Miami Heat v Toronto Raptors

Let’s actually set criteria for selecting All-Stars

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Has Dwyane Wade or Kyle Lowry had a better season?

Lowry smashes Wade in win shares (6.4 to 3.1) and tops him in Estimated Wins Added (6.5 to 5.7), too. There’s value in staying on the court, and because Wade has been hobbled by knee issues this year, it’s clear Lowry, an impressive and consistent two-way contributor, has produced more.

If you desire, you can dig deeper and examine the question from other angles. It’s a worthy discussion to have.

In three months.

If voting for an All-NBA team based on the season to date, I’d pick Lowry ahead of Wade. But for the 2014 All-Star game? Give me Wade every day of the week.

Before and after the NBA announces its All-Star starters tomorrow, you’ll find numerous smart analyses about whom should be picked to the teams. But few of of those picks will be preceded by an outlined standard for the choices.

The accepted logic is that, after the fans vote for the starters, the coaches should pick the players who’ve had the best season so far. Many will pore over stats, noting why this player or that player has performed better to date.

But I just don’t see much point in debating 40-some-game samples. All-Star appearances have, erroneously, become the historical standard for a player having a top-notch season. But unless the selectors have crystal balls, that’s impossible. All-Star appearances indicate only top-notch half-seasons, and those shouldn’t count for much in the grand scheme.

All-NBA teams are a much better tool for measuring historical greatness, and I wish more would analyze those with the keen eye they turn toward All-Star selections. I understand the playoffs running concurrently interferes, but even a little more attention to All-NBA teams would make us smarter when we look back on the historical record.

That would free the All-Star game to mean something else – as it should.

Meaning of All-Star selections

The All-Star game already has a mixed significance because of the fan vote. Kobe Bryant will almost certainly get one of the Western Conference’s starting guard spots, even though he’s barely played this season and played poorly when he’s been on the court. Allen Iverson and Yao Ming won the fan vote in years they shouldn’t have even made the team.

Debating players’ all-time greatness by All-Star nods already requires weeding out the undeserving selections. It’s not a good standard.

All-Star appearances should exist in a separate spectrum.

Just break down the word: All-Star. All the stars. Keep letting fans pick the stars as they see fit. Then, let the coaches fill in the rest of the roster with the players they see as the biggest remaining stars, the best players who won’t start the game.

The system works as long as we don’t assign too much meaning to which player had a better rebounding rate between November and January.

A litmus test for arguing All-Stars

Here’s the standard I use:

Who’s the best player right now?

That’s intentionally vague, but here’s the thought exercise I use to compare players. Imagine two teams full of average players for their positions – an average starting point guard, an average shooting guard, an average sixth man, etc. These teams are exactly equal. Now, replace one starter on each of the average teams with the players you’re comparing. Whose team wins? That’s the better player.

I don’t consider how good a player’s actual team is. An All-Star berth is an individual, not a team, honor, though a player’s team’s record can indicate how good that player is individually.

I don’t consider fit, either. No player should be punished because he happens not to complement the other All-Stars in a given year. To me, the All-Star game is more about honoring the NBA’s best players than strategically forming a squad. Besides, these teams are so deep and talented, and the rules mandate a certain number of players from each position, that the rosters will work for a single Sunday, at least.

DeMarcus Cousins vs. Tim Duncan and Kyrie Irving vs. Arron Afflalo

Ability matters more than production in the given half-season, though they can be tough to separate.

Parsing DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan illustrates the dilemma. Cousins has had a better season so far, and he’s risen his game while Duncan’s production is slipping. But is Duncan merely preserving his energy for a playoff run, or is he too old to play as well as Cousins has? If the answer is the former, Duncan would be my All-Star choice. The latter, Cousins.

Kyrie Irving and Arron Afflalo provide another example. Irving started the year relatively poorly, and his season-long statistics are still weighed down by those early games. But lately, he’s shown the true player he is – a player that’s better than Afflalo, who has produced consistently between Irving’s extremes. An All-NBA debate between the two would be close, but an All-Star discussion is not. Irving has a clear edge.

What to make of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo

Injuries are a little trickier.

Rajon Rondo won’t make my All-Star team, because he’s clearly not playing at an All-Star level as he tries to find his way after such a long layoff.

Chris Paul will, because he’s the best guard in the NBA right now. He probably won’t be healthy by the All-Star game, and if he’s not, he can be replaced on the roster.

Russell Westbrook sits somewhere between. Because his expected return date is later than Paul’s – meaning Westbrook is more likely than Paul to be rusty if he is back in time – Westbrook’s injury costs him more than Paul’s. But Westbrook, at the less-than-perfect health level he’s been this season, is still a top-four guard in the Western Conference.

My picks

Ultimately, it’s up to everyone to set their own criteria for choosing All-Stars. Before making your case, though, consider which lens you believe the selections should be made through. You don’t have to choose the same one I do, but you should make a deliberate choice rather than following the crowd for the sake of doing so.

So what do my All-Star teams look like? Probably not that different than the ones you’ll see elsewhere. Typically, the best players as I define them also play the best during the season’s first half. How well someone has played so far is one of the best indicators of how good he is.

But each when the there is a difference, the latter should trump the former.

Eastern Conference

Starters

G: Kyle Lowry

G: Dwyane Wade

FC: Paul George

FC: LeBron James

FC: Roy Hibbert

Reserves

G: John Wall

G: Kyrie Irving

FC: Carmelo Anthony

FC: Joakim Noah

FC: Andre Drummond

WC: Arron Afflalo

WC: Paul Millsap (Chris Bosh, who totally slipped my mind initially)

Western Conference

Starters

G: Chris Paul*

G: Stephen Curry

FC: Kevin Durant

FC: Kevin Love

FC: LaMarcus Aldridge

Reserves

G: Russell Westbrook*

G: James Harden

FC: Blake Griffin

FC: Dirk Nowitzki

FC: Anthony Davis

WC: Dwight Howard

WC: DeMarcus Cousins

*Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, in that order, would be my injury replacements.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.