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Johnson out of All-Star Game; Irving should be in

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) passes out under

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) passes out under pressure from Boston Celtics' Mickael Pietrus (28) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Cleveland. (Jan. 31, 2012) Credit: AP

The Atlanta Hawks today announced that Joe Johnson will miss the NBA All-Star Game with left knee tendinitis.

Johnson's injury is the second major injury in Atlanta this year, the team without Al Horford since Jan. 11. After reeling off nine wins in 11 games following Horford's injury, the Hawks have struggled, just 3-7 to start February.

Now, the discussion turns to who will replace Johnson in Orlando, who is averaging 17.6 points per game. Some of the names that have floated around as earlier snubs: Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Tyson Chandler among them.

Without a doubt, though, this is going to come down to Johnson's Atlanta teammate Josh Smith, and Cavs rookie guard Kyrie Irving.

J-Smoove has been vocal about not being selected, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "I guess I don't know the right people or kiss enough [butt]." The forward, in his eighth NBA season, has been a part of the All-Star festivities once, winning the dunk contest in 2005. Each of the last six seasons, though, his stats have placed him in the discussion for selection to the All-Star Game. And each time, he's been left off the roster.

This year, Smith is posting big numbers for the 19-13 Hawks, averaging 16.0 points and a career-best 9.5 rebounds per game. Smart money is on Smith being named the replacement in order to keep an Atlanta representative on the Eastern Conference roster.

The right move, though, would be to name Irving as the injury replacement. The Cavs' 19-year-old rookie showed again last night how gifted and talented beyond his years he is, dropping 17 on the Pistons in the fourth quarter to lead Cleveland back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a 101-100 win.

Just how good, historically, has Irving's rookie season been? Well, consider this: prior to Irving, in NBA history, four rookie guards finished a season averaging at least 18 points per game, had a player efficiency rating of at least 18, and shot at least 45 percent from the floor. Those rookies:

  Totals Shooting      
Rk Player Season ? Age Tm Lg G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% PER PTS WS
1 Kyrie Irving 2011-12 19 CLE NBA 27 27 831 .487 .436 .855 21.5 18.6 2.6
2 Tyreke Evans 2009-10 20 SAC NBA 72 72 2677 .458 .255 .748 18.2 20.1 5.4
3 Vince Carter 1998-99 22 TOR NBA 50 49 1760 .450 .288 .761 19.6 18.3 5.0
4 Michael Jordan* 1984-85 21 CHI NBA 82 82 3144 .515 .173 .845 25.8 28.2 14.0
5 Magic Johnson* 1979-80 20 LAL NBA 77   2795 .530 .226 .810 20.6 18.0 10.5
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/22/2012.

That's right. Two Hall-of-Famers, the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, and Carter when he still looked like the heir apparent to Air Jordan.

Keep this in mind, too: Irving has a higher PER than Carter, Evans and, yes, Magic. He's the only one in the group to shoot at least 30 percent from three -- Irving is shooting 43.6 percent -- and has the highest free throw percentage in the group. Irving is second in assists per 36 minutes in the group, behind only Magic, and is the only teenager.

Smith deserves a shot at the All-Star Game eventually. But this year, not as much as a 19-year-old rookie.

The NBA also announced that Jazz forward Jeremy Evans will replace Knicks guard Iman Shumpert in the Slam Dunk Contest. Some of Evans' highlights:

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