The Western Conference is basically where weak basketball goes to die, as opposed to the Eastern Conference where, apart from the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, competitive basketball goes to die. At 19-12, a record that would be good for the third seed in the East, the Phoenix Suns currently sit at the seventh spot in the West. But since the Suns are the biggest surprise in the NBA this season by a mile, is there any chance someone will represent the purple and orange in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game?
Before we continue, it’s important to note that the only three players on the ballot for the Suns are (deservedly) Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee. No offense to P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, Channing Frye or the Morris twins, but none of their breakout seasons are impressive enough to warrant much All-Star buzz. To be truthful, Sky Miles probably doesn’t deserve much serious All-Star consideration either, despite the fact that he’s a regular double-double threat, a tremendous shot-blocker and easily the most surprising member on the Suns’ roster.
Unfortunately for Plumlee, the West is pretty stacked in the frontcourt. With names like Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, David Lee, Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph and DeMarcus Cousins floating around, there are plenty of more deserving candidates who will garner way more votes from their respective fan bases than an emerging player like Frequent Flyer Miles. That means the hopes of a Phoenix player on the All-Star roster are on Bledsoe and Dragic, the two biggest players behind the Suns’ success.
Unfortunately for them, the West is even more stacked at the guard positions. In a conference with the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, James Harden and Damian Lillard, there are plenty of well known names and not a lot of space on the 2014 NBA All-Star roster. Even lesser stars like Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio, Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin are having good seasons.
Before diving into any debate, it’s important to note how eerily similar Dragic and Bledsoe’s stats are. The numbers speak for themselves:
As you can see, Dragic and Bledsoe are less than 1.0 apart in both points and assists. They’re also creepily similar in their shooting percentages. Dragic has a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.65, while Bledsoe is hot on his heels at 20.21. In the event that both Dragic and Bledsoe can raise their assists per game to six, they’ll be the first duo to average 18 points and six assists per game since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
But that’s the problem with an All-Star conversation like this: their stats are so similar they might not get as many votes as they would if the other didn’t exist. And in the event that one of Phoenix’s guards did deserve an All-Star selection, there aren’t enough spots to go around. Which means one of these equally deserving candidates would be left out in the cold.
Why? Well, as we’ve already covered, the All-Star Game is mostly a popularity contest mixed with a lifetime achievement award. Like it or not, injured or less impressive options like Kobe Bryant or Jeremy Lin are going to get a large number of votes from the fans. Kobe’s health could prevent him from playing in the All-Star Game, but there’s not much anyone can do about All-Star spots being taken up by silly fan votes.
Luckily, the reserve spots on the team aren’t determined by the fans. The only way deserving candidates like Bledsoe, Dragic or Lillard will crack the roster is thanks to the coaches that decide upon the remaining open slots. Here’s the problem though: after those first two frontcourt slots are decided by the fans, things get pretty tight. The most deserving guards who can be considered locks because of their statistics and/or supportive fan base are: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and James Harden. If Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant are healthy for any amount of time leading up to the game, you can tentatively pencil them in too.
That leaves a ton of fringe candidates competing for a couple of reserve spots. Bledsoe, Dragic, Lillard, Conley are the cream of that crop, but Rubio, Klay Thompson, K-Mart, Lawson, Holiday and Ellis could also make their case. Let’s narrow the playing field down to guards averaging at least 18 points and five assists per game. There are only 13 players in the entire league that fit those qualifications, and two of them are Phoenix Suns:
Four of those players are Eastern Conference guys, so that leaves nine impressive specimens to choose from. Dragic trails only CP3, Curry, Lillard and Harden (who are all locks other than Lillard) in win shares. Bledsoe’s rebounding numbers are superior to everyone except CP3, Curry and Harden (again, locks). But the argument still remains for fringe competitors like Lillard, the leader of one of the best teams in the Western Conference or Isaiah Thomas, who has more points and assists per game than both Dragic and Bledsoe.
Examining Player Efficiency Ratings doesn’t do much to help Dragic or Bledsoe’s case. Though their PER’s are both above 20, Lillard has a PER of 20.7 and Thomas is even better at 22.4. There’s something to be said of team success, something the Sacramento Kings are nowhere near having, but the problem with the idea of a Suns player making the All-Star team is how identical Dragic and Bledsoe are in terms of their production.
Unfortunately for the Suns, it may not be in the cards for a Phoenix player to make the All-Star team this season. If one were to make it, my guess would be Eric Bledsoe given his superstar potential and his ever-so-slightly superior numbers compared to the Dragon. The case could easily be made for Dragic, since the Suns are generally an effective team when Dragic is on the floor without Bledsoe compared to how ineffective Phoenix is in the opposite scenario. But with deserving candidates like Lillard waiting in the wings and plenty of popularity contest votes going on, Bledsoe and/or Dragic may need to wait.