With the NBA All-Star game rapidly approaching, I forecast the likely selections from the Western Conference.
Point Guard: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
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), 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 27 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.
Shooting Guard: 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 percent compared to 44 percent 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 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.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
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 and the West’s difficulty increases.
Yet for whatever reason – perhaps he’s been too consistent, if that makes sense – 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.
Power Forward: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
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 David KHAAAAAAAAAAN!
Perhaps the inevitable trade to the Lakers will be the tonic Love needs to become a transcendent talent for a contender.
Center: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)
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, when he was a physical force of nature.
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 eye-popping stats don’t even do his grand season justice.
As one of the last genuine post-players remaining in a revolving stylistic league, Aldridge has become basically impossible to curtail close to the basket.
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.
He exudes a radiating self-confidence. 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 caliber NBA player.
Bench: Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki