Wednesday January 30th, 2008

The announcement of the NBA All-Star Game starters is about as climactic as a controversial story about the Knicks or a Britney Spears meltdown. As the fans' votes add up, press releases and e-mails from the league are distributed like restaurant flyers, the effect being that rarely a day goes by without some newspaper or Web site mentioning the latest results.

The reserves? Well, that's another story. The reserves are controversial. Only 14 backups, or seven from each conference, are selected out of a pool that probably extends close to 30, making the process an inexact science.

Every team thinks it deserves to have an All-Star. The Timberwolves, for instance, have the worst record in the NBA, but you can bet they will be crying foul if Al Jefferson fails to make the roster. The woeful Heat already have a starter (Dwyane Wade), but there figures to be a couple of people on Biscayne Boulevard who will a little miffed if Shaquille O'Neal is denied a record 15th consecutive All-Star appearance.

The head coaches have the final say, choosing two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild cards. While the coaches' picks will be revealed Thursday night, here's how I would fill out the rosters (all stats and records through Tuesday's games).

Guards

Fans' starters: Jason Kidd (Nets), Dwyane Wade (Heat)

My reserve picks: Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton (Pistons)

Let me get this out of the way: I'm biased toward successful teams. While the Celtics have captured the eye of the nation, the Pistons have been content to rack up wins (32) and wait for their moment (which, you can bet, will be the conference finals). Billups, as usual, has been steady if not spectacular (17.9 points, 7.1 assists and 1.4 steals), while Hamilton is shooting 50.3 percent from the field and averaging a team-leading 19 points.

With apologies to: Ray Allen (Celtics), Michael Redd (Bucks)

Allen had to expect a drop in status when he came to Boston (though maybe not a drop in shooting percentage, to a career-low 41.8), so his omission is not all that surprising. Redd remains one of the game's most dangerous deep threats, but the struggling Bucks look like a team full of potential All-Stars but without a real one among them.

Forwards

Fans' starters: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Kevin Garnett (Celtics)

My reserve picks: Chris Bosh (Raptors), Paul Pierce (Celtics)

Bosh's YouTube video touting his candidacy (which I wrote about in this week's Sports Illustrated) may not have had the desired results with the fans, but there is no question his play has earned him a spot. Bosh has held the Raptors together after potentially crippling injuries to point guard T.J. Ford and gritty forward Jorge Garbajosa, posting nearly identical numbers (22.8 points, 9.2 rebounds) as last season when he was an All-Star starter. Pierce? Well, he certainly is enjoying playing with Allen and Garnett, isn't he?

With apologies to: Gerald Wallace (Bobcats), Hedo Turkoglu (Magic), Antawn Jamison (Wizards), Josh Smith (Hawks), Richard Jefferson (Nets)

Wallace, a candidate for the Most Improved Player award, has been a statistical machine for the Bobcats. One veteran assistant coach told me that the loss of Adam Morrison to a knee injury helped Wallace significantly. "Those two were always bickering," the coach said. "You could tell they didn't like each other much."

Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis have proved that Orlando doesn't need a pure power forward to contend. Jamison is one of two players in the East (along with Dwight Howard) averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. But there is a lot of depth at the position.

Center

Fans' starter: Dwight Howard (Magic)

My reserve pick: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cavaliers)

Ilgauskas (along with that James fellow) has been instrumental in keeping Cleveland in contention, averaging 13.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Pistons coach Flip Saunders has already said that he believes the coaches probably will vote for Ilgauskas.

With apologies to: Andrew Bogut (Bucks)

If the Bucks were a playoff team, I might give the nod to Bogut, who has scored in double figures in 15 of his last 16 games. Bogut's numbers are nearly identical to Ilgauskas' (13.5 points, 9.2 boards and 1.65 blocks), and the No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft is improving by the day. Next season, he may be a lock.

Wild cards

My picks: Jose Calderon (Raptors), Caron Butler (Wizards)

Butler is one of only three players averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. The other two? LeBron and Kobe Bryant. Butler and Jamison both deserve the nod, but Butler gets my vote for improving from a 25 percent three-point shooter in '06-07 to a 37.2 percent shooter this season.

As for Calderon, the Spanish point guard leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ration (5.49 to 1) and is lethal from the floor (51.8 percent) and the free-throw line (91.5 percent). Now if we could just get him to stop making that annoying three-point signal with his hands.

Click below for Western Conference picks ...

Guards

Fans' starters: Allen Iverson (Nuggets), Kobe Bryant (Lakers)

My reserve picks: Steve Nash (Suns), Chris Paul (Hornets)

Gotta go with the present and the future here. Two-time MVP Nash is actually averaging a career high in assists (11.9) and has once again seamlessly incorporated a new player (Grant Hill) into the Suns' offense. Paul has been positively Nash-esque this season, probing the paint like a surgeon while averaging 20.6 points and 10.7 assists. This is the start of a lengthy All-Star run for Paul.

With apologies to: Deron Williams (Jazz), Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Spurs)

Williams and Paul have gone back and forth: Paul was the superior rookie, Williams the better sophomore. Now, Paul has a slight edge in his third season while a worthy Williams loses a numbers game. The same goes for Parker and Ginobili, who just can't compete this season with two of the best point guards in the NBA.

Forwards

Fans' starters: Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets), Tim Duncan (Spurs)

My reserve picks: Carlos Boozer (Jazz), Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks)

Few power forwards are as consistently productive as Boozer, who puts up double-doubles with uncanny ease (31 for the season). Reigning MVP Nowitzki has recovered from a slow start to average 22.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for the resurgent Mavericks, who are 11-2 in January.

With apologies to: Stephen Jackson (Warriors)

The Warriors are 1-6 without Captain Jack in the lineup and 26-13 with him. Need I say more? OK, I will. Jackson is playing 39.3 minutes a game for the free-wheeling Warriors and averaging 20.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Another season, that might be good enough.

Center

Fans' starter: Yao Ming (Rockets)

My reserve pick: Tyson Chandler (Hornets)

Want to know how close this vote is? I changed mine three times while writing this. Statistics aside, Chandler gets my vote for two reasons: First, he's on the team with the West's best winning percentage; and second, he's playing for the team hosting the game. The differences between Chandler and his competition are razor thin, so those factors put him over the top.

With apologies to: Marcus Camby (Nuggets), Amaré Stoudemire (Suns), Chris Kaman (Clippers)

Camby, the league's top shot-blocker and second-leading rebounder, is hurt by the fact that two of his teammates (Anthony and Iverson) are starting. I have a hard time voting in a third player from a team that isn't that great. Omitting Stoudemire was painful. Kaman deserves recognition for becoming Elton Brand in Brand's absence, but playing for a team with 13 wins doesn't help his cause.

Wild cards: Brandon Roy (Trail Blazers), Baron Davis (Warriors)

Someone from the Trail Blazers has to get picked. Roy, the Wicked Wade of the West, has matured into one of the league's most complete guards and a force in the fourth quarter. The same can be said for Davis, who after years of struggling with injuries has finally established himself as a top five point guard.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.