Binczyk: John Wall (Washington Wizards)
With not a lot of superstar grade talent to choose from in the East since Rose went down, I’m picking John.
Although averaging less than Kyrie, his reliability and importance to that Wizards team is insurmountable.
Lavalette: John Wall
In a league that is top-heavy with elite point guards, it’s a travesty injuries have afflicted some of the stars of this position.
Pre-season, I would have automatically locked in D-Rose. I was expecting an Eff-You type season, while seeing him propel the Bulls to the East’s best regular season record. I knew he was going to start scratchily but I was certain he would get back to his MVP form by playoffs. Alas! Watching Rose cruelled again by injury, and perhaps likely to never reach his 2011 superlative level again, still pains me.
Rajon Rondo’s eclectic talents haven’t been seen as he recovers from knee surgery, sustained in January. In their desire to tank, the Celtics are probably hoping his recovery takes even longer otherwise they may ship him off. A combination of Brad Stevens + Rondo + gritty role players probably equates to the Cs claiming the third or fourth seed in this horrific conference. Being blown away by the Heat or Pacers in the second round is pretty futile. Danny Ainge has a major dilemma on his hands. He’s like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver – itching to pull the trigger, his fuse has been lit.
Deron Williams too has missed an abundance of matches due to his cumbersome ankles. With a bevy of experienced players brought into the team, highlighted by the strong leadership of Garnett and Pierce, I was confident Williams would morph back into the beast of a player he was during his halcyon days in Utah – a time when D-Will v CP3 was a legitimate debate. It’s just too bad that D-Will has been most likely blotted from existence.
Despite the good form of Jeff Teague, whose consistency (16pt-8ast) has helped Atlanta become one of the few competitive teams in the conference, the point guard battle in the East is between John Wall and Kyrie Irving.
Their careers have paralleled and so too their shtick – both rely on their amazing athleticism to compensate for their sub-par shooting. Both aren’t traditional point guards, as their innateness compels them to score first. Both can be liabilities on the defensive end, although Wall is clearly superior at this stage despite his propensity to descend into freneticism. And both players are trying to etch credibility into morbid franchises.
The former number one draft picks find themselves at interesting predicaments. Can they make the leap? There’s no doubting the pair are elite players, all-star calibre, but can they develop into top 10 players? Can they start challenging CP3 for ‘best point guard alive’ status?
Both have had their dazzling moments. Wall had a run in late November of three straight 30+ games, while Kyrie scored 41 against Wall (who only scored 9) and was recently engaged in an enthralling recent Mano-a-mano with fellow young stud Damian Lillard.
It’s hard to separate the two. Their respective teams have been disappointing, with Cleveland and Washington both entering the season with ambitions of making a playoff splash – and might still do so, albeit primarily by default because of the atrocity of the Eastern Conference.
I’m giving the edge to Wall due to his better all-round game. He clearly has an advantage in assists (9 to 6) and steals (2 to 1) per game. Plus, I just can’t give the nod to Kyrie, whose leadership had been rudderless amid the Cavs’ petty infighting and overall chaos.
Collins: John Wall
The joy of playing in a conference where You-Don’t-Need-To-Be-A-Top-Five-Player-In-Your-Position-To-Make-The-AllStar-Team!
With Rose and Rondo injured and Irving bricking his layups, Wall has bolted to the starting position in Steve Bradbury-style.
Still, Wall’s 19.6 points and 9.1 assists per game are impressive and definitely would warrant all-star consideration in any given season.
Binczyk: Arron Afflalo (Orlando Magic)
A toss-up between Afflalo from the Magic and Wade from the holy trinity in Miami. I’m going with the unpopular way here and with Affalo.
Along with Vucevic, Afflalo has pretty much put the Magic team on his back and been a fantastic role model for the young bloods down Disneyland way. Arron has been shooting 47% from the field and averaging 21.8 ppg, the best in this position in the East.
Lavalette: Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)
I so wanted to go with Afflalo, who is having an outstanding season averaging 22-5-4 on 42-47-87 shooting. But I’m a stickler for rewarding players on successful teams. It’s not a knock on Afflalo, who has helped ensure Orlando has escaped being the laughingstock anticipated at season’s start. Afflalo has shown that he can absolutely be a successful second or third banana on a contender.
But I’m selecting Wade as my starter. I was dubious about whether he could still be an elite player. He struggled mightily last season, as a decade of physical punishment seemed to have eroded his body.
He’s back doing D-Wade things. He’s slithering to the basket and attacking the rim with flair that was reminiscent of the pre-LeBron days when D-Wade was a top-five player in the league. He’s averaging 20-5-5 and playing the most efficient ball of his life.
Healthier and well-rested, with Miami opting not to play him in back-to-backs, Wade appears rejuvenated and his ability to attack the rim has helped him achieve his best field goal mark of his illustrious career – 54%. Unlike recent years when he had a misguided penchant for the three, Wade is not settling for the jumper, but instead terrifying the opposition with his trademark acrobatic driving.
Wade in this vintage ensures Miami are the favourites for the title and claim a historic three-peat.
Collins: Dwayne Wade
With Duncan-minutes, Flash is back! A night off here and 30 minutes there, it’s amazing how father-time can be fought off with sensible player-management. If only Mike D’Antoni understood the concept of resting a 35-year-old who has played the fifth most minutes in league history to minimise risk of injury (A sobering thought: Would Kobe have suffered a possible career-ending Achilles injury if Gregg Popovich was his coach?).
Wade is shooting a highly efficient 54 percent from the field and recently bagged 32 points against Indiana’s elite defense. Despite Durant’s hasty proclamation on Twitter that Harden is the new premier shooting guard, Wade remains top dog and has proved to be more than just flash.
Binczyk: LeBron James (Miami Heat)
A no-brainer on this one – King James. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already about the current back-to back-champion? When we thought he couldn’t get any better, Lebron has elevated his status by improving both his field and three point goal percentages so far this season.
Lavalette: Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
I know, I know, technically LeBron is a three but in Spoelstra’s position-less system he’s always playing a myriad of roles.
I just had to select Paul George, who has delighted hoop junkies by making ‘the jump’ this season. We saw glimpses last playoffs, particularly during his entertaining duels with LeBron in the conference finals, but George has now materialised into a top-five player. He’s looking at Melo in his rear-view mirror. George has become the third best forward in the league and only LeBron is more impactful on both ends of the floor.
They’ve cooled off slightly but the Pacers absolutely are legitimate championship contenders, primarily due to George’s ascension to carrying the scoring burden.
Collins: Paul George
By George he has it all except for a decent nickname (damn you, Mr. and Mrs. George!). If voters know anything about basketball, Carmelo finds himself on the bench and the league’s premier two-way player (LeBron, aside) starts at small forward in New Orleans.
Nine teams passed up on the MVP candidate in the 2010 NBA draft. To recap, Minnesota selected the one and only Wesley Johnson with pick four.
Paul George has made the leap this season
Binczyk: David West (Indiana Pacers)
Probably the toughest category to pick for me. Do I play LeBron here and allow Paul George or Carmelo to start at small forward for more fire power? Or do I go and pick the best power forward true to their position? Well I’ll do the right thing and pick David West from the Indiana Pacers.
Don’t get me wrong the likes of Millsap, Boozer and Young are having fantastic seasons so far but when it comes to crunch time in the big games, I wouldn’t want anyone else but the behemoth Mr West pounding bodies near the hoop.
Lavalette: LeBron James
Yeah, LeBron’s not technically a power forward but as mentioned earlier, he plays everywhere, including at four during stretches when the Heat play small ball and insert Bosh at center.
It’s a killer line-up and has been a major factor in Miami’s success over the last couple of years. I’m not going to wax lyrical too much on LeBron. Plenty has been written by better basketball writers than me.
But LeBron keeps improving. He’s freaking shooting nearly 60% from the field this year! I just can’t believe I wrote that. He’s on track for a 40-60-80 shooting season! That’s incomprehensible, particularly from a player who was never considered a great shooter during his Cleveland years.
I believe LeBron is obsessed with honing his craft in a bid to realise perfection. He only shoots when he believes he has a realistic chance of scoring, or absolutely has to at the crunch – when he puts his head down and barrels to the rim.
I know the Jordan comparison clichés are hackneyed. But he’s the only player in my lifetime that has matched MJ’s undisputed status as the game’s best. Kobe – an absolutely great player – never quite reached that echelon. In the early/mid 2000s Duncan was probably the league’s best player, while by the time Kobe was winning rings as ‘The Man’ later in the decade, LeBron was already hoarding MVPs. Shaq probably held that status during the Lakers’ three-peat but he was too lazy and/or didn’t care for long-term domination. He never wanted to have a crack at being the greatest.
LeBron will never have the worldwide gravitas of MJ, who was (and still is) a sporting icon globally. In the 1990s, Jordan was the most famous and beloved sportsman in the world, due to an assortment of factors including basketball’s boon, marketing, his on-court domination and his sheer force of personality.
In my opinion, Jordan will always be revered and exalted with a select royal few – Pele, Ali, Babe Ruth, Bradman for an Australian example. Can LeBron reach that status? I’m not so sure.
But what’s indisputable is the reverence LeBron now commands with his peers and basketball fans. It’s reminiscence of MJ’s aura in the 1990s. He is the King of Kings. He should win another MVP. And until he gets knocked off his throne, I’m backing him to win another ring.
Collins: LeBron James
LeBron James owns four distinct titles: Reigning NBA Champion, Most Dominant Player Alive, Greatest Athlete Alive, and All-Star-Every-Year-Unless-He-Drops-Dead.
Enough said. Let’s move on.
Binczyk: Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)
Originally I had Lopez in this spot due to his mobility and versatility around the paint.
But after last week’s despairing news of a broken foot which will keep him out for the season, I have moved Roy Hibbert into this spot.
Although the lumbering big man doesn’t possess the flashy all-star game attributes, his presence in the paint will be invaluable as he most likely will get matched up against Howard in the West.
Shout-outs to Horford, Jefferson and Vucevic their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Bench: I’ll just pack it with scoring fire-power which will be needed against the better West – Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
Lavalette: Roy Hibbert
Before injury struck, Brook Lopez was in the conversation for being arguably the best offensive big man in the league, with his beguiling post moves.
I really like Andre Drummond, who is set to become one of the best big men in the game.
As previously stated, I like rewarding successful teams, meaning Miami and India boasting four of the starters is justified recognition for their utter dominance of the conference.
So, I’m going to have to give this spot to Indiana’s enforcer Roy Hibbert. With the decline of Dwight Howard as a physical specimen, and Marc Gasol being another star succumbing to the injury scourge, Hibbert’s now the best defensive big man in the league, with his rim-protecting brute the catalyst for Indiana’s league best defensive.
Hibbert is Miami’s biggest threat in their bid for immortality. Unless Greg Oden makes a miraculous recovery, the Heat are helpless in limiting the girth and sheer presence of Hibbert, who can only be curbed by the whistle. His foul troubles were a major reason for Indiana’s recent loss in Miami.
Roy Hibbert is no MVP candidate but he has become one of the most valuable players in the league.
Bench: Kyrie Irving, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, Lance Stephenson.
Collins: Roy Hibbert
Hibbert is a rim protector, a towering concern for the defending champions and one of the league’s more intelligent, witty and outspoken characters who is a must-follow on Twitter.
Hibbert’s 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game don’t scream All-Star, but his defensive presence, sheer size and leadership makes him arguably the Pacers’ most valuable player.
Bench: Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Drummond, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Teague.