The NBA All-Star Game reserves will be announced on Thursday night on TNT.
Last week, I offered my choices for the reserve slots. http://tinyurl.com/ca6jmnp
This week, I wandered outside the box known as my brain. The task was to come up with All-Star reserves based on the same criteria as the league (two guards, three frontcourt players, two wild-cards), but with one huge caveat - they won't seriously be discussed as All-Stars.
This isn't to say they deserve spots over the starters or the reserves, but these players have enjoyed good-to-great 2012-13 NBA campaigns. Their pets would have roughly the same chance at a selection as they do.
The reasons vary. Perhaps the reserve spots in their particular category have firm occupants. Or maybe the winning percentages of the teams involved resemble the Washington Generals. Injured players who didn't log enough time to be truly considered also make the list.
We shall call this hodgepodge of talent without hope, the "No Chance" All- Stars.
EASTERN CONFERENCE "NO CHANCE" RESERVE GUARDS - KEMBA WALKER, Charlotte Bobcats; J.R. SMITH, New York Knicks.
Walker has scored in double figures in 37 of 40 Charlotte games and is one of five players in the NBA to lead his team in scoring, assists and steals. The others are the Miami Heat's LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, Golden State Warriors' Steph Curry and Phoenix Suns point man Goran Dragic. Walker averages 17.4 points per game, 5.8 assists per game and 1.9 steals per game, which is sixth in the NBA. Problem is, the Charlotte Bobcats are dreadful. They may be beyond dreadful. Walker's numbers may not be quite as good as Philly's Jrue Holiday or Irving, but they are pretty stout.
Smith is an interesting case and his problem will come about for someone in the West as well. The last bench player to make an All-Star team was Kobe Bryant in 1998 and he was tabbed by the fans. Smith's 16.7 ppg is the highest average of a true bench player this season. He is the second-leading scorer for the second-best team in the East. The questions are this, do the Knicks deserve three All-Stars if Tyson Chandler joins Carmelo Anthony, and is there a more important Knicks player after those two than Smith? Sadly, the latter is definitely a "no," but the former is probably the same answer.
EAST "NO CHANCE" RESERVE FRONTCOURT - DAVID WEST, Indiana Pacers; ANDERSON VAREJAO, Cleveland Cavaliers; NIKOLA VUCEVIC, Orlando Magic (by the way, not one player on the opposition would get an offensive rebound against this frontline).
West is the leader of the Pacers. They are the best defensive unit in the NBA, leading in both opponents' scoring and opponents' field-goal percentage. West is averaging 16.6 ppg and 8.0 rebounds per game, but the Pacers will get one nod, and that's no lock. If they do, it'll be Paul George.
Varejao was headed to Houston before he went down Dec. 19 due to a small torn muscle in his right leg that required surgery. Sadly, the Cavs announced he developed a blood clot in his right lung and will be out for the season. Varejao led the league in rebounding at 14.4 per game and 14.1 ppg, which was a career high.
Vucevic is one of 13 players in the NBA to average a double-double and is sixth in total number of double-doubles. He scores 11.7 ppg and pulls down 11.6 rpg, which ranks him fifth in the NBA (and, truth be told, with Varejao and also-injured Kevin Love in second, I think of Vucevic as third in the league). The Magic are 12 games under .500 and Chandler, Joakim Noah of the Bulls and Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets are way ahead of him on the totem pole of Eastern Conference centers.
EAST "NO CHANCE" WILD-CARDS - LARRY SANDERS, Milwaukee Bucks; JOHN WALL, Washington Wizards.
Sanders, not to be confused with Garry Shandling's brilliant fictional HBO talk-show host, averages a modest 8.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg, but he is the NBA's shot-blocking leader at 3.2 per game. Sanders has blocked a shot in 25 consecutive games, which is the second-longest active streak, blocked three or more shots in 16 of his last 23 appearances and had a five-game streak of four-plus blocks in a game, which was a franchise-best since Kareem Abdul- Jabbar in 1973. He blocked 10 shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 30. Indeed, an impressive goal-protector.
Wall has only played five games this season, but coming up with enough names for this column isn't the easiest undertaking in history. In those five games, the Wizards have gone 3-2, which was a bigger miracle than water into wine, and Wall is averaging 15.6 ppg, 7.6 apg and 1.2 spg. Hard to say what Washington would've been like with Wall all season, but it's a safe bet it would be better than 8-30.
WESTERN CONFERENCE "NO CHANCE" RESERVE GUARDS - DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland Trail Blazers; GREIVIS VASQUEZ, New Orleans Hornets.
Lillard is a rookie, the Blazers are a fringe playoff contender and if they get an All-Star, it'll be LaMarcus Aldridge. Here are the facts, Lillard leads NBA rookies in scoring (18.6 ppg, which is 17th in the league) and assists (6.6 apg, which is tied for 12th). He is sixth in minutes played, sixth in 3- pointers made and eighth in 3-pointers made per game. Lillard has hit game- winning shots and he'll be in this game soon enough, but does he deserve to be there more than James Harden or Russell Westbrook? Negative.
Vasquez is a legitimate Most Improved Player of the Year contender with averages of 14.2 ppg, 9.1 apg and 4.6 rpg. He is third in the NBA in assists and, alongside LeBron James, the only player in the league to record at least five games of 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. New Orleans is playing better of late, but not better enough. And, Vasquez has the fourth-most double-doubles for a guard after Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Westbrook.
WEST "NO CHANCE" RESERVE FRONTCOURT - AL JEFFERSON, Utah Jazz; NIKOLA PEKOVIC, Minnesota Timberwolves; DEMARCUS COUSINS, Sacramento Kings.
Why doesn't Jefferson ever get mentioned as an All-Star? Seriously. He averages 17.3 ppg and 9.8 rpg. The Jazz are three games over .500, in contention for a playoff spot and no one cares what Jefferson does. He is a free agent at the end of the season and with Derrick Favors coming off the bench, the Jazz would trade Jefferson in a second. He just deserves more appreciation.
Pekovic was at 16.0 ppg and 8.6 rpg when he went down with a right thigh contusion. He narrowly got the nod over his teammate Andrei Kirilenko for making it through a Minnesota season relatively injury-free.
Cousins is one of the proud 13 to average a double-double. His 17.8 ppg and 10.4 rpg should be enough to get a sniff of consideration, but the Kings are bad and Cousins may be worse. He's been suspended three times this season, including once by his own team. If Cousins can temper his meltdowns, he could make an All-Star team. If he can't, he'll be a fixture on this list.
WEST "NO CHANCE" WILD-CARDS - J.J. HICKSON, Portland Trail Blazers; JAMAL CRAWFORD, Los Angeles Clippers.
Hickson was a relative disappointment until reaching Portland. Now, he averages a double-double and is tied for third in that category behind Zach Randolph and David Lee. Hickson is also 12th in field-goal percentage. This spot could've gone to Denver's Kenneth Faried, but Hickson pulls down one rebound more a game and they score at the same clip.
And speaking of Clips, Crawford is the closest thing to a possible All-Star on this list. The Clippers bench is the best in the league and tops statistics like scoring, minutes, steals and is second in blocks, third in rebounds and fourth in assists. Crawford is the leader of that group with 16.5 ppg, but what's really to like about his game is that he's a huge factor in deciding games. Crawford is third in the NBA in total fourth-quarter points behind only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Crawford has led the Clippers in scoring 13 times this season and L.A. is 11-2 in those games. With the Clips' great record, Crawford could warrant attention as a third member of the team.
Not one of these players will hear his name on Thursday night, but their efforts were noticed by some.
Well, at least one noticed.