Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - No matter what, there will be 12 players on the Eastern Conference All-Star team in February.
Sure, we might think it's unfair that the Western Conference only gets to have 12 yet the Eastern Conference will be scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with a dozen.
Let's clear a few things up first.
The five starters, as we know, are voted in by fans. Remember, two guards and three frontcourt players are elected, so screw off centers.
For the reserves, which are tabbed by the respective conference coaches, it's two guards, three frontline guys and two wild-cards.
To delve deeper into the Eastern Conference situation, first examine the starters. According to the most recently released results, the east quintet will be Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, Miami's Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Indiana's Paul George and New York's Carmelo Anthony.
Those will be the five starters. Book it, lock it down, it's those five men. We can debate their merits all we want (backcourt is thin, frontline is fine), but learn to love it, folks, because it will be those five.
Our chore is to come up with those other seven men. From 15 teams, three of which have a winning record already past the quarter pole, we must amass seven additional All-Stars.
There are basically three ways All-Star reserves get chosen: they earned it, their team is great, or it's a career-reward because the coaches don't care enough to put thought into it.
They'll have to this year.
The Pacers and Heat are excellent teams and they'll be represented without question. The Atlanta Hawks are the third team and they fluctuate around .500 like Oprah's waistline in the 80s. Do they deserve the fruits a third-place team in a conference does? Not necessarily.
As for career achievement, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are not going to make the All-Star team. The Brooklyn Nets have been bad, the two Hall of Famers have been hurt or bad, so discount that avenue.
That leaves, for a refreshing change of pace, All-Stars making the team on merit. And it had to be this season?
There are three clear-cut players to me: Roy Hibbert of the Pacers, John Wall of the Washington Wizards and Arron Afflalo of the Orlando Magic.
Hibbert is only at 12.9 points per game, which is a career-best, and rebounds at 8.8 per game. Those are good numbers, but not even great in a weak crop. What separates Hibbert from all else is that he is the premiere defensive big man in the NBA (second in blocks, first in havoc), playing on the premiere defensive unit in the league.
Wall is second in the NBA in assists and fourth in steals. Those are huge numbers for a point guard and it's not like he's not getting into the scoring column at 19.5 ppg.
Afflalo is my personal crusade. At 21.6 ppg, Afflalo is 10th in the NBA in scoring. At shooting guard, he also posts a pretty respectable 4.0 assists per night and 4.7 rebounds. But what I love about Afflalo is that he shoots ridiculously high percentages - almost 47 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point line and 87 percent from the free-throw line.
We're going to through a combination of all three normal paths to All-Star status to Al Horford, although, on a much smaller scale. Horford's Hawks are up there, so to speak, he's been to All-Star games before and he's having a quietly solid season. At 17.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg, that's enough for me.
That's two guards and two frontcourt players. This is hard.
OK, the final frontline spot will go to Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons. The second-year big man is posting 13.3 ppg and 12.6 rpg, which makes him the only Eastern Conference player in double figures in rebounding. He shoots an eye-opening 62 percent from the field and Detroit is not horrendous. That's adequate enough to add up a nod.
The two wild-cards await and we are going to create a new category. These are injured players, who we've seen just enough of, and assume will continue to play very well.
We'll go with Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls first. He's played in only 19 games due to injury, but when he does, he's one of the five best wing defenders, scores 19.6 ppg, pulls down 7.1 rpg and hands out 4.1 assists, which is a career high. Those are star numbers.
Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets has dressed in just 15 games, which teeters on the bubble of too few appearances. He was an All-Star last season, but to reward anyone on Brooklyn sends a bad message. However, Lopez averages 20.5 ppg, blocks almost 2.0 shots a game and shoots 56.8 percent from the field. (No inclusion of his rebounding numbers because they are pathetic. 6.0? Did KG steal your rebounds? That's a disgraceful number.)
Atlanta's Paul Millsap, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, Boston's Jordan Crawford, Miami's Chris Bosh and even Indiana's Lance Stephenson got looks. Bradley Beal, the second-year man from the Wizards, caused extra research in the final division.
So that's the ballot almost one-third of the way into the season. It's not good, but that's what you get when the Eastern Conference has two good teams, two mediocre teams, two teams decimated by injuries and the rest is junk.