Following massive backlash on the NBA after Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Russell Westbrook couldn’t make it to next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans as a starter, matters have settled somewhat after the chips fell in place. Westbrook and six other players in the Western Conference got selected by Coaches as members of the West’s All-Stars Team.
Due to a few changes in voting, Westbrook who recently passed Larry Bird to fifth on the list of all time triple doubles, missed out on a starting spot alongside former teammate Kevin Durant; Stephen Curry and James Harden got the nod.
In similar fashion, Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas and Washington Wizards John Wall have put in remarkable seasons but the court can only take two Guards and both have to make do in the second unit. Positively, all players mentioned above have prior experience in the All-Star Game.
However, Utah Jazz’ Gordon Hayward, Los Angeles Clippers Center DeAndre Jordan and Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo are the novices for this year’s event. It is also great to see Kevin Love and Marc Gasol return to the elite lineup after poor form and injuries robbed them off appearances in the showpiece contest.
However, missing from the cast include big weights and perennial All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade plus young studs Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid.
Looking closely, the winning margins of each player’s team seem to have a hand in the selections. Of the 24 man roster, only three players namely Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento Kings and Anthony Davis of home team New Orleans Pelicans play on teams outside the playoff picture. However, the turbulent Western Conference this season has forced the final playoff spot to be a battle for teams with losing records. The Kings and Pelicans sit 10th and 11th in the standings same way the Bucks sit ninth in the surprisingly strong Eastern Conference. Unlike Carmelo’s slumping Knicks, all three teams are on the rise as the Kings are on course to win more than 33 games; a feat it managed to achieved for the first time since 2008.
The Pelicans injury induced 2015-2016 season means any sort of improvement will be hailed as a resurgence. Coupled with fans voting for a native of the home team, it is easy to see why Davis makes the roster. Giannis’ freakish stature continues to confound all in the same vein he is able to play and produce in all positions on the court. Carmelo’s seven year All-Star streak has come to an end not as a result of production, but his team’s overall performance. Anthony is averaging 22.7 points and six rebounds for the New York Knicks this season but New York is enduring a woeful run that has seen the side trek down the standings after featuring among the top spots early in the campaign.
Shortly after tipping off the season, Anthony was firmly in the All-Star conversation as a lethal inside-outside combination with rising Forward Kristaps Porzingis and veteran Guard Derrick Rose had the Knicks heading straight for a playoff spot for the first time in four years. Things have unraveled since then as Rose’s’ inconsistencies have reared its ugly head again but unlike previous seasons where injuries were the main cause for his absences, playing style and personal issues have derailed the former Chicago Bulls star’s latest career rebuild. Porzingis’ sterling season has cooled off in recent times due to nagging injuries robbing Anthony of top talent to beat the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Though getting into the All-Star game is based on popularity, a team’s performance counts and that was the reason for Kemba Walker’s consternation during Charlotte Hornets six game losing streak between January 6 and January 17. A three game winning streak restored some gloss on his All Star credentials just in time for the announcement and a two game losing streak in the past couple of matches. A young star like Walker who has suffered the ramifications of a losing record is Detroit Pistons Center Andre Drummond. Last season, Drummond played in his debut All-Star Game as Detroit ended a playoff drought that dated back to 2009.
However, Drummond did not feature heavily as a contender despite averaging 14 points and 13 rebounds; blame his side’s 20 win and 25 loss record (10th in the East)for that. On the other hand, Utah Jazz’ exciting season (fifth in the West) is a major reason Gordon Hayward is the team’s first All Star selection since Deron Williams in 2011. Many quarters have derided the All-Star Game as a false translation of true performances half way through the season.
Conversely, not all that chatter is true as a worthy candidates always find their way in and helping respective teams win is the key to unlock the door.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@ YawMintYM on Twitter