kind of funny how after last season everyone forgot they loved Davis to fawn over Karl-Anthony Towns. Davis took it personally, apparently. He’s Mr. Glass, though. He misses like every other game with some minor injury. Kobe used to play through pain, if you hadn’t heard. Wouldn’t mind seeing Davis try doing the same.

RESERVES
curry-profSteph Curry, Golden State Warriors– How about the fact that Steph’s “down season” is still better than Kyrie’s career season? Steph is averaging more points, assists, rebounds, steals, and fewer turnovers than the man who many think (wish?) is better than him. He’s still one of the best players in the league. He’s still the greatest and most prolific shooter of all time. This is his worst three point shooting by percentages. Everyone saying he’s struggling and looking to bury him. He’s shooting 39.8% from 3. On an absurd number of attempts. If the season ended today it would be the first time in his career he shot under 42% from 3. I think he’ll be just fine.

draymondDraymond Green, Golden State Warriors– The West this year is so ridiculously stacked with potential all stars that I can only take three of the Warriors’ big four. (Sorry, big five. I forgot Zaza is an all star.) I went back and forth on this so many times, but in the end Draymond’s unreal defense this season is what gets him in. Not to mention the fact that he’s averaging more assists than last year while averaging almost one full fewer turnover a game. Plus, given the choice between the two, I would rather have the Warriors win the title than the Cavs. I feel like Draymond missing the all star game would be infinitely more detrimental to their success than Klay missing out.

gordon-hayward-122914-getty-ftrjpg_wqfrrr1g069o1nc0qpa17td6eGordon Hayward, Utah Jazz– After years of hearing about their promise, the Jazz have finally showed up as a playoff contender, lead by (hopefully) future Celtic Gordon Hayward. After years of keeping the crown fairly easily, Hayward took the title of best American white player from Kevin Love and has kept it this season. Almost makes me teary eyed to see two white boys in the NBA All Star Game. Unfortunately for analysts, Hayward doesn’t fit the traditional white guy mold. He may be scrappy and have a high basketball IQ, but he’s also a great athlete, great off the dribble, and makes the players around him better. He’s averaging career highs in points and rebounds, while shooting more efficiently despite his ever growing role on offense. Not to stray too far from his heritage, though, he’s an avid League of Legends player and was once a pro tennis prospect. Need to counterbalance basketball greatness with that kind of nerdiness to keep his whiteness levels in check.

marc-gasol-grizzlies-ftr-getty-031915_7neuch1v6caw11j9q59gvbk58Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies– I don’t know why no one thought to let Marc shoot 3s before this season, but he’s gone from having 12 career 3s before this season to shooting almost 40% while taking over 3 per game. Long been one of my favorite players to watch, Marc has taken his game to a new level. With Mike Conley missing significant time and Zach Randolph’s reduced role, Marc has the Grizzlies as the six seed in the West. He’s scoring more than ever while still dishing out his 4 assists a game and playing great defense. In many ways he and Tony Allen are the most lasting pillars of the Grit n’ Grind era, and he’s taken them into the 21st century.

r170266_608x342_16-9DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings– Extracurricular antics aside, Boogie is a true beast. Always good for at least 28-10, he’s added a pretty reliable 3-pointer this season, and has a career high PER. He still has lapses on defense, but his active hands help get his share of steals and blocks. The closest thing to the dominant big man of yore, DeMarcus can score on anyone at anytime.

chris-paul-getty-ftr-010516_ifl1w3gzvaps1jgwobqsazzyuChris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers– CP3 just keeps putting out great seasons. He leads the league in real plus-minus by a wide margin. He leads the league in steals (again), is top five in assists, doesn’t turn it over, and is shooting his usual healthy percentages. All the while maintaining a solid flop rate and continuously yelling at teammates. The actual all star game is better with him in it, as he usually finishes with about 15 assists.

Portland Trail Blazers v New York KnicksDamian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers– God, this was tough. So many players going for the last spot on the roster. In the end, I’m going Lillard. He’s having his best offensive season, with a career best turnover percentage and true shooting percentage. The fact that his defense has been so bad and he still has the Blazers in the playoffs shows how good he’s been with the ball in his hands. Let’s end this before I change my mind again.

Apologies to: Klay Thompson (ask me again tomorrow), Rudy Gobert (best defensive player in the league), Blake Griffin (too injured), Karl-Anthony Towns (how did he not make it?), C.J. McCollum, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe.

LAST SECOND UPDATE:

Chris Paul is going to miss 6-8 weeks after getting thumb surgery, so he needs to be replaced.

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Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves– Yet another tough call, but there just aren’t many guys that can average 20-10, especially at such a young age. He’s really good, and makes the team despite his team’s disappointing season.