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February 6, 2012
All-Star Reserves
Our Picks

by Kevin Pelton

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In this post-lockout season, picking All-Stars might be more difficult than ever before. Balancing performance in a given year with track record over a larger sample is always a challenge, one that's exacerbated by the fact that usually about twice as many games are in the books as have been played this season. My general perspective, as I've explained before, is that history matters. It's a mistake to reward fluke performances with selections that look silly with the benefit of hindsight. It's also crazy to me to act as if the second half of the season is completely irrelevant with respect to All-Stars.

Dirk Nowitzki might be the most fascinating test case ever. We're less than eight months removed from Nowitzki winning Finals MVP and being acclaimed as the league's best player during the postseason. Over the first month and a half of this season, Nowitzki has played nowhere near that standard. He's also missed time to rest, limiting his value. Exacerbating the issue is that Nowitzki plays at the league's deepest position. Three candidates for Western Conference reserves at power forward rank in the NBA's top 11 in WARP. Add it up and I would say that, for the first time in a decade, Nowitzki should be at home for the All-Star Game. Who would I pick instead?

EAST GUARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Brandon Jennings    MIL   .634   3.8   .535   .262    5.3   6.7   3.0   - 8.1
Joe Johnson         ATL   .572   2.8   .536   .253    6.4   4.7   1.8   + 2.6
Deron Williams      NJN   .562   2.8   .521   .299    6.1  11.0   2.3   +11.9
Louis Williams      PHI   .623   2.7   .527   .289    4.8   6.9   1.7   - 7.8
Kyrie Irving        CLE   .608   2.6   .582   .283    6.8   7.7   2.4   - 1.8
Ray Allen           BOS   .604   2.4   .677   .189    5.4   4.1   1.5   + 3.8
Rajon Rondo         BOS   .610   2.1   .544   .231    8.4  12.4   2.5   + 3.2

My picks: Joe Johnson, Atlanta; Deron Williams, New Jersey
Certainly, we at Prospectus are not the biggest Johnson fans anywhere, but he's played well in the early going for a surprising Hawks team and has a lengthy track record of All-Star performance. Williams has made the other choice a bit easier with his strong surge. Williams' efficiency is still on the low side, but his True Shooting Percentage isn't substantially different from those posted by Brandon Jennings or Louis Williams, and that's while carrying a larger load of the New Jersey offense. The Nets have scored at a league-average rate, and without Williams I suspect they would be near the bottom of the NBA.

EAST FORWARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ryan Anderson       ORL   .731   4.7   .598   .219   13.3   1.1   2.2   +26.5
Andre Iguodala      PHI   .638   3.9   .528   .193   10.5   7.1   3.9   + 2.5
Paul Pierce         BOS   .683   3.6   .566   .281    9.7   7.9   2.9   +11.5
Josh Smith          ATL   .587   2.9   .479   .252   15.4   4.5   6.7   + 0.9
Chris Bosh          MIA   .577   2.8   .583   .247   12.3   2.7   3.1   + 0.9
Paul George         IND   .601   2.8   .608   .175    9.7   3.2   4.0   +10.3
Danny Granger       IND   .588   2.8   .501   .264    7.6   2.6   4.1   +19.0
Kevin Garnett       BOS   .558   2.0   .535   .228   14.1   4.5   3.9   + 8.4
Andrea Bargnani     TOR   .597   1.8   .576   .298   10.2   2.7   2.2   + 7.8

My picks: Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia; Paul Pierce, Boston
Ryan Anderson might be this year's most dangerous All-Star pick, in that there's such a gap between his performance thus far and his reputation around the league. We'll leave the Anderson question for the utility section. For now, Iguodala is a deserving representative for the surprising Philadelphia 76ers. Even before accounting for his superb perimeter defense, Iguodala looks like a strong pick on the basis of his versatile offensive performance. Surprisingly, Pierce is out-assisting Iguodala this season as a point forward for the Celtics in Rajon Rondo's absence. His assist rate is better than those posted by Jennings and Kyrie Irving, too, and after a slow start Pierce has reestablished himself as one of the league's better scorers.

One sidenote: Because of my work with the Pacers, I'm not able to consider any Indiana players for my team, though I've included their statistics as appropriate.

EAST CENTER

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Greg Monroe         DET   .660   4.4   .569   .243   18.9   3.6   3.7   - 5.3
Tyson Chandler      NYK   .620   3.5   .761   .119   17.1   1.4   4.4   -11.7
Anderson Varejao    CLE   .594   2.7   .520   .170   22.0   2.5   3.9   - 4.6
Roy Hibbert         IND   .596   2.6   .534   .232   17.9   2.7   5.6   + 7.9
Spencer Hawes       PHI   .651   1.8   .604   .178   17.1   4.6   5.4   + 1.6

My pick: Tyson Chandler, New York
Quietly, Greg Monroe has been remarkably impressive in his second season, and I love the idea of an All-Star Game with Anderson Varejao sprinting around and basically treating the affair like Game Seven of the Finals. Still, this spot belongs to Chandler. After landing in New York, Chandler has actually improved his performance for the champion Mavericks. He's unlikely to keep up a True Shooting Percentage that would be the best in NBA history by a sizeable margin (Artis Gilmore holds the record at .702, with Chandler's .697 mark from last season not far behind), but Chandler deserves credit for helping turn the Knicks into an above-average defensive outfit.

EAST UTILITY

My picks: Ryan Anderson, Orlando; Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee
With the first five spots going to established veterans, I'm going to use the last two to reward two up-and-coming players. Ultimately, I think any statistical evaluation has to favor Anderson. He's not just playing well; he rates as one of the NBA's top players. And while Anderson's game is perfectly suited for WARP, he also scores high marks in PER and Win Shares, too. The Magic has also been far, far better with Anderson on the floor this season. Lastly, while Anderson has limited track record--this is his first season as a full-time starter--his per-minute performance always suggested this kind of production was possible.

My last spot comes down to Irving and Jennings. In terms of efficiency, there's no comparison between the two players, but WARP still favors Jennings by a sizeable margin. Part of the difference is that Jennings is playing so many more minutes. His other key advantage, which doesn't show up in the stats I've listed here, is in terms of sure-handed ballhandling. Jennings is turning the ball over on 10.6 percent of his plays, while Irving is at 16.6 percent. Additionally, Jennings has long rated well at the defensive end, while Irving still has room for improvement at that end of the floor. Fortunately, there will be plenty more shots at the All-Star Game for the Cavaliers' promising rookie.

WEST GUARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kyle Lowry          HOU   .644   3.8   .530   .214    9.6  10.3   3.5   +15.6
James Harden        OKC   .666   3.7   .648   .217    7.4   5.2   1.8   + 8.7
Russell Westbrook   OKC   .635   3.7   .528   .327    7.5   7.7   3.7   + 7.2
Steve Nash          PHX   .645   3.2   .631   .223    4.4  14.8   1.2   +11.6
Ricky Rubio         MIN   .566   2.7   .511   .183    7.1  11.4   3.8   +16.9
Tony Parker         SAS   .562   2.6   .512   .279    5.1  10.6   1.8   + 1.2
Mike Conley         MEM   .572   2.5   .511   .192    4.3   9.0   4.0   +17.9

My picks: Kyle Lowry, Houston; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
Lowry has built on his breakthrough 2010-11 campaign and now deserves to be considered one of the NBA's top five point guards. He's a nightly triple-double threat who has improved his playmaking and excels at the defensive end of the floor. Westbrook actually rates a little behind teammate James Harden, but his track record assures him a spot on the roster.

WEST FORWARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kevin Love          MIN   .731   6.3   .578   .275   19.4   1.9   2.3   + 7.5
LaMarcus Aldridge   POR   .640   4.1   .558   .282   13.6   3.4   3.0   +17.6
Paul Millsap        UTA   .696   4.1   .570   .236   17.4   2.8   4.6   +14.8
Pau Gasol           LAL   .604   3.6   .553   .209   14.8   3.8   3.2   + 1.4
Danilo Gallinari    DEN   .619   3.5   .598   .215    9.0   3.6   3.4   + 6.2
Nicolas Batum       POR   .634   2.6   .604   .204    8.9   1.7   4.1   -12.0
Tim Duncan          SAS   .578   2.3   .519   .255   16.8   4.6   4.3   - 6.7
Dirk Nowitzki       DAL   .516   1.4   .538   .259   10.5   3.3   2.6   + 1.4

My picks: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Kevin Love, Minnesota
A year ago, both my All-Star roster and the real one came down to Aldridge vs. Love, with Love prevailing in both cases. By the end of the season it was obvious that, even at a loaded position, Aldridge deserved All-Star recognition. He's one of the league's top two-way threats and invaluable to the Blazers, as evidenced by another impressive net plus-minus rating, (ninth in the league, per BasketballValue.com. As for Love, he is far and away the best player who wasn't voted a starter.

WEST CENTER

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Marc Gasol          MEM   .639   4.1   .573   .177   15.9   3.3   6.4   +27.3
Marcin Gortat       PHX   .608   3.0   .580   .214   18.0   1.3   5.1   + 1.0
Samuel Dalembert    HOU   .615   2.5   .568   .160   19.2   0.9   7.7   +10.0

My pick: Marc Gasol, Memphis
Gasol might be more important to the Grizzlies this season than any other player in the league to his team. That's indicated both by his net plus-minus (tops in the league, just ahead of Anderson) and the 38.1 minutes per game he's logging for a perilously thin Memphis frontcourt. Thus far, Gasol has shown no ill effects of the heavy work rate. His rebounding and shot blocking are both up and his True Shooting Percentage has barely slipped despite the league-wide offensive slowdown after the lockout.

WEST UTILITY

My picks: James Harden, Oklahoma City; Paul Millsap, Utah
Millsap's is another case where performance this season exceeds past track record, though we've seen All-Star-type stretches from him in the past. Millsap is one of 11 players in the league rated at better than four WARP and has been the biggest reason (besides schedule) why the Jazz has exceeded expectations, so this selection seems appropriate. For the last spot in the West, there are any number of options. Pau Gasol has the most proven history, though his performance this season may be more disappointing than WARP reflects. Danilo Gallinari is another rising star who might look like an obvious All-Star by the year's end. Still, I'd rather have a fifth guard. I went back and forth between Harden and Steve Nash. From a standpoint of pure entertainment, it's hard to go wrong with Nash, and the two-time MVP continues to perform at a high level as he approaches his 38th birthday on Tuesday. Nonetheless, Harden is simply playing too well to leave him off the roster, especially since he is clearly the second-best shooting guard in the conference after starter Kobe Bryant. In this case, track record should work in Harden's favor, since he's been playing at an elite level since last year's All-Star break.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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