Eastern Conference Merit Based All-Star Team

The All-Star team is always a controversial topic, with inclusions and exclusions debated from every possible angle until the game is played. Prior to the announcement of the teams, I will endeavor to create the best possible team that could be created on merit – in other words, completely ignoring the fan vote. Whilst legacies continue to be influenced by All-Star appearances, the teams – if not the game itself – shall remain relevant. Keeping with the structure of two starting guards, three starting big men, two bench guards, three bench big men and two ‘wild cards,’ I present to you the Eastern Conference ‘most deserved’ All-Star team.

THE TEAM

Starting Guard – Kyle Lowry

It’s not too hard to make an All-Star case for a man who has proven to be the premier guard in the Eastern Conference this season. A trimmed down Lowry has not only been brilliant offensively, but this season has backed it up on the less glamourous end of the floor. In the last two seasons, Lowry has proven himself to be a fast starter, only to slow down as the season progresses. However, with a trimmed down physique, there is no reason that this improvement from the Raptors Point Guard will not continue. Not only has Lowry produced 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game, but his influence on the Raptors is so large that when he is on the bench, Toronto is 7.2 points per 100 possessions worse than when he is on the floor. Deserves to be a starter both in the ‘most deserved’ All-Stars and the game itself, so vote for Lowry everyone – I know I did.

Starting Guard – Jimmy Butler

The best two-way Shooting Guard in the league, Jimmy Butler has been incredible lately and this form has allowed him to surpass John Wall as the clear choice for the second starting guard for the East. Butler is now the undisputed franchise player for the Chicago Bulls, producing 23.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.8 steals a game, whilst shooting at 45.7% from the field and 33.8% from deep. Whilst those shooting slashes may not seem too impressive to the naked eye, when including players of equal to or higher usage rates than Butler, only Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, James Harden and LeBron James have better True Shooting Percentages than Butler (56.9%). Despite being improved and efficient offensively, Butler’s play on the other end of the floor has not been sacrificed and he still rates as one of the best wing defenders in the league. Even though he is not the Defensive Player of the Year candidate he once was, he still ranks as one of the only men in the league able to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant and James Harden. A bona-fide superstar of the league these days.

Starting Forward – LeBron James

Well this was easy. Still the best Forward in the league and the biggest name in the game has been great once again this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron is still putting up 25.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists whilst shooting 50.2% from the field and 30% from three, whilst having a True Shooting Percentage of 57.3%. James is still clearly one of the most prolific two-way players in the game and his influence on the Cavs is incomparable, especially with injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert early this season. The Cleveland Cavaliers currently sit atop of the Eastern Conference standings – mainly due to LeBron’s influence – and his performances in the big moments will be critical when the Cavs play the Warriors or Spurs or Thunder come playoff time.

Starting Forward – Paul George

Paul George is the clear choice to fill out the second big man spot in the Eastern Conference Most Deserved All-Star team. The Pacers Power Forward (yes, Power Forward – he has spent 57% of his minutes at the four this year, up from 2% for the entirety of his career prior to this season) is posting career high numbers in Points, Rebounds, Steals, True Shooting Percentage and PER and is leading a very thin Pacers team to a potential playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Whilst I don’t rate PG13 as high as some – namely those placing him in MVP contention and saying he’s a top five player – he is an obvious choice to be an All-Star starter. In fact, the Pacers are 4.5 points per 100 possessions better with George on the floor, but this offensive contribution hasn’t taken away from his work on the defensive end, with the pacers 3.3 points worse when he sits. It’s pretty clear that George belongs in the All-Star game.

Starting Forward – Chris Bosh

Two members of the former Heat “Big 3” will be starting in Toronto this year, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The latter I have no qualms with, but the former, Wade, does not deserve to be in the game this year based on production. Rather it is third member of the former South Beach threesome and his current Miami teammate Chris Bosh that is the deserving fifth starter for the Eastern Conference this year. For years Bosh has been one of the best defenders in the NBA and that has continued in the 2015/16 season, with the Heat 3.3 points per 100 possessions worse when Bosh sits. He remains one of the best Pick and Roll defenders in the league and his leadership on that end for the fifth most defensively efficient team in the league cannot be underestimated. Offensively, Bosh has been the Heat’s best player as well, averaging 18.8 points and 7.9 rebounds on 46.8% shooting from the field and continuing to evolve as a stretchy, smooth shooting big man by knocking down 37.9% of his attempts from beyond the arc. The Miami Heat sit 5th in the East at the time of writing and their best player is the 5th deserving starter in this Conference.

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Bench Guard – John Wall            

Contrary to popular belief and despite a slow start, John Wall has been better in almost every statistical category this season. With all the innuendo and insinuation that Wall has had a down year this year, he really has flown under the radar to a wonderful season. As the rest of this Wizards (bar Jared Dudley) team continue to underperform, Wall is almost singlehandedly keeping them in the playoff race, averaging 20 points, 9.7 assists, 2.2 steals and shooting 35% from deep – a respectable mark for his biggest weakness. Wall is still one of the top tier table-setters in the league and his incredible drive and kick game remains somewhat locked due to the Wizards lack of three point shooting big men. Despite this, Wall still has the fourth best Assist Percentage in the league (behind Rondo, Paul and Westbrook), assisting on 43.9% of his teammates buckets. To add to his offensive armoury, defensively, Wall is making the Wizards better when he is on the court and is once again a candidate for the All-Defensive teams. If the Wizards were in the playoff picture, it’s very possible Wall would be in this starting lineup.

Bench Guard – Reggie Jackson

Make no mistake, Reggie Jackson deserves to be an All-Star this season. The 6-3 Point Guard out of Boston College has had a career year since getting handed the reigns of his very own NBA team, averaging 19.4 points, 6.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds at shooting slashes of 43.8/34.9/84.8. Defensively, the Pistons are only 0.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Jackson on the floor, showing that he is a capable defender – a hypothesis that corroborates the eye-test so far this season for the lanky Point Guard. Adding to his work on the defensive end, offensively, Jackson has been especially prominent this season. The Pistons are 9.7 points better offensively with Reggie Jackson on the floor and it is because of this incredible dependence on him that the 7th ranked Pistons (at the time of writing) receive two All-Stars. With no bench, their reliance on the lineup of Jackson, Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Ilyasova and Drummond is like no other in the league – seriously, this five man group has posted more minutes together than any other in the league. The Pistons have almost no depth and that only makes Reggie more important to them and for this reason, I’m choosing to ignore the fact that the Pistons are 7th and point to Jackson’s incredible influence on the Pistons and production this season when I name him as the fourth guard in this Eastern Conference Dream All-Star team.

Bench Forward – Paul Millsap

God this guy is good. It really was a lineball decision between him and Bosh for the final starting position and Millsap can consider himself extremely unlucky to miss out. Millsap is the best player on the Atlanta Hawks now, a top four team in the East, with a mix of skills that makes his versatility unlike any player in the entire league, save for Draymond Green. Per Basketball Reference, Millsap is contributing six wins to the Atlanta Hawks, a number that is good enough for 9th in the NBA, ahead of the likes of James Harden, Bosh, Chris Paul and Paul George. Millsap also averages over 18 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, a combination bettered only by Blake Griffin – pretty impressive. Add to that over a steal and a block a game and you’ll find that Millsap is unparalleled through the entire league. A chameleon like Millsap is a man that I’d want in my All-Star team.

Bench Center – Andre Drummond

The only true Center for the Eastern Conference All-Star team is the Detroit Pistons very own Andre Drummond. Drummond currently sits behind Carmelo Anthony after the third ballot returns, but make no mistake, Drummond has been incredible this season. This guy is the best rebounder in the league, period. He leads the league in offensive rebounds (Zaza Pachulia is second with just 71% of the offensive boards Drummond has), defensive rebounds, rebounds, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. Woh. Not only is he the best rebounder we’ve seen since Rodman, he contributes in other areas of the court. Drummond is averaging 17.6 points at 52.2% from the field, whilst showing offensive promise not seen prior to this season, in fact, Detroit is 8.8 points better offensively with the big man on the floor. Not only are they better offensively, but defensively they are four points better as well, clearly he is a difference maker for the Pistons and as such, he receives a well-deserved All-Star debut for the Eastern Conference.

Bench Forward – Carmelo Anthony

Melo’s credentials make for an interesting case study this year, as he’s averaging less points per game this season (21.5) than he has since his sophomore year in Denver. Despite this, Melo has finally found a way to involve his teammates, averaging a career high in assists and sitting 11th among Forwards in the league in Assist Percentage – above the likes of Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Andre Iguodala and Al Horford – which is pretty impressive for a traditional ballhog. The Knicks roster is mediocre at best and for them to be right in the thick of playoff contention this season is a testament to Melo’s play this season. As such, Carmelo Anthony is the man to represent the Knicks in the All-Star game, albeit from the last Forward bench spot rather than the starting lineup.

Bench Wildcard – Isaiah Thomas

The first wildcard to make my All-Star team is the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. When I set about putting together the Eastern Conference teams, I wanted the spread of talent in the conference represented by players from a spread of teams, if possible. So far, we’ve had a representative from the Cavs, Raptors, Bulls, Hawks, Heat, Pacers, Knicks, Wizards and two from the Pistons. That leaves the Boston Celtics to be represented and, lucky for me, the next best player in the East this season happens to be Celtics Point Guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas this season is averaging career highs in points (21.8) and assists (6.6) on 42.2/34.0/89.7 percent shooting slashes. Thomas is so good offensively that the Celtics are a whopping 10.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, elevating their 18th ranked offense to one that would be good for 6th in the NBA. For comparisons sake, when he sits, only Philadelphia have a worse offense than the Celtics. Some label Thomas a ball hog, and with a usage of 28.1% that may be the case, but when you have one of the best offensive players in the league, you need the ball in their hands. But to put to bed those ball hog naysayers, Thomas has the fifth best assist percentage in the East behind only Wall, Jackson and the two Philly Point Guards. When he gets his teammates involve, they score, and they do it frequently.

Bench Wildcard – DeMar DeRozan

The Raptors currently sit at second in the Eastern Conference and as such, it is difficult to leave out their second best and most influential player. That man is DeMar DeRozan. Averaging 22.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists, DeRozan this year has stuck to his strengths and has seen a career best year as a result. DeRozan now leads the league in drives after finishing 20th in the league, a place criminally low for an athlete and finisher of his talent. He also is shooting over 44% of his shots from inside ten feet from the basket, an improvement on his 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons that saw him shoot 30.7% and 34.5% respectively from that zone whilst increasing his mid-range attempts. This change has led to an increase in both his efficiency (FG% and TS%) and ouput (PTS). To add to his scoring, DeRozan has also improved his passing to the extent that he is a capable second facilitator and is posting a career high Assist Percentage. Defensively, DeRozan is run-of-the-mill, but this season his effort and assiduousness must be commended. Combine these factors and you have the final member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

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THE EXCLUSIONS:

Al Horford – I just couldn’t find room for two Hawks, and with Horford not looking at his peak on either end of the floor, he misses out. Whilst he and Millsap form the most versatile frontcourt in the league, I just couldn’t ignore Horford’s struggles in rebounding and rim protection, two areas where the Hawks need him most. He and the next guy were the two closest to making the team that missed out.

Nicolas Batum – Nicolas Batum would probably be in the All-Star team if the Charlotte Hornets hadn’t dropped off so dramatically in recent times. Despite the struggles in Charlotte, Batum improves their net rating by 5.8 points when he is on the floor and it is no surprise, he’s averaging 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists to go with his above-par defense. However, Batum has cooled off since the start of the season and his efficiency has dipped to 42%FG and 35.5%3PT. These dips see Batum miss out on a potential first All-Star appearance.

Kemba Walker – The other Charlotte Hornet has simply not been as good as billed this year and currently – in my humble opinion – is the most overrated player in the NBA. The Hornets actually fare better on both ends of the floor when Walker sits, per NBA.com, and averaging just five assists a game as a Point Guard is borderline criminal. Yes, I will acknowledge that 43.3% from the field and 37.6% from deep are solid percentages, but they are nothing special and Walker All-Star campaigns seem unrealistic and ill-informed to me.

Brook Lopez and Pau Gasol – I’ll link these two together despite their teams disparate records because of the similarities in their All-Star cases. Both players are the focal points of their respective team’s offense, but struggle defensively. Statistically, these guys have been awesome, but their defensive woes and the coaching and management that is necessary to build a respectable defense with guys like this in the middle combine for them to miss the team.

Jae Crowder – The second best Celtic has been awesome recently offensively and has been great yearlong defensively, but just misses my team due to lack of season long production on the offensive end. Don’t get me wrong, Crowder is a star – I like the Draymond Green of the Eastern Conference comparison – but with season long averages of 13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists, there are players ahead of him in the pecking order. So Crowder misses out this season, but mark my words, this guy will be an All-Star in the near future.

Dwyane Wade – The Heat post an efficiency 5.3 points higher with Dwyane Wade off the court and he appears in just two of their six most productive lineups, with even Gerald Green in three of the six.  Wade is a below average defender who is shooting more mid-range jumpers than ever before and in his old age is struggling to get to the rack – a trait that was his calling card in his prime. With the 64th highest Value Over Replacement Player in the league, Wade has no right to be an All-Star.

Kyrie Irving – Simply has not played enough this season to be considered.

Kevin Love – Whilst I’d love to include two Cavs to reward their efforts at the top of the East, Love simply hasn’t been good enough – especially with Kyrie back – and his defense remains an issue the Cavs will need to deal with in the playoffs. If he continues his current defense, he will be borderline unplayable in the playoffs.

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