NBA All Star snubs

The NBA All Star rosters took another step towards being finalized yesterday. The coaches decided on who the reserve players for each team should be. The East roster now features Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Kyrie Irving and Dwayne Wade. The West includes Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. At least two players, Wade and Bryant, will likely not be participating due to injury. There are some notable names missing from this list and I am going to break down who among them should have made it.

The first name to jump out at me absolutely has to be Derrick Rose. The Bulls’ point guard has had an injury-ridden season but when he has played, he has looked like one of the best players in the league. He has struggled though, especially shooting the ball. However, he is still scoring at a great rate and he is tied for 16th in points per 48 minutes played. He is also scoring more than Teague or Wall, who made the team over him. Rose is averaging fewer assists and shooting at a much worse rate per game though so I can understand why he was not picked. That being said, I think he is the next logical add if it turns out that Wade cannot go.

The other thing that bothers me in the East is leaving out the Pistons’ frontcourt. Both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are in the top ten for rebounding this season with Drummond ranking second and Monroe tying for ninth. Drummond is averaging almost thirteen points per game as well with Monroe accounting for more than 15 per night. Drummond also has the most board per 48 minutes played and is an excellent shot blocker ranking ninth in the league. The issue for these two guys is that it is hard to argue whose spot they should take. I think Millsap and Horford were deserving of their selections. Both of these Pistons’ big men have played well though this season and certainly should have been considered.

Flipping to the West now, there is no bigger omission than DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” has been a force in Sacramento this season. Cousins has missed some time due to injury this year but he has put on a show out in California. He cleans up the board with 12.3 rebounds a game, good for third in the NBA. That is also two more rebounds per game than Duncan, who did make the team. The Kings’ big man has also made his presence felt defensively, with roughly 1.5 blocks and steals each per matchup. Duncan is logging about 2 blocks but only 1 steal per game. The biggest difference though is the gap in scoring. Duncan is scoring a solid 14.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Cousins is tallying 23.8 per night, which ranks fifth best in the NBA. I understand that Duncan is a great veteran player but I would definitely have selected Cousins over him.

Damian Lillard was another man forgotten in the All Star selection process. He has been a much better scorer than Chris Paul has this season but Paul has registered a lot more assists. The Blazers’ floor general shot much more effectively than Bryant did this season but Kobe, even despite his age, has been the better defender. The reality is that Lillard has played extremely well but it hasn’t been enough to push his name into being an All Star. There is a good chance that had Lillard been playing the East he would have been selected this season. He has outperformed the majority of the guards in the East but that does not matter with voting being conducted by conference.

It is hard to argue with the lineups being assembled to play in New York this season (well, outside of Kobe of course). There were some guys who were probably qualified to make these teams but unfortunately come up short based on how tough it is to make the 12-man roster. Only 24 players are named All Stars meaning that there are plenty of others who are left out. Let me know if you think there were some other players who should have made it.

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Who means more: The Big Three or Kawhi?

It’s not often the reigning NBA champion Spurs make headlines for anything other than winning. Especially not for something said by Head Coach Gregg Popovich. Yet it happened. Popovich was quoted this past week talking about his young forward Kawhi Leonard and it was some high praise. According to cbssports.com, Popovich told Leonard, “To heck with those guys. The Big Three, they’re older than dirt. To hell with them. You’re the Big One. You’ve got to go do your deal.”

All this praise for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP begs an obvious question: is Pop right? Does Leonard really mean more than Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker? Popovich has been calling this kid the new face of the franchise since drafting him in 2012.

I decided to break it down a little bit. I wanted to see if there was a way I could find a way to place a value on Leonard, even if just in comparison to his teammates. So let’s take a look at everything we can find.

The basic stats won’t cut it, but they are helpful so we will start there. Leonard is second on the Spurs in points per game (14.9) this season behind Parker (16.2) and ahead of Duncan (14.0). He also ranks second in rebounding nightly (8.0) behind Duncan (10.4) and Leonard leads the team in steals per game (1.88). Leonard is also second among starters in terms of player efficiency rating with an 18.7 behind Duncan, who has a 21.4. Clearly, Leonard can pull his own weight as he is contributing across the board. He is also a solid shooter, hitting 45.6% of his shots and is third on the team in 3-point shots made, behind Danny Green and Ginobli. Looking at it this way, Leonard seems more to me as a part of a Big 4 potentially, rather than a Big One just yet. Nevertheless, we need to search a little deeper.

Some adjusted statistics tell the story a little better especially when you look at the Big 3’s and Leonard’s averages per 36 minutes of play. Leonard is scoring at the same rate as Duncan (16.7) and behind both Ginobli (18.0) and Parker (18.7). The rebounding gap between Duncan and Leonard also widens a bit with them averaging 12.3 and 9.0 respectively. Once again, this seems like Leonard is just a part of the Big 4.

The advanced statistics are fun to examine as well as they show Leonard be an important cog in the team, but not the important one. Leonard has snagged 14% of possible rebounds while he has been on the floor this season. That is a solid mark but that only ranks 4th on the team (among players of have played at least 100 minutes) Duncan is 19.3% of the rebounds when he is on the floor. He does come up with a steal on 3% of all opponents possessions, which ranks ninth in the league. Leonard additionally has the lowest usage percentage out of the Big 4 (I am just calling them that now).

Leonard is tied for the team lead of Win Shares with Green and Duncan. The third year pro also has the second highest wins over replacement value behind Green but ahead of the rest of the Big 4. The gap though is only a meager 0.2 between him and Tim Duncan (3.5 and 3.3). For a reference point, Stephen Curry leads the league this season with a value of 8.0. That is not enough to give Leonard an edge for the title of “The Big 1.”

This does not mean by any stretch that I doubt that the former San Diego State product can’t eventually become the best player on a very talented Spurs team but for now, I am sticking with Leonard being a part of the Big 4. Kawhi Leonard is a very good player, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think he is as good as his coach wants him to think he is quite yet. Only time can tell. Let me know what you think.