NBA All-Stars: Who’s Joining the Starters?

The NBA All-Star starters were announced last week, and, for me, there weren’t any real surprises. Would I have included LeBron James over big men like Anthony Davis or Nikola Jokic? No, but it’s LeBron so who’s losing their minds over that. Plus, now Davis is a little dinged up and I don’t blame anyone for preferring James over Jokic in an exhibition game for the fans. I was pleasantly surprised Kemba Walker is representing the East at the second guard spot alongside Kyrie Irving. I had Walker penciled in — and if you listened to my podcast from Friday last week (“NBA All-Stars & MVP Power Rankings”-Ep. 132) — then you know I was practically talking myself into Bradley Beal over Walker with Ben Simmons a very close third. But I stuck with Walker, and I’m glad the voters did, too.

Now, on to the tough part. Fourteen reserve spots remain that the NBA will announce January 31. Be reminded these 14 spots are divided up between the two conferences — seven for the East, seven for the West. Yet, the new “Captains Draft” format isn’t based on conferences so we won’t see an East v. West game like in years past. So why we’re still selecting viable all-stars based a parameter like “which conference you play in” seems laughable. Think about it. Multiple players out West will get left off the roster simply because they play in the West. Conversely, a few lucky souls in the East will be all-stars and can include that on their career resumes all because they play on an Eastern Conference team. The NBA is usually as progressive and ahead of the curve as any professional sports league we have in this country. C’mon Adam Silver, let’s fix this.

Anyway, here’s my reserve selections for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game:

WEST

I had Anthony Davis starting in my top 5. Listen, he’s an MVP candidate and it doesn’t matter that his team isn’t that good. AD is doing things we’ve never seen another player do — ever. His 29/13 stat line is impressive on its own, but then go ahead and add in that he also goes for 4 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal per game. That overall line has never been done in NBA history. Speaking of things that have never been done, Nikola Jokic is changing what we think a big man can do with his court vision. His 19/10/7 doesn’t totally jump off the page — although it should because the last center to do that was Wilt Chamberlain. But I urge you to pay more attention to those 7 assists and the fact that the Nuggets’ big man leads the NBA in passes per game. That’s crazy. You could argue no player impacts his team more than the Joker.

Let’s stick with the bigs and talk about the anchor of the league’s 4th best defense. Utah’s Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s best rim protector, but his impact on the Jazz offense cannot be discounted. Gobert leads the league in screen assists, leading to a league-best 14.1 points per game. (Full discloure, if you listened to my podcast on my all-star picks, I left Gobert out. That was dumb.)

If it’s guard play you like, then you’re in for a treat because the West has a bunch. Damian Lillard might be the most underrated and under appreciated player in the NBA. Playing way up in Portland doesn’t help his marketability, but Dame is nearly on Steph Curry’s level when it comes to range. Plus, he’s averaging 1.1 points per possession off the pick and roll. The team that swept the Blazers in last year’s playoffs has two players making it for me. Jrue Holliday has put up some really nice numbers in New Orleans — 21 points per game and 8 assists. What’s more impressive is that when he and Davis are both on the floor, the Pelicans have an efficiency rating equal to that of a 60-win team. On the other hand, when one leaves the court, the rating plummets to that of a sub-30 win team. Yikes.

The Sacramento Kings got off the that fast start, and while they’ve slowed down, De’Aaron Fox has not. Along with Buddy Hield, the two comprise one of the youngest and fastest backcourts in the league. Fox should be an All-Star. And if we’re talking about youth, let’s not forget about the shot of adrenaline that Luka Doncic has injected into the Mavericks team. Luka’s the leader of that team already — he’s only 19. His numbers bear out all-star consideration — 20/6/5. Only eight rookies have gone for 19/6/4 and all eight were on the team.

EAST

The case could easily have been made for either Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal to get the starting nod over Kemba Walker. I love Walker and he’s single-handedly responsible for keeping the Hornets in the playoff picture. But Simmons’s court vision is beyond reproach and he’s got the numbers to back it up — 17/9.5/8. If he could only shoot. Then there’s Beal who has completely taken over in D.C. — 31.1 points and 7 assists per game — after John Wall went out with injury.

As for a couple more guards, JJ Redick is putting up some really special numbers, considering he’s the fourth option in Philly. He’s attempting a career high in 3s per game and his 18.5 points per game is the most of his career. And if someone said the Nets would be pushing for the 5th seed in the East before the season started, I would have called for them to be institutionalized. Instead, here we are and De’Angelo Russell has been really good — 19.2 points and 6 assists per game. In January alone, Russell is averaging 23.1 points and his shooting percentages are up across the board from the field (+6%), from 3 (4%), and from the line (8%).

The three remaining spots go to Nikola VucevicBlake Griffin, and Pascal Siakam. No one has been more surprising this year than the Orlando big man. Vuc’s 20 and 12 have kept the Magic in the mix — although they seem to be fluttering now. “Point Blake” is being used in a way that completely maximizes what Griffin does best now at this stage of his career. His 26/5/5 might be the quietest 26/5/5 I’ve ever seen. And Toronto has such a strong bench and one of the most soundly put together teams in the NBA, you’ve got to look at rewarding somebody besides just Kawhi Leonard. Enter Siakam’s 15 points and 7 rebounds per game along with his 57% shooting from the field. He’s consistent and he’s reliable — and he’s their second most important player. Crazy? Maybe.

Honorable Mentions

There were a number of deserving players left out — as there always is. And if you play in the West, you really feel left out because the players grabbing the last few spots in the East are not as worthy as the first few guys in the West that have to stay home, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl Towns, Danilo Gallinari. If not Gallinari, Tobias Harris and his 21 points a game could easily be making the trip to Charlotte as the Clippers representative. Also, it seems weird to leave a player from the Spurs out, especially after they’ve overachieved when everyone declared them dead and the dynasty done. Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan could certainly be All-Stars this year.

A name you want me to mention is one that I have little problem keeping off the All-Star roster. Well, there might be two — one is Jimmy Butler and I’m not making any apologies for this. You forfeit All-Star recognition when you publicly act like he’s acted and attempt to ruin one franchise and now seem to be working on another (not to mention your past history in Chicago). The other is Russell Westbrook. I love Russ and watching him the All-Star Game is fun — truth be told, I’d have little issue if he ended up on the roster. His true shooting percentage is so awful that it makes you question if he’s the most important player on that Thunder team. I know he’s practically averaging a triple-double, but how meaningful is that when of 291 players who’ve attempted 20 shots a game, Russ’s field goal percentage ranks him 273? He’s more entertaining, but Mike Conley might be more worthy of an All-Star selection this season.

There aren’t a lot of snubs in the more watered down East in my opinion, but Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton could make a case. The Bucks are a top-2 team in the conference and, usually, teams that good get multiple selections to the game. Their numbers balance out quite evenly, but Bledsoe’s defense might give him a slight edge over his teammate.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 132 (“NBA All-Stars & MVP Power Rankings”) right here:

Listen to EPISODE 134 (“What’s Next for AD and Potential Suitors? And SB53 Storylines “) right here:

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7 Burning Questions Heading into the Divisional Round in the NFL Playoffs

  1. Can Dallas do enough, offensively, to keep up with the Rams? This isn’t a trick question. But they might not need to. Yes, the Rams are flashy and fun and when they get rolling, it’s a fast-paced brand of offense that few teams in the NFL can keep up with. But there’s always an antidote for everything. The Cowboys have it — they can run the ball, eat clock, keep Sean McVay’s offense standing on the sideline, and force the Rams into playing frantically with limited possessions. It’s not a matter of Dallas keeping up offensively — rather, it’s whether or not Dallas can impose their own offensive style of play onto this Rams team.
  2. What did the Rams learn from losing to Chicago and from watching the game film of the Dallas win over New Orleans earlier in the season? This is mostly rhetorical because I don’t really have an answer. The Bears and Cowboys play differently on defense, but the overall gameplan is the same — slow the game down, don’t let Todd Gurley run, force Jared Goff into being uncomfortable and rushed, and control the pace of the game. The Rams will need to get on the scoreboard early and turn the tables on Dallas — force the Cowboys into feeling like they need to press and throw the ball more than running it with Ezekiel Elliott. This game is a battle of who can establish their preferred style of play first.
  3. Is Cooper Kupp’s injury going to derail the Rams versus the Cowboys? Since Kupp went down with a season-ending knee injury, the Rams offense has not been the same. More specifically, Jared Goff has not been the same. Through 10 weeks with Kupp in the slot, Goff completed 70% of his passes for 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. After Kupp went down, Goff’s numbers slipped — 59% completion rate with 16 TDs and 8 INTs (those were worse until he threw 5 TDs and 0 INTs in the season’s final two games against the Cardinals and 49ers). In addition, Kupp’s replacement has not nearly been as reliable. When targeting Josh Reynolds, Goff is on target 52% of the time with 3 TDs and 4 INTs. Kupp is a big piece to this offense and serves as very reliable safety valve for Goff. If he’s pressured, it’s worth watching how Goff answers and where he tries to go with the ball.
  4. Would anyone be stunned if three road teams won again this weekend? The argument could be made in the AFC that the two best teams remaining in the playoffs are the 5th and 6th seeds. The Chargers are a 12-win team with a top 4 MVP candidate, who just got unlucky that they played in the same division as Kansas City. The Chargers spent the better part of the season in most experts’ top-5 power rankings. And the Colts have won 10 of their last 11 and look as complete a team that’s left standing. Those two teams, without question, could come away with road wins this weekend. In the NFC, the Cowboys are practically playing a home game in L.A. against the Rams. That’s three. The Eagles winning in New Orleans is a much tougher sell.
  5. What looks will the Chargers defense throw at Tom Brady? The Cover-3 scheme has not been a defense that has stymied Tom Brady very much in past years. Against the Cover-3, Brady ate up the Seahawks and Falcons in the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl victories and did the sam in last year’s AFC title game against the Jaguars. Gus Bradley will try and be creative — you’d think rushing four (led by Joey Boss and Melvin Ingram) and dropping seven into coverage would be the plan of attack. The key will be if those pass rushers can throw Brady off his timing. If not, he’ll probably pick apart the defense.
  6. Are we all guilty of completely overreacting to the Colts? The Colts are 10-1 in their last 11 games, including in that time two wins over the Texans and a shut out win over the Cowboys. After their 1-5 start, Indianapolis has more than figured things out. Since mid-October, the Colts are better than the Chiefs. And the Colts don’t have that one glaring weakness, opposed to the Chiefs and their abhorrent defense. No disrespect to the Chiefs because that offense is beyond explosive and their speed might eventually extend plays too long for the Colts defenders to stop them. These are two good teams. The Colts are better, though.
  7. What is stopping the Saints from totally and unequivocally bum-rushing the Eagles like they did when they met earlier this season? Nothing. That’s the answer. The Eagles have improved in the last month — more consistent play out of the QB position and the defense has been much better. But the Saints have few holes and the Eagles are not equipped to exploit them. This might not be very close.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 127 (“Previewing the Divisional Round  of the NFL Playoffs”) right here:

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10 Biggest Questions Surrounding Wildcard Weekend in the NFL

  1. Can the Chargers fix the problems their defense encountered against the Ravens rushing attack when the two played three weeks ago? The stars are there in L.A. That’s not the question. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James (and that secondary) are designed to disrupt the quarterback and make plays on the ball — they are not built to clog lanes and stop the run. Even if the Chargers know what they need to do to stop Lamar and the run game, the question becomes “do they have the personnel to actually do it?”.
  2. Is Phillip Rivers going to look more like the MVP candidate we all talked about for the first 15 weeks of the season or the guy we saw against the Ravens and Broncos the last two weeks? Melvin Gordon’s return should be helpful, and Rivers has played enough football over the course of his career to be able to make adjustments to a defense he saw just three weeks ago. But Baltimore’s defensive front embarrassed those pass blockers in Week 16.
  3. Who out-“ballsys” the other, Matt Nagy or Doug Pederson? Of course, we all watched in awe as Pederson went against the traditional grain in last year’s Super Bowl against the Patriots with his playcalling. Matt Nagy comes from the same Andy Reid tree and understands the importance of making bold decisions in this era of football. In a close game, I’d expect one (or maybe more one) decision to swing the outcome.
  4. Will Mitchell Trubisky be given the time he needs to pick apart the Eagles’ secondary? Philadelphia’s defense is predicated on its pass rush — and it has to be because that secondary has been through the ringer this season. Fletcher Cox, Tim Jurnigan, Derek Bennett, and Michael Bennett will have to make Mitchell Trubisky feel pressured and rushed. The Bears coaching staff has to understand if Trubisky isn’t given enough time to get the ball out, he can easily be forced into some big mistakes. However, if given time, the second-year QB should be able to move the ball down field.
  5. How big of an impact will Khalil Mack have going up against Lane Johnson and/Jason Peters? The versatile edge rusher is better than either of Philly’s two tackles, but Johnson and Peters only need to combine to outplay Mack on Sunday night. Bears’ DC Vic Fangio has moved Mack to the right, to the left, dropped him into coverage, and pretty much played him all over the field, and this has freed up other Bears’ defenders to make plays all year long. Mack doesn’t need a handful of sacks to have a meaningful impact on this game.
  6. Who do you trust more: Jason Garrett and Dad Prescott or Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson? Silly question, I know, but I had to ask it. This game might just be that simple.
  7. Can Seattle’s defense get off the field and limit Dallas’ T.O.P.? Seattle has a top-5 defense on stopping third-down conversions while the Dallas offense converted in those situations at over a 45% rate — top 10 in the NFL. Strength on strength. If Jason Garrett could have it his way, Dallas would grind this win out on the back of Ezekiel Elliott — and that’d be the smart way to go. But Seattle’s defense, you better believe, is going to ask Dak Prescott to make some big plays in the passing game or with his legs. Third down success rate will be a telling stat in the game.
  8. Is the Dallas defense good enough to stop the explosive plays from the Seahawks passing game? We talk about how the Seahawks have transformed their offense into a ground-and-pound attack on the ground, but yards on the ground do not necessarily translate into wins — red zone efficiency and chunks plays are two more predictive indicators of wins and losses. And it just so happens the Seahawks have a Super Bowl-winning QB, who can throw a magnificent deep ball, and has two exceptional weapons on the outside who can get open deep down the field.
  9. If not DeAndre Hopkins, then who? Ummm. I wish I had an answer here, but Houston doesn’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. You’d have to imagine Houston would like to establish the run game with Lamar Miller.
  10. Can the Texans generate an effective pass rush with just JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? Disrupting Andrew Luck will be a key to Houston’s gameplan. And the Texans have the pass rushers, however of their 43 sacks only 18 have come from players not named Watt or Clowney. That’s about a sack a game. If Indy’s very much improved offensive line can limit Watt and Clowney, Houston might have a tough time getting to the QB.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 123 (“The Keys to the Wild Card Games “) right here:

Listen to EPISODE 124 (“Ranking the NFL Playoff Teams, Picking Wild Card Weekend Winners, and Predicting the Eight Head Coaches to Get Hired”) right here:

 

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