Binczyk: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
The LA Clippers’ little enforcer has certainly put his hand up as an MVP candidate so far this season averaging a remarkable 11 assists and 19 points per game.
The attributes of the world’s best chess players are comparable to how Paul manoeuvres and dictates games on the court.
One has to wonder though if Paul can propel the Clippers to a championship, as the last alpha point guard to do so was Isiah Thomas over 20 years ago.
Lavalette: Chris Paul
Most believe CP3 is indisputably the greatest point guard plying his trade right now. I’m not in this camp. Is he the best? Yeah, probably. But I believe Tony Parker, likely to forever be a historically under-rated player, is virtually on-par. Had Parker not been limited by injury at the latter stages of the NBA finals, the Spurs would be the reigning champions (although, they should have clinched Game Six anyway) and every possibility Parker would now boast two flashy Finals MVPs.
Due to strict game time monitoring from Pop (Parker’s averaging just 30 min per game) combined with the Spurs’ renowned depth (Aussie Patty Mills is having a sneaky good season as backup point guard), Parker hasn’t had to consistently showcase his trademark brilliance to this point of the season.
There are loads of other contenders in this esteemed conference.
After a delayed start to the season, Russell Westbrook has shrugged off any concerns with a scintillating season – 21-5-7 – ensuring OKC quietly remain a championship contender.
Witnessing Damian Lillard (averaging 22 -7) emerge into a badass assassin late in games has been one of the highlights of the season and a key in the Blazers being a surprise championship contender.
Having said all that, it’s hard to go past Paul. He’s averaging 19 points, a league leading 11 assists per game, and 2.4 steals – third in the NBA.
He eclipsed Magic Johnson’s 23-year record by starting the season with 13 straight double doubles (points/assists). Only five times out of 28 games has he not mustered a double/double.
There are not too many players more important to their teams as Paul to the Clips. He’s their on-court general, leader, facilitator, initiator, intimidator, crunch time scorer, and so on and so forth.
He provides this flashy team with the gravitas it so desperately craves.
He’s transformed the franchise from an international sports punch line to a fringe championship contender.
Simply, without CP the Clips would be one of the dregs of the Western Conference.
Collins: Chris Paul
CP3. The second best point guard in basketball but the ultimate point guard to run the All Star show. No other little guy in the NBA is relied upon more to play both the intimidator and the creator than Chris Paul.
He edges out Tony Parker for the starting point guard duties because, quite simply, the Spurs’ depth allows Parker to stay mostly in second gear (San Antonio has blown out 12 teams this season) and play limited minutes (30 minutes per game).
On the other hand, Paul leads the league with 11.3 assists per game, and more impressively, lulls you into believing, for a moment, that the Clippers could be more than just sweeping practice for Oklahoma and San Antonio in the second round.
Binczyk: James Harden (Houston Rockets)
Ultimately this will be Kobe’s spot in the team as the very large Lakers faithful will still tick off Bryant on their ballots to ensure the ageing champion makes his 16th all-star appearance even though he has only played a handful of games this season.
However Harden deserves the spot, having relished the role of being the leader on the court for the young Rockets roster in his second year with the team.
Harden in the team, according to ESPNs Hollinger stats, results in the Rockets being five wins better off to the team’s season if a replacement SG with average baseline stats were to take Harden’s position – the best in the NBA for a shooting guard.
Lavalette: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
For the past 15 years, Kobe has been an automatic lock in this position.
This season marks a generational change and I suspect for many years we’ll have the perennial debate – Curry or Harden?
It’s a bit of a toss-up, with both their respective teams hard to gauge and one could make the reasonable argument Golden State and Houston have been slightly underwhelming thus far.
But it’s hard to fault Curry, who is averaging 24 and 9. His three-point mark is slightly down (41% compared to 44% career) but that’s testament to increased defensive strategies to curb his lethal long-range expertise.
Perhaps, he’s been a bit too three-happy – eight attempts per game! – but why nit-pick, eh? There’s possibly no better sight in the NBA, heck sports, than witnessing Curry in heat check mode. When he’s so ridiculously in the zone – reminiscent of when a player was engulfed in flames in the legendary video game NBA Jam Session – it’s MUST WATCH. You just have to drop whatever you’re doing and quickly log into NBA League Pass.
Curry’s one of the most entertaining players in the league and his unique skill-set is sure to dazzle during All-Star weekend.
Plus, the dirty little secret is that I just can’t plump for Harden as an All-Star starter and/or First-Team NBA. As much as I admire Harden for his ability to absolutely become a franchise player since being shockingly traded from OKC, it’s been disappointing that he hasn’t grasped the concept of being impactful on both ends.
His defence has spiralled to such an atrocious level that it has become fodder on YouTube, with an abundance of clips lampooning his inept defending.
It’s becoming increasingly embarrassing, yet he seems to be oblivious to the shortcomings.
Collins: Stephen Curry
Still splashing but mostly doing it alone these days. I’m not sure what’s more astonishing about Curry’s season. The fact that Golden State’s offense sans-Curry is as putrid as Ben Affleck’s performance in Gigli (that movie should have never graced the cinema) or that he continues to play at a high level despite his coach being more inclined to run a prayer group than a constructive timeout.
Curry makes those around him considerably better, which is a true measure of one’s greatness. The Warriors score 112.0 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor but score a miserable 86.5 points per 100 possessions when Curry sits.
The Warriors offense, without Curry, is like trying to open the bowling for your local cricket team after a night on the booze. The effort is there – you envision bowling ‘line and length’ – but there is just no hope.
Binczyk: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Next selection please!
This All-Star game wouldn’t be the same without the silky smooth OKC star draining shots from anywhere and everywhere on the sticky alcohol stained New Orleans floor.
The second best player in the league, and the best out West, Durant always is in contention for the MVP All-Star award on the day.
Lavalette: Kevin Durant
I find myself worrying for KD. Yeah I know my bleary brain is blotted with triviality.
I fear Durant may be the Barkley/Malone/Ewing superstar of this generation and retire ringless. LeBron is on track to replicate Jordan’s obliteration of the ‘90s and own this decade. When LeBron’s peak starts dwindling, perhaps it’ll be Wiggins, Randle, Anthony Davis, some unknown player, dominating the landscape.
Of course, Durant’s only 25 years old and he seems too great to not be covered in championship glory at least once in his career
Is it possible that Durant has become under-rated? With LeBron striving for immortality, and the ascension of Paul George, it’s easy to neglect Durant.
He’s producing 28-8-5 on 41-49-89 shooting. Durant and Westbrook shoulder the burden for OKC, in almost every conceivable way, and they keep delivering even when Harden and Kevin Martin have exited, Kendrick Perkins somehow becoming more lamentable and the West’s difficulty increasing.
Yet for whatever reason – perhaps he’s been too consistent – we take his consistent greatness for granted.
Even if he’s not destined to win the MVP and/or championship this year, I’m going to cherish his nightly superlative deeds.
Collins: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant has the Thunder positioned with the best record in the league and he’s so consistent that a 30-10-5 game barely causes a stir.
In a league driven by flash, consistent brilliance is shockingly underrated. Durant is truly a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
It’s just a shame we surrender to the what-if-there-was-no-LeBron game.
Kevin Durant is already an all-time great
Binczyk: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
What’s Love got to do, got to do with it?
Love is definitely not a second hand emotion for me, the dude is putting up enormous numbers and solidifies himself as my power forward.
Averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds per game, there is no other player in the league better on the boards.
Lavalette: Kevin Love
This was arguably the hardest position to select. Love? Dirk? Blake? Aldridge? Anthony Davis? The latter two predominately play center even though technically they are power forward prototypes.
But Love is the standout despite the T-Wolves being a baffling team to gauge. Even though he’s a mediocre defensive player – exacerbated each cringe worthy time he attempts to guard Griffin – Love’s offensive prowess is too intoxicating.
Love’s averaging 26-14-4 with 38-46-83 shooting. I absolutely believe Love is a top-10 player in the league, perhaps with the skill-set to climb into the coveted top five list. But shouldn’t he start warranting some criticism for the Wolves’ continued disappointment? Even though it must be acknowledged the team has been constructed poorly and was previously in the hands of the one and only KHAAAAAAAAAAN!
Perhaps the inevitable trade to the Lakers will be the tonic Love needs to become a transcendent talent for a contender.
Collins: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)
The best power forward in basketball.
Aldridge is one of only four players currently averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds and, importantly, he’s playing winning basketball.
Any basketball junkie or San Antonio Spurs fan (seriously, he always kills my Spurs) already knew about his elite catch and shoot midrange jumper and skilled post game.
Only now that the Blazers are winning, the world has caught on to basketball’s best-kept secret.
Binczyk: Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)
I’ve moved Howard into the 5 spot although officially he is listed at the power forward position, where I selected Kevin Love.
Interestingly, if we were to go by ESPN’s Hollinger stats the most efficient centers in the West are Boogie Cousins from Sacramento and Jordan Hill from the Lakers.
If I was picking Team USA for the 2016 Olympics, Cousins would most likely be in my squad, however as this is All-Star weekend, I will have DeAndre Jordan coming off the bench for some jaw dropping dunks.
Bench: Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Damian Lillard, DeAndre Jordan, LaMArcus Aldrige, Anthony Davis,
Lavalette: LaMarcus Aldridge
Dwight Howard is likely to get the nod with the voters. Healthier and happier, Howard has alleviated concerns his star was fading after a tumultuous lone season with the Lakers.
Howard has reclaimed the mantle as the league’s most dominant center, even though his domination – particularly defensively – has waned considerably since his athletic peak in Orlando, where he was a physical force of nature.
Despite not technically a center, LaMarcus Aldridge has to start, considering the Blazers have been the fairy-tale team thus far and have unexpectedly emerged into an elite team.
Aldridge (23pts-11reb) has been the catalyst for the team’s rise. His stats don’t even do him justice. As one of the last genuine post-players remaining amid a stylistic attitudinal change in the league, Aldridge has become basically impossible to curtail close to the basket and from mid-range.
Remarkably for a player who was rumoured to want out of Rip City during the off-season, Aldridge has demonstrated strong leadership, which was previously non-existent. Self-confidence is radiating from his skin. He appears like he absolutely believes he’s the best player on the court every night. Before this season he would shirk the challenge and the responsibility.
Simply, LaMarcus Aldridge has propelled himself into a top-five NBA player.
Bench: Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki
Collins: Kevin Love
No, don’t worry I’m kidding… well, sort of… Kevin Love edges out Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin (and Boogie) for the final spot.
After a year of injury and tantrums, Love has returned to his 2011-12 form – 25 points and 14 rebounds a game is too much to ignore.
Sure, we should reward winning but Love excels with the burden of a supporting cast that struggles to defend and shoot from beyond the arc.
Although, Love’s scoreless fourth quarter against the Lakers does make me think that maybe… ummm… Boogie Cousins… should… no, no, I better stop right there.
Bench: Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins