By Ryan Mayer
The midway point of the NBA season (at least by schedule, if not by number of games played) has arrived. The biggest stars will converge on the Air Canada Centre to put on the annual showcase that is NBA All-Star Weekend. With the game coming on Sunday and the rosters official, let’s look at the best the West has to offer and how these guys got here.
Kobe Bryant, G, Los Angeles Lakers – The farewell tour continues. As with any great star, Bryant has been honored with a spot on the All-Star team in his final season. His numbers are down as expected, but over the last five games in particular Bryant has regained a bit of his old form, putting up averages of 26.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 2.8 APG. This is Bryant’s 18th All-Star selection, and it will be good to see the crowd send him off one final time.
Steph Curry, G, Golden State Warriors – Do we even really need to discuss why he’s here? I didn’t think so. The human supernova is having his second straight MVP-caliber season and will probably just chuck threes all day. It’s not like he’ll face any actual defense on Sunday.
Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder – The fun part of the All-Star Game is how the NBA finds ways to fit the fan favorites into a coherent starting lineup. That’s why the West will roll out the rarely seen three-guard lineup. This isn’t to suggest Westbrook doesn’t deserve of a starting spot, he does. Westbrook is nearly averaging (yes, averaging) a triple double: 24.1 PPG, 10 APG and 7.6 RPG.
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs – This is Leonard’s first All-Star game selection, and it’s well deserved. He’s always been a defensive force, stopping everybody (except Steph Curry, but who does?) who crosses his path. But he’s stepped up his offensive game this season, putting up 20 PPG on 51% shooting from the field and 47% shooting from three. He’s clearly become one of the top 5 players in the NBA.
Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder – Durant is back and fully healthy after dealing with foot problems much of last season. The same skill set we’ve seen from Durant since he came into the league is still on full display. And his numbers aren’t too far off his MVP season two years ago: 27.8 PPG, 8 RPG, 4.5 APG compared to the 32/7.4/5.5 line he put up in 2013-14.
As small as the starting lineup is (Kevin Durant is basically playing center), the bench makes up for it with the monsters on the block. Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins are all having great seasons. Position-less (that’s a compliment) Draymond Green, who, like Westbrook, is averaging close to a triple double at 14.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 7.3 APG, makes his first All-Star Game appearance. Part of what makes watching Green so much fun is seeing the pure unselfishness in his game. Look for quite a few “extra passes” from him in this game to find an open shooter beyond the arc.
Aside from the bigs, the bench features Chris Paul, who is fourth in the league in assists per game at 9.4 and fourth in steals per game at 2.2. He always brings a different level of ball handling to his All-Star game performances.
James Harden and Klay Thompson round out the bench. Harden brings his terrific off-the-bounce playmaking style to the team, while Thompson adds another expert marksman from deep (42% 3PT, 10th in NBA).
Overall, the West balances a guard-heavy starting lineup with size off the bench and shooters all over the floor. And then you have an NBA legend in Kobe Bryant, who gets to put on an All-Star show one last time. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.