The NBA’s New Stars
The NBA announced the starting fives for the All-Star teams last week, with Golden State's Stephen Curry leading all players in receiving just over 1.5 million votes in total.
A pair of brothers from Spain will face off, and veteran staples Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will be joined by fresh faces in John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Anthony Davis in the starting lineups.
Blake Griffin can hardly be called a fresh face, but at 25 he’s closer to the new young wave of talent engulfing the league than to the previous generation. And the veteran quota will be further diminished by the news that Kobe will undergo season-ending surgery for a shoulder injury on Wednesday.
Attention now shifts to the coaches’ vote, which determines the other seven roster spots on each squad. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will then select an injury reserve to replace Kobe, with the decision being left to Steve Kerr for who will actually have the honor of replacing Bryant on the floor to start the game.
Kerr will be the Western Conference team coach after guiding Golden State to an impressive 36-6 start in his first year as an NBA boss. Facing him will be Atlanta’s Coach Bud, Mike Budenholzer, who is enjoying his second year in the hot seat.
And so Houston’s Bearded Wonder, James Harden, may end up being spurned again. Harden finished as the fifth-leading vote-getter overall with more than a million, but he was still a cool 80,000+ behind Bryant for the second guard spot in the West.
In most situations, Harden would be a shoo-in to replace Kobe. But Curry’s teammate Klay Thompson has become a legitimate star in his own right, and he grabbed the nation’s attention in emphatic style with an NBA record 37 points in the third quarter of the Warriors’ win over Sacramento on Friday.
Klay is on pace with his teammate, both averaging 22.8 points per game, but Harden leads the league in scoring with 27.6ppg, a full point ahead of LeBron. The decision would appear to be simple until you remember: Golden State’s coach has the final call here.
It’s harsh on Harden, but the game is after all merely a glorified exhibition match, so it’s not a decision that will have any meaningful long-term consequence - any small fear Kerr might have that Harden will avenge this slight in the playoffs will no doubt be tempered by the confidence-boost that Thompson can gain.
Lowry pipped another veteran star, Miami’s Dwyane Wade, thanks in part to a sustained voting campaign from north of the border. Wade has actually been impressive this year, averaging 21.7ppg for the current seventh seed in the East.
The selection of Anthony, though, is more difficult to justify. Sure, he averages more points, and he is a well-known star in the league. But his New York Knicks have been truly pitiful this year, scrapping with Philadelphia and Minnesota for the worst record in the league. It’s hardly Melo’s fault, but his selection does highlight an unfortunate paucity of talent in the Eastern Conference frontcourt.
Kobe’s selection is a bit more justifiable, despite the Lakers being only a rung or two above the Knicks for now. He already has living legend status and continues to rack up points even at age 36; for comparison’s sake, Wade just turned 33 and LeBron and Melo are both 30 years old.
At 34 years of age, Bryant’s running mate in recent years, Pau Gasol, is the next-oldest player in the starting lineups. Kobe and Pau won two titles together after the controversial trade which brought Pau to the Lakers. The trade was seen as lop-sided, with Pau’s kid brother Marc, who had not yet played a game in the NBA, part of the package that Memphis received in exchange for Pau.
Marc has since become a foundational cornerstone of the Grizzlies, who have developed into one of the strongest teams in the West. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and he also forms a decent offensive combination with Zach Randolph in the Memphis frontcourt.
What about last year’s MVP Kevin Durant? Injuries have restricted KD’s impact as well as that of teammate Russell Westbrook, but both will surely be named as reserves, as will Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and some deserving Atlanta Hawks, none of whom made the starting lineup despite their team success.
But veterans such as Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard might not make the final cut. The old-timers may appreciate the chance to rest their ageing bodies knowing that greater battles are to come in the playoffs, and also safe in the knowledge that there are plenty of young guys ready to take on the mantle.