Monday, January 28, 2013

MAMBINO'S Western Conference NBA All-Stars

Saturday, we laid out our picks for the Eastern Conference All-Stars stamped with the iron-clad MAMBINO seal of approval. Once you've peeped that, feast your eyes on our Western Conference selections:


Starting Guards: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (Unanimous) & Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers 

Westbrook is one of four (!) unanimous selections from this glorious forum, and really, is there any doubt? After a somewhat reckless start, Russ has gone back to his world destroying ways, shooting just 41% (very close to his career mark), but getting to the line nearly 8 times a game, a number identically matched to the number of dimes he doles out every night. Statistically, Westbrook's 2012-2013 isn't as impressive as last year, but all expectations have to be deviated when taking into account the massive team-wide upheaval in the wake of the James Harden deal. Chris Paul surprisingly wasn't a unanimous selection, as one of our panel gave the starting nod to James Harden...somehow. CP3 is in the midst of a MVP-caliber year, in which he should finish no worse than third in the voting by the time April rolls around. His availability for the actual All-Star game is in doubt with a bone bruise in his knee, a horrifying proposition for any Clips fan. Wherever you are.

Starting Bigs: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (Unanimous); Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (Unanimous) & Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (Unanimous)

Well, if Lakers fans have to deal with D'Antoni line-ups night after night, there's no reason why Kobe shouldn't be listed as a small forward for the All-Star game. Along with Durant and Duncan, all three were unanimous MAMBINO All-Star selections, and for good reason. KD is in line for one of the greatest shooting seasons of all-time, as examined by Zach Lowe at Grantland. If not for LeBron harnessing his inner Jordan, Durant would be the unquestioned MVP at this point.

Duncan and Bryant, in their 16th and 17th seasons, respectively, are doing what most thought to be damn near impossible: performing as the best players at their positions. At the age of 36, Duncan continues to churn out unreal numbers (17/10/3 on 50% shooting in just 30 minutes), while playing his usual spectacular post defense. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant remains one of the league's top five players...playing on arguably a bottom five team. I'm sad now.

Reserve Guards: James Harden, Houston Rockets; Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Unanimous); Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (Unanimous)

On the guard side, there really weren't any deliberations needed; the only reason why all three weren't unanimous is because of the aforementioned starter vote for James Harden. Otherwise, each player is the best on his respective team. James Harden has emerged into a legitimate franchise cornerstone in Houston, scoring 26 points a night in 38 minutes. His shooting percentages aren't out of this world (.436/.328/.859), which would put him behind the sublime Chris Paul and the more versatile scoring threat in Westbrook, despite the Beard's massive nightly point totals.

Curry has overcome a career beset by injury to establish career-highs in almost every conceivable way:  21 ppg, and 6.5 apg in 38 minutes a night. He's also emerged as perhaps the most lethal threat from long in the entire league, taking 7 threes a game on 45% shooting. He's by far the best player on a Warriors team currently poised as the five seed in the West.

Parker is simply doing what he's been known for the previous four seasons: 20 points, 7.5 assists on 52% shooting, while destroying opposing defenses with his deft penetration plays.

Reserve Bigs: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (Unanimous); LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers (Unanimous); David Lee, Golden State Warriors; Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

The two unanimous selections for the MAMBINO Western Conference bigs were pretty easy; All-Star game starter Blake Griffin certainly isn't playing better than Westbrook, Paul, Kobe, Duncan or Durant, but he's not far off. The Clips forward hasn't improved in the ways that most thought he would, in that his defense, jump shot and free throw shooting aren't even league average. However,  he's still one of, if not the most athletic player in the league and every single opposing coach has to focus much of his game plan on preventing Griffin from getting too far into the paint. Aldridge's selection was a no-brainer as well--he's the best player on an extremely thin Portland team that's right on the fringe of playoff contention.

Lee and Gasol were right on the bubble along with Z-Bo, Howard and Jefferson. However, Golden State's record, Lee's off the charts numbers (19.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.5 apg on 52% shooting) and Memphis' record kept representatives from LA and Utah off the team. When faced with either picking Marc or Z-Bo, the deciding factor was Gasol's defense, which has landed him on several early DPOY ballots.

Snubs: Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies; Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers; Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz; Nicolas Batum, Portland Trailblazers; Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers; Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

Leaving Dwight off the team was perhaps more a condition of the Lakers' record and relative expectations than anything else. If LA's record was 24-18, a center averaging 16 points, a league leading 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and shooting 57% would make any team. However, I can't begrudge the rest of the MAMBINO board for keeping him off our All-Star squad. Millsap and Jefferson are having All-Star caliber seasons, but with their numbers being comparable to LaMarcus, Marc Gasol, Z-Bo and Blake, team records and defensive capabilities put them on the chopping block. Nic Batum is under a similar situation, but for a middling team like the Blazers, it was either him or Aldridge--and thus, a simple choice.

Jamal Crawford has had a lot of supporters for All-Star consideration, but his nomination for the team is a side effect of not just the Clips' record, but also his emergence despite a universal thrashing of his offseason free agent contract. True, he's playing a crucial role on a title contending team and his floor spacing and propensity for buckets of quick points. However, Crawford is scoring 16 points off the bench for the Red, White & Blue, but on 13.5 shots a game and the league's 92nd PER. Any All-Star push he's getting truly isn't deserved.

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