Picking the 2017 NBA All Stars: Part II

Welcome to part two of my All Star selections. For rules and the Eastern Conference team, click here.

The votes are in, and the starters have been announced. There were a couple of obvious mistakes in the starting lineups (Curry over Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan over Kyle Lowry and Isaiah Thomas/John Wall), but the good news is that the entire rosters should be correct, even if the starting lineups are a bit wonky. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the Western Conference All Stars.

(Picks made before starters were announced.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Starters

G Russell Westbrook

G James Harden

FC Kawhi Leonard

FC Kevin Durant

FC Anthony Davis

Reserves

G Steph Curry

G Mike Conley

FC Marc Gasol

FC DeMarcus Cousins

FC Draymond Green

WC Rudy Gobert

WC Gordon Hayward

Toughest omissions: Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson

What a loaded roster. The starters are easy, as are Curry, Gasol, and Cousins. After Chris Paul’s injury, that leaves just four spots for six guys—Green, Gobert, Hayward, Lillard, Conley, and Thompson. Let’s break down each one’s case, one by one, starting with the big men.

(Apologies to LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Nikola Jokic, and Karl Towns, who almost merited consideration, but just missed the first cut.)

Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert

The case against the Stifle Tower is that he isn’t what people typically think of when they envision a star: he doesn’t shoot from outside the paint, he doesn’t really create offense for himself (or others), and he’s basically a really good role player. But Gobert impacts the game as much as any center in the league with his defense, rebounding, efficiency, and durability. Oh, and the advanced stats love him. He shoots 67 percent from the field, anchors the NBA’s second-best defense, and increases his team’s net rating by nearly nine points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

So what if he only takes six shots a game? Who cares that he’s a defensive specialist with a limited offensive game? Guess what? He’s a really, really good one, and he drastically alters the game in his team’s favor by being on the court, and he should be rewarded for that.

While we’re rewarding all-world defense, let’s talk about Green. His numbers are down from last year in virtually every category, and Durant’s integration has cut into Green’s opportunities offensively. But man, the guy defends the hell out of opponents. Consider this sequence from the Warriors’ November 28th game against Atlanta:

There are only a handful of guys in the league who can do what Green does in that video, and he does it on a regular basis. He’s the most versatile defender in the entire league and probably the co-front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year (along with Gobert).

The revamped Death Lineup is smothering teams, as expected. Putting Durant on the floor with just about anyone is going to yield positive results in the long term, but those small lineups have hinged upon Green for as long as Steve Kerr has been playing them. His ability to credibly defend five positions, run the fast break, and spot passing lanes is unmatched by anyone in the league not named LeBron. So while his role has diminished for the sake of his superteam, Draymond is still as important as ever to the Warriors, and a team that good deserves three All Stars.

Gordon Hayward, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, and Klay Thompson

Paul’s injury makes this interesting. Westbrook will make it as a reserve, but now that second reserve guard spot is up for grabs.

I’m a huge fan of Thompson’s. He’s a great defender, a smart cutter, and about as good as anyone in history on catch-and-shoot threes. But he’s still below 40 percent from downtown after a miserable first two weeks, and other than being a sniper from deep, he’s limited offensively, especially with Durant now in the mix. He’s better defensively than every All Star-worthy guard other than Paul and Conley, and it seems crazy to omit someone who dropped 60 points in 29 minutes earlier this year, but with so many deserving candidates in the West, I have a hard time talking myself into a including fourth Warrior here, especially one that’s having a (relatively) down year.

Lillard is probably having maybe the best season of his career and is the Blazers’ most important player. Some of his shots are Curry-level in depth and difficulty, and he still boasts a career-high effective field goal percentage of 51. But Portland has been a disaster this year, and Lillard isn’t nearly as efficient as some of his Western Conference counterparts. He drains threes at league-average rate and acts as a turnstile on defense, an area in which the Blazers have been an absolute dumpster fire.

Direct comparisons between Lillard, Conley, Hayward, and Thompson are unfair because they all play such different roles for their teams, but of that group, Lillard leads only Thompson in value over replacement player, box plus/minus, real plus/minus, and win shares. The Blazers have the talent to be a more competitive team, and while the blame certainly doesn’t fall entirely on Lillard, he has to be held somewhat accountable for it.

Hayward is a starter on the NBA’s All-Underrated team. His per-game and per-36 stats pale in comparison to other wings across the league, but that’s largely because the Jazz play at the slowest pace in the league. The Jazz stumbled out of the gate because of injuries to nearly every player in the rotation, and Hayward had to carry Utah’s offense during the two separate stretches George Hill missed. He made some serious improvements to his game this summer; he’s more explosive and now has a silky-smooth jumper that’s made him a scoring threat from all over the floor.

Teams used to be able to go under screens against Hayward without worrying too much about getting burned from deep. Not anymore. Hayward is shooting a hair below 40 percent from three, and he’s doing it on more difficult looks than earlier in his career.

Memphis also plays at an extremely slow pace, which leads to some deflation of Conley’s numbers as well. Conley remains one of the league’s best defensive point guards and he’s having a career year in both volume and efficiency. Oh yeah, he also broke his back and only missed nine games because of it.

Conley’s addition of a reliable three-point shot has opened up his game and been a big factor in Memphis’ self-reinvention. He’s shooting over 40 percent from outside on over five attempts a game, and hardly any of those looks have come from the corners. Unfortunately, Conley’s ability to attack the rim has waned. That’s understandable considering he recently BROKE HIS BACK, and as long as his shooting touch sticks around, it shouldn’t be a huge problem. But he’s converting at just 53 percent within eight feet of the basket, and only 34 percent on non-restricted area shots in the paint.

By comparison, Hayward isn’t quite as good from three, but he’s better from just about every other spot on the floor, and the numbers back that up. Plus, he has the statistical edge over Conley, Lillard, and Thompson in shooting efficiency and categories like PER, value over replacement player, and win shares. Initially, he edged out Conley for the final wild card spot; but with Paul going down, I’m willing to slide Conley into that second reserve guard spot. Lillard may well get the nod over both Conley and Hayward, and that would be justifiable, but I’d rather reward the guys having career years for solid playoff teams.

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