Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth. This week: A re-drafting of the 2014 NBA All-Star teams.
The imbalance between the NBA's two conferences extends to the All-Star Game rosters, where top West snubs like Anthony Davis and Goran Dragic would have been sure-fire selections had they played in the East. Here, The Point Forward throws all 24 All-Stars into a pool, conducting a snake draft to achieve a better balance in talent between the squads.
A few quick notes: Davis has been subbed in for Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is currently sidelined with an injury and is expected to miss All-Star Weekend. All other players -- including Clippers guard Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a shoulder injury but is expected to play in the All-Star Game -- are assumed to be at full health. The priorities of the draft are 1) to build the best team and 2) to build the most exciting team, in that order. Lineups and minutes distribution are totally up to the coaches and explained below.
Here's the full 24-man player pool, in alphabetical order, for reference: LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George, James Harden, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Joe Johnson, Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and John Wall.
Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Heat
There's really no losing with either James or Kevin Durant, and I thought long and hard about taking the latter in the top spot. Durant is the NBA's most brilliant scorer, and with his ability to handle the ball, make plays, defend a few positions, and shoot from anywhere, he'd be a great fit with just about any group of players. There's also something to be said about whether James -- whose effort has come and gone this season, particularly on defense -- would really be locked in for an All-Star game in the same way Durant likely would be.
Ultimately, though, the flexibility that comes in drafting James overwhelmed any potential risk for me. He remains the best basketball player on the planet, and has the unique ability to leverage both the post and high pick-and-roll as a scorer and passer. His defensive buy-in would also give me an elite across-the-board option in coverage, as James could slide over to defend almost any of this season's All-Stars. That's big, and I love the possibilities it provides as I wade a bit deeper into the player pool.
Ben Golliver: Kevin Durant, Thunder
It says a lot that my reaction to James going off the board first was equal parts horror and relief, rather than total horror. James would still be my top pick for a seven-game playoff series with equally matched teams, but I'm more than happy to "settle" for Durant in this one-game, stars-only festival format. The All-Star Game scoring record is held by Wilt Chamberlain, who poured in 42 points in 1962, and my team will be constructed such that Durant (who has scored 30+ points in the last three All-Star Games) will have every opportunity to set a new record. Given how well Durant is playing and how easily he's been scoring -- he's No. 1 in the league in PER, Win Shares and scoring, and he averaged 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 54.9 percent overall, 43.6 percent from deep and posting a whopping 131 offensive rating in January -- Chamberlain's mark could very well be in jeopardy come Feb. 16 in New Orleans. Much like Scott Brooks, I plan to ride Durant for as many minutes as he can give, so finding a back-up small forward will not be a high priority.
Golliver: Chris Paul, Clippers
Durant was an easy choice but this one is considerably more difficult. Chris Paul or Paul George? What will make Durant's life easier: selecting the premier point guard in the game to set him up or picking the best remaining perimeter defender to ensure he can breathe a bit easier when he has the ball? As frightening as the James/George combination is as a counter to Durant, the pick was CP3, for a few reasons. First, the absences of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose thin out the top of a deep point guard crop, leaving Paul as the clear standout from the pack, especially when both sides of the ball are taken into account. Paul's 27.5 PER is more than four points better than the second-best point guard, Stephen Curry, and that's the biggest gap at any of the five positions. Paul is intelligent, competitive, in his prime, coming off a 2013 All-Star Game MVP performance, and stands the league's leading assist man, dishing out more than 11 per game. That package, plus the knowledge that I will have the match-up at the all-important point guard spot, is too much to pass up.
Mahoney: Paul George, Pacers
Last week's game between the Heat and Thunder made one thing abundantly clear: Asking James to both run an offense and defend Durant for a full game comes at a cost. With that, it's critical for me to find another high-level defender to throw at KD on either a full or part-time basis, making George the easy pick of those remaining. This year's All-Star team isn't exactly well-stocked with perimeter defenders; Carmelo Anthony might be the only player left with the size and speed to physically match up with Durant, while Joe Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, and James Harden would all be woefully overmatched.
George, on the other hand, is one of the few players in the league who can theoretically give Durant trouble. I suspect he -- as the more dedicated on-ball defender -- would end up drawing the primary assignment. That puts James in a position to lurk behind every play as a potential help option, and gives me a strong foundation for containing the most dangerous player on Ben's team. Add in at least one quality defensive big and I'm in a good spot.
Mahoney: Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry isn't the best player still available, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to pair James with the best shooter in the league. The range in itself is fun as a spectacle, but I'm primarily motivated by the insane draw that Curry has on opposing defenses. Already my team has a lot of creative potential on the wings, making shooting at the point a priority.
Enter Curry, who not only has as quick and true a release as you'll find among these All-Stars, but also demands that opponents stay attached to him at all times. Anything less than full defensive commitment could allow Curry to become the All-Star MVP, as few players in the game can match his capacity for scoring explosion.That's invaluable when I'll likely have James running the show for significant portions of the game and George doing important work as a complementary creator. The shooting and playmaking balance between those three has my team building from a position of advantage.
That said, I am a little nervous about having to manage Curry's limitations on the defensive end, particularly against All-Star-caliber opponents. In competing against typical NBA competition, there's usually somewhere to hide Curry without significant penalty -- a floor general point guard or a spot-up wing shooter, neither of which can really attack Curry consistently enough to cause problems. In a game like this one, though, there's nowhere at all for Curry to hide. He'll likely start by going head-to-head with Chris Paul at the point, and while my first two picks established the start of a good help system, that matchup could be tough.
Golliver: Dwight Howard, Rockets
It's no surprise that the top five picks have all been perimeter players, nor is it much of a surprise which five players were selected given the format. Our top goal was winning before entertainment, though, and the possibility for a monopoly on the low-post centers is too much to pass up. Only three of the 24 players selected to the All-Star Game are traditional centers -- Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah -- and the voting ballot change to remove the "center" designation and lump in the bigs under the "froncourt" umbrella made a big impact this year, as Howard won't start in the real game for the first time since 2007 and Hibbert was beaten out for a starting spot by three small forwards (James, George and Carmelo Anthony). Howard is averaging a cool 18.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks for the Rockets, whose defense has improved from No. 16 last year to No. 10 this year with his addition. I'm certainly not crazy about the reports that Howard spent the 2013 All-Star Game doing locker room impressions of Kobe Bryant, but he fits the roster's goal for strong, two-way play. Howard is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate while being more than capable of making teams pay for loading up on Durant and finishing pick-and-roll lobs from Paul.
Golliver: Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Snagging Hibbert next completes my play for paint domination. If Howard gets too distracted shooting half-court shots or chumming it up with the courtside celebrities, or if it gets late in the game and we need a big man to shoot free throws, Hibbert is the perfect option. The landslide favorite to win the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year award, Hibbert is a rim-protecting menace whose presence should help encourage James, George and Curry to spend most of their time around the arc. Grabbing the Howard/Hibbert tandem ensures that they won't be canceling each other out, and it puts the likes of Noah, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love or Anthony Davis in a tough match-up. Taking two centers even when I have massive holes at the off guard and power forward positions is a bit risky, but there's more than enough depth at the four in this year's pool and I think the threat of interior pounding will force Rob to look inside, leaving some of the best remaining guards on the table.
Mahoney: Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Mission accomplished, Ben. Snagging Howard and Hibbert in tandem was a brilliant move, and one that puts me in a bit of a panic as I look to fill out my frontcourt. That's a lot of size and defensive help off the board, and I had been hoping to grab at least one of those two to round out my starting lineup.
It seems way too early, though, to grab one of the few defensive bigs available, so for now I'll look to satisfy another need: A rebounding forward who can help space the floor. As much as I love the added level of dynamism that drafting a player like Blake Griffin might bring, I really need to space the floor now that Ben will have one of Hibbert or Howard hanging in the paint at all times. My options, then, come down to Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge -- two of the best power forwards in the West and the league this season. For this particular roster I like Love a bit better; I won't likely need Aldridge to force tough mid-range shots with the wealth of creative talent at the helm, and Love does a bit more for me offensively when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.
I realize, though, that I now have two troubling defenders in my projected starting lineup while Ben has none. That's not optimal, but Curry and Love are both so blisteringly effective on offense as to quell most of my concerns. When you can't hold your opponent under 100 points, just score 150 and be done with it.
Mahoney: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Davis doesn't register the defensive impact of Howard or Hibbert, but in lieu of absolute defensive ability I'm opting to make a play for fit. Having James and George on the wings gives me a lot of freedom in terms of defensive style, but I'm hoping for something fast and frenetic -- not at all unlike Erik Spoelstra's system for the Heat. With such a system in mind, Davis is ideal. He can pressure ball handlers in pick-and-roll situations, recover in time to defend the rim, and swoop in to block shots from all angles to make up for lapses elsewhere in the lineup.
He's also such an incredible two-way talent that I don't mind drafting him this early, especially when his vertical potential completely transforms my pick-and-roll game. Can you imagine how deadly this sequence (courtesy of Zach Lowe) would be with James initiating, Davis and Love as the double screeners, and Curry and George in the corners?
Golliver: Dwyane Wade, Heat
It's time to draft for positional need. With Bryant out of commission, I will take Dwyane Wade, who again fits our two-way emphasis as the best all-around player at his position in this year's pool. Remember, this game isn't a back-to-back grinder or a seven-game road trip. It's a one-time exhibition where Wade can be expected to fully test his knee, just like he has during the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. Wade is the league's top-rated shooting guard by PER (21.7) and while he won't be winning his match-up against either James or George, he will easily ensure they don't abandon him to harass Durant with double teams. Pairing him with Paul in the backcourt should make for plenty of steals and transition opportunities, and any relatively easy points in the open court will be gold in a game with this much talent. The two-guard position isn't particularly deep in this year's All-Star Game and Wade is easily the most experienced, trustworthy and committed option from a group that also includes James Harden (one-way player), DeMar DeRozan (improved but not a real factor in the discussion) and Joe Johnson (hilarious to even type his name in this sentence). Picking Wade as the top two is also a preferable option to trying to make a Durant/Carmelo Anthony combination work by playing one of the two players out of position.
Golliver: LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers
The last remaining hole in my lineup -- power forward -- just got filled with arguably the league's best player at the position. It doesn't get much better than that in round six. Adding Aldridge to the current roster group offers a "What could have been" glimpse: The Blazers chased Hibbert in the 2012 restricted free agency period, and the Rockets were loosely linked in rumors to Aldridge with the goal of teaming him with Howard. The 6-foot-11 Aldridge will join those two centers plus Durant to make an impossibly long frontline, and he should thrive playing his preferred four spot alongside a traditional center. It's true that Aldridge might not have the requisite flash to an "All-Star Game" player, but he's a versatile defender whose mid-range and catch-and-shoot abilities will be one last protection against opponents wanting to over-commit to Durant. While this team won't give Aldridge the total green light that he has with the Blazers, his team-first approach and unselfish nature -- not to mention his career-high numbers (24.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists) across the board -- will be a welcome addition.
Team Golliver's starting five is now complete: Paul, Wade, Durant, Aldridge and Howard.
Mahoney: Joakim Noah, Bulls
With Aldridge off the board, there's no more messing around: I need to add dependable defensive bigs in a hurry. Noah is perfect -- he's again been one of the very best team defenders in the league this season, and in Chicago has experience compensating for both D.J. Augustin and Carlos Boozer. That gives him plenty of functional background in accounting for Love and Curry, while more generally serving as the co-anchor of my team defense.
I'd obviously prefer if Noah were a better finisher, though at this stage I'll gladly take his transformative defense and ability to facilitate the offense. With so many lethal catch-and-shoot options curling around screens, Noah will be a genuine asset as a high-post passer. He also gives me two of the top-three rebounders in the game, with ample rebounding help from both George and James. Ben got a borderline monopoly on size early, but this group now has the ability to leverage its speed and shooting without giving up too much defensively or n the glass.
Mahoney: Chris Bosh, Heat
Passing on Griffin again is brutal, but Bosh really enhances my roster's flexibility. If the defense starts to go off the rails, I could trot out a frontcourt of James, Bosh, and Noah -- three mobile and intuitive defenders who could lock things down in a hurry. If spacing becomes an issue, then Bosh could slide in at center to put a shooter at every position. He's a complementary fit with every player I've chosen so far, and outstanding in coverage for the system I'm hoping in pursue. Again I'm giving up a bit in terms of pure talent, but for a one-game competition I want to make sure my team fits together just so.
Golliver: Blake Griffin, Clippers
Now that we're into the bench selections, I'm putting a premium on creating potential mismatches. Team Mahoney's Love/Bosh/Noah/Davis frontline can do a lot, but I'm not sure it includes a great answer for Blake Griffin, in large part because there isn't really a great answer for Griffin. The Clippers forward ranks in the top five among power forwards with a 23.4 PER, and his expanding game has earned plenty of deserved praise for keeping L.A. afloat during Paul's injury absence. Adding Griffin to this mix is all about offering a contrasting look to Aldridge: Griffin's combination of pure speed, power, and athleticism will wreak havoc in short bursts off the bench. The presence of Howard and Hibbert should easily cover up for Griffin's lack of length on the defensive end.
Golliver: James Harden, Rockets
Even those frustrated by James Harden's neglectful defense will acknowledge that his skills as a scorer and a play-maker are more than enough to put him into the "Best two guards in the league" conversation. He trails only Wade with a 21.3 PER and he's averaging 23.8 points per game, seventh-most in the league. The decision here was between Harden and Carmelo Anthony, and I opted for the former for three reasons. First, because it gives me another positional monopoly, forcing Team Mahoney to fill out its backcourt by settling for lesser players or playing guys out of their natural positions. Second, because Anthony just won't have the opportunity to shine on my Durant-centric roster, while the Durant/Harden combination proved fruitful for three seasons in Oklahoma City. Third, because Harden is a foul-drawing savant, getting to the line more than eight times per game this year, tops among all guard. Having a player who would relish the challenge of trying to get either George or James into early foul trouble would be a big asset in a one-game showcase.
Mahoney: Tony Parker, Spurs
Even with Harden off the board, I'm not terribly worried about the shooting guard position; George will likely have to stay on the floor as much as Durant does anyway, and there are so many quality point guards in this bunch that I'd be fine with playing one of them (including Curry) out of position at times.
I do need another ball handler in the mix, though, and Parker immediately jumped out. He isn't the shooter that Lillard is, and in that might seem to compromise my plan to maximize floor spacing as much as possible. But lost in Parker's many strengths is his terrific work off the ball; as brilliant as he is when attacking the rim, Parker makes sharp cuts that are difficult for any defense to handle, and with those should strain Ben's coverage in other ways. Thus rounds out a roster that bubbles with potential for constant motion. We've seen what players like Parker, James, Curry, George, and Davis can do when allowed to make catches on the move. But put that group together -- and add in a facilitator like Noah -- and things could get crazy.
Beyond that, I like that Parker is a yin to Curry's yang, capable of charging more aggressively into the paint than his counterpart. It will take speed, finesse, and plenty of crafty plays to get the best of the Hibbert/Howard combo, and in choosing Parker I expand my team's capacity for all three.
Mahoney: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
This is more of a move for depth than anything else, as Anthony -- along with James and George -- completes the three-man wing rotation likely to play out the majority of the game. He's an awesome scorer to snag this late, and one whose less attractive qualities should be disguised in the context of such a talented roster. When given the opportunity to play with other stars, Anthony has generally engaged as a defender and relied less on dribble-heavy isolations. Both go a long way in helping him fit in with this bunch, where he'll pull double duty as a deadly off-ball option (Anthony has made 46.2 percent of his spot-up threes for the season, per Synergy Sports) and spot creator.
Golliver: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
I've ridden the Kyrie Irving pendulum of emotions just like everyone over the last 12 months. His scintillating all-around performance as the youngest All-Star last year -- 15 points in the All-Star Game, a Three-Point shootout win, 32 points in the Rising Stars challenge -- has given way to lots of losing in Cleveland and, this season, accusations of ball-hogging, loafing on defense and pouting. The looming question, of course, is how much of the blame falls on Irving and how much of it should be attributed to the Cavaliers' culture. It seems more than reasonable to expect Irving to play his best ball and be on his best behavior when he is surrounded by the best players in the world; if the 2013 All-Star Weekend wasn't sufficient evidence, his standout play for USA Basketball last summer should provide additional reassurance. Here, Irving will simply be asked to back up Paul and do his best to make Parker work on defense. Irving has the moxie, handle and overall ability to fill that role with ease.
Golliver: Damian Lillard, Blazers
My nine-man rotation is more or less set. Everyone from here on out would only be called upon for situational use. Damian Lillard joins the roster as a designated gunner in the event that Stephen Curry starts to get rolling towards one of his patented insane shooting performances. While Curry is clearly the better overall player, Lillard is shooting 40.9 percent on 7.1 threes per game, quite comparable to Curry's 40.2 percent shooting on 8.3 threes per game. If there's one major weakness with my rotation, it's outside shooting, as Paul (35.6 percent), Irving (36.2 percent), Wade (39.1 percent on less than one attempt per game) and Harden (32.3 percent) aren't shooting the lights out from deep this year. If the floor did start to shrink around Durant, we would turn to Lillard for a little space creation.
Mahoney: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
A no-brainer choice and a perfect situational selection. I'm in the same position as Ben in that the majority of my playing rotation is already decided. What's left is to fill out my depth chart and pick up a few specific counters, both of which make Nowitzki a great fit. It'd be nice to get one more big to complete my lot of power forwards and centers, and in that regard Nowitzki is the easy choice over Paul Millsap. Beyond that, I love the way that having Nowitzki on the floor would free up most every offensive actions. As a screener Nowitzki is downright magnetic, forcing opponents to surrender driving lanes as to avoid giving him an open jumper. He's an awesome source of scoring in difficult spots, too; when the offense really jams he might be an even more attractive option than Love, if only because Nowitzki's fadeaways from the post tend to render the defense irrelevant. Minutes might be scarce with defensive specialists and more balanced players logging minutes at power forward and center, but I'm thrilled to have Nowitzki all the same.
Mahoney: John Wall, Wizards
With my frontcourt settled, how could I take any of the remaining players but Wall? He isn't a perfect fit and won't likely see much time, but the divide in value is too great between him and the other guards still available to make any other choice. At worst I'm coming away with a terrific athlete and passer, fit to make the kind of cross-court feeds to the corners we'll need to break down Team Golliver's defense. He might even contribute a bit defensively, too, as Wall can be disruptive in the kinds of chaotic situations my team will look to create. I have no objection with adding a player this good and this quick, particularly with one of my final selections.
Golliver: DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Kudos to the 24-year-old DeMar DeRozan for his career year: 22 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game, numbers that would have looked like overly optimistic projections two years ago. There's no question he's been an integral part of Toronto's success.
That said, his only role on Team Golliver is giving Durant a two-minute breather.
Golliver: Paul Millsap, Hawks
Unfortunately, Paul Millsap will get rewarded for putting Atlanta on his back following Al Horford's injury by getting a DNP-CD for Team Golliver. That's tough to say about anyone who is averaging 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists while ranking in the top 10 at his position for PER, but there just aren't any available minutes with Durant, Aldridge, Howard, Hibbert and Griffin in front of him on the frontcourt depth chart. Perhaps Millsap, who I expected to earn an All-Star spot as soon as he signed with the Hawks back in July, can get some run in the event that Griffin accidentally gives himself a concussion by dunking ferociously on someone.
Mahoney: Joe Johnson, Nets
Honestly, though, I don't mind having Johnson on my team, even if he isn't the worthiest of this year's All-Stars. His jack-of-all-trades game vibes well with my roster's versatility, and it's nice to have a more conventional shooting guard type in reserve if the situation calls for it.
Here's how the two teams stack up on a depth chart. Starters are noted in italics. Final thoughts from each GM are included below.
PG Stephen Curry | Tony Parker | John Wall
SG Paul George | Joe Johnson
SF LeBron James | Carmelo Anthony
PF Kevin Love | Chris Bosh | Dirk Nowitzki
C Joakim Noah | Anthony Davis
GM's take: Any team stocked with All-Stars is bound to look good on paper, but this particular roster is fast and flexible in a way that will prove difficult for any opponent -- even Team Golliver -- to handle. The depth chart doesn't even do it justice; James could wind up playing any given position; Curry would make for a nice shooting guard complement to Parker; George will be cross-matched to guard Durant for much of the game, making his shooting guard designation functionally irrelevant; and Davis could slide down to power forward, with Bosh logging minutes at center. We'll have the ability to manipulate lineups and matchups as the situation commands, enabled by the prevalence of shot creation, passing, perimeter shooting, and defensive versatility throughout.
PG Chris Paul | Kyrie Irving | Damian Lillard
SG Dwyane Wade | James Harden
SF Kevin Durant | DeMar DeRozan
PF LaMarcus Aldridge | Blake Griffin | Paul Millsap
C Dwight Howard | Roy Hibbert GM's take: Team Golliver accomplished all of its goals. We surrounded Durant, the league's hottest player, with a starting lineup that includes four guys we feel are the best all-around players in the pool at their respective positions. Our bench offers good positional balance, strength inside, two big match-up problems for opponents (Griffin and Harden) and two complementary options for the back-up point guard position. Our biggest hole -- depth at the small forward position -- is irrelevant because we are planning to ride Durant to 50 points in 46 minutes. Our biggest concern is handling the devastating James/George combination, but we like our available personnel at the 2/3 positions and see our interior players as capable of helping out and as clearly superior to their positional counterparts.