- Backcourt - Kyrie Irving, Cleveland - Until recently, I had this as a dead-heat between Irving and Rondo. Kyrie had missed time and his Cavs were floundering in the standings. Then, he started going crazy, and now the debate is non-existent. There's a real debate for Irving as the best overall guard in the East, and he's averaging 24 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds a game for the season. I'm not someone who can fully discount a player's performance just because his team is bad (have you seen that roster?!), and Irving's resume is too good. Throw in a #7 overall PER in the East, and 5.1 EWA (estimated wins added) in just 26 games played, and it's a slam dunk.
- Backcourt - Dwyane Wade, Miami - Let me get this out of the way. This isn't your older brother's Dwyane Wade. Gone are the days where he was a top-5 overall player, and his 22.9 PER, while still very good, is the lowest of his non-rookie career. With all of that said, the guy is averaging 21/4/5 as the #2 option (and the #3 on some nights) and in a conference that has a serious shooting guard issue, he shines above the rest. Easy choice.
- Frontcourt - Lebron James, Miami - The biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. He's the best player in the world, and while Durant may have closed the gap (albeit slightly), I still believe it's a clear distinction. Leads the East (and the entire league) is PER at 29.81, has an absurd 12.2 EWA, averages 26/8/7 with a ludicrous 54% shooting and plays absolutely elite defense every single night. I could write 1,000 words on why he's the easiest choice in the entire league, but why? No questions asked.
- Frontcourt - Carmelo Anthony, New York - Though he's been in the news for his spat with Kevin Garnett recently, Carmelo's play has been tremendous this year. He's second in the East, behind Lebron, in PER and EWA, is posting easily his best statistical season of his career, and has the Knicks as a virtual lock for home-court in the Eastern Conference first round. His shooting percentages, scoring rate, and turnover rate are at 5-year bests, and this is the Carmelo that we always hoped for after he came out of Syracuse.
- Frontcourt - Chris Bosh, Miami - At first, I didn't want to include Bosh based on the "three Miami players in the starting five" corollary, but then I looked around, and asked myself, "why?!". Bosh has been tremendous this season, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds a game as the #3 option on the best team in the league, and he's playing out-of-position every single night. Also, he's been extremely durable, playing in 32 games, and has a top-10 PER in the conference (even when including guys like Andray Blatche and Andre Drummond). He gets the nod, albeit slightly over the guys coming off the bench.
- Backcourt - Rajon Rondo, Boston - Rondo is such an interesting case. Coming into the season, it was billed as "Rondo's Team!" and there were rumors that he'd jack up his scoring load this season. That hasn't happened, but it hasn't stopped Rondo from being an All-Star player. He's the league-leader in assists (11.2 per game), and he's dominating the category to the point where Jrue Holiday is 2nd at just 8.8 dimes per night. His scoring rate and shooting percentages are up from the last couple of years, resulting in his highest PER since 2009-10, and he's still an above-average defender. There's not really an argument against him as an All-Star, even in a down year for the Celts.
- Backcourt - Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia - Speaking of Holiday, he's made the mini-leap this year. The Philly guard is averaging nearly 19 points a game to go along with his 8.8 assists, and is clearly that team's best player in the absence of Andrew Bynum. He has better numbers than Deron or guys like Jennings and Ellis, and to go along with that, he's the best defender of that group. It's time for people to learn his name, and an All-Star nod should help with that.
- Backcourt - Deron Williams, Brooklyn - Okay, you're thinking at least two things here. #1) Are there no available shooting guards that could make this team? and #2) Hasn't Deron Williams been terrible this year? In order, the answers are #1) there is a real argument (statistically) for Lou Williams as the 2nd-best shooting guard in the East so far this year behind Dwyane Wade. That's not a misprint. Do you think he's an all-star!? And #2) Deron Williams has been terrible for him this year. That's an important distinction because, well, he's still been better than everyone else available. He's averaging 17 points (17th in the East, 10th among guards) and 8 assists (4th in the east) per game, and his PER of 18.14 (at time of print) ranks him ahead of a lot of his competition including Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and Paul George. Lastly, he's been much better in January, and I firmly believe he's a better basketball player than anyone else he was competing with... even if I hate how he has played.
- Frontcourt - Kevin Garnett, Boston - Top-15 in the East in PER. One of the best defenders in the entire league. The Boston defense (and really the whole team) falls apart when he's off the court. Still averaging 15 points, 7 boards, and a block a game in under 30 minutes of court time, and he deserves to be there, even at his advanced age. It isn't a clear-cut as it used to be, but he's one of the best 7 front-court players in the East.
- Frontcourt - Al Horford, Atlanta - The lone Hawk! I'm sure there will be a groundswell for Josh Smith getting this spot, but I don't see it. Horford has the better PER (18.5 to 18.3), the better EWA (4.8 to 4.4), is the better defender (shot-blocking aside), and the better overall player. Couple that with the fact that Smith has taken a significant step back in production across the board this year, and that's not an argument. Horford's numbers (16 points, 10 boards, 1 block per game) don't blow you away, but he's as steady as it gets, and he slips in over David West in a photo finish.
- Frontcourt - Tyson Chandler, New York - Tyson Chandler is an absolutely elite defender who happens to be having his best offensive season of his entire career. He's leading the East in field goal percentage by 15% (FIFTEEN!!!) and is averaging 13 and 11 to go along with his rim protection. Throw in a top-10 PER and the fact that he's 3rd in the East (behind only Carmelo and LBJ) in EWA and this is a no-brainer inclusion. Don't overlook his defensive value.
- Frontcourt - Brook Lopez, Brooklyn - I really didn't want to do this, but he's been too good. Did you know that Brook Lopez has PER of over 25?! For all of the vitriol over his rebounding difficulty, his rebound rate has climbed from an abominable 5.3 per 40 minutes last year to 9.9 this year, and since that was his only real weakness, his play has shined in 2012-2013. He has undoubtedly been effective on the block (averaging 19 points and shooting 53%), and really has been the best player on the Nets this year. He's not the dominating presence that he could be, but there's no denying his efficiency and high-level play this season.
Honorable Mention - Anderson Varejao (injury), David West (this one hurt), Paul George, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce
- Backcourt - Chris Paul, LA Clippers - The title of "best point guard" never left Chris Paul in my mind, but now, anyone who left his camp has returned. He's leading the West in assists with 9.5 per game (2nd in the NBA behind Rondo), is shooting a crazy 48/35/90 slash line, and his 26.64 PER is second only to Kevin Durant in the conference. I'm absolutely in the tank for Paul and I won't deny that, but I can also back up my love for him with stats, and with his Clippers in the #1 spot in the standings, it's even easier than normal to praise CP3.
- Backcourt - Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers - In the midst of the Lakers destruction, Kobe has been tremendous offensively. His shooting percentages are up across the board, his usage rate is down, his turnover rate is down, and he's posting his best PER since 2008-09. There's no question that his defense has slipped considerably, but he's not terrible on that end (although he's best against the dribble now), and when you score 30 a game while grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 5 assists, you can be average defensively.
- Frontcourt - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City - As noted above, Durant is the clear #2 player in the league at this point (as Dwight has declined via health and whatever else), and the best pure scorer alive. His true shooting percentage is ludicrous at over 65%, his 52/42/90 slash line is Larry Bird-like, and he has OKC in the upper-echelon of the league again. Durant has also improved defensively, and while he'll probably never be Lebron on that end, he's now above-average, and uses his length very effectively to alter shots and stay in passing lanes. I absolutely love Durant, and he's the #1 player in the conference.
- Frontcourt - Tim Duncan, San Antonio - The old man returns! Top-5 in the West in PER, one of the best defenders in the league (still), 3rd in the West in blocks per game, averaging 17 and 10 in only 29 minutes... Do I need to keep going? This is the best Duncan has played in 3 years, and he is still the best power forward in the league (unless you count Lebron, and I don't). It's unfathomable that he could play this well at age 36, but he's doing it, and I love it.
- Frontcourt - Blake Griffin, LA Clippers - I was going with Dwight Howard... until the injury. Blake has been outstanding this year as he's finally improved his post game and his defense to the point where I can't crap on either one. He only trails Durant and Duncan among front-court players in PER, and his 18 points and 9 rebounds per game are outstanding when you consider that his minutes are down to a career-low 31.9 per game. I'm not the biggest Griffin fan, but in a year where Dwight is injured and not DWIGHT), he deserves the nod, and he'll get it.
- Backcourt - James Harden, Houston - Harden shouldn't win "most improved player", but if there was a "breakout player" award, he'd win it. He hasn't quite maintained his ludicrous 66% true shooting from last year, but any concerns about an increased workload have proved to be misguided. Harden's efficiency numbers are actually up this year, and he's now the clear winner of the "2nd best shooting guard alive" award after Kobe, with a charge on the #1 spot coming. He's carried Houston to a competitive mark this year, and it's impossible to argue with 26 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a 45/36/86 shooting line. Tremendous player.
- Backcourt - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City - Westbrook is scary good. He's come up huge in the absence of Harden, and while his efficiency has taken a hit, his raw numbers are very good. 22 points and 8 assists per game is enough right there, but when you consider that his usage rate is actually trending down, and that he's taken the pressure of handling the ball in crunch-time, it's a nice year from Russ. We all wish he would take care of the ball and improve his shooting percentage (and shot selection), but he's still a great player and a no-doubt choice.
- Backcourt - Tony Parker, San Antonio - This was a photo finish between Parker and Steph Curry. Parker gets the nod based on his advantage in PER (22.68 to 18.86), EWA (6.8 to 5.0), shooting percentage (52% to 44%), and assists (7.1 to 6.4). Curry is the better pure shooter, but Parker's ability to penetrate and do Parker-like things pushes him over the top, and he's been utterly tremendous again for San Antonio. It feels wrong to leave Curry off, and I wish he was in the Eastern Conference, but Parker is still the better player, and he's my choice.
- Frontcourt - LaMarcus Aldridge - The best player on the surprising 19-15 Blazers. LMA is averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game with a PER in the 20 neighborhood, and his defense has taken a step forward this year. I've always thought he was underrated, and if this record continues, he'll start to get noticed more for what he's done with a pretty questionable roster. One of the best power forwards in the game for a few years now.
- Frontcourt - David Lee, Golden State - The Dubs get a representative! For as much as I've crapped on Lee for his defense, he has been awesome to watch this year. 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and a PER north of 20 is enough to get you an All-star bid, but he's also shooting 53% from the field and over 80% from the line, and that's like stealing from a power forward. His defense is still very questionable, but there have been moments where I've seen flashes of solid play, and he's certainly not the catastrophe that he used to be. Very deserving of a nod, and the Warriors wouldn't be 22-12 without his stellar play.
- Frontcourt - Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City - Serge has made the leap. He is averaging career-highs in points (14.5 up from 9.1), rebounds (8.4 up from 7.5), field goal percentage (57% up from 53%), and PER (20 up from under 19). Granted, his usage his gone up significantly, but he's responded with positive play and he's an absolute game-changer on the defensive end. He gets the nod over Zach Randolph because of defense.
- Frontcourt - Dwight Howard *(injured) - I've noted Dwight here just because he won't play in the game, but he'd be there if he could. For all of the talk about how "down" he is, Howard has a PER of 20, he's 2nd in the league in blocks, leading the league in rebounding, and shooting 57% from the field while providing great defense. There's no question that he isn't the same player with his back injury that he was in Orlando, but he's still awesome despite all of the nonsense.
- Frontcourt - Marc Gasol, Memphis - This may surprise some people, but I think Gasol is better than Zach Randolph and more deserving of the final spot. Their PER numbers are virtually identical (Randolph with a slight edge), as are their EWA numbers (Gasol with a slight edge), so this comes down to one thing. Defense. Marc Gasol is one of the 10 best defensive players in the entire league, and Zach Randolph is below-average defensively. It's as simple as that. Yes, Randolph is the much scarier offensive player, averaging 16.9 points a game to just 13.7 for Gasol, but Gasol has the higher true shooting percentage, and is an elite passer from the center position. There's certainly an argument that this is a "preference" pick, but I'll take Gasol and his defense over Z-Bo.
Honorable Mention - Nicolas Batum, Stephen Curry (see West, David), Al Jefferson, Zach Randolph, Paul Millsap, Kevin Love
There you have it! Let the debate begin...
There you have it! Let the debate begin...