Who should represent East-leading Hawks in All-Star Game?
ATLANTA — Mike Muscala has a confession to make: he hasn’t voted for the All-Star Game yet.
"No, but I should actually start doing that," the Hawks forward said. "We did our part, but I should start voting too."
Muscala and Kent Bazemore appeared in the team’s ‘#Hashtag’ skit — a takeoff of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s depiction of what a Twitter conversation looks like — to stump for fans to get behind Atlanta’s stars.
But Muscala isn’t alone in forgetting about the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks. The team’s top vote getter in Thursday’s third edition of results is Paul Millsap at 13th among frontcourt players with 55,224 votes. Al Horford is 15th (48,465).
That leaves the Hawks’ hopes of having an All-Star in Madison Square Garden come Feb. 15 likely hinging on the reserve spots, which are determined by a private vote by the coaches, who cannot vote for their own players.
So will coach Mike Budenholzer start making a case for his players with his brethren?
"That’s a great question," he said. "I think our players have done a lot of things that are deserving of All-Star consideration. We do so much as a group and we do so many things as a team and we preach and talk team and selflessness, so it’s a struggle for me."
Therein lies the problem with these Hawks and how they fit into the new voting process.
Now every player is listed on the ballot — posted through the NBA’s Web site and official app, social media outlets and text — as opposed to the old system, in which there were a predetermined 120 players. That means there are less likely to be snubs, but it can make the act of singling players out difficult with the Hawks, who don’t have a household name and are team-focused in play and focus.
"It’s a little counter to our culture in how we want to do everything as a team and as a group," Budenholzer said.
It becomes even more confounding when you can make an argument for all five of Atlanta’s starters:
• Jeff Teague is the team’s leader in points (17.7), assists (7.0) and PER (22.8), a figure that ranks sixth among all point guards and he’s tied for 11th in the league in Win Shares (4.4). He’s also on a roll with a career-best six straight games of at least 20 points.
• Paul Millsap is averaging 17.0 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds and with 65 steals (seventh overall), he has 11 more than any other power forward. An All-Star last season, Millsap is tied for second in Defensive Win Shares (2.3).
• Al Horford’s overall numbers aren’t spectacular. He’s averaging 14.5 points (his lowest since 2011-12) and 6.2 rebounds (a career low) and is shooting at a 52.1 percent clip (worst since his rookie season of ’07-08), but he’s returning to form after playing just 29 games last season. The two-time All-Star is scoring 16.7 per with 6.3 assists since Dec. 8.
• Kyle Korver is the East’s best long-range shooter, ranking first in the conference and second in the NBA in made 3-pointers (103) and percentage (51.0), and he has the highest true shooting percentage (71.5) of any player with more than 1,000 minutes. Inexplicably, he’s never been an All-Star.
• DeMarre Carroll is the Hawks’ defensive muscle and, as Budenholzer attests, it’s the D that has been the lynchpin of the Hawks’ start. Last year they ranked 15th in points allowed (101.5), 21st in opponents’ field goal percentage (46.2) and 20th in 3-point shooting (36.5). This season, Atlanta is third in points allowed (97.2), sixth opponents’ overall shooting (43.9) and eighth on treys (34.2).
Said Budenholzer: "I think between Al Horford and Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver and DeMarre, they’re big reasons why we’ve been able to have some success.
"I do hope for them they’re being recognized and what they’re doing on individual basis I think are worthy of consideration, worthy of being in that discussion."
After Thursday’s release, the East’s starters are clear. The Cavaliers’ LeBron James (971,299 votes), Bulls’ Pau Gasol (527,582) and host Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (456,186) will seize the frontcourt spots, with the backcourt going to the Wizards’ John Wall (564,977) and Heat’s Dwyane Wade (507,977). Anthony is dealing with a knee injury, but it would be surprising for him to not be on the court in front of the hometown crowd.
The Bulls, second in the conference, could get two reserve spots with guards Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose and Cleveland should as well with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Raptors and Miami Heat are certain to get one apiece with Kyle Lowry and Chris Bosh, respectively.
That leaves one potential spot for the likes of the Hawks starters, Washington’s Marcin Gortat, Chicago’s Joakim Noah, or Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, among others.
It’s a crowded field, but Horford, who represented the East in 2009-10 and ’10-11 thinks it’s clear who should be there for the Hawks.
"I think the way that Jeff Teague has been playing, I feel like he is deserving of being an All-Star," he said. "He’s really playing at a high level … and also Paul. The way that Paul is playing I think it really goes unnoticed, a lot of things he’s doing for us and for our team. Those guys definitely deserve it."
Millsap or Teague earning the nod seems the most likely conclusion, and the guess here is that Teague gets in by virtue of his performances against some of the game’s best point guards.
But there’s another All-Star Game scenario that could be at play for the Hawks.
Should Atlanta, which enters Friday leading the East by 2 1/2 games over the Bulls, continue to hold that top sot on Feb. 1, it’s Budenholzer that will be headed to New York as the conference’s coach.
For a team that refuses to put the focus on anything but the collective, wouldn’t that be the most fitting representation?
"That would be great as well," Horford said. "Coach doesn’t care about that. We’re not focused on any of that stuff. But it would be a great honor for him and it would speak a lot about the team."