Stephen Curry moves past Chris Paul as starter in latest NBA All-Star balloting

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We can take Chris Paul’s brilliance as a point guard for granted because he’s the guy throwing the lobs, not the guy finishing the highlight play. Paul can score and take over a game, but his mastery of the point guard play is subtler than that — he takes over games by dictating flow and style a contest better than any other guard in the game right now. It’s not about making plays that end up in highlight packages, it’s about getting the ball where it needs to be, about creating and exploiting mismatches wherever they are.

Stephen Curry is a very good point guard but when he takes over a game he’s a walking highlight package, raining threes from across the Bay Bridge at Oracle Arena. He is one of the most marketable players in the association.

Fans have voted Curry past Paul as an NBA All-Star Game starter in the Western Conference backcourt — but only by 26,000 votes, few enough that this could swing again. Both Curry and Paul trail Kobe Bryant by a healthy amount in the West — if Kobe is not yet healthy and able to play by the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans David Stern gets to select his replacement. However, the Western Conference coach will choose who starts (he would be the coach of the team with the best record in the conference on Feb. 2).

The fans elect the starters for the All Star Game and this is who they have put in so far:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Miami Heat), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers).

As you see in the vote tallies below, the Eastern Conference starters are basically locked in place. In the West there is one other race of interest — Kevin Love (with his video campaign) trails Blake Griffin by 17,000 votes for the final starting slot in the West frontcourt. Voters have two more weeks to make it that ground or Griffin gets the starting nod.

Here are the vote totals:

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt
1. LeBron James (Mia) 1,076,063
2. Paul George (Ind) 899,671
3. Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 702,869
4. Roy Hibbert (Ind) 385,964
5. Chris Bosh (Mia) 304,986
6. Kevin Garnett (BKN) 164,021
7. Joakim Noah (Chi) 128,201
8. Andre Drummond (Det) 120,844
9. Tyson Chandler (NYK) 101,637
10. Jeff Green (Bos) 96,336

Backcourt
1. Dwyane Wade (Mia) 718,109
2. Kyrie Irving (Cle) 652,522
3. Derrick Rose (Chi) 323,099
4. John Wall (Was) 278,516
5. Ray Allen (Mia) 190,086
6. Rajon Rondo (Bos) 133,448
7. Deron Williams (BKN) 95,309
8. George Hill (Ind) 89,428
9. Lance Stephenson (Ind) 77,364
10. DeMar DeRozan (Tor) 68,985

Western Conference

Frontcourt
1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 1,054,209
2. Dwight Howard (Hou) 509,116
3. Blake Griffin (LAC) 500,964
4. Kevin Love (Min) 483,031
5. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 404,793
6. Tim Duncan (SAS) 385,342
7. Anthony Davis (NO) 223,956
8. Pau Gasol (LAL) 207,213
9. Andre Iguodala (GS) 192,616
10. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 156,792

Backcourt
1. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 844,538
2. Stephen Curry (GS) 677,372
3. Chris Paul (LAC) 651,073
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 471,980
5. James Harden (Hou) 338,788
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 260,499
7. Tony Parker (SA) 195,328
8. Damian Lillard (Por) 162,363
9. Klay Thompson (GS) 108,404
10. Ricky Rubio (Min) 97,265

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.