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February 2, 2011
All-Star Reserves
Whither Kevin Love?

by Kevin Pelton

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We will get to my selections for the All-Star reserves in both conferences in the moment, but first let's begin with what I consider the most interesting question that will be answered when the coaches' picks are revealed on Thursday: Is Kevin Love an All-Star?

Almost every year there is a player or two who puts up good numbers on a losing team, which serves to divide people picking their All-Star teams. Love takes this to an extreme heretofore unknown. Pick your metric and Love looks like a superstar. He's fourth in the league in WARP, sixth in EWA (the value portion of PER), fifth in Win Shares and tops in the NBA in Wins Produced. Yet because of his poor defensive reputation and the Minnesota Timberwolves' 11-36 record, Love is not a lock to be selected.

Were Love to be passed over, it would basically be unprecedented. Under the new incarnation of WARP, the best season ever by a non-All-Star came from Mookie Blaylock in 1996-97, when his 19.5 WARP ranked third in the league. However, this is an example of a player's strengths matching up perfectly with what one metric values. Blaylock was eighth in PER and 18th in Win Shares; he probably should have been an All-Star (fans voted in Joe Dumars, in the twilight of his career, and coaches went for Terrell Brandon and Tim Hardaway, both solid in their own right) but his numbers weren't eye-popping like Love's.

In part, Love's problem is the caliber of the competition. Of the league's top 32 players by WARP, as many as nine of them (if you include Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol) are Western Conference power forwards, which is ridiculous. Power forward might be the preeminent NBA position with the decline of center, but just three East fours have been so valuable. Simply, the West's big men have all stayed healthy and had great seasons, which means someone good is going to be left out.

Still, when we compare the nominees in a moment, you'll see that Love's WARP total is nearly double that of guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. To look past him, there ought to be a pretty compelling reason, and I don't see it. The candidate, obviously, is Love's defense. Minnesota has in fact been much worse defensively with Love on the floor. Love's individual defensive metrics are acceptable. He's got a .920 dMult, which indicates starting power forwards have been eight percent less effective against the Timberwolves this season. According to Synergy Sports, Love allows .91 points per defensive possession, which is below average but better than Gasol (.92) and Blake Griffin (.93).

The best argument against Love might be that he's been outplayed head-to-head by the other contenders. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge torching Love three times, the five true power forwards in the mix that have faced Love (Aldridge, Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom and David West) have averaged 23.7 points to Love's 18.4 in those games with excellent efficiency. (Love does hold a commanding edge on the glass, with 14.5 rebounds per game to his opponents' 8.8.) But the games against other opponents count just the same, which is why I think it's a stretch to use this fact to keep Love out.

So Love is one of my reserve picks. Who joins him?

EAST GUARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ray Allen           BOS   .587   6.1   .629   .205    6.1   4.1   1.7   + 4.6
Raymond Felton      NYK   .557   5.4   .525   .225    5.4  10.1   2.7   - 6.1
Rajon Rondo         BOS   .594   5.0   .531   .178    7.4  16.3   3.6   +10.3
Joe Johnson         ATL   .559   4.3   .526   .274    6.9   7.1   1.2   + 7.7

My picks: Ray Allen, Boston; Rajon Rondo, Boston
The East reserves will be heavy with Celtics, and that includes both selections at the guard spot. Allen is enjoying one of his finest seasons and remains the most dangerous player without the ball in the league. Among players using plays at a rate better than average, Allen ranks third in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage behind Steve Nash and teammate Shaquille O'Neal. Rondo, meanwhile, has been the most effective of the candidates on a per-minute basis. His passing is one of the reasons his Boston teammates continue to play so effectively at such an advanced age.

EAST FORWARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Paul Pierce         BOS   .627   7.2   .628   .240    8.7   4.5   2.9   +16.1
Josh Smith          ATL   .607   6.7   .535   .243   14.9   4.7   5.8   + 8.1
Kevin Garnett       BOS   .638   5.5   .581   .225   17.4   3.7   4.5   +14.7
Andre Iguodala      PHI   .582   4.6   .543   .187    9.1   7.1   3.4   + 3.6
Chris Bosh          MIA   .551   4.4   .563   .241   13.0   2.4   2.7   + 7.1
Carlos Boozer       CHI   .581   3.2   .577   .284   18.0   3.3   2.1   + 3.4

My picks: Kevin Garnett, Boston; Paul Pierce, Boston
Let's continue our Celtics sweep with both forwards as well. Pierce is a no-brainer; he leads this group in both bottom-line categories. Pierce doesn't get enough credit for his evolution into an efficient scorer both inside and outside the arc. He's only a hair behind Allen in terms of True Shooting Percentage and is nearly as strong as a three-point shooter. Garnett anchors a Boston defense that ranks second in the league. Of the Celtics' regulars, Garnett has had far and away the largest defensive impact when on the court. He's also been as effective as anyone on a per-minute basis, so he makes it despite the time he missed due to injury.

EAST CENTERS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Al Horford          ATL   .645   7.7   .601   .202   16.5   4.8   3.5   + 9.0
Brook Lopez         NJN   .577   5.6   .550   .281   10.0   1.9   4.3   + 4.1
Andrew Bogut        MIL   .588   5.1   .488   .201   19.1   2.4   7.2   + 3.5

My pick: Al Horford, Atlanta
Just three legitimate candidates here. Don't sleep on Brook Lopez, who has played much better recently, making New Jersey a dangerous team to play at home. Andrew Bogut is going to make this game one of these years, but he's not yet anywhere close to 100 percent on offense. The obvious choice here is Horford, whose all-around excellence makes him the clear second-best center in the Eastern Conference.

EAST UTILITY

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Josh Smith          ATL   .607   6.7   .535   .243   14.9   4.7   5.8   + 8.1
Brook Lopez         NJN   .577   5.6   .550   .281   10.0   1.9   4.3   + 4.1
Raymond Felton      NYK   .557   5.4   .525   .225    5.4  10.1   2.7   - 6.1
Andrew Bogut        MIL   .588   5.1   .488   .201   19.1   2.4   7.2   + 3.5
Andre Iguodala      PHI   .582   4.6   .543   .187    9.1   7.1   3.4   + 3.6
Chris Bosh          MIA   .551   4.4   .563   .241   13.0   2.4   2.7   + 7.1
Joe Johnson         ATL   .559   4.3   .526   .274    6.9   7.1   1.2   + 7.7
Carlos Boozer       CHI   .581   3.2   .577   .284   18.0   3.3   2.1   + 3.4

My picks: Josh Smith, Atlanta; Chris Bosh, Miami
To me, Smith is an easy selection. He was a legitimate snub a year ago and the case to hold him out is even weaker this time around, though Smith has reverted back to bad habits beyond the three-point line. As for the 12th spot, that's where things get interesting. We have young players on the rise, perennial near All-Stars and a trio of players with multiple All-Star selections to their credit who have missed time this season. My perspective has always been that making an All-Star team is about more than just performance during the first half, especially when injuries are to blame. As a result, I'm picking between the last three players. Of them, I'm going with Bosh because he has the strongest track record. How quickly we forget that Bosh was 12th in the league in WARP a year ago. The drop-off suffered by the Raptors this season reinforces how valuable Bosh was to the team. He has not quite been as effective statistically in a different role with the Heat, but Bosh has Miami's second-best net plus-minus. "He is probably our most important player, especially early on in the season," Erik Spoelstra said to NBA.com's John Schuhmann in an analytical Q&A, explaining that number. "He's our crutch. He's our bail-out. We're able to run the offense through him and facilitate ball movement through him, easier than anything else we do."

WEST GUARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Manu Ginobili       SAS   .710   9.1   .600   .263    6.9   7.1   3.7   +11.3
Deron Williams      UTA   .661   8.9   .602   .268    5.9  11.7   2.0   - 3.3
Russell Westbrook   OKC   .654   8.5   .531   .313    8.3  10.6   3.6   - 5.7
Steve Nash          PHX   .662   7.5   .640   .232    6.4  15.2   1.1   +16.3
Jason Kidd          DAL   .594   5.9   .476   .153    8.0  11.9   3.5   - 0.2
Kevin Martin        HOU   .605   5.8   .611   .301    5.6   3.3   1.7   + 1.5
Eric Gordon         LAC   .592   5.7   .587   .274    4.8   5.4   2.4   + 7.9
Stephen Curry       GSW   .614   5.5   .592   .249    6.1   7.7   3.4   + 8.6
Tony Parker         SAS   .573   5.1   .574   .248    5.5   9.6   2.1   - 3.8

My picks: Manu Ginobili, San Antonio; Deron Williams, Utah
Ginobili is, to me, one of the league's most underrated players this season. He's the go-to guy for the NBA's best team, a terrific clutch performer and effective in all facets of the game. It is hard to believe this would be just Ginobili's second All-Star appearance. You could go either way among the top non-Chris Paul point guards and be just fine. Because of his superior all-around skills, I'd take Williams by a narrow margin.

WEST FORWARDS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kevin Love          MIN   .718  10.9   .595   .236   23.6   2.9   1.5   + 1.5
Blake Griffin       LAC   .633   8.0   .555   .278   19.9   4.2   2.2   + 3.7
Lamar Odom          LAL   .617   6.7   .622   .192   15.7   4.0   2.8   + 6.6
Zach Randolph       MEM   .610   6.7   .529   .256   21.6   1.9   1.7   + 6.2
Dirk Nowitzki       DAL   .619   5.6   .617   .288   11.2   3.4   2.6   +20.7
David West          NOH   .569   5.4   .563   .260   12.4   3.2   3.7   + 9.7
LaMarcus Aldridge   POR   .551   5.2   .530   .260   13.9   2.4   3.9   +14.5

My picks: Kevin Love, Minnesota; Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
Perhaps because his shortcomings are not quite as obvious, Griffin doesn't get as much flak as Love for his below-average defense, but the metrics call him out at least as much if not more. As with Love, Griffin is so good on offense and the glass that he is still a deserving All-Star. We knew he would be a force in the paint and a terrific rebounder, but Griffin is ahead of schedule in terms of his post-up game and his ballhandling, giving him a relatively complete offensive skill set.

WEST CENTERS

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pau Gasol           LAL   .663   9.3   .574   .216   15.8   4.5   4.7   + 7.8
Tim Duncan          SAS   .647   6.7   .521   .233   18.3   4.8   6.0   + 2.8
Nene                DEN   .602   5.1   .688   .185   13.6   3.1   3.5   + 6.0
Tyson Chandler      DAL   .602   4.8   .723   .140   19.0   0.6   4.1   +10.9

My picks: Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers
While Duncan and Gasol both line up officially as power forwards, they belong here. Gasol still spends much of each game at center and was used there virtually exclusively in Andrew Bynum's absence, while Duncan is starting alongside the 6'7" DeJuan Blair and is often used either as a lone big man or alongside the floor-spacing Matt Bonner. He's a center. Gasol gets the nod for what will likely be a starting spot because he was so effective during the month of November as the Lakers started the season by dominating on offense.

WEST UTILITY

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Russell Westbrook   OKC   .654   8.5   .531   .313    8.3  10.6   3.6   - 5.7
Steve Nash          PHX   .662   7.5   .640   .232    6.4  15.2   1.1   +16.3
Tim Duncan          SAS   .647   6.7   .521   .233   18.3   4.8   6.0   + 2.8
Lamar Odom          LAL   .617   6.7   .622   .192   15.7   4.0   2.8   + 6.6
Zach Randolph       MEM   .610   6.7   .529   .256   21.6   1.9   1.7   + 6.2
Dirk Nowitzki       DAL   .619   5.6   .617   .288   11.2   3.4   2.6   +20.7
David West          NOH   .569   5.4   .563   .260   12.4   3.2   3.7   + 9.7
LaMarcus Aldridge   POR   .551   5.2   .530   .260   13.9   2.4   3.9   +14.5

My picks: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Westbrook's plus-minus is a tad troubling, but more than anything else that seems to reflect the relative superiority of the Thunder's second unit, which is far better defensively thanks to the duo of Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. If those two started ahead of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, things might look different. Westbrook has become such a devastating offensive force that he has to be on the team. The other spot, to me, has to be Duncan. If not Ginobili, the most underrated All-Star is Duncan, since he continues to produce at a high level with little fanfare. As a scorer, Duncan is no longer anything special, but he remains strong everywhere else--a better rebounder than most of the power forwards in this group, an excellent shot blocker and a willing passer from the post.

Commissioner's Replacement: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Our final spot, to replace Yao Ming on the roster, is where the choice at power forward gets difficult. Do you reward Odom for a career year as part of an elite team? Give Randolph another nod for his combination of high usage and terrific rebounding? Credit West for his role in one of the league's top defenses and being a part of the best pick-and-pop duo around? Select Aldridge based on keeping the Blazers afloat as a go-to guy? Instead, I'm going with Nowitzki, who might just be an MVP candidate based on his importance to Dallas this season. Nowitzki has improved his True Shooting Percentage, which has slid in recent seasons, and has been as effective as anyone when healthy.

The most glaring omission here is Aldridge, and since I follow Portland so closely, that probably demands an explanation. Let's take a look at how Aldridge's statistics break down using Dec. 15--when he went off in his hometown of Dallas--as a dividing point.

Player               Tm   Win%  WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%  Ast%   SB%  Net+/-
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Aldridge 1st 25     POR   .471   1.1   .496   .238   12.5   2.4   3.8   +11.2
Aldridge last 23    POR   .653   4.6   .570   .285   15.5   2.4   4.1   +20.9

It's hard to believe those stat lines belong to the same player in the same season, since they are wildly different in almost every respect. There are a couple of different ways you can look at the difference. One is that, for the last month and a half, Aldridge has been one of the NBA's top players--regularly outplaying other contenders like Griffin and Love. The other perspective is that Aldridge was not anywhere near an All-Star for a month and a half to start the season, and those games count too. As part of the "LA to LA" campaign, Blazers fans have agreed to ignore the fact that Aldridge's middling play hurt the team during its below-.500 start. The upside is this: If Aldridge continues to play at this level, next year there will be no debate about his All-Star credentials.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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