By: Jordan White / @jordanswhite
The starters for the NBA All-Star game were announced last week, but popularity, not skill, is usually the deciding factor in who start these games. I’m always much more intrigued by the reserves, as those are the guys who make it on merit.
Tonight on TNT, they’ll announce the reserves, so I thought I’d go ahead and make my own reserve roster, filled only with international players: One center, guard, and forward per conference.
Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (East)
23.5 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 22.34 PER
I’ve already written at length about the leaps and bounds Bargnani has taken this year under new head coach Dwane Casey. For a while, Bargnani was actually in serious contention for a reserve spot on the East All-Star bench. Unfortunately, injuries have kept Bargnani sidelined for the past few weeks, derailing his campaign. On the bright side, Il Mago still made Ballingual’s All-Star team!
Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns (West)
15.1 PPG | 10.2 RPG | 1.6 RPG
Besides Steve Nash’s typical brilliance, Gortat has really been the only constant bright spot for the Suns this year. The Polish Hammer, in his first full season out of Dwight Howard’s monstrous shadow, has been a nightly force on offense and on the boards. Most of his damage comes at the rim, where, according to Hoopdata.com, he’s shooting 73%.
Don’t assume Gortat is just a product of Nash’s pick and roll genius, though I’m sure he owes a few of those percentage points to the ageless Canadian wonder. Gortat can hurt you from just about any range. From 3-9 feet, he’s shooting 46%, 10-15 feet, 39%, and 16-23, 48%. He’s also averaging double-digit rebounds for the first time in his career, something we knew he was capable of once he was traded Phoenix last year, as he averaged 9.3 RPG in 55 games with the Suns.
Think the Magic have trader’s remorse?
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (East)
10.8 PPG | 11.8 RPG | 18.88 PER
It was a tough choice, but Varejao won out over fierce competition such as Jonas Jerebko and Ersan Ilyasova. The Eastern Conference doesn’t exactly have a glut of quality international forwards. Nevertheless, Varejao belongs on this team not just because of his numbers, but because of the context of these numbers.
If you’ll recall, Varejao’s season ended early last year when he tore a tendon in his ankle. There’s no such thing as an easy road to recovery, but getting to that road is especially tough when you’re dealing with a torn ankle.
Varejao’s return to form is a welcome sight for Cavaliers fans, and Varejao is back to putting up solid numbers and vastly underrated defense for team in which defense seems optional at times. Hopefully Varejao can tutor raw rookie and Canadian international Tristan Thompson on the finer aspects of defense.
[And this is me resisting the opportunity to make a flopping joke.]
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets (West)
17.0 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 20.01 PER
It’s fair to say that the Melo trade can now be referred to as the Gallo trade. While Melo is struggling in the Big Apple, Gallo is thriving in the crisp mountain air. His basic stats may not scream All-Star, or even number one option, but Gallo has far and away been the Nuggets best player this season. His game screams efficiency, and I don’t just mean his career-high 17.96 efficiency rating. To watch Gallinari play is to watch a player who rarely panics or makes the wrong play. His deceptive athleticism, combined with his awkward yet deadly effective dribble, makes him a terror in ISO situations.
Like Bargnani, Gallinari had an extremely strong argument for an All-Star spot, though his severe ankle sprain, which will keep him out for a month, will all but cost him the spot.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks (East)
19.3 PPG | 5.3 APG | 43% FG
I know, I know, Jennings isn’t technically an international player. He was, however, the first high school player to play in the Euroleague rather than spend a year in college.
Jennings, in terms of production, has been a mixed bag of results in season past. That’s begun to change this year. This is what Rohan Cruyff had to say at Hoopspeak about the “new” Brandon Jennings:
Jennings’ long-2 percentage (in terms of total field goal attempts), at 24.3% during his rookie year and 19.7% a year ago, is down to 17.9% with a corresponding rise in 3s-attempted percentage – 31.8% to 32.7% to 35.3%. He’s a player that loves to shoot the basketball, and while his tendency to settle will not go without critique, moving more of his long jumpers behind the arc is unequivocally a smart decision. On the other end, both his ability to finish (61.5% from 51% and 42% in 2011 and 2010) and the frequency of his attempts at the rim (29.5% from 27.2% and 23.6% in ’11 and ’10) have been up as well, partially a result of the Bucks’ inclusion of more off-ball plays for Jennings and their increased reliance on transition.
Jennings’ marked improvement in his game (as well as the lack of impressive international guards in the Eastern Conference) earns him a spot on this year’s All-Star squad.
Ricky Rubio aka Puppy Breath and Cinnamon aka HOLYSH*T DID YOU SEE THAT PASS?, Minnesota Timberwolves
11.2 PPG | 9.1 APG | 2.4 SPG
Yeah, like I need to explain this one.