The last time I ventured out to Oracle Arena, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Charlotte Bobcats and Mark Jackson talked up David Lee and Stephen Curry as potential All-Stars both before and after the game. That victory was followed by an overtime loss to the Lakers and four straight wins against the Jazz, Sixers, Celtics and Clippers. After beating the Clips, Jackson renewed his postgame All-Star campaign with vigor:
“Maybe I’ll hold my own game if these two guys aren’t in there. Maybe that’s the answer. These two guys are All-Stars. Steph Curry played Chris Paul, and it looked like two of the best in the business going at it.”
“These two guys” was in reference to Curry and Lee, not Curry and Paul. Paul’s already almost guaranteed of being a starter for the Western Conference, as he stands over 45,000 votes ahead of Jeremy Lin according to the latest numbers (fan voting ends Jan. 14):
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (OKC) 1,088,797, Dwight Howard (LAL) 716,671, Blake Griffin (LAC) 593,024, Tim Duncan (SA) 352,534, Pau Gasol (LAL) 239,440, Kevin Love (Min) 221,291, Omer Asik (Hou) 160,935, Rudy Gay (Mem) 140,864, Serge Ibaka (OKC) 134,172, Marc Gasol (Mem) 114,465, LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 111,156, Zach Randolph (Mem) 111,046, Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 106,623, Metta World Peace (LAL) 106,025, Chandler Parsons (Hou) 93,057
Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 1,177,456, Chris Paul (LAC) 651,893, Jeremy Lin (Hou) 605,624, James Harden (Hou) 337,585, Russell Westbrook (OKC) 268,558, Steve Nash (LAL) 202,274, Tony Parker (SA) 128,966, Ricky Rubio (Min) 112,352, Stephen Curry (GS) 97,761, Manu Ginobili (SA) 84,564
There’s a chance both Curry and Lee are named to the roster once the coaches have their say, but let’s assume only one gets an All-Star nod. Which Warrior would it be? Lee had an interesting (if not exactly humble) answer yesterday when The Game’s Ric Bucher asked him the following question at the end of an interview yesterday:
Bucher: Take yourself out of the equation. You can’t vote for yourself. Who’s the MVP of this Warriors team right now?
Lee: Oh, I think Steph’s done an unbelievable job this year. And even if you let me include myself, I’d put us as a tie.
Lee and Curry start each game with a pregame sprint toward the opposite baseline, a race that rarely ends in a tie (in fact, Curry seems to win every time). But when it comes to individual accolades like “Warriors MVP so far” or who might be named to the Western Conference All-Star team, Lee vs. Curry is as close to a tossup as you can find. Let’s go through a few categories one could choose to decide who gets an All-Star nod.
Lee has the advantage here, although it’s close. While Curry has a slight edge over Lee in points per game (20.4 to 20.2) and minutes played (38.1 to 37.7), Lee has the higher offensive rating (115 to 112), defensive rating (102 to 104) and PER (21.2 vs. 19.2 for Curry). However, Curry’s Alternate Player Efficiency Rating (a slightly different take on PER that takes into account charges and a couple other things — if you want to find out more check out HoopData) is a little bit better (20.34 to 20.15).
If round numbers are your thing, Lee has 20 double-doubles to Curry’s 5, and he’s the only player in the league averaging better than 20/10. Curry has made more threes than anyone besides Ryan Anderson, and Curry makes a much higher percentage of his shots behind the arc than New Orleans’ long-range specialist.
No surefire ways exist to predict an All-Star based on stats, as backcourt and frontcourt players aren’t expected to do the same things. That’s why the double-doubles discrepancy shouldn’t make too much of a difference, since rebounds are easier to come by for Lee than assists for Curry given their respective roles. There is also the current composition of the West to consider. Unless Lin makes a huge comeback in the voting (and I wouldn’t put it past the NBA to, ahem, make sure that doesn’t happen given Lin’s mediocre showing this season), the starting lineups are set. Here’s the best of the rest:
In for sure:
Frontcourt: Tim Duncan (having his best season in years), Zach Randolph (leading rebounder in the West and Memphis should get at least one representative)
Backcourt: Westbrook (the Blake Griffin of point guards), Harden (scoring over 26 per game), Tony Parker (19.1 ppg, 7.4 apg, has already made four All-Star teams)
That leaves two spots. Lee benefits from Dirk Novitzki’s injury troubles, while Curry similarly benefits from Steve Nash missing 24 games. However, the Warriors have only been a winning team for two months. Players from more established squads could sneak in, guys like Rudy Gay, Serge Ibaka or even Marc Gasol. LaMarcus Aldridge made his first All-Star team last season, and his Blazers (17-15) have been decent.
Lee is nearly ambidextrous and possesses an offensive repertoire that is nearly impossible to guard according to Ethan Sherwood Strauss. He isn’t exactly Terrence Ross when he goes to the rim, but Lee has a respectable 26 dunks this season. On the other hand, while Lee acts almost as the Warriors spokesman, Curry has been the team’s public face for quite some time. (Remember the NBA’s commercial from last year that featured a young Steph shooting with Dell?)
If he’s up to it, the NBA will probably want Curry to participate in the 3-point shootout and the Skills Competition. That’s not a reason why a player would or wouldn’t be included on the actual All-Star roster, nor should it be. However, it speaks to Curry’s game, which is undeniably flashier than Lee’s. Lee would have a good shot at hustling his way to a 20/10 night in an All-Star Game, but Curry’s the one who’d throw the prettiest alley-oop passes to Griffin that don’t come from Paul.
Players get in to the All-Star Game for a variety of reasons, and key among those include reputation, team winning percentage and tenure.
Lee was previously named an All-Star during his days with the Knicks, has slightly better numbers than Curry, and was memorably dubbed “White Chris Webber” by Shaq earlier this season after a win over Denver where Lee went for 31/9/6 on 13-of-15 shooting. Even so, when it comes to who’s the likelier participant in the 2013 All-Star Game I’d give the edge to Curry. Why? Fewer backcourt players with comparable numbers and Curry’s more telegenic game. The NBA wants Curry to join their list of TV stars, but have had to wait through a string of ankle injuries instead. Now is a good time to give him his first real invite, and performances like his recent 25-point first half in a glamour game against the Clippers attract All-Star consideration from coaches.
However, with each Warriors win it’s getting harder to argue with Coach Jackson — at this point, both deserve to go.