Will Magic’s Vucevic be selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve?
From Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony this year to Tracy McGrady during his final season with the Orlando Magic, players have been chosen to take part in the NBA All-Star Game despite being on teams well below the .500 mark.
But those cases have almost exclusively involved established stars who were voted in by fans as starters rather than selected by coaches as reserves.
The situation pertaining to Magic center Nikola Vucevic heading into Thursday’s announcement of the players to be added to the Eastern and Western Conference teams for the game Feb. 15 in New York is similar to what Arron Afflalo encountered while with them a year ago. Afflalo was averaging close to 20 points a game, but the Magic had only 13 victories by the end of January. Vucevic is averaging close to 20 points — as well as 11.2 rebounds — a game, but the Magic’s current 15-33 record is the third-worst of any team in the East.
Vucevic is one of only four players in the Eastern Conference averaging at least 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. The three others includes Pau Gasol, the East’s starting center who was posterized two weeks ago by Vucevic when the Magic defeated the Chicago Bulls.
That game was also one of four this season, including three this month, where Vucevic topped the 30-point mark. At 24, he has still yet to reach his full potential.
While undoubtedly deserving of consideration, Vucevic faces stiff competition from a group of players that includes several with prior All-Star Game experience. There are also three other centers on the list, though it is not mandatory that someone at that position be chosen.
Let’s look at the top 10 other contenders for those seven spots, in alphabetical order:
CHRIS BOSH, MIAMI HEAT
An All-Star selection each of the past nine years, Bosh is having his best season statistically since joining the Heat in 2010. His 21.5-point average includes a 32-point outing Nov. 22 in Orlando which turned into almost a one-on-one duel with Vucevic, who finished that game with 33 points and 17 rebounds. With the Heat languishing below .500 in their first season since the departure of LeBron James, it’s not likely that both Bosh and Dwyane Wade will be added. But bypassing the two of them seems out of the question.
JIMMY BUTLER, CHICAGO BULLS
The odds-on favorite for Most Improved Player, the fourth-year pro has increased his scoring average from 13.1 points a game last season to 20.1 points this season. With both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah missing significant stretches of time, Butler has emerged with Gasol as a key reason why the Bulls have remained atop the Central Division for much of a season that was expected to belong to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s also averaging a league-high 39.5 minutes a game.
MARCIN GORTAT, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
The former backup center to Dwight Howard with the Magic from 2007 to late 2010 has done quite well for himself as a starter for the team with the second-best record in the East. But Gortat is averaging fewer points (11.9), rebounds (8.2) and minutes (29.6) a game than Vucevic, although he holds an advantage over him in blocked shots. The Wizards are already represented by guard John Wall, so the chances of Gortat joining him would appear to be 50-50 at best.
AL HORFORD, ATLANTA HAWKS
The Hawks, who will look to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 17 games Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, had no one chosen as a starter. For someone who stands 6-foot-10, Horford’s shooting range is even greater than that of Vucevic. His numbers aren’t eye-popping (15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds), but his impact after missing 53 of 82 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle is inescapable. The Hawks are just one victory away from matching their total for all of 2013-14.
KYRIE IRVING, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Except for Butler, no one is averaging more minutes a game than last year’s All-Star Game MVP who was the first pick in the 2011 draft. The only thing apparently more of a lock than Irving being chosen as a reserve is that he’ll end his three-year run of never having reached the playoffs. He ranks fifth among all scorers in the East behind James, Anthony, Wade and Bosh. And it doesn’t hurt that the Cavs have been on a major upswing of late after falling below the .500 mark earlier this month.
KEVIN LOVE, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
As was the case for the majority of his six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love’s numbers look great on paper. But averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 44 games alone is no guarantee of a spot on the East roster. When the Cavs were in Orlando last month and did not have Irving available, Love spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench as they rallied to defeat the Magic. His shooting range may be exceptional for a power forward, but his overall value remains very much in question.
PAUL MILLSAP, ATLANTA HAWKS
Chosen to the first All-Star Game of his eight-year career last season, Millsap would have to merit strong consideration again, in large part because of the Hawks’ shocking 37-8 record. Both his offensive and defensive rating are better than they were a year ago, and he’s shooting better than 52 percent from 2-point range. While statistics alone don’t tell the full story of the Hawks, it’s worth noting that he leads them in minutes per game (33.3).
GREG MONROE, DETROIT PISTONS
Despite the amazing turnaround by the Pistons in the past month, Monroe faces even longer odds than Vucevic. He was suspended for the first two games of the season, and not until after the Pistons’ stunning release of Josh Smith in late December did Monroe move back into the starting lineup on a fulltime basis. As impressive as his averages of 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds are, he’s still playing largely in the shadow of center Andre Drummond on a team headed for the lottery for the sixth year in a row.
JEFF TEAGUE, ATLANTA HAWKS
The biggest outcry when the East starters were announced was over how Teague lost out to Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors for one of the two guard spots. Of all the Hawks, he might be the safest bet to be selected. With the trading of Rajon Rondo from Boston to Dallas, Teague is now second only to Wall in assists per game in the East. He also ranks up there with James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in points per game scored on drives to the basket. That’s some pretty select company.
DWYANE WADE, MIAMI HEAT
Even before turning 33 earlier this month, Wade was thought to be on his last legs and would not be the same player without James by his side. While hamstring problems rather than his chronically troublesome knees have sidelined him from time to time, it’s hard to find fault with Wade’s averages of 21.4 points and 5.4 assists per game. Nor does it hurt that the All-Star Game has tended to be more of a showcase for guards and small forwards than big men.