It’s not easy to become an NBA All-Star. There are only 12 spots up for grabs in each conference, and most of these go to established, brand-name stars, even if they’re not having an especially brilliant season. Of the 24 players to appear in the 2011 All-Star Game, just three were making their first appearance in the game—Blake Griffin (rookie), Kevin Love (3rd year in the league) and Russell Westbrook (3rd year in the league). Most of the time, if a player get labeled as an All-Star caliber guy early in his career, the fans/coaches will give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes time to pick teams and they’re deciding between the veteran All-Star and another player. Throw in the perils of fan voting (did you know Yao Ming was an 8-time All-Star, including during the 2010-11 season, when he played exactly five games?), and it can be extremely difficult for a veteran player to earn that coveted All-Star nod. Here’s a look at a few guys who are deserving of consideration based on their outstanding play so far this season, and a few former All-Stars who will probably beat them out due to their name recognition.
Deserving of Consideration
Kyle Lowry, Guard, Houston Rockets
Credentials: 15 ppg, 9 apg (3rd in NBA), 7 rpg, 2.1 steals per game (3rd in NBA), 42% FG, 38% 3FG, 88% FT, 2.6:1 A/TO ratio
All-Star appearances: None
From a pure production standpoint, Lowry compares very well with other elite point guards such as Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose. Sure, he’s not a huge scorer, but there’s something to be said for not hoisting 15+ shots a game when you’re only shooting 42%. Lowry also deserves credit for dishing out over nine assists per game despite the fact that the 4-7 Rockets are a three-man team (Lowry, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin). The biggest thing Lowry has going for him, though, are his fantastic rebounding numbers. Lowry’s seven boards per game are tops among NBA guards and are almost two full rebounds more than any other point guard, even though Lowry is small for a point guard at 6-feet. Lowry has missed two games so far this season, and the Rockets lost both (though both were to OKC). Add in Lowry’s performance at the free throw line (21st in the league), and it’s hard to say that the sixth-year man from Villanova doesn’t merit serious consideration for his first All-Star Game.
Jose Calderon, Guard, Toronto Raptors
Credentials: 12 ppg, 9 apg (4th in NBA), 4 rpg (8th among PGs), 0.8 steals per game, 50% FG, 38% 3FG, 94% FT, 5.5:1 A/TO ratio (1st in NBA)
All-Star appearances: None
The number that stands out with Calderon is his phenomenal 5.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. To play 35 minutes a game as a point guard and hand out that many assists while turning it over less than two times per game is a tremendous achievement. He’s so far out in front of the rest of the league, it’s not even funny; no one else has an A/TO ratio above 4.0:1. Like Lowry, Calderon is a pass-first point guard, but his 12 ppg aren’t bad considering that he averages fewer than 10 shots per game. All Calderon’s skills were on display in a January 1 game at Orlando. Calderon scored 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting (including 3-for-4 on threes), hit all three of his free throws and dished out 13 assists compared to just one turnover. Though the Raptors lost that game, 102-96, that’s largely because, like Lowry, Toronto is a three-man team (Calderon, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani). If Calderon can keep that astonishing A/TO ratio (the NBA record is 6.1 by Terrell Brandon in 2001-02), he deserves to be in the All-Star conversation.
Andrew Bynum, Center, Los Angeles Lakers
Credentials: 17 ppg, 14 rpg, 4.1 offensive rebounds per game, 2.1 blocks per game, 51% FG, 56% FT
All-Star appearances: None
Bynum plays for a good team in a big market, so he’s more likely to get All-Star consideration than these other guys. In fact, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t an All-Star if he kept up his current level of play. But since he’s never been an All-Star before and everyone’s talking about how Kobe’s scoring so much, I figured I would put Bynum in this category. The Lakers stumbled out of the gate while Bynum was suspended, starting 2-2 including a loss to Sacramento. LA went 2-2 in his first four games, with two road losses to good teams in Denver and Portland (the Denver loss was on the road in the second game of a back-to-back). Now that Bynum’s found his feet again, the Lakers are on a four-game win streak and sit at 8-4, good for third in the West. Bynum’s put up some monstrous boxscores so far this season—29 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks on 13-for-19 shooting in a 92-89 win over Denver on December 31 and 21 points, 22 rebounds and 3 blocks on 8-for-15 shooting in a 108-99 win over Houston on January 3. LA’s strength over the past couple years has been their dominant frontcourt, and Bynum has proved that the Lakers can still control the glass even without Lamar Odom. Bynum’s biggest hurdle to success is always going to be his health—his injury history is well-documented, and it seems inevitable that he’ll get worn down at some point this season.
Ryan Anderson, Forward, Orlando Magic
Credentials: 17 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.9 offensive rebounds per game, 45% FG, 43% 3FG, 89% FT, 0.5 turnovers per game
All-Star appearances: None
Dwight Howard is still the man in Orlando. That’s not going to change until he’s playing for someone else. But a key reason why the Magic have started 8-3, tied for second in the East, is the 6-foot-10 Anderson, currently in his fourth season out of the University of California. One of Anderson’s greatest skills is that he creates extra possessions for the Magic, something that he does in two ways. The first is grabbing offensive rebounds—he ranks 16th in the league with 2.9 per game, but that’s more impressive when you realize that he plays alongside Howard, who grabs 4.0 per game as well (5th in the league). The second way is by limiting turnovers; Andersons turns it over just 0.5 times per game. Only Carlos Delfino averages more minutes per game while turning it over less. Anderson may not be able to carry a team by himself, but he does a lot to help the Magic (his 43% on threes is especially good considering that he’s averaged 8 attempts per game, more than any other player) and very little to hurt them. That’s not something that can be said for some of the guys on this next list.
Will Probably Be an All-Star, Even Though They May Not Deserve It
Amar’e Stoudemire, Forward, New York Knicks
Credentials: 19 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.2 steals per game, 42% FG (3rd to last among qualified PFs), 78% FT
All-Star appearances: 6
Stoudemire has made five consecutive All-Star Games, but it would be a real stretch at this point for him to reach a sixth. Even with the addition of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks sit in seventh place in the East at just 6-5, including some bad losses to Golden State, Toronto and Charlotte (the latter two at home). Stoudemire is enduring a miserable year, with his lowest ppg and FG% since his rookie year, to go with his trademark lack of defensive effort (he’s just 0.2 off his career-worst rebounding numbers). Really, there’s no reason that a guy with these numbers on a 6-5 team should get into the All-Star Game, but since Amar’e started the game last season and has been a mainstay for the last several years, expect to see him at this year’s game in Orlando on February 26.
Russell Westbrook, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Credentials: 19 ppg, 5 apg, 5 rpg, 1.6 steals per game, 43% FG, 17% 3 FG, 3.7 turnovers per game (8th most in the league, 4th most among PGs), 1.5 A/TO ratio (13th worst in the league, 4th worst among PGs)
All-Star appearances: 1
Though Westbrook has rounded into form after an ugly start to the season (25 turnovers in his first four games), as the supposed 2nd-best player on the West-leading Thunder, he doesn’t have to do a ton to get people talking about him as an All-Star. Based on performance to this point, though, Lowry should get the nod over Westbrook as one of the West’s point guards. Yes, OKC is 10-2 to Houston’s 4-7, but that’s largely due to the play of Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Thunder’s deep bench, not Westbrook. If Westbrook keeps up his recent form, though, he may end up overtaking Lowry on merit—Westbrook hasn’t had more than three turnovers in a game since December 29, and he put together his best performance of the season in OKC’s 100-95 road win over Memphis on January 10 (30 points, 12-for-20 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block and 2 turnovers). Westbrook may have turned the corner, but the fans and media need to be careful not to anoint him too quickly.
Kevin Garnett, Forward, Boston Celtics
Credentials: 13 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, 1.0 blocks per game, 50% FG, 84% FT
All-Star appearances: 14
It’s been sad watching Garnett and the Celtics this season. Sure, the schedule has something to do with it, but Boston, who fell to 4-6 Friday with an 88-79 home loss to Chicago, just isn’t the same team as it was when it made two Finals in three years from 2008-2010. It began last season with the trade of Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis’ trade to the Magic left Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo as the only surviving members of that ’08 title team. Really, Pierce could be on this list too, but I’m going to go with Garnett, who, with 12 straight All-Star appearances, is as big a brand name as anyone out there. Garnett never fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss the ’09 playoffs—he could turn it on in certain games, but he was never consistent, and that fact was exposed in the Celtics’ last two playoff exits. In 2011-12, Garnett has continued to decline, posting his lowest ppg and rpg totals this season since his rookie year of 1995-96, and his lowest FG% since 2006-07. Garnett’s played 1,204 regular season games, second only to Jason Kidd among active players. His 44,195 career minutes rank him 13th all-time in NBA history and second among active players (again to Kidd). At 35, he’s just not fast enough to spring into the paint and help on every possession, and, while his midrange jumper still works, his days of ferociously attacking the rim are long behind him. To send Garnett to the All-Star Game at this point would be nothing more than a career-achievement award.