2014 NBA All-Star Game to feature 4 First-Time Starters

paul-george-pacersThere’s not normally a lot of turnover when it comes to NBA All-Star game starters. Fans usually vote big-name veterans in as starters, whether they’re injured or healthy. Case in point, Kobe Bryant has played all of six games this season, but he was still voted into the All-Star contest.

Speaking of which, Bryant had previously said that the game needs to feature some younger players. And he’ll get his wish because four first-time All-Stars were also voted in as starters too. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Stephen Curry all garnered enough fan votes to start in their first All-Star contest.

Many were surprised that Curry wasn’t selected as a starter or reserve last year. But he won’t have to worry about that this season after garnering lots of fan votes. Love is another interesting story because he passed Dwight Howard just before the voting closed. “Hey, I’m popular now,” Love said jokingly. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”

stephen-curryIt’s little surprise that George was voted in as a starter. He’s led Indiana to the league’s best record so far and is averaging 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 3.4 APG. Kyrie Irving has also put up some very solid numbers, with 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.0 RPG. Amidst a weak crop of Eastern Conference point guards, Irving definitely stands out, even with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.

The 2014 NBA All-Star reserves will be announced on January 30th, two weeks before the game takes place on February 16th in New Orleans. We’ll cover the entire All-Star game rosters when they’re released, but for now, here’s a look at the starters.

Eastern Conference

Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers – 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat – 18.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
Paul George, SF Indiana Pacers – 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
LeBron James, SF Miami Heat Р26.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG
Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks – 26.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Western Conference

Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors – 23.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG
Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG
Blake Griffin, PF Los Angeles Clippers – 22.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves – 25.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG

How Danny Granger convinced the Pacers to draft Paul George

paul-georgeMost NBA analysts and experts fully expected the Miami Heat to run through the 2013 Playoffs and on to their second straight title. But there’s just one holdup so far: the Indiana Pacers are giving the Heat a huge fight and have tied the Eastern Conference Finals series at 2-2.

Pacers forward Paul George is a huge reason behind why Indiana is playing Miami so tough right now. He’s displayed the same all-around game against the Heat that he has throughout the entire 2013 regular season. What’s more is that George has even given LeBron James some difficulties on both ends of the floor.¬†Interestingly enough, none of this may have happened if not for currently injured Pacers star Danny Granger.

Back in 2010, before the NBA Draft, former Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird was trying to decide whether or not he should select George. After all, the Fresno State product was still a relatively unknown entity, despite playing two solid years of college ball. Plus Indiana had the 10th pick in the 2010 Draft and didn’t want to take a leap of faith on an unproven talent.

paul-george-pacersAt the time, Granger was working out with George and had some inside knowledge of the prospect. And the two had a connection since they shared an agent in Aaron Mintz. So Bird called Granger in an effort to find out what his opinion was of George, but hadn’t gotten a call back.

So Mintz phoned Granger to convince his client to talk things over with Bird. As Sports Illustrated journalist Lee Jenkins wrote, the three-way conversation went something like this:

Mintz asked George, “Where do you want to go in the draft tomorrow?”
“Indiana,” George replied.

“Why?” Mintz asked.

“I think I can learn so much from Danny.”

Mintz hung up on George and asked Granger, “Can you call Bird now?”

Despite the fact that they both played the same position, Granger complied with Mintz’s request and gave a “glowing recommendation” of the fellow small forward. He would eventually tell Bird that George would be an All-Star by his third season – something which few other people around the league could’ve predicted.

danny-grangerHowever, Granger’s bold prophecy didn’t look very accurate in the beginning. As a rookie, George was a reserve who was mainly called upon for his stingy defense. He averaged a modest 20.7 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 1.0 SPG and 3.7 RPG.

George showed some definite improvement in his second season and blossomed in a starting role. He averaged 12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 1.6 SPG while also shotting 38.5% from the 3-point line.

But this year is when George has truly stepped into a starring role. He made the All-Star team on the strength of 17.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.1 APG and 1.8 SPG. Granted, George has done this in a year where Granger has been sidelined all but five games with an injury; however, he’s still turned in a very impressive season.

And no matter how the current series against the Heat finishes out, the Pacers definitely have to be happy about Danny Granger making that phone call before the 2010 Draft.

NBA Power Rankings for March 24th, 2013

chris-bosh-miamiThe biggest story in the NBA remains Miami’s incredible win streak, which is the second best in NBA history. With 25 straight victories, the Heat need just eight more consecutive wins to tie the 1971-72 LA Lakers for the most ever. Miami’s success has overshadowed the fact that the Denver Nuggets have also played excellent with 15 consecutive wins. Thanks to their great run, Denver has climbed over several teams into the Western Conference’s third seed. You can check out how the rest of the league’s top clubs are doing below.

1. Miami Heat (54-14) – The question right now isn’t if the Miami Heat are the NBA’s best team, it’s if they can become the greatest team ever. Doing so will no doubt require topping the 33 straight wins by the Lakers and winning this year’s championship. As for the streak, the next four games are very winnable with Charlotte, Orlando (road), Chicago (road) and New Orleans (road) coming up. On March 25th, the Heat will face off against the Spurs in San Antonio. Assuming they can win the next four contests, this could be the deciding factor in their quest for greatness.

2. San Antonio Spurs (53-16) – San Antonio has certainly remained steady this season and have gone 8-2 in March. However, things look to get a bit hairier over the next five games because they face Houston (road), Denver, the Clippers, Miami and Memphis (road). If San Antonio can win three or four of these contests, they have a good shot at closing out the regular season as Western Conference champions. Greg Popovich has done a great job at keeping his players fresh this year because nobody plays more than 33 MPG. So watch out come playoff time!

ty-lawson3. Denver Nuggets (49-22) – For most of the season, Denver looked like a low playoff seed. However, they’ve now ripped off 15 straight wins and are looking to lock up home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The win streak hasn’t been an easy task either because the Nuggets have had to beat Oklahoma City (twice), the Clippers, the Lakers, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Memphis along the way. Much like Miami and their hot streak, Denver will face the San Antonio roadblock on March 27th.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (51-19)¬†– One could make an argument that the Thunder should be ranked ahead of Denver since they’ve consistently won all season – including going 7-3 over the past 10 contests. However, the three losses were against other top Western Conference teams in San Antonio, Memphis and Denver; the Nuggets loss was particularly bad since it was at home. With so many other West teams playing well to close out the season, it’ll be a challenge for Oklahoma City to make the NBA Finals again…but it’s still a realistic possibility.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (47-22) – Memphis doesn’t exactly feature explosive scoring since Zach Randolph leads the team with 15.8 PPG. However, this might be the best defensive club in the NBA since they’re tied with Indiana in holding opponents to a league-low 89.5 PPG. Marc Gasol (1.71 BPG) plays in a big part in this because he swats plenty of shots and alters others. Mike Conley (2.30 SPG) and Tony Allen (1.48 PPG) also do an incredible job of pressuring the ball and forcing teams to make bad decisions.

blake-griffin-clippers6. L.A. Clippers (48-22) – With other teams currently surging in the West, the Clippers have simply been playing above average. This being said, it’s tough to figure out where they fit in when the playoffs roll around. L.A. certainly has the fire power to win in the postseason with Blake Griffin (18.6 PPG), Chris Paul (16.8 PPG) and Jamal Crawford (16.8 PPG). Plus their defense is pretty stout too with the Clippers holding opponents to 94.2 PPG. But the challenge will be putting all of this together through a seven-game series.

7. New York Knicks (42-26) – New York has really been an enigma this year. They began the season with the league’s best record for a while. Then the Knicks started cutting in and out of losing streaks while, subsequently, falling down to the Eastern Conference’s three seed at one point. As of now, they’re riding a four-game winning streak and tied with Indiana for the East’s second seed. Both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith have been huge since they’re averaging 28.7 PPG and 20.3 PPG over the past four games.

paul-george-pacers8. Indiana Pacers (43-27) – The Pacers are one of the more impressive teams this year when considering that their star, Danny Granger, has only played five games. Granger could be healthy for the playoffs; but if he’s not, Indiana should be fine with Paul George (17.7 PPG), David West (17.3 PPG) and George Hill (14.4 PPG) leading the scoring charge. Roy Hibbert (2.71 BPG) is also proving to be nearly impossible for opponents to shoot over.

9. Brooklyn Nets (40-29) – The Nets are desperately trying to hold onto the fourth seed in the East so they have first round home court advantage. They’re currently in the midst of an eight-game road trip, which should test this team’s mettle. Denver should especially be a tough contest because they’re on fire right now. One players that’s particularly interesting on this team is Reggie Evans, who’s averaging 10.2 RPG in just 23.6 MPG. He’s really been dominant on the boards lately after averaging 16.8 RPG in the past five contests.

10. Atlanta Hawks (39-31) – Atlanta moves back into our top 10 thanks to the demise of Chicago and mediocre play by Golden State over the past few weeks. This month started horribly for the Hawks when they dropped six out of seven games. But things have gotten much better lately with Atlanta winning five out of the last seven contests. The most impressive victories during this stretch include Milwaukee (twice), the Lakers and Brooklyn. Al Horford has definitely been a beast over the last five games with 19.0 PPG and 13.0 PPG.