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West All-Star picks

SI.com's NBA All-Star Picks
The fans' selections for All-Star Game starters will be revealed Thursday night. The coaches' reserve choices will be announced Feb. 3. Which players deserve a trip to Los Angeles for the Feb. 20 midseason showcase? SI.com's NBA writers make their picks below. For the starting lineup, the writers chose players at the position at which they're listed on the official ballot. For reserves, writers were given more leeway -- just as the coaches are in rounding out the rosters with two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild-card picks. (All stats and records are through Jan. 25.)
WESTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS
GUARD
Chris Paul
New Orleans Hornets
3 career All-Star appearances
PPGAPGSPG3FG%
16.49.62.747.1
Ian Thomsen:Deron Williams. Is he the league's best point guard? He can do it all -- play fast or slow, shoot threes or post up, create for others (9.4 assists) or himself (a team-leading 21.6 points). Despite Carlos Boozer's exit, Williams has kept Utah in contention to win the Northwest.
Lee Jenkins: Chris Paul. Coming off knee surgery, with an uncertain future for both himself and his team, Paul has made the Hornets competitive again. Given the preponderance of superior point guards, there are a lot of answers as to who is the best. But Paul is always at the start of the conversation.
Chris Mannix:Deron Williams. He's simply the best point guard on the planet. Besides his mastery of the Jazz's disciplined offense, Williams' candidacy is bolstered by his 21 double-doubles (tied for second among guards) and 9.4 assist average (fourth in the league).
Zach Lowe:Chris Paul. He's simply the best point guard in the league. Paul is New Orleans' offense, and I suspect the second half of his season (if he's healthy) will be even better than the first. He has quietly turned into a Steve Nash-level shooter in addition to everything else he brings.
Paul Forrester:Chris Paul. He gets the slight nod over Williams. Paul has revived the Hornets, who are tied for the third-best record in the West.
GUARD
Kobe Bryant SI CONSENSUS PICK
Los Angeles Lakers
12 All-Star appearances
PPGAPGRPGFG%
24.94.85.046.0
Ian Thomsen:Kobe Bryant. While averaging a taken-for-granted 24.9 points and ranking second in the league in total points, Bryant has prevented the Lakers from lapsing out of title contention, despite sore knees that limit his practice time.
Lee Jenkins: Kobe Bryant. It's hard to imagine an All-Star Game at Staples Center that does not include Bryant in the starting lineup. Most of his numbers are down, though not by much, and the Lakers have underperformed. Perhaps that is a sign he's slowing, or perhaps it will just be fuel for another title surge.
Chris Mannix:Kobe Bryant. He doesn't practice much these days and the bones grinding in his knee are a daily concern, but Bryant is still the most clutch player in the league with MVP-type numbers and high-level defensive skills to boot.
Zach Lowe:Kobe Bryant. This is my team, and I want a shooting guard in my starting lineup, not a second point guard. And despite all the hemming and hawing over Bryant's using too many possessions (true) and chucking questionable jumpers (guilty), this is still a guy putting up a 25-5-5 every night. He's careful with the ball, excellent on defense (if only in spurts nowadays) and he draws a ton of attention from every defense.
Paul Forrester:Kobe Bryant. Kobe is producing almost the same numbers across the board as last season despite playing more than five fewer minutes per game. And those "same numbers" are quite good. It's even more remarkable when you consider he's rarely practiced.
FORWARD
Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City Thunder
1 All-Star appearance
PPGRPGAPGFG%
28.16.42.946.4
Ian Thomsen:Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City is on track for another 50-win season behind Durant, the league's leading scorer despite shooting a slightly lower percentage and earning fewer free throws than last season. With his size and ability to score in a variety of ways, no one is more difficult to stop.
Lee Jenkins: Kevin Durant. Everybody's MVP in October, Durant appeared spent at the outset, perhaps by all the big baskets he made over the summer at the FIBA World Championship. But he gathered a second wind and is catching up to the standard he set a year ago, as well as all the astronomical expectations that were placed on him.
Chris Mannix:Kevin Durant. After a shaky start, Durant has rebounded nicely. The NBA scoring leader has ceded some of the spotlight in Oklahoma City to an emerging Russell Westbrook, but he's still a dynamic scorer, with a feathery jump shot that he pops comfortably from anywhere on the floor.
Zach Lowe:Blake Griffin. This spot on the ballot is the toughest call, with cases to be made for Griffin, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Durant and others. Griffin's ridiculous play of late has edged him ahead of Durant. He and Eric Gordon have transformed the Clippers, and Griffin has proved nearly impossible to stop on offense. He's a skilled passer and a capable ball-handler, and he has the potential to lead the league in rebounds one day. He has a lot to learn on defense, but his athleticism gives him a head start over most rookies.
Paul Forrester:Kevin Durant. His accuracy has suffered a bit this season, but not the variety of ways in which he can score. Only three times all season has Durant failed to score at least 20 and not once has he scored in single figures.
FORWARD
Dirk Nowitzki
Dallas Mavericks
9 All-Star appearances
PPGRPGAPGFG%
23.37.12.451.8
Ian Thomsen:Pau Gasol. The "underachieving" Lakers have the third-best record in the league thanks in no small part to the 18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 blocks of Gasol, whose championship contributions have elevated him to the top of the NBA's power forward list. He excels in every area.
Lee Jenkins: Dirk Nowitzki. Carmelo Anthony will probably get Nowitzki's spot, but the adversity Anthony has faced in the past few months is of his own making. Nowitzki pushed the Mavericks to a blistering start and they lost ground only because he suffered the first knee injury of his career. He is back, and they will be too.
Chris Mannix:Kevin Love. Easily the toughest call on the ballot, with Griffin, Carmelo and Nowitzki among the competition. But the NBA's leading rebounder has 30 straight double-doubles (seven shy of the NBA record) and is on pace to become the first player since Moses Malone to average at least 20 points and 15 rebounds. Bad team or not, that's impressive.
Zach Lowe:Dirk Nowitzki. He might have been the MVP front-runner had he not missed nine games because of a knee injury. Then again, he might still be the front-runner anyway. That's how good Nowitzki has been this season. He's putting up some of the best shooting numbers of his career -- including a career-best shooting percentage from the floor -- and though he'll never be a star defender, his positioning and rebounding are sound.
Paul Forrester:Dirk Nowitzki. There may not be a better mid-range-and-in shooter in the game today than Nowitzki. And though the Mavs have been scuffling as he rounds back into form from his injury, they have absolutely no shot without him, as their 2-7 record while he sat attests.
CENTER
Nene
Denver Nuggets
No All-Star appearances
PPGRPGAPGFG%
15.27.52.164.6
Ian Thomsen:Nene. Yao Ming is out, Andrew Bynum has been injured, and Tim Duncan, Gasol and Al Jefferson are all listed on the ballot as forwards. The starter is this underappreciated Brazilian who makes the most of a few touches and defends the taller centers. His all-around contributions enable him to nose out Dallas' defensive leader, Tyson Chandler.
Lee Jenkins: Nene. This spot will almost definitely go to Gasol in lieu of the injured Yao -- the league will name a replacement for the Rockets' center if, as expected, he finishes first in the balloting -- but Gasol is technically a power forward, and the West has a dearth of centers. Nene earns the nod over Chandler, for quietly putting together the best season of his career, amid all the noise in Denver.
Chris Mannix:Tyson Chandler. There isn't much depth at the position, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Chandler has single-handedly improved Dallas' scoring defense, from 99.3 points per game last season to 94.4 this season, and with his health restored he has put up solid numbers (9.6 points on 67.7 percent shooting and 9.0 rebounds) of his own.
Zach Lowe:Nene. If I'm forced to pick from among the centers on the league's official ballot, Nene is the easy choice. You could make a solid All-Star case for him without the positional charity; his field-goal percentage leads the league, and he can score in a variety of ways from 18 feet and in. He's a solid defender, and he's getting to the line at a career-best rate.
Paul Forrester:Nene. If the Knicks were smart, they'd take Nene in a trade instead of his more celebrated teammate. The 28-year-old Brazilian has locked down the post for the Nuggets, turning in career highs in points and shooting percentage while leading West centers in Player Efficiency Rating.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES
Ian Thomsen: The absence of healthy centers (as an aside, if Tim Duncan were listed at center -- his true position -- he would be the West's starter) created room for an extra big man at power forward, and all three names here are deserving. Love (pictured) is the league's top rebounder, Griffin is the most explosive double-double performer and Nowitzki is himself. Anthony has maintained his high standards and kept the Nuggets in playoff position, though his time in Denver will likely expire soon. I wish there was room for Tony Parker (my first alternate in case of injury) in addition to Ginobili, but Paul and Westbrook are mandatory invitees in the West backcourt.G Chris Paul, Hornets
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Manu Ginobili, Spurs
F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F Blake Griffin, Clippers
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Lee Jenkins: Anthony could easily be a starter, evidence of the West's remarkable depth. At power forward alone, the West has Gasol (pictured), Griffin and Love, with Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge credible candidates. Love's rebounding totals have been historic, Griffin has gone from phenomenon to force, and Gasol's performance has been consistent with the past two championship runs. The West is almost as rich at point guard as it is at power forward, with Williams assuming more of the offensive burden since Boozer left Utah, and Westbrook showing he can complement Durant in Oklahoma City. The second five would challenge the first.G Deron Williams, Jazz
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Manu Ginobili, Spurs
F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves
F Blake Griffin, Clippers
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
Chris Mannix: Any list of reserves is going to have glaring omissions, and this one is no different. It seems unfathomable to have just one All-Star from the NBA's best team (San Antonio), but Griffin's spectacular start makes him impossible to overlook. Aldridge has carried the depleted Blazers in the first half, but Anthony (pictured) and Nowitzki have slightly better numbers. Likewise for Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, whose stocks drop because Memphis hasn't lived up to expectations this season. Should the NBA choose an injury replacement -- which it'll likely have to do for the injured-yet-popular Yao -- expect Duncan to get the nod. Duncan's numbers are down, but he is still the glue on a Spurs team that has posted its finest start in franchise history. G Chris Paul, Hornets
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Tony Parker, Spurs
F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F Blake Griffin, Clippers
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
Zach Lowe: The West is so crowded, but since we can only choose 12 my last three spots go to Love, Aldridge and Westbrook (pictured) by the thinnest of margins. Love should not be punished for his team's generally poor play, and though his defense peaks at "average," his rebounding and scoring are the only things keeping Minnesota in some games. Aldridge wouldn't have made my team on New Year's Eve, but he's since sold me by carrying a decimated Portland team by putting up a near 26-10 line and shooting 50.6 percent shooting in January. Westbrook's all-around play -- and especially his free throws -- kept the Thunder near the top of the standings as Durant slumped. G Deron Williams, Jazz
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Manu Ginobili, Spurs
F LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers
F Kevin Durant, Thunder
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
Paul Forrester: The fact that Williams (pictured) could make a legit case as the league's MVP for most of the first half shouldn't be lost in Utah's current struggles. Westbrook's growth into an elite point guard will pay off for the Thunder come the postseason. Someone has to represent the league's best team, and the clutch Manu Ginobili deserves the honor. Up front, it may be hard to live without Carmelo's scoring, but I don't feel the need to reward someone who chose to be such a distraction on what could be a deep-playoff team. Rather, I'll go with Love, the top rebounder, and Griffin, who may good enough to outplay Donald Sterling's incompetence. The other starting power forward in L.A., Gasol, has been efficient and productive as usual. Randolph has earned his way with his 20-and-13 average.G Deron Williams, Jazz
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Manu Ginobili, Spurs
F Blake Griffin, Clippers
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves
F Zach Randolph, Grizzlies
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR PICKS

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