Noah with a good chance to be All-Star in first returns


Dec 13

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It was a good thing Joakim Noah didn’t add Houston to that list of questionable vacation cities, like Cleveland and Philadelphia, when the Bulls were there last month.

Because based on the first All-Star game returns released by the NBA Thursday, my guess is Noah has a good chance of being added to the team that will play in Houston Feb. 17.

The NBA changed the ballot some this year by designating positions by frontcourt and backcourt instead of guards, forwards and center. The reason, ostensibly, was to avoid having to put an undeserving center on the ballot when there were more talented guards and forwards, as is usually the case.

Joakim NoahOf course, this season in the Eastern Conference there are at least three centers who deserve an All Star spot, and five if you include Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, who have been playing center this season.

Fan voting designates the starters, and it appeared from the first returns four of the five East starting spots are set.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have a big lead over the third spot in the frontcourt section for the East. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have a big lead over the third spot among backcourt players.

After the fans select the starters, the conference coaches vote for the seven reserves.

Noah in the first balloting finished seventh among frontcourt players behind Garnett, Bosh, Chandler and Pierce. Luol Deng was 14th. The backcourt players trailing Wade and Rondo are Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Ray Allen, Monta Ellis and Ray Felton.

The coaches add seven players they’ll likely split between four frontcourt and three backcourt. The coaches tend to give the edge to players whose teams are doing well, particularly playing better than .500 ball. So that could make it difficult to add Irving as good as he is, or Anderson Varejao.

With Derrick Rose injured the Bulls have no backcourt likely players. The NBA because of Rose’s injury did not include him on the ballot this season.

Among the backcourt players, the most likely addition is the Nets’ Williams. Then it might depend on how the teams are doing regarding adding Irving and one of the Bucks guards, Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings. Though Ray Allen is popular, he is a sixth man, so he might not have the statistics. Same with Jason Terry. It does, though, increase the likelihood for some first time additions.

An examination of the frontcourt players suggests that Noah has a good chance to be selected if the Bulls’ record remains above .500. Though the fans don’t seem to recognize the value of Deng by voting him 14th, coaches do and after making the All-Star team last season Deng surely will get coaches’ consideration and could knock out Noah.

There is significant admiration for Noah’s game among coaches. Earlier Thursday, some of the TNT and NBA-TV broadcasters in a conference call were discussing Noah and the player most similar to him, the Cavs’ Varejao.

“The reason why he [Noah] is so many people’s favorite player is because he puts his heart and passion and leaves everything out there on the floor,” said Chris Webber. “This year may be his year to be an All-Star because he’s raised his level of play.”

Added Kenny Smith: “I love what he’s doing. You’ll always have one of those players – in Joakim Noah – that you’re going to pick first if you’re playing a pick-up game. All general managers like his approach.”

But Webber added that: “Anderson Varejao is an All-Star this year… when you look at the numbers he’s been putting up this year, it’s Moses Malone-like.”

And Smith chimed in, saying: “He (Varejao) embodies what you’re supposed to do as a role player. You don’t have to lead the league in scoring to be an All-Star.”

But you do have to help your team to wins, and it’s difficult to believe the coaches would reward two players from a losing team like the Cavs. If you picked one, you’d think it would be Irving, who is their best player. Though Varejao does lead the league in rebounds and is doubling his career averages in both points and rebounds at 14.3 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But Noah is also having a career year averaging 13.9 points and 10.6 rebounds. He also is second in the league in minutes played to teammate Deng, both the only players in the league at more than 40 minutes. Plus, Noah is the second leading center in assists to Marc Gasol, though they are virtually tied. Noah averages 4.3 assists and Gasol 4.4. Noah is sixth in rebounding. But Noah is seventh in blocks at 2.3 while Varejao is 86th.

Among NBA centers, Noah is the only one in the top 10 in blocks and rebounds and the top 40 in assists.

Assuming the coaches add four front court players for seven front court and five backcourt, it would probably be Bosh and Chandler given the winning records. Then Noah likely would be in a battle for the final two spots with Pierce, though it would seem hard to justify adding three Celtics if their record stays where it is, Josh Smith, who has been overlooked numerous times but now is being noticed more with the Hawks’ good start, and Varejao or Deng. Though Varejao leads the league in rebounding, many coaches refuse to vote for players on the poorest teams. Matched against Noah, I’d guess Noah would come out ahead of Varejao. Then there’s Deng, who has been playing terrific. But his statistics are similar to previous years while Noah’s are substantially better, including 82 percent free throw shooting.

And wouldn’t everyone like to see how he came dressed in Houston?

My four to be added in the frontcourt to James, Anthony and Garnett or Bosh would be, assuming no drastic injuries or losing streaks, Smith or Horford, the latter averaging a double/double as well, Garnett or Bosh, Chandler and Noah.

In the backcourt, I’d go with Wade and Rondo and then add Williams, Irving and Jrue Holiday. Brook Lopez remains a possibility up front, though missing so many games with injuries could exclude him.

The Western Conference voting is where you’ll hear more complaining about being overlooked given there are more individual stars in the West.

The frontcourt three selected by the fans would likely be Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. The backcourt duo would be Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.

Jeremy Lin is third in backcourt voting, about 55,000 behind Paul. Lin likely would get in only if selected by the fans. Assuming the voting stays as it, the likely Western Conference backcourt additions would be James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.

Among Western Conference front court players after Durant, Howard and Griffin, all of whom have a clear lead over No. 4, I’d add Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and either O.J. Mayo or Stephen Curry.

Eastern Conference voting

Frontcourt: LeBron James (Mia) 641,348; Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 573,112; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 218,246; Chris Bosh (Mia) 210,724; Tyson Chandler (NYK) 151,744; Paul Pierce (Bos) 114,735; Joakim Noah (Chi) 73,366; Josh Smith (Atl) 69,344; Andrew Bynum (Phi) 68,596; Amar’e Stoudemire (NYK) 64,266; Shane Battier (Mia) 59,419; Anderson Varejao (Cle) 57,336; Luol Deng (Chi) 48,450; Brook Lopez (BKN) 47,940; Jeff Green (Bos) 36,080.

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 430,925; Rajon Rondo (Bos) 382,613; Deron Williams (BKN) 211,426; Kyrie Irving (Cle) 155,989; Ray Allen (Mia) 130,016; Monta Ellis (Mil) 47,650; Raymond Felton (NYK) 37,974; Jason Terry (Bos) 36,147; Brandon Jennings (Mil) 35,610; Jrue Holiday (Phi) 35,193.

Western Conference voting

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (OKC) 605,965; Dwight Howard (LAL) 434,168; Blake Griffin (LAC) 307,855; Tim Duncan (SA) 189,577; Pau Gasol (LAL) 139,868; Kevin Love (Min) 112,922; Omer Asik (Hou) 88,178; Rudy Gay (Mem) 85,279; Serge Ibaka (OKC) 68,285; LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 66,290; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 63,056; Marc Gasol (Mem) 61,716; Zach Randolph (Mem) 59,916; Metta World Peace (LAL) 59,167; Anthony Davis (NO) 53,779.

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 639,419; Chris Paul (LAC) 353,603; Jeremy Lin (Hou) 298,319; James Harden (Hou) 196,108; Russell Westbrook (OKC) 143,437; Steve Nash (LAL) 118,073; Tony Parker (SA) 69,983; Ricky Rubio (Min) 54,744; Manu Ginobili (SA) 47,800; O.J. Mayo (Dal) 36,495.

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