By Chris Le
We’re almost half way through the regular season, and it’s been an unexpected couple of months to say the least. At one point or another, six or seven teams could’ve justifiably been called the best in the West. Traditional powers likes San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix and Houston saw momentary dips in productivity, while New Orleans, Portland, and Los Angeles most of all have been pleasant surprises. And that’s not even mentioning Utah, Golden State and Denver. Needless to say, the West is stacked from top to bottom, probably more than it’s been in the last few years.
But I digress. This article is about the All-Star team. I’ve always thought being labeled an All-Star was vastly overrated. Yeah, it’s nice to have the admiration and support of the fans, but really, they don’t know jack. That’s why injured superstars who have missed most of the season have undeservingly started All-Star games over the past years. Forget an All-Star nomination, I’d much rather be selected to the All-NBA squad.
So my list is more like the All-NBA team – not a popularity contest – for the first half of the season. Enjoy.
Western Conference Squad
Chris Paul, New Orleans – Don’t tell Steve Nash, but so far this season Paul has looked like the best point guard in the league. A truly dominant offensive player, who can score at any moment he desires, as well as a precise floor general. Though he doesn’t quite run an offense as well as the two-time MVP from Canada, Paul’s all-around game, particularly his defense, gives him the edge thus far.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles – The way it began, with all the trade demands and war of words, who would’ve thought this would be Kobe’s best year post-Shaquille O’Neal? Sounds crazy, but I think his bitch attitude entering the season is a big reason why the Lakers have improved so much. He gave up on the team and decided not to score a million points every game, which put some onus on his teammates. And guess what – they’re actually pretty decent. The improvement of Andrew Bynum and the Lakers bench has been a welcome surprise, but give credit to Kobe for unwittingly learning how to win.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas – After a rough start where it looked like Josh Howard was Dallas’ best player, Dirk has regained his MVP form and, consequently, the Mavs went on a tear. The funk is gone and I expect to see more of the ’07 Dirk.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio – His numbers (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) are well below his career averages. Do not be fooled, though, Timmy remains one of the most effective players in the NBA. He’s been showing it recently, too, by regularly posting 20 and 15 nights, with recent injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And to think, he was almost robbed of his eleventh All-Star start when the league listed him as a center on the ballot.
Yao Ming, Houston – I’m surprised he isn’t the vote’s leader. Come on, China, you’re slacking! But a billion votes or not, he deserves to start this game. In all honesty, he’s really the only true center in the Western Conference; though they’re sort of a rarity in the East as well. This was pretty much a two-man race between Yao and Amaré Stoudemire. Though not as “sexy” or explosive as STAT, I think Yao is the more impacting center. Plus, Stoudemire has Nash to spoon feed him alley-oops, while Yao has been alone most of the season thanks to the injury-riddled Tracy McGrady.
Western Conference Reserves
Steve Nash, Phoenix – Still playing at an MVP level, just not on CP3’s level.
Brandon Roy, Portland – I tried so hard to rationalize him as a starter. Almost did.
Carmelo Anthony, Denver – Dominant scorer, but importance to team is looking lesser and lesser than that of Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby.
Carlos Boozer, Utah – Has monster numbers, but being only four games over .500 against high expectations hurts.
Amaré Stoudemire, Phoenix – I keep waiting for him return to the Amaré of the 2005 playoffs. He’s almost there; don’t think he’ll ever reach that level again though. Still damn good.
Toughest Omissions: Baron Davis, Portland; Allen Iverson, Denver; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio; Marcus Camby, Denver