By Kevin Sawyer
F – Dirk Nowitzki (Mavs)
Dirk takes a lot of undeserved flack, in large part because his team has never won a championship (though you never hear this about Steve Nash), but also because he doesn’t play like a conventional power forward. Nonetheless, he has been one of the most consistently outstanding players of this decade, and he’s having a banner year.
F – Pau Gasol (Lakers)
Boozer has been better, but missing 12+ games puts him a notch below Gasol, who has been every bit as important as Kobe Bryant in the elevating the Lakers to their elite status. Gasol has never really gotten the credit he deserves, partly because he hasn’t cleared the "10 rpg" mental hurdle.
C – Tim Duncan (Spurs)
Yeah, I’m using the old sportswriters trick here of shifting Duncan to the center slot. Ballot placement notwithstanding, Duncan is the best Center in the West at both ends of the court. Nonetheless, Duncan will probably be remembered as the greatest Power Forward of all time. So much for the small ball era.
G – Chris Paul (Hornets)
When the only question surrounding your season is whether it might be the best in the history of the point guard position, you deserve to start in the all-star game. I’m guessing we won’t be seeing any "NO WAY! Deron Williams FTW!" comments on this one.
G – Kobe Bryant (Lakers)
This is a tougher decision than it might seem. Kobe is 4th among West guards in PER, and seems rather obviously to have lost a step. But Kobe takes pretty much any intangible consideration you could name. He’s the go-to guy for a team with a nosebleed winning percentage. He’s fun to watch, especially in all-star games. And he has a better career resume than Brandon Roy.
F – Carlos Boozer (Jazz)
Of course, this is contingent on his coming back in relatively short order (but not that short of an order, please). Incidentally, doesn’t Paul Millsap’s emergence all but guarantee that the Jazz won’t re-sign Boozer? Is it too soon to call him "Boozer’s Expiring Contract"? Is it too soon to talk trade?
F – Amare Stoudemire (Suns)
Amare has been relatively disappointing to those (like myself) who thought he’d be in the MVP discussion. Overnight, I think Mike D’Antoni has joined Jackson, Popovich and Sloan in the ranks of coaches who have a hammerlock on their jobs.
C – Yao Ming
He’ll get the start anyway, and rightly so given the ballot. His reputation did suffer from the Rockets’ improbable win streak last year, which is unfair because Yao was there for half of it, and it’s not Yao’s fault that Rafer Alston suddenly decided to care for awhile. Nonetheless, Yao still has yet to establish himself as a real star in the minds of most Americans, many of whom would even call him a draft bust.
G – Brandon Roy (Blazers)
Brandon Roy got an undeserved spot on the roster last year. Now that he is a legitimate superstar, carrying his team to an excellent record, writers are talking about the Blazers balanced attack and the importance of Greg Oden. His last four games have been ridiculous, and his team lost three of them, so there is no question who is the top dog in Portland.
G – Chauncey Billups (Nuggets)
Chauncey has had a brilliant December, and has been largely (and rightly) credited with elevating the Nuggets to the level of legitimate playoff contender. Expect a fourth straight all-star appearance, even though Mr. Efficient isn’t all that fun to watch once he gets there. The only way anyone wants to watch a guy score 27 points off 9 shots is if he goes 9-9 from three-point range.
WC – Tony Parker (Spurs)
Injury aside, he’s having a tremendous year. He’ll probably get the nod this time, since he won’t be splitting votes with Manu Ginobili. Rumors of the Spurs demise have been greatly exaggerated.
WC – Shaquille O’Neal (Suns)
It wouldn’t be an all-star game without Shaq, would it? Of course it would, but it just so happens that Shaq has played his way in. He’ll get the nod anyway because he has obviously been the second best center, which is unbelievable considering that he had been essentially written off prior to the beginning of the season.
WITH APOLOGIES TO…
Manu Ginobili: It’s a tough field, and Manu has played only 312 minutes this year. There are guys who have played three times that.
Andris Biedrins & Marcus Camby: Rebounding specialists have a place on the all-star squad, but not when they collect rebounds for lousy teams that have no other rebounders.
Jason Terry: He’s an undervalued player having a great season, but his start is a bit of a fluke, and he still hasn’t been as good as Parker.
Al Jefferson: Can’t give the big guy a nod when he is a major reason why his four-win team ranks 26th in defensive efficiency.
Carmelo Anthony: The slow starts have cost him appearances before, but the field is so crowded, I can’t even let him in based on last year’s numbers. Were he to get in instead of Chauncey, it would be an egregious snub.