Very Early Predictions for 2014-15 NBA All-Star Team
When you run across NBA All-Star predictions in August, they often come with the tagline that "it's never too early" to look ahead.
I think we can all be honest with each other and agree that it is, in fact, way too early to be thinking about who'll suit up for the Eastern and Western Conferences in Brooklyn next February. But let's also be honest about a couple of other things: It's August, and we're all starving for NBA basketball.
With training camp still over a month away, we've got to do something to scratch the hoops itch—even if that something is a six-month look-ahead to an exhibition game that has no real bearing on the NBA season. Such is our shared thirst during these dog days.
Old favorites will return, young guns will ascend and, of course, there'll be a bevy of pandemonium-inducing snubs that galvanize fanbases and bring forth the inevitable bandying about of the "hater" label.
Something nobody can hate: Anthony Davis is starting the 2015 All-Star Game. There will be no debate on that topic, but others will surely brook argument.
Hey, if we can't actually watch meaningful NBA games, we can at least shout about who should or shouldn't be playing in a meaningless one half a year from now. That's almost as good, right?
Eastern Conference Backcourt Reserves
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo heads into the 2014-15 season in a strange position. He's either a cornerstone in the Boston Celtics' rebuilding project or a potential trade piece that could bring back young talent aplenty—and it's hard to know which.
A torn ACL shelved Rondo after 38 games in 2012-13 and limited him to just 30 last year, which makes it easy to forget that he had made the All-Star Game four years running before the injury. Don't be surprised if Rondo leads the league in assists per game (which he did in 2011-12 and 2012-13) while building on the three-point range he flashed last year.
Assuming he's still in the East in February, Rondo should comfortably make his fifth All-Star appearance.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
This feels like a dangerous prediction, as the narrative on Dwyane Wade now begins, invariably, with talk of his imminent decline. He underwhelmed for the second straight postseason last year, and his regular-season performance was stellar, but limited to just 54 games.
A couple of things to note: First, Wade is still insanely popular. He led all East guards in voting last year, and he started the game as a result.
Second, Wade's recent declines have all come in the latter half of the season and during the playoffs. In 36 games before the break last year, Wade shot 54.7 percent from the field and posted a plus-minus of plus-7.5, per Basketball-Reference.com.
If he doesn't get voted in, he'll play well enough through February to warrant a spot.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
In brief, John Wall is an up-and-coming star who led the Washington Wizards to the playoffs last season. What's more, his team is now viewed by many as a dark-horse contender in the East.
Wall has the evolving game, the buzz and the national attention to make it two straight All-Star berths.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Reserves
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Wade may just be hanging on, but Chris Bosh has a chance to blow up as the Miami Heat's new No. 1 option. The last time Bosh occupied that role, he averaged 24 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for the Toronto Raptors.
That was in 2009-10, but Bosh is still just 30. And everyone agrees he changed his game to accommodate his Heat teammates—not because he couldn't produce as a go-to superstar anymore. Bosh is going to dust off his old skills and cruise to his 10th straight All-Star Game.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets
The paint-can promos couldn't do it, but a potential breakthrough season with a playoff-ready Charlotte Hornets club could finally get Al Jefferson his first All-Star nod.
Jefferson averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds last year. Best of all, the then-Bobcats were sound enough defensively to hide the generally willing, but usually not-quite-able Jefferson grade out as a passable piece on D.
Hornets head coach Steve Clifford spoke glowingly of Jefferson to James Herbert of CBSSports.com:
He's a good leader and a good teammate, but the biggest thing is he came here and he accepted the responsibility of being the best player and he badly wanted to win. That was a big factor in our team having a year that we were happy with.
And Lance Stephenson's arrival makes the rebranded Hornets only better on the floor and a bigger story in the media, both of which help Big Al's case.
It's time. Jefferson is due.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Paul Millsap was cut far too early from Team USA's FIBA World Cup roster, but there's a good chance he'll get over that snub with a second consecutive All-Star berth.
The addition of a reliable three-point shot (Millsap made 76 triples last year after hitting just 31 in his previous seven seasons combined) has made the 29-year-old combo forward a major threat from anywhere on the floor.
He plays extremely hard, rebounds consistently and is the healthier, safer bet than teammate Al Horford to rep the Hawks in Brooklyn.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
It's hard to imagine Joakim Noah, who finished fourth in MVP voting and was named Defensive Player of the Year, topping his 2013-14 performance. But even if he merely comes close, he should handily earn his third consecutive trip to the All-Star Game.
The Chicago Bulls are primed for a run this year, and Noah used Derrick Rose's absence to ascend to legitimate stardom. He's not a conventional, highlight-producing talent, but everyone—fans and coaches alike—know now how valuable he is.
Western Conference Backcourt Reserves
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
An All-NBA Third Team honor and Most Improved Player Award were better representative of Goran Dragic's 2013-14 season than his All-Star snub. Like Jefferson in the East, expect the coaches to catch up to Dragic's greatness a year late.
It's no secret that the West is overcrowded with terrific guards, but Dragic was among the very best last season. He's smack in the middle of his prime and now has Isaiah Thomas to join him in a deadly backcourt trio that also includes Eric Bledsoe.
It'll mean beating out Damian Lillard, but by almost any statistical measure—PER, win shares, shooting percentage, net rating...you name it—Dragic was a significantly better player than Lillard last year. Expect that to remain the case again in 2014-15, and expect everyone to actually notice it this time.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden is one of the most dominant scorers on the planet, has a sweet beard and said "I'm the best all-around basketball player in the NBA" during a promotional interview for NBA 2K15. He's been an All-Star in each of his two years with the Houston Rockets, and he'll make it three next season.
Because being an all-around player implies a modicum of effort on the defensive end, we know Harden's claim isn't true. But he does enough on offense to remain an exceptionally effective force. At 25, he's in his prime.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
As long as the Los Angeles Clippers remain a contender, boast a top-tier offense and produce highlights every game, Chris Paul will continue to be an All-Star. Durability is an issue, and if Paul misses his annual 10-20 games before the break, it could hurt him.
But that's just about the only way CP3 will miss making his eighth All-Star Game.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Injuries cost Russell Westbrook an All-Star berth last season, but he looked every bit the superstar we've grown accustomed to seeing in the 46 games he played.
Per B/R's Michael Pina:
Saying Westbrook isn’t as good as Durant is like saying a Category 4 hurricane can't cause as much damage quite like a Category 5 can. Both are unstoppable and destructive. Both do as they please with the ball in their hands.
After taking a season to gather itself offshore, Hurricane Russ will spin itself into its typical frenzy next year.
Western Conference Frontcourt Reserves
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
A deadly scorer who led the Portland Trail Blazers to an impressive playoff series win last year, LaMarcus Aldridge has forced his way into the consciousness of even the most casual NBA fans. That's no small feat when you play for a West Coast team not based out of L.A.
With some of the West's older frontcourt mainstays likely to bow out of All-Star consideration this season, and a certain Minnesota Timberwolves big man having relocated to the other conference, Aldridge's path to another All-Star Game is looking pretty smooth.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
He's no longer the force of nature he once was, but Dwight Howard remains a plus defender who scores efficiently and cleans the glass. It sounds strange to say about a big man whose otherworldly athleticism has always been among his greatest attributes, but D12 is actually kind of a throwback nowadays.
A throwback which, by the way, will easily make it nine straight All-Star appearances.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Admit it: You want to count the 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki out.
But before doing so, ask yourself which part of his game won't age well. Is it the elite accuracy from long range? The flamingo-legged fadeaway? The unstoppable array of up-fakes and pivots in the high post?
The fact is, Nowitzki is going to be a ridiculously efficient offensive player as long as his body holds up. And seeing as he played 80 games last year and narrowly missed out on a 50/40/90 campaign in the process, it doesn't appear the end is coming anytime soon.
The Diggler will stop Dirking when he's good and ready. And he's not ready.
Eastern Conference Backcourt Starters
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite playing for a lottery team, seeing his statistics decline for a third straight year and continuing to scoff at the notion of defense, Kyrie Irving started the All-Star Game last year.
I wonder if his fortunes, motivation and supporting cast improved at all over the summer...
Look, even if Irving doesn't enjoy the kind of leap his new circumstances suggest, we know he's a beast in the league's annual February exhibition. The guy has a knack for showing up when the competition is fierce and the lights are bright. Voters know what they'll get from Irving, and they already like him plenty anyway.
All signs point to another Irving start.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
This is a risky pick, one I already regret making.
Derrick Rose's knees have already limited him a bit for Team USA, and after a lost season and a false start in 2013-14, we probably shouldn't take anything for granted. But Chicago is a massive market that voted for Rose almost 360,000 times last year, despite the fact that he played only 10 games.
If he's healthy enough to play through the break, Rose seems like a lock to garner enough fan support to start.
We're not just dealing with a popularity contest, though. There aren't a whole lot of 25-year-old former MVPs around to compete with him for a spot. And if Rose is 85 percent of his old self, he's probably better than just about every other guard in the conference.
Fingers crossed on this one.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Starters
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
There are few certainties in life, but Carmelo Anthony getting almost a million votes to start the All-Star Game is one of them.
Melo will benefit from Phil Jackson's oversight in New York this year, and we should see an offense that maximizes Anthony's efficiency while toning down his volume. Team success is likelier this year than last, but we know the Knicks don't need to win for Anthony to shine.
You can book this one.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
And while we're talking certainty, why not also etch in stone LeBron James' 11th straight All-Star nod?
If you need an explanation for this one, welcome to the year 2014. How was your decade-long coma?
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Now we've done it.
Three Cleveland Cavaliers starting the All-Star Game? Three?
Kevin Love started in the much tougher West last season, and he's now playing with the best teammates of his life for a team that, on paper, is also easily the best he's ever been on. Maybe Love's counting numbers decline a bit with so much talent around him to share the load, but if his efficiency doesn't spike, it'll be a stunner.
If he could make an All-Star Game all by himself in Minnesota, Love can certainly do it alongside James and Irving in Cleveland.
Western Conference Backcourt Starters
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
It's easier to predict All-Star reserves than starters because you can base your reasoning on coaches recognizing which players are performing best. It's not a perfect meritocracy, but a panel of coaches tends to do a better job of eliminating bias and favoritism than ballot box-stuffing fans.
That's not meant as a slight on Kobe Bryant's game. He might very well bounce back from a lost season and earn his starting position. If he turns in another year like 2012-13, in which he averaged more than 27 points, five rebounds and six assists, he'll deserve it.
But the point is he won't have to earn his spot.
If Bryant stays moderately healthy, he'll start. The fans won't have it any other way. Among the many perks of being a legend, an all but guaranteed gig with the West's first unit is a pretty good one.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Unparalleled marksmanship and cartoonishly efficient offense still matter in All-Star Games, right?
OK, cool. That means Stephen Curry is in.
Everyone loves this guy, and for good reason. Curry is a one-of-a-kind scorer who has caused very serious-minded basketball analysts to conclude that no shot he takes is a bad one. He's fun to watch, dangerous from impossibly deep distances and has just enough shimmy to his game to fit in perfectly as an All-Star starter.
Only Kevin Durant earned more votes in the West last year, and with his ubiquitous ad work and Team USA exposure, Curry's star is getting only brighter.
Western Conference Frontcourt Starters
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis finished seventh in voting among Western Conference frontcourt players last year, which means one of two things: Either there's a latent unibrow bias among NBA fans, or the public hasn't quite caught up to the fact that Davis is on the cusp of crashing the MVP conversation.
It won't be possible to ignore the New Orleans Pelicans' superhuman superstar this year, as Davis is primed to improve on his already ridiculous numbers. Expect a PER close to 30, more blocked shots than anyone and defensive versatility nobody else in the league can match in 2014-15.
Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Davis: "You don’t become special unless you want to be. But he’s got everything," per Beckley Mason of The New York Times.
Get ready for the year of AD.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
MVP. Scoring champ. Guy who surpassed James as the league's most statistically dominant player last season.
Sound like credentials for an All-Star starter? We agree.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin blossomed into a leader when Paul lost time to a shoulder injury last year, and it's now a laughable misrepresentation to say the Clippers forward is just a dunker.
Griffin is a load on the block, runs the floor like nobody else and has worked to become a capable passer out of now-constant double-teams. He'll still wow everyone with his routine defiance of gravity, but the Blake Show is about more than high-flying slams these days.
Toss in a big market and a face everybody knows, and it's easy to envision Griffin starting the All-Star Game for a long time to come.
Notes, Snubs and Jeremy Lin
A few notes and explanations before we go:
The Spurs Question
The absence of San Antonio Spurs in these predictions aren't a suggestion that we'll witness the end of a long and glorious reign this season. It's merely a bet that Gregg Popovich will double down on his policy of resting his best players. That means Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and even Kawhi Leonard simply won't play enough to make the All-Star Game.
Get ready for the truly bizarre possibility of the league's best team having no All-Star representatives.
DeMarcus Cousins misses out again, despite his excellent numbers and the obvious increase in trust his spot on Team USA indicates. The Sacramento Kings are going to stink, though, and there's simply no good way to justify taking him over Howard, Nowitzki or Aldridge—all of whom figure to post excellent stats for successful clubs.
The Jeremy Lin Scenario
Fans of Jeremy Lin boast unmatched devotion. Fans of the Lakers are similarly possessed.
So what happens when the two circles on that venn diagram cross? We can't be sure yet, but an absurd number of votes for Lin could be the result. Don't rule out the possibility of Lin supplanting Curry in the starting lineup.
Consider this fair warning that the Lakers, a team nobody reasonably expects to sniff the playoffs, could have two starters in the All-Star Game.