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Western Conference All-Stars One Month In

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One month into the 2017-18 season, the Western Conference is, as expected, loaded with stars playing at an extremely high level. Though early in the season, the debate around which players are potentially staking their early claims for an all-star nod in Los Angeles is heating up. In part one of this article (that you can read here if you missed it!), I chose my early candidates from the Eastern Conference to take part in the February showcase.

As mentioned in part one, the NBA announced a change to the traditional format of East v West for this year’s all-star game, the old schoolyard method of two captains drafting players to a team one by one will occur. This means that players from the Eastern and Western conferences will be mixed and matched. Each conference will still have the same amount of selections, 12 players representing each, but never before possible combinations of players will get to join sides in what is at least a solid attempt at spicing things up.

This week it’s time to head out west and give my never to early all-star leading candidates. Again, like last week I’ll start with who would make my hypothetical starting five:

James Harden, Houston, Guard, 6th All-Star Appearance:
The beard is cooking early in 2017/18. Unlucky not to win the leagues MVP award last season, Harden is the tearaway early leader in that race this year. He currently leads the league in scoring with 31.1 points per game, assists with just a touch under 10 a game and is top 5 in efficiency rating. This is without even mentioning that his Houston Rockets are at the time of writing, on top of the Western Conference standings. Oh yeah, and all this with marquee acquisition, perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul only appearing in four games total!

Harden has dropped at least 20 points in every contest so far, with six games of 30+ including a 48 point outburst and one of the great individual performances of the season so far. The Utah Jazz were first-hand witnesses to how destructive Harden can be on November 5th, they suffered a 27 point loss on a night the beard went off for 56 points and 13 assists, shooting 7/8 from beyond the arc. Harden may have missed out on the MVP last season, but it’s very evident in the early going that it will take something special for that to again be the case.

Kevin Durant, Golden State, Forward, 9th All-Star Appearance:
The Golden Warriors are an absolute juggernaut that that just continue to roll on. Again perching themselves at the pointy end of the Western Conference standings, they appear to be simply toying with the rest of the league in the early going. Last years Finals MVP, Kevin Durant is doing what he does best, dominating offensively in a ridiculously efficient way, 24.5 points per night with a .647 true shooting percentage. KD has long been one of the leagues best defenders when required, this year, in particular, he has ramped his efforts to protect the rim, ranking 2nd in the NBA with 2.1 blocks per game.

Durant has been a model of consistency scoring the ball so far, topping 20 points in every game bar one, against the Clippers when he dropped 19 in a 28-point blow out and took a seat early. Besides Durant’s general dominance of the league, he figures to be a certainty to rack up fan votes despite his villain status. The NBA ensuring extra days of rest in this year’s schedule will give him more time than usual to create social media accounts and get those votes in. A 9th all-star nod seems a given.

DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans, Center, 4th All-Star Appearance:
DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute force. The 6’11”, 270 lb Pelican is having a typically dominant start to the season, but unlike previous years, his team is winning more often than not. Cousins ranks top 5 in the league in scoring with 26.1 ppg, rebounds with 12.9 and in the top 20 for steals and blocks with 1.7 and 1.4 respectively.

To give you an idea how dominant Cousins has been statistically so far, here is a list of all the players in the history of the NBA/BAA to post greater than 26 points, 12 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal over the course of the season. Pretty impressive stuff. The Pels are above .500 right now and if they continue to rise in the standings then perhaps an all-star birth may not be all Cousins is in the running for as the season goes on.

BET

Nikola Jokic, Denver, Forward, All-Star Debut:
Nikola Jokic, in my opinion, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players in the league to watch. Standing 6’10”, 250 lbs, Jokic is a monster of the man and yet plays with the deft touch of the leagues niftiest point guards. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this man play, I highly recommend it.

The Denver Nuggets are currently comfortably above .500 and sitting in the middle rungs of the Western Conference playoff seeding. Jokic is averaging a 16.3 point, 11.2 rebound double-double a night in only 30 minutes of action. Amongst qualified centers league-wide, Jokic ranks third in assists per game with 4.5. This is the area of the game where he excels for his size, using his ability to see over defenders for perfectly timed highlight reel dimes that get the Pepsi Center crowd on their feet. Jokic has already racked up five games with 7+ assists including 10 in the win against Toronto on November 1st, narrowly missing his first triple-double of the season by one basket.

As a Milwaukee fan, I bore witness to Jokic dropping triple doubles on us in both contests last season, one in person at the Pepsi Center and I can confirm the hype is real. Expect Jokic to become a regular fixture in this event moving forward.

Steph Curry, Golden State, Guard, 5th All-Star Appearance:
The two time NBA MVP, Steph Curry is simply put, in cruise control. Unlike most regular human NBA players, Curry’s cruise control is still elite. Curry ranks 6th in the league in scoring, 25.9 points per game, slightly above what he averaged last season while taking fewer shots. He is making 3.5 shots from deep per game, good for second in the league, despite his three-point percentage sitting at a ‘pitiful’ 38 percent. Curry is racking up these offensive numbers whilst currently sitting 55th in the league for minutes per game, averaging only 32 per contest. Steph and the Warriors simply go out there, destroy the opposition and then catch some early rest.

Just for reference, LeBron James is currently playing 37.7 minutes per game, 5.5 more than Steph. If both players were to play 75 games this season, that would result in James being on the court for 412.5 more minutes then Curry entering the playoffs. As if we weren’t already worried enough about this lot, they are staying fresh, good luck league.

(Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

The five starters have now been named, leaving us with seven remaining spots and so many legitimate claims to be made. Let’s move on and see who has made my cut to fill out the Western Conference all-star selections:

Russell Westbrook, OKC, Guard, 7th All-Star Appearance:
The leagues reigning MVP has had a somewhat indifferent start to the season, adjusting to a markedly different roster in OKC compared to last year. Coming off a season in which he literally had free reign to do whatever he wanted and chase triple-doubles at will, he is adjusting to the life of once again sharing the spotlight. Never shy, Russ is struggling mightily shooting the ball so far, under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from deep as the Thunder sit three games under .500, still trying to figure things out.

Despite all this, Westbrook is as entertaining as ever, his ridiculous intensity ramped up to 100 percent at all times. Russ has hit the court 19 times so far this season, registering 6 triple doubles and two games with 15+ assists. One of Westbrook’s best performances was saved for his latest bout with Kevin Durant, the Thunder trouncing the Warriors by 17 points and it was lucky to be that close. In a typically chippy and physical game featuring a now expected nose to nose confrontation with Durant, Westbrook poured in a season-high 34 points to go with 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Westbrook is a polarizing figure when it comes to one’s opinion on his status amongst the leagues elite, whilst this debate won’t go away, you should expect both Westbrook and his teammates to figure things out in OKC. Defending his MVP crown seems unlikely at this point, but he’s certainly going to be an all-star once more.

Damian Lillard, Portland, Guard, 3rd All-Star Appearance:

The Portland Trailblazers have to be one of the unluckiest franchises in the league in recent history. First Brandon Roy was cut down before his prime, the number one draft pick Greg Oden never got the chance to get his career kick-started and recently LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum left in free agency. Yet, they continue to be a Western Conference playoff team each year and in the early going find themselves in 4th in the standings on the back of a dynamic guard duo.

Lillard, already a two-time all-star is having a typically sensational start to the season offensively, ranking in the top ten in scoring with 25.4 points per game. Dame has always been a guy who loves to step up in a crunch time, and this season has been no different, shooting 50 percent from the field in clutch situations, well up on his 41.5 percent mark on the season. An explosive scorer with unlimited range, Lillard has already posted six games of 30+ points and seven games with 4 or more triples. As long as Damian Lillard remains with the Blazers, they will continue to be a playoff contender in the West.

Mashable

Anthony Davis, New Orleans, Forward, 5th All-Star Appearance:
Incredibly still only 24 years old, Anthony Davis is well and truly in line for his 5th all-star selection after a sizzling start to the season. It was a tough decision between the Brow and Boogie as to who got my starting berth from the West, Davis missed out, but don’t let that detract from the work he has put in thus far.

Averaging 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, Davis is one half of the league’s most lethal big man duo. Already posting 3 games of 30+ points and 15+ rebounds, Davis has the ability to completely dominate games from the outset. Often injured in his first 5 seasons in the league, Davis has taken the court in 18 out of a possible 19 games so far for the Pelicans, an extremely positive start. After mixed results upon Cousins arrival in New Orleans last season, the Pels are now showing signs of the type of form many expected from them. Davis is playing as well as ever and health permitting, is an automatic selection.

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, Forward, 6th All-Star Appearance:
In a similar resurgence story to Eastern Conference big man Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge has played a starring role on a team that has missed the presence of one of the NBA’s top MVP candidates, Kawhi Leonard. Instead of coming out and struggling without their main man, the Spurs, unsurprisingly have come out winning more often than not and currently hold the third seed out West.

Aldridge, coming off his first two seasons in San Antonio where he took a hit in almost all statistical categories and at times looked completely out of sorts in Gregg Popovich’s system, surprisingly was re-signed to a 3-year/$72 million deal in October. Many thought this was a ludicrous offer for a player unhappy and in decline. Aldridge has bounced back to average 21.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, look far more like the perennial all-star player we got used to watching four years ago in Portland. The Spurs will hope Leonard can return soon and further bolster the Spurs machine but in the meantime, all-star level Aldridge is an adequate stopgap.

Klay Thompson, Golden State, Guard, 4th All-Star Appearance:

The level of the Warriors lethal offense is perhaps best described by explaining that Klay Thompson is the third option in their starting lineup. Think about that. After the opposition is done scouting for Steph and KD, they then have to actually worry about Thompson. It’s just ridiculous.

Already a three-time all-star, Klay is well on his way to securing a fourth nod and doing it in potentially career-best fashion. Averaging over 20 points a game for the fourth straight season. Thompson is doing it with career-best efficiency. With a career TS% of .574, Klay through the first 20 games is recording a .610TS%, combined with a career-high 46 percent of his triples going down. It’s possible the 27-year-old is just approaching his prime.

Clint Capela, Houston, Center, All-Star Debut:

And here we have the first bolter in the Western Conference all-star squad, the 23-year-old Rockets center from Switzerland, Clint Capela. The Rockets have launched into the season with one goal, winning it all. Capela has been by far the Rockets second most important player behind Harden and has had some huge nights in the early going.

Capela ranks in the top 6 in the league in both rebounds per game (11.5) and blocks (1.8). A very strong finisher at the rim, the 6’10” beanpole center is capitalizing on Harden’s penetration and finishing highlight reel alley-oops on a nightly basis. In the first 19 games of the season, Capela has registered 15+ points and 12+ boards in 5 of those. All resulting in Houston victories. Capela has become a key player in Houston and one that only figures to get better with the return of Chris Paul.

USATODAY

C.J McCollum, Portland, Guard, All-Star Debut:

I mentioned above that Portland has a dynamic guard duo, this is the second half of it. C.J McCollum is every bit as fast and explosive as Damian Lillard and trying to prepare to stop these two must be an absolute nightmare for opposition coaching staffs. McCollum, now in his fifth season is statistically putting up nearly identical numbers to last year but benefits from me feeling that the West needed another guard with the last bench spot, not to say he isn’t deserving. C.J ranks 18th in the league for scoring with 22 points per game but is absolutely scorching from the outside, ranking 2nd in the NBA from deep, knocking down 49.1 percent of his 5.9 attempts per game.

Nearing the quarter-way mark of the season Portland is currently in a home court playoff position in the Western Conference and if this is to remain the case after the turn of the new year, it will be as a result of C.J continuing his lights out offensive play. When LaMarcus Aldridge packed his bags for San Antonio many probably thought it would be awhile before Portland had two all-star representatives in the same year. That could possibly change if McCollum’s play stays at this level.

Well, that concludes my early selections for the Western Conference all-star representatives after the first month of season 2017/18. I certainly found part two, not surprisingly more difficult then I did the Eastern side of things. The West has an abundance of star big men, many worthy names I just simply couldn’t fit in and it must be noted that serious injuries have kept what you would normally consider locks for the all-star game out.

So what do you think? What did I get right? Who did I leave out that deserves to be in the squad?

Let’s get the debate rolling online, let me know your thoughts and let’s see how this squad stacks up over the next month of action heading into the new year.

About Kane Pitman

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