The All-Star starters were picked by the fans. The reserves were picked by the coaches. There were rules about positions, there were hash tags and there was apparently a mandate that Joe Johnson make the team… again. For our alternative game, there are no positional rules and the only mandate is fun. For our Third Annual Alternative All-Star Game, we asked some of our 172,893,465 writers to pick one player per conference. The Eastern Conference roster is below. Click here for the West.
Eric Maroun: JR SMITH, New York Knicks
If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? If JR Smith is not part of an Alternative All-Star Game, is it truly an Alternative All-Star Game? While not being able to speak to the former from personal experience, I can assure you that the East’s roster is now complete with the addition of one of the greatest gifts to NBA fans. Put it this way, pretend that you’ve been out to dinner all night with your significant other, decided to catch a movie which required you to turn your phone was off, then checked Twitter on your way out of the theater only to discover the first tweet in your timeline was, “I can’t believe JR Smith _______.” What would have to be in that blank space for you to not at least pause for a brief second to question whether that was a serious tweet or not? We know that we’re going to get an insane amount of dunks, zero defense, and highlight worthy passes in the regular All-Star Game. As fun as that is every year, it’s also predictable. Meanwhile, we have zero idea what we’re going to get when Smith is thrown into the equation. JR Smith doesn’t just deserve to be in the Alternative All-Star Game. JR Smith is the Alternative All-Star Game.
Besides, if Smith is capable of dropping literary genius like this after a regular season game…
We lose an I take 1 shit y’all mad we win I take 23 shots y’all mad! Lol #OHWELL
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) December 19, 2013
…just think what he’s capable of after spending All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
Bo Churney: Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Ross has become a 40% shooter from behind the arc this season, which is something I didn’t know he was doing until his 10-for-17 three-point performance in his 51-point game against the Clippers. Oh, and he won the Dunk Contest last season. We just need more three-pointing, Dunk Contest winners.
Robby Kalland: Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
Stephenson’s numbers have been really good this year. He’s averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game with a 54.4% eFG% for the best team in the Eastern Conference. That’s not the real reason why he should be in the game though. With his handles, flashy passes, and propensity to dance after great plays, Lance was made for an All-Star game and the NBA just needs to let the man prosper.
Scott Rafferty: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Remember when everyone was concerned about how raw Andre Drummond was coming out of college or that he may have some maturity issues? Yeah, me neither. After a solid rookie campaign which saw him work his way up in the most lovable NBA players ladder, Drummond has been made a huge jump in his second season, averaging 12.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. If the Detroit Pistons weren’t so terrible, there would be a legitimate case for him to make his first All-Star game. But right now, they’re nine games away from .500, which is, well, terrible.
The Pistons’ on-court woes have not been a result of anything Drummond has failed to do. Instead, he has given The Motor City a glimmer of hope that they’ll still make the Playoffs despite their slow start thanks to the tenacity and hustle he plays with each and every night. Plus, he dunks a lot. You can never have too many dunks in an All-Star game.
Jack Winter: Mike Scott, Atlanta Hawks
Shooting is the trait around which all things in the modern NBA orbit. No single skill is more valuable to players or teams, simply because the mere threat of it forces defenses into concessions they would otherwise avoid. This isn’t new – it’s likely been so at all levels of basketball since the sport’s inception, and certainly in the professional ranks since the three-point line was introduced over 30 years ago. But in a league where defensive strategy is increasingly intent on shading the strong-side of the floor and keeping the ball from the paint, the ripple effect of proficient shooters is seemingly endless.
With a relatively successful rookie season behind him, it’s clear that Atlanta Hawks power forward Mike Scott entered last offseason keenly aware of this development. At 6’8’’, 237 pounds with marginal length and underwhelming explosiveness, Scott’s future would always be finite – especially if he remained a non-entity outside the paint. Big men with his limited physical profile usually compensate offensively with range that extends to 20-feet or beyond, but Scott was an exception his rookie year. In limited playing time last season, he made just 33.3% of his 45 shots from mid-range and missed his lone try from beyond the arc.
Fast forward to today, and Scott has not only completely remade his game, but the outlook of his career, too. How? A wildly improved jumper. The film reveals a simple, consistent fix: A more fluid, compact stroke that totally abandons the Tayshaun Prince -style hesitation which plagued him last season. The results produced by that shift are staggering.
Scott is connecting on a very solid 44.8% from mid-range this season, and has even added a satisfactory three-point shot to his offensive repertoire. He’s taking 2.2 threes per game and connecting on 32.3% of them; Scott isn’t Kyle Korver or even Paul Millsap from long range, but at least a viable threat. And on a team ever limited on offense by the absence of Al Horford, such a development – even a small one – looms especially large.
Despite his newfound offensive versatility, Scott might be stretched beyond his limits as a rotational cog due to struggles on the other end. He’s regressed to a below-average rebounder this season, and offers little resistance as a primary or secondary defender. Scott has played 21.6 minutes per game since Horford’s injury; long-term, he’s probably better suited to the more reduced role Mike Budenholzer envisioned for him in the preseason.
But as far as injury-replacement bigs go, the revamped Scott has been a perfect fit for the Hawks. It’s a true team effort in Atlanta, and Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver headline that narrative. But the consistent production of Scott – he’s notched 15 consecutive double-figure scoring games – has been instrumental to their success, and the hard-earned, evolved nature of his varied offensive game is the means behind it.
Ian Levy: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
I know he plays for one of the worst teams in the league and I know he’s shooting just a hair over 40 percent from the field. But he’s also averaging 17.2 points, 6.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. Here’s the entire list of rookies who have put up averages of 17-6-5-2 in the history of the NBA — Magic Johnson and no one. His season has been fantastic enough to merit league-wide recognition (Rookie of the Year, pending) and just flawed enough to make him an Alternative All-Star instead of a real one.
Steve McPherson: Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers
My enduring love for Thad Young is nothing if not well-documented. It was thus kind of sad — and just for me — when I went to talk to him after the Sixers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this season and Young had precious little to say on his success this season, particularly in terms of bringing the 3-point shot back into his arsenal. I never even bothered transcribing his answers because they were all of the “I’m just trying to be aggressive” and “I’m just trying to look for my shots in the offense” variety. I should have followed my own advice and not even bothered with the visitors’ locker room after a home win.
But I had to give it a shot because somehow Young has become my favorite current NBA player. I’m at something of a loss to explain this. Recent last second shot aside, his game is not particularly exclamatory or exultant. He’s athletic enough to throw it down with the best of them, but he rarely showboats. He’s left-handed, which also seems to be part of it. (As of 2009, 6.98% of the league was left-handed—I would assume this hasn’t changed much since.) SB Nation’s Mike Prada might come close to encapsulating his appeal here, where he explains how Young has become something of a small-ball post-player savant, moving constantly around the paint and waiting for a perfect dump-in to move swiftly to the hoop.
But he had all that last year. This year, he’s reintroduced the 3-point shot into his game. After shooting 30 3-pointers in the last three years COMBINED under Doug Collins, he’s shot 126 so far this season, and we’re only just half done with it. And — much to everyone’s surprise — he’s making them at a 33% clip. Which, admittedly, is not fiery, but it’s enough to start forcing other teams to respect it. I’ve seen enough Sixers games to know that every opposing booth is shocked when he makes a 3-pointer, but in his second and third season, he shot 34% and 35% from the arc, respectively. That shot has been there — it’s just been dormant.
And maybe that’s why I love him so. Collins didn’t want him (or anyone, really) shooting 3-pointers, so he didn’t do it, instead focusing on his post game and improving that. And now he’s bringing it back, becoming a multi-dimensional threat. To me, that speaks to a certain dedication to craft, a willingness to forgo something in order to honor something else, and then come back to it to improve a different aspect of the craft. I can respect that. If he gets moved to a contender this season or the next as part of the Sixers’ rebuild, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see him be a difference maker on a team with championship aspirations.
And I’ll be happy for him. Even if he only ever told me sweet nothings.
Derek James: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
As if averaging 16-4-7 while shooting over 40 percent from both the field and three wasn’t enough for the surprising Raptors, Lowry made a statement following the announcement that he will not play for the East in New Orleans. Lowry’s 25 points, eight assists and 2.3 steals per game the week after, letting the basketball world knows that he knew he belonged.
Caleb Nordgren: Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Were it not for the mysterious (not really, it seems obvious that his turf toe is bothering him and messing with his shot) disappearance of Jimmy Butler’s ability to make jumpers, this would be his spot, but Taj is just as worthy. Taj’s calling card is and always has been his defense, but he has a legit post game now. But honestly, I’m choosing him so I can watch everyone get really confused when he’s the only player on the court actually playing D and so hopefully he can dunk on some folks. Taj dunks are never not fun.
Brian Schroeder: Mirza Teletovic, Brooklyn Nets
As one of the NBA’s best teams since the calendar turned to 2014, the Nets seem to have been guaranteed an All-Star, so of course Joe Johnson went. He hasn’t been the reason they’ve turned things around, though (he has been good, however). Coming into this, his second NBA season, Teletovic was seen as something of a failure as an NBA player. In November, while the Nets were floundering, he did very little to dispel this notion. In late December, after Brook Lopez went down for the season, Teletovic became a starter, and has has provided a lot of value since. He’s posted averages of 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists on .484/.400/.556 shooting. Not the most overwhelming raw stats in the world, but Teletovic has been absolute lightning from the corners, shooting 14/25 (.560) from the corner threes this season. For a team with spacing concerns as legitimate as the Nets, that provides the sort of value that is worth any price. Good for them that he’ll come for a little over $3.3 million next season. A rare bargain for the Nets.
Jared Dubin: Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
TIMMY. I hated this pick so much when it happened. That he’s now my Alternative ASG pick says a lot about how impressive a rookie campaign he’s had. Mostly he’s here because he has the quintessential All-Star Game skill set. He rains threes. He glides through the air on his way to the rim, especially on the break. And he sucks at defense. Perfect.
Seerat Sohi: Anderson Verajao— err, Varejao*, Cleveland Cavaliers
Most casual fans haven’t heard Anderson Varejao’s name since 2010. Honestly, I can’t even spell it without opening another tab on Safari.
Varejao is your quintessential guy that gets lost in the mess. He’s a hustle guy, but he’s not provocative like Joakim Noah or a perpetual chaos machine like Kenneth Faried. He’s been the Cavs’ top defender since LeBron’s departure but he’s not a Roy Hibbert-esque stalwart. Everyone loves a player like Andy. But facts are facts and offense is offense: In the rebounding and defense department (sorry), we only laud those who are exceptional— to be notable, merely, is to be a waste of breath.
The Cavs are a deplorable mess at worst and, on good nights, a prototype for an acceptable version of the Sacramento Kings roster. But here is a guy who, at 31 years old, has not only spent his entire career with the same franchise, he’s their entire lifeblood. He is the jack of all non-negotiable championship criteria— team defense, rebounding hustle— but he’s doing it on a team without a flicker of championship expectations and thus, he is the same way he has always been: unnoticed, yet untethered by the failure surrounding him.
Andy, you might never get your day in the sun. But this blogger will always love your whimsy hair.
Kevin McElroy: Kenyon Martin, New York Knicks
There’s a video store down the block from my apartment. Still. It’s a pretty ridiculous place: you pick an empty DVD case from one of those long rows of shelves and bring it up front where a guy with an Oasis t-shirt takes a dozen or so passes over it with a scanner gun that looks like a “Spaceballs” prop. Once the system recognizes the bar code, a little message pops up for him on the screen of what I’m pretty sure is a Gateway 2000 that tells him where in the massive filing cabinet behind the counter he can find the disc that belongs inside the box. Then he hands it to me and I pay for it. In cash. I think there’s a Gattaca poster in there. You get the point.