Weekly Countdown: Players who are bidding for first All-Star berth
Danny Granger and Devin Harris likely have best chance to be first-time All-Stars
Other candidates worth noting: Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jason Terry
More topics: Answering reader mail; Marcus Camby, Vince Carter going strong
5 Potential first-time All-Stars
I'm not suggesting that all of these players will be playing in Phoenix on Feb. 15. But I present them here for consideration on your ballot, as broken down by position from center to point guard. (All-Star voting continues at NBA.com through Monday.)
5. Al Jefferson, Timberwolves. Here is the question: Jefferson, who puts up All-Star numbers (22.2 points, 10.4 points, 1.7 blocks) for a lousy team; or Nenę (14.9, 7.9, 1.4) or Andrew Bynum (12.8, 7.8, 1.7), who post decent stats for the contending Nuggets and Lakers, respectively?
I go back and forth on questions like this. Some years it seems that no one from a losing team should be an All-Star. In this particular instance, I'd rather see Jefferson's skills on the floor in Phoenix, and see how well he fits in with the league's best talent.
Then there is the case of Nenę, who is the league's leading shooter at 61.6 percent. His contributions to a winning team should be recognized, but is he an All-Star?
As for Bynum, this spring we'll get to see how he does in the playoffs, and that's when he'll develop charisma. The Lakers won't win a championship without big plays from him, and those plays will make him into a star, regardless of his stats. But he isn't there yet.
The truth is that none of these centers is likely to make the Western All-Star roster unless a number of injuries creates extraordinary need.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers. Averaging 17.3 points for a young, playoff-bound team, he's the most likely first-time candidate at power forward. He isn't quite to that level -- especially at his crowded position -- because at 6-foot-11 his rebounding numbers should be higher than his current 6.9 per game. He also still has too many single-digit scoring nights when he isn't quite there, often because of foul trouble but also because Aldridge is a 23-year-old big man in only his third NBA season.
But it's going to come. Blazers coach Nate McMillan urges him to model himself after Tim Duncan, because Aldridge has the abilities to make all kinds of plays at either end as well as the selflessness to create for his teammates. If current trends continue, the Blazers should have a dominant threesome in a few years with Brandon Roy on the perimeter, Greg Oden under the basket and Aldridge making plays everywhere.
Josh Smith deserves consideration for contributing to a solid playoff team in Atlanta, as does Paul Millsap (15.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) for filling in for Carlos Boozer at Utah. I'm also nominating Al Harrington, who is the Manny Ramirez of this season. Citing back spasms, Harrington was sidelined for more than two weeks with Golden State -- then the Knicks trade for him and he's suddenly averaging 21.5 points for New York while splitting time as a starter and reserve. He has affirmed a couple of trends himself: There have been a lot of unhappy players at Golden State in recent years, and a lot of players happy to play for Mike D'Antoni whether at Phoenix or now in New York.
(I'm sure to get two types of mail from New York: (1) Informing me that Harrington isn't a true power forward ... but how can you tell in D'Antoni's offense? He's 6-9, so I'm listing him here. (2) Why am I snubbing David Lee among the big men? No snub intended. He's having a terrific season, but is he an All-Star? Not yet.)
3. Danny Granger, Pacers. Here is one guy who deserves to make the All-Star team outright. Indiana's small forward is averaging 26.4 points to go with 5.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Granger is a mystery to much of a country -- how often does anyone outside Indiana consistently see the Pacers on TV? -- so it would be worthwhile to see how he does in the milieu of the LeBrons, Kobes and Wades.
Pacers president Larry Bird is holding his 25-year-old forward to the highest standards.
"He's been awfully good for us,'' Bird said. "He can become a lockdown defender, a great defender, and when he gets 10 rebounds, I'm happier than those nights when he gets the 40 points. In the next couple of years, he has the ability to make players better around him.''
Other potential first-timers who have earned consideration at small forward include Hedo Turkoglu, Tayshaun Prince, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. That Turkoglu's numbers (16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists) are down from last year shouldn't be held against him; consider his irreplaceable contributions to the Magic (31-8), who are fighting with the Cavaliers and Celtics to be No. 1 in the East.
Prince's rebounding numbers are up dramatically, to 7.2 per game, and he's also averaging more points and assists (14.5 and 3.2) as the Pistons rely on him to see them through the rough transition following the trade for Allen Iverson. He won't make the All-Star team, but he deserves a kind thought. Iguodala (17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists) is an emerging all-around talent on a losing team. Durant (23.7 points) looks like a star, but there is no way anyone from the league's worst team will break through to the crowded Western roster.
2. Jason Terry, Mavericks. In truth, there will be no first-timers at shooting guard playing in Phoenix next month. Terry is the favorite for the Sixth Man Award, averaging 20.7 points in the 32 games in which he's come off the bench. But there are too many proven stars at the position already, and no one has established the credentials to make a challenge. Ben Gordon (20.3 points) isn't ready to beat out Ray Allen or Rip Hamilton in the East. Jamal Crawford and O.J. Mayo are putting up credible numbers in the West, but they aren't going to be All-Stars this year.
1. Devin Harris, Nets. Now it becomes difficult. None of the following point guards has been an All-Star and a case can be made for all of them: Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Mo Williams, Jameer Nelson, Jose Calderon and even Chris Duhon. (Yes, Duhon was a backup for four years in Chicago, but he is producing an impressive 12.3 points and 8.2 assists for the improved Knicks.)
Harris is an obvious pick for the Eastern roster. As detailed Thursday, he has emerged as the East's No. 5 scorer (22.7 points), and his backcourt partnership with Vince Carter has turned the rebuilding Nets into a credible playoff team when they were supposed to be contending for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
How do you choose from among Rondo, Mo Williams and Nelson, the quarterbacks of the East's three powers? Rondo has the championship, while Nelson and Williams are shooting their teams to contention.
Rose has star quality as a rookie, and fans would probably love to see the open-court plays he can create for LeBron and Wade in Phoenix.
As well as Calderon has played for Toronto, he has little chance of being invited now that the underachieving Raptors have sunk below .500.
And then there is Deron Williams, who is still waiting to make the All-Star team in his fourth NBA season. He hasn't been himself because of a preseason ankle injury, and there's a good chance he won't be an All-Star. Other Western backcourt candidates include Bryant, Roy, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker and Steve Nash. Like Carmelo Anthony, who didn't become an All-Star until his fourth season, Williams will be regarded as an elite player even if circumstances preclude him from playing in the game this season.