Ed’s Note: This is a guest post by GetDefensive.
Aside from a couple early flameouts in the Dunk Contest by DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have scarcely been represented at all-star weekend since Chris Bosh left town. Sure, there’s been the occasional Rookie-Sophomore game representative (I think?) but anyone that expected a Raptor to be playing on Sunday either needed his head examined or knew where Amir plays pickup on his days off. Sure, Valanciunas and Ross could potentially find themselves representing the rookies, but like every Raptors fan I find myself constantly wanting, even hopelessly expecting, more. Here’s a look at the Raptors’ chances at making the big game this season:
Lucky to get a seat as a fan:
In this category, also called the “No chance in hell” section, we find roughly half of those expected to attend training camp. Legends like the great John Lucas III and the immovable Aaron Gray headline this crowd and are joined by a long list of players that would be ecstatic to still be on an NBA roster in February. This list includes Alan Anderson, Dominic McGuire, Quincy Acy, Jamaal (ugh!) Magloire, Chris Wright and Jerel McNeal (who?), of which a few most certainly will not survive the preseason. Moving on….
It would take A LOT of luck, improvement, and injuries
(And most people still wouldn’t agree):
In our second group things start to look a little more optimistic, in much the same way that -40 degrees looks more optimistic than -50. Long story short: it doesn’t look good either way. Both these zebras have shown their stripes and barring some miracle, highly unexpected serious improvement, they’ll be watching from their couches like the rest of us. It’s here we find our resident Lithuanian translator Linas Kleiza and perpetual potential himself, Mr. Amir Johnson. In theory, there’s an outside chance for anyone who’s scored 40 points in an NBA game like Kleiza has. And you never know when someone with the tools and hustle of Amir might put it all together and stay on the court long enough to shock the world. In all likelihood, however, we are seriously grasping at straws here. Next.
In this group we find our prized rookies (I said prized, apologies to Mr. Acy who is only prized by friends and family – and NOT in a basketball sense). Although unlikely, there is always a chance a lottery selection like Terrence Ross or Jonas Valanciunas could blow the roof off the building in year one and find themselves in the big game. However, seeing as how only Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan have made the team as rookies in the last 15 years (without the aid of a billion or so Chinese voters, that is – shout out to Yao), and because Big Val has already been injured in pre-preseason, I’ll sum up this analysis with a simple “Good luck boys, you’re gonna need it.”
Potentially still have potential:
Here we have Landry Fields and Ed Davis, two 3rd-year pros who showed less in their 2nd seasons than they did in their 1st. Is it possible that Fields was just a victim of the ball domination of Carmelo Anthony? Sure. Is it possible that a full training camp will make all the difference in the world for Davis? Absolutely. But we’re talking about the All-Star game here, folks, and either player making the team would surprise more people than if Reggie Miller’s annoying voice found its way onto a regular broadcasting crew. Oh wait….
On the outside looking in:
He’s almost made it before, but Jose Calderon’s all-star fate was officially sealed the minute Bryan Colangelo acquired Kyle Lowry for a rack of basketballs and a 24-pack of Molson Canadian. The only way he makes it: if Lowry gets injured early and both the team and Calderon greatly exceed expectations. Otherwise he could hope for a trade and a starting gig elsewhere, and then all bets are off. Although still a long shot it could happen, but then he wouldn’t be representing the Raptors anyway.
That leaves the only 3 that have any real shot, and in hindsight I probably could’ve started and ended with these 3 instead of writing what amounted to a season preview but alas, I’ve come much too far to not waste your time like I have wasted my own.
Enough excuses have been made for this young man that I’m almost starting to believe them, but this has to be his year. Hopefully he has no lady troubles this season and he definitely shouldn’t be surprised when his coach actually demands he play defense (seriously, how could he have expected that after the way the franchise coddled him his 1st 2 years?). For him to make it, he’s gonna have to dominate against real competition, not the Drew League scrubs we see him beat up on every summer. He’s got to commit to playing defense so Coach Casey doesn’t sit him in favour of Fields or Ross and show real improvement on the glaring weaknesses that were present in his game last season. That means a tighter handle, consistent shooting, extended range, and a more aggressive mindset. If he shows all of that, he might have a shot.
As good a chance as any on this team, Andrea played the 1st 13 games last year like a man who wanted this. He was playing defence like I never thought I’d live to see, he was scoring efficiently like the nightmare matchup we’ve imagined since he was drafted 1st overall, and he was rebounding… um… he got some rebounds! Then the calf muscle strain robbed us of the Bargnani that we’d been waiting for, a player who was already garnering serious all-star consideration. When he returned he was back to his old lethargic self, and Raptors fans around the world were left wondering what might have been…. This season, the hope is that he returns to the Andrea from those 13 games and not the player who continually makes me scream at my television. The tools are there, they always have been. The question is desire. Amir Johnson must look at him with utter resentment for the gifts this man has essentially wasted to this point, while he hustles his ass off only to end up with 20 minutes per game. Can Bargnani show the heart and determination to go out and take an all-star selection? Will he finally live up to his draft position and the Dirk Nowitzki comparisons? If he’s ever gonna do it, now is the time.
Kyle Lowry steps into the starting line-up and immediately assumes his role as the best point guard in Raptors history, actually usurping the same person in both instances. Yes, he is not as polished as Jose offensively, but he can do things Jose cannot like drive the lane and you know, play defense. He will likely have the most impact on whether the Raptors win or lose games this season, and as such it is the team record that will be the biggest determining factor in whether he makes the all-star team. He’s earned consideration before, and unlike DeMar and Andrea he has no obvious holes in his game for him to easily improve upon. He’s already an above average defender, shooter, ball-handler, passer, and he can take it to the rim to collapse the defense or finish in traffic. However, while a fairly complete player, there is not much about his game that really jumps off the page. For him, much like Steve Nash and his MVPs, it’s going to be the success of the team that earns him the accolades that he deserves. If this team is above .500, Lowry will deserve an all-star nod.
The 2013 NBA All-Star Team (East):
Likely Starting Line-Up
Guards: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo/Deron Williams
Forwards: Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony (damn fan voting)
Centre: Andrew Bynum
Locks on the Bench
Guards: Rajon Rondo/Deron Williams
Forward/Centre: Chris Bosh
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that one of the PF/C-types (like Bosh, Al Horford, Kevin Garnett, etc.) will make it in as the required backup “centre” so that we may just pick the best available from who’s left. I’m not saying another centre won’t make it, I’m just saying that we need not pencil in every coach to vote for a true centre because they have to when they are allowed flexibility with all these PF/C players. Some of them may, however, which could very well help a guy like Roy Hibbert make it in (spoiler alert). Another assumption: there will be 3 more backup forwards/centres to be selected in addition to 2 more guards. It’s likely how it will play out, although there is a chance there’s 4 extra forwards/centres or 3 extra guards. There’s a lot of “ifs” at play here, so we’re gonna have to accept certain probabilities somewhere at this point.
Based on these assumptions, the remaining guard spots will be filled by 2 of either Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, or John Wall. Johnson is probably the most likely, in my opinion, as coaches have a history of voting players in based on their “lifetime achievement” (see: Tim Duncan, 2011 and Dirk Nowitzki, 2012). While he could slip as he will now have to share the ball and the spotlight with Deron Williams, there’s just as much of a chance that Brooklyn will be good enough to have 2 all-stars as Milwaukee or Toronto being good enough to have 1. This leaves 1 spot at guard and while Irving or Wall could explode and sneak in, my gut tells me it comes down to Ellis and Lowry. Whoever’s team has the best record wins. You’ll notice DeMar doesn’t make the cut, but he still has a chance at forward so let’s check it out.
With 3 selections left there’s a lot more uncertainty in who might make it. Josh Smith is the most likely I think, as he’s deserved it for a few years and will get plenty more attention now that Johnson is gone. That team is his now, and he, not Horford, will probably be Atlanta’s sole representation at the all-star game. The Hawks probably won’t be good enough to have 2 all-stars unless they both play very, very well. If Horford makes it, he’s probably taking a lot of touches away from Smith anyway, as well as his all-star bid. So 1 spot is probably taken by Atlanta either way; moving on. Next is Roy Hibbert. We may not need a true centre, but the Pacers will probably deserve to have an all-star as arguably the 2nd best regular season team in the Eastern Conference next year. Hibbert is the most likely to make it and many coaches will vote for him just because they have to list a centre and Hibbert is the only pure centre worthy of votes. The PF/C-types may end up splitting votes amongst themselves and small forwards and Hibbert will likely have the team success to sneak in, even if some of the PF/C-types have slightly better stats.
For the last spot, we have many to choose from. Although not typically a strong regular season team lately, if Boston comes on strong and Garnett or Pierce plays well they could have 2 all-stars this year. Both of their chances are hurt by the presence of each other and their need/ability to rest due to age and the increased depth at their positions on the roster. Brook Lopez is very doubtful as he’s not even the 2nd best player on his own team. Danny Granger has a decent chance as Indiana will be very good, but his game has fallen off a bit lately and Hibbert is far more likely to represent that team. They will be good enough to send 2 players to the big game, but only if they both really stand out and I doubt that’s going to happen. Amare Stoudemire could make it, but he’s got to play a lot better than last season and that might be too much to expect from a player with his mileage and injury history. I mentioned Horford before, and he and Smith could both potentially make it if that team plays really well. And then there’s Bargnani. I’ve already written at length about what he needs to do to have a chance, and if plays the way he’s capable of he certainly will warrant consideration. Nobody on this list is untouchable, and if the team success is there he will likely deserve it as much as anyone else listed here. He may lose out to Pierce or Garnett, especially with the “lifetime achievement” factor in voting, but he may not if those guys are rested throughout the season in preparation for the playoffs, or if their record doesn’t reflect the talent level on that team. His presence is hurt by the potential of Lowry to make the team. Not many 7th or 8th seeds have 2 all-stars and Lowry is more likely to make it, in my opinion, especially with the amount if competition Bargnani could potentially have. If any of the aforementioned players has a strong year, aside from Lopez, how could anyone possibly justify sending Andrea as Toronto’s 2nd all-star for a fringe playoff team over similarly talented players from much better teams? He would have to really outperform them, but even then he may just hurt Lowry’s chances as whatever team success the Raptors have will be attributed to him. Tough call, but I’d say if the Raptors are in the playoff hunt and exceeding expectations, Lowry will make the team and Bargnani will barely miss the cut, unless he improves upon even the legendary 13 game sample we saw from him at the beginning of last season. As most of us are just hoping for him to match it, I don’t see that being very likely.
You’ll notice DeRozan wasn’t on this list either. Now that I’ve gone through the competition, I just don’t see it happening. The only way he makes it is if he drastically improves this season and supplants Lowry as our best player in the backcourt. More likely though, he’ll fade more into the background with a scoring point guard like Lowry in the fold. As is always the case with DeMar: maybe next year.
Thanks for reading.