Dirk Nowitzki and five first-timers headlined the reserves selected for the 2012 NBA All-Star game.
The players, announced last night, were selected by the league's 30 head coaches. According to the NBA, coaches had to pick two guards, two forwards, one center and two other players from each conference.
Last week, I took a crack at predicting who would be selected to the game. In the East, I was 4-for-7. I had Kyrie Irving, Greg Monroe and Brandon Jennings in the game instead of Johnson, Hibbert and Deng.
Can't say I understand the HIbbert-over-Monroe choice. Yeah, the Pistons have been pitiful, but Monroe's play has transcended that. He's averaging 16.4 points and 10.0 rebounds, and plays like a refined veteran. Sure, Hibbert's been good, but his stats don't match up with Monroe across the board, and he has a far superior (understatement of the century) supporting cast. His choice feels like a "We need to get a Pacer on the roster" selection.
I think you're looking at something similar with Johnson; the Hawks were without a representative, so Johnson got votes. If you look at his game log, he's done all of his work against weaker opponents; since Al Horford went down, Jonson has scored at least 20 points nine times; just twice against teams with winning records. I know Irving is a rookie, and historically, coaches don't like sending rookies to the All-Star Game, but watching him consistently improve this season has been a treat, and at the level he's playing, he deserved an invite.
Finally for the East, there's Deng. His numbers and on-court impact suggest he deserves a spot. But in a shortened season, when we're selecting All Stars after 20-something games, how can you justify sending someone who missed seven games due to injury? That'd be akin to considering someone for MVP if they played only 50-60 games of an 82-game season. Yes, the East was thin on candidates, but someone like Jennings or Josh Smith should have gotten selected instead.
In the West, I missed badly on Parker, picking Danilo Gallinari instead. Parker has been exceptional this year, and would have been a major omission.
I do have a problem with Nowitzki being on the team over Paul Millsap, though. Nowitzki said himself he didn't deserve to be on the team, was shut down for several games due to conditioning, and is averaging five points per game below his career average (17.6 vs. 22.8) and two rebounds per game below his career average (6.2 vs. 8.3).
Millsap, meanwhile, has been a force for the Jazz. He and Al Jefferson have unexpectedly kept a rebuilding Utah team in the playoff mix. He's averaging close to a double-double (16.5 points and 9.7 rebounds) despite playing just 31.2 minutes per night, and is shooting a very efficient 52.3 percent from the floor and 80.7 percent from the line. Nowitzki skated in on name recognition and past returns, when Millsap really deserved his first trip to the game.