Like the tides, the talent levels of each NBA conference ebbs and flows over the course of a dynasty’s lifespan or the particular movement of young talent. That remains true today, and currently the Eastern Conference is experiencing a long and pronounced low tide.
That lack of competitive balance is pronounced in both team performance as well as the possible candidates for NBA All-Star reserves. While the selection of reserves is generally a hotly debated topic, the shallow pool in this year’s Eastern Conference means there should be very little debate and fewer snubbed players than before.
Eastern Conference starters:
Kyle Lowry, PG (Toronto Raptors)
John Wall, PG (Washington Wizards)
LeBron James, SF (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Carmelo Anthony, SF (New York Knicks)
Pau Gasol, C (Chicago Bulls).
In order of most deserving performances, here are the names that should be featured on Sunday’s main event:
Click here to see who should be 2015 NBA Western Conference All-Star Reserves.
1. Paul Millsap, PF (Atlanta Hawks)
As impressive as the Hawks have been collectively this season, Millsap’s place as the most deserving reserve possibly says more about the Eastern Conference as it does about his season. On a team that relies on teamwork and defensive efficiency, Milsap has been a key piece to that success. His ability to score in a variety of ways and his defensive impact have helped make the Hawks the feel good story of the year. While Milsap doesn’t possess “star” talent, he’s a workhorse and unselfish teammate and those types of players frequently get overlooked at events like the All-Star Game.
2. Jeff Teague, PG (Atlanta Hawks)
Another of the star-less Hawks deserving a spot this year, Jeff Teague has turned the corner from possibly overpaid score-first point guard to the leader of the most entertaining team in the Eastern Conference. A career year by almost any measurement, he still has room to improve this season and beyond. He performs well on advanced stat metrics, his team wins and he’s fun to watch while they do. A no-brainer selection.
3. Jimmy Butler, SG (Chicago Bulls)
After a smoking hot start to the season that had some people suggesting MVP votes, Butler has cooled off during the month of January. Not surprisingly, the Bulls have also struggled over the same period. Even with the slow month, Butler’s improvement on both sides of the court has helped ease Chicago through Derrick Rose’s injury recovery. Always a tenacious defender, Jimmy’s impact has been bolstered this season by a relentless approach on offense. It will be interesting to watch how his approach combined with the Bull’s tendency to physically wear down its players will impact Butler’s second half of the season, but either way, “Jimmy Buckets” deserves to play in this game and is due for a major pay increase next season.
4. Chris Bosh, PF (Miami Heat)
As one of the Big Three that was left behind in Miami, there were big questions as to how Chris Bosh would handle being “the man” again. With the flat play of the Heat over the early part of the season, the jury is still out on that question. After years of playing stretch complimentary big to LeBron, Bosh’s game has adapted into a finesse big man, but a very effective one who can be deadly from outside. Partnered with the suddenly emerging Hassan Whiteside, Bosh may not be a max-contract superstar, but he could still help to lead the Heat into a surprise playoff run.
5. Dwyane Wade, SG (Miami Heat)
Wade has played so many minutes of relentless basketball and suffered enough minor injuries that it is only a matter of time until the wheels come off. They’re wobbling this season, but his increased role in the Heat offense is still a vital one. Never able to develop an outside shot that could have extended his career, his ability to get points for a team desperately in need of scorers increases his value to the Heat. His defense is inconsistent and it wouldn’t be a shock if this was his last All-Star game appearance but he should be on the roster this season.
6. Al Horford, C (Atlanta Hawks)
Nothing about Al Horford’s statistical resume stands out for his inclusion in the game, except for the Hawks record. Pervasive injury issues and the shared responsibility approach for the Hawks have allowed Al to take a back seat statistically, but his impact is felt on a nightly basis. His ability to fit within their offense as a passer and opportunistic scorer while anchoring their defense might make him their most important two-way player.
7. Brandon Knight, PG (Milwaukee Bucks)
The lone “shocking” selection on the roster, Knight has lacked the team success and individual accolades that usually accompany All-Star caliber players. He still isn’t an efficient shooter, he doesn’t perform extraordinarily well on advanced metrics and it isn’t a guarantee that he will even be on the Bucks beyond this season. What he does have in his favor is his role leading a young team beset by injury to key players to its best record in five years, a job his closest competition for this spot can’t claim.
Just Missed: Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavs), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks).
The name on the “missed” list most likely to cause some debate is Kyrie Irving, the 2014 All-Star Game’s MVP. Irving is a fan favorite and a great fit for the entertaining nature of the showcase however, his defensive inadequacies and inability to lead the team to wins when LeBron was sidelined this season pushed him off the list. His talent suggests he should be a regular in this game, but it’s time to see him show up more consistently on both sides of the court and to have that performance lead to more wins. Vucevic is a promising young center who possesses the post game and rebounding savvy of a vet. His impressive numbers (19.5/11.2/2.0 ) probably would have earned him inclusion on the reserve list if his on-court impact measurements were more significant. Finally, Korver wouldn’t even be considered for the West Coast roster, but in the East his off-the-charts shooting ability and importance to the Hawks deserves a mention.
The imbalance between the conferences has been discussed for a couple of years, with conference realignment bounced around as a possible solution. The All-Star Game rosters only highlight that disparity of talent and a few roster inclusions (plus all those excluded) would be unlikely to even compete for a spot on the West.