Forward Thinking

by Ryan Jones

So I’m working on a story on a prominent Western Conference forward, which may or may not be for the next cover of SLAM (Mystery? Intrigue? Yeah, I know how to keep you sheep interested), and I start looking at his stats. And then I start thinking about stats for other Western Conference forwards. And then I start thinking about the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, and which of these Western Conference forwards might earn their way into the game. And then smoke starts coming out of my ears.

Yo, this sh*t is CRAZY.

I know this isn’t a new topic among hoop fiends like ourselves. We’ve been talking for a few years now about all the great threes and fours in the WC, and it’s made for some interesting debates. But now? It’s worse than ever. If you’ve been paying any attention the first month of this season (and unless you found this link by accident, I’m guessing you have been), you have come to the same realization I have: There is not enough room on the Western Conference All-Star team for all the All-Star forwards in the Western Conference.

Really, it’s not even close.

Here, see for yourself — and I’ll go in alphabetical order so no one thinks I’m playing favorites. As if such a thing were possible. I’m a journalist. Nevermind.

Top-20 League rankings in parenthesis:

CARMELO ANTHONY: 31.1 ppg (1st), 51% FG, 4.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.1 spg (3rd)

RON ARTEST: 16.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 3.1 spg (1st)

CARLOS BOOZER: 21.9 ppg (19th), 58% FG, 12.7 rpg (2nd), 3.3 apg

ELTON BRAND: 17.3 ppg, 51% FG, 10.3 rpg (8th), 1.9 bpg (12th), 38.6 mpg (14th)

TIM DUNCAN: 22.8 ppg (17th), 57% FG, 10.9 rpg (5th), 1.4 bpg

KEVIN GARNETT: 21.5 ppg (20th), 52% FG, 11.9 rpg (5th), 3.4 apg, 2.1 bpg (9th), 1.6 spg (17th)

RASHARD LEWIS: 22.9 ppg (16th), 50% FG, 42% 3-point FG, 6.4 rpg, 1.6 spg (15th), 39.8 mpg (9th)

SHAWN MARION: 18.7 ppg, 50% FG, 8.8 rpg, 1.8 spg (9th), 1.5 bpg (10th), 39.9 mpg (8th)

DIRK NOWITZKI: 26.5 ppg (9th), 52% FG, 10.4 rpg (9th), 38.0 mpg (18th)

LAMAR ODOM: 19.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.6 apg, 40.3 mpg (7th)

ZACH RANDOLPH: 25.1 ppg (13th), 10.2 rpg (12th)

PEJA STOJAKOVIC: 17.8 ppg, 41% 3-point FG

DAVID WEST: 17.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg

OK. First thing, obviously, is that I’m not saying all those guys (the Hornets’ duo in particular) are All-Stars, or even worthy of serious consideration. But both Peja and DWest are off to great starts, giving their team exactly what they need from their positions, so it’s worth having them in the conversation. We’ll say the same for Andrei Kirilenko, an All-Star in ’04 and a perennial contender for a coaches’ invite with his all-around statistical sickness (as I write this, he’s third in the League in blocks). And of course, there’s no mention of Pau Gasol, who averaged 20, 9 and 5 in making the ASG last season, then followed that up by taking MVP honors at the World Championship. Think he’d have a decent shot this year? Yes. Yes, he would. But, for All-Star purposes, their part in this convo ends here.

Meaning we’ve only got 11 more to go. Great.

Start with the relatively easy cuts. Ron Ron likes to think of himself as an MVP candidate and the best all-around player in the L, and he’s had moments that made us wonder if he wasn’t right. This year, solid numbers all the way around, including the League lead in steals. He’s been an All-Star before, but this year he’s not quite that dude.

Um, OK… now what? Yeah, told you this was hard. Maybe the move now is to go with the guys whose presence in this conversation comes as a surprise, the ones who haven’t been in the perennial All-Star mix in their careers. Like, say, Rashard Lewis. Are the numbers a fraud? When you’re only the second best player on a bad team with a rep for not defending anyone, do you even merit a mention? Well, yeah, with those numbers, I’d say you do. And he was an All-Star two years ago. But is he gonna take a spot from any of the guys I haven’t mentioned yet? No. But that just makes this thing crazier, because in a lot of years, and at a lot of positions, Shard’s digits are A-S worthy.

Lamar Odom? A sentimental choice, a triple-double threat, a dude who’s putting up nice numbers for a surprisingly strong LakeShow. Again, All-Star stats, but not in this conference, and not this year. Meaning we’ve already axed a couple of player with worthy numbers… and we still have eight to go. Assuming you put five forwards on the roster, that means three more guys can skip the craps tables in February and spend a nice few days with the fam in the Bahamas instead. Here’s who I’m guessing those three guys are:

Zach Randolph. Yes, Zach the Gangsta Maniac is averaging 25 and 10, something only Dirk and Yao can claim through the first month of the season. It says here that Dirk and Yao are complete locks for the All-Star Game. So why not Zach? ‘Cause he’s on a bad, small-market team, meaning the fans won’t vote him in, and he’s apparently a lunatic, meaning the coaches probably won’t put him on, either. Duh. Sorry, homie. Please don’t hurt me.

Elton Brand. Last year, EB was All-NBA second team, an easy All-Star pick, and even a borderline MVP choice. He’s still dope, but this year, with this kind of comp, he’s not quite dope enough. Our apologies to Clipper Nation.

Shawn Mar—no wait. It’s Kevin G—dammit! This is brutal. OK, Do you leave off Matrix, who’s once again in the 20 and 10 neighborhood, is a great defender, plays mad minutes and shoots 50 percent on a good team? Or do you leave off KG, who’s KG? Both of these guys are All-Star regulars, but Kevin is a little more perennial. He’s also a sure-shot Hall of Fame, which Shawn, much as we love him, is not. Dammit!

And that leaves five. Specifically, that leaves Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, without whom it’s sort of hard to imagine having an All-Star Game. And it leaves a couple other guys who are less familiar with this event: yes, Carmelo Anthony and, yes, Carlos Boozer. Both have numbers that are simply to good to ignore. Melo’s on a decent team, which could count against him, and he’s currently leading the League in turnovers, which could DEFINITELY count against him. But then he’s also leading the L in scoring, ripping two steals per game, and shooting over 50 percent. So, finally, your man is gonna get his ticket this year. There’s no way he doesn’t. And ‘Los simply plays for the League’s (so far) best team, and his numbers are dumb, and it’s like his disappearing act last season never happened. Wait, is this a contract year again already? Whatever, dude’s doing it, and the coaches will reward the Sloan army by giving Boozer a bid. Count on it.

Now, just be glad that 6-10 Tracy McGrady is listed as a “guard,” and that Kirilenko’s not playing like he was the past couple years, and that Gasol’s on the chilling list. Otherwise, we might have to play a split squad game, and that would just be confusing.