Editor's note: All-Star balloting ends on Sunday, Jan. 22.
Can a player on a terrible team still be an All-Star?
With this year's soiree in Houston less than a month away, that question looms larger than ever this season. Several players whose teams are hovering near the bottom of the standings have performed so well that they're worthy of consideration.
Players such as Washington's Gilbert Arenas, New Orleans/Oklahoma City's Chris Paul, Boston's Paul Pierce and Seattle's Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, for instance, all have played at a high level for teams that are well south of the break-even mark. Additionally, at least two players -- Houston's Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming -- seem to be en route to All-Star bids via fan voting, despite their team's suffering through a miserable 12-24 season.
But perhaps no player best exemplifies this year's All-Star quandary better than Toronto's Chris Bosh.
That the Raptors are a bad team is beyond question -- Toronto's 13-24 mark leaves it out of the playoff chase even in the lowly East. But it's hard to pin the blame for that on Bosh, who has been nothing short of superb. The forward averages 22.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and is shooting over 50 percent from the field -- making him, along with LeBron James, the only Eastern Conference players averaging better than 20 points and shooting over 50 percent.
"I think he's deserving," said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell. "He's obviously one of the best power forwards in the NBA. Our record could be a lot worse if we didn't have Chris playing the way he's playing."
Unfortunately, the coaches (who select the reserves for the game) haven't been nearly as kind in their judgment of players from losing teams. In recent years, several players from teams with sub-.500 marks have lost out to players from teams with winning records. Secondary players on top contenders are particularly popular. Look back at almost every shaky All-Star pick from the past few years -- Dale Davis, Otis Thorpe, Wally Szczerbiak, Jamaal Magloire -- and you'll see that common thread.
"Winning always helps, but this is my situation," Bosh said. "I can't really help how things are. To me, it's all about the future, so I think what I do from here on out will dictate [being selected]."
We can't look in our crystal ball and tell whether Bosh will be selected despite his team's record. What we can do, however, is take a look at the landscape in each conference and determine, as of today, which players deserve selection. And that's exactly what I intend to do below.
Before we start, let's go over the process. The fans select five starters from each conference, so we're stuck with those picks no matter how much we might disagree with them. After the fans choose the first five, it's up to the coaches. The 15 coaches in each conference select seven reserves by secret ballot. The rules are that coaches must select at least two guards, two forwards and one center, in addition to two extra players to fill out the roster. However, they aren't limited by positions listed on the All-Star ballot -- a coach can nominate a player at any position he feels appropriate. Thus, a coach could list Tim Duncan or Pau Gasol as a center on his ballot if, in his judgment, that produced the best team for his conference.
With those rules in mind, let's take a look at how it will shake out in each league. Along with each player, I've included his per-game averages and Player Efficiency Rating (PER) this season (all stats through Monday):
EASTERN CONFERENCE: STARTERS
Although the voting isn't complete, it's pretty apparent who the five will be on each side, so we can fill in the starting lineups and go from there:
Allen Iverson, G (33.2 ppg, 7.5 apg, 26.95 PER): Can't argue with the fans' choice on this one.
Dwyane Wade, G (26.6 ppg, 7.1 apg, 27.84 PER): Or this one.
LeBron James, F (31.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 29.23 PER): Or this one. Let's move on to the juicy stuff.
Jermaine O'Neal, F (21.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 22.07 PER): OK, here's one I suppose you could quibble with. O'Neal is a tough defender and a reliable post scorer, but he's not having his best season by any stretch. Still, I can't think of another forward in the East except the guy above that the Pacers would trade him for.
Shaquille O'Neal, C (18.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 22.30 PER): Shaq has earned the benefit of the doubt based on his past results, but he's done little to deserve nomination this season. He missed 18 games to start the year and has been sluggish since coming back. Of course, a down year for Shaq is a good year for anyone else -- he nearly has the highest PER among Eastern centers.