Ric Bucher's All-Quasar team
What's the All-Quasar team?
Born for a love of the unsung and a disdain for the overblown popularity contest that is the NBA All-Star Game, I acknowledge players who were essential to their teams having a winning record at the All-Star break but who would not be anywhere near the court on Sunday unless they had a ticket. I called them Quasars, for the quasi-stellar celestial matter that sometimes resembles a star but isn't. (All you Neil deGrasse Tysons out there, forgive me if I’m taking liberties with your science.)
What are the rules?
The terms of qualification, at least for now: 1. A candidate's team must have a winning record at the start of the All-Star break. 2. A candidate can't have been an All-Star or have much chance of ever being one. (The committee has misjudged this only once so far, selecting Caron Butler as an '06 All-Quasar. Nearly a decade, one underestimation -- you try it.). 3. Special consideration is given to players who have washed out elsewhere or have rehabilitated a career spinning sideways. (Quasars being, I’m told by the 'interwebs,' intergalactic first cousins to black holes.) 4. Statistical improvement is weighed only in context with its meaning to a player's role. Someone who shoots a high percentage but has never made a momentum-shifting shot or who rebounds well but never takes the ball away from an opponent is merely cosmic dust, not All-Quasar material. Here are the 2013 All-Quasar squads.
First Galaxy - Jarrett Jack, PG, Golden State Warriors
While debate raged over which Warrior deserved All-Star recognition between David Lee and Steph Curry, Jack’s role as a fourth-quarter closer and his vocal leadership in and out of the lockerroom have made him as indispensable as either Lee or Curry. The Warriors are his fifth team in eight seasons because he struggles when he isn’t viewed as a primary contributor. As one of his former GMs told me, “There were times I wanted to punch him in the nose. Not hard enough to make him cry, just hard enough to make his eyes water.” That Jack has been the consummate leader despite coming off the bench is the kind of shift that garners points with the Quasar committee.
First Galaxy - Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets
The committee also has a soft spot for lightly-acclaimed second round picks who burst upon the scene the way Parsons has. While James Harden is having a superb season and Omer Asik has been impactful sooner than expected, scouts around the league have said all season that their victories often hinge on Parsons. The statistics support that; his shooting is better across the board, as is his assist/turnover margin in victories vs. losses.
First Galaxy - Larry Sanders, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s no accident the Bucks eked in under the wire on the plus-.500 requirement for Quasar consideration with Sanders missing the last five games (four of them losses) with an undetermined back issue. Milwaukee’s back court gets all the attention, but Sanders is making a case as the best shot blocker in the league – perhaps in part because that back court gives him ample opportunities.
First Galaxy - Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
He already was a model of efficiency last season – few young players get time for Coach Gregg Popovich if they’re not – but he’s taken it up another notch this season. Drafted and valued largely as a defender, he has at least one buzzer-beating game-winner to his credit this season and has rose to the fore when the team’s bigger stars have been out for whatever reason. Leonard also has come back strong after missing a stretch of games with a left knee issue midway through the season.
First Galaxy - Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets
The committee selected him and then sat back beaming as he made their decision look prescient by blowing up for 40 points in the Rising Star Challenge Friday night. His general basketball skills are either raw or non-existent, and yet he averages more than 12 points per game and shoots better than 55 percent. His forte, of course, is chasing down rebounds with a zeal rarely seen since Dennis Rodman left the premises.
Second galaxy - George Hill, PG, Indiana Pacers
Paul George is the emerging superstar, Tyler Hansbrough has the cool nickname (Psycho T) and David West, Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger have the biggest contracts, Hill is the speartip of the league’s most formidable defense. He’ll never get a whole lotta love as a point guard who averages less than five assists a game, but he also rarely turns over the ball. He is an island of poise in the locker room and on the floor for a team that is still relatively young with big aspirations.
Second galaxy - Raymond Felton, PG, New York Knicks
He was not exactly valued in Denver and practically became persona non-grata in Portland, but he has become a vital component once more, mixing and matching with Jason Kidd in a two-point guard back court.
Second galaxy - Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
His decision-making and defense still inspire the more than occasional forehead slap, but on a team chock-full of offensive threats, he’s the second-leading scorer while coming off the bench. He has not started a single game and yet has 21 games in which he scored 20 or more points. When he’s locked in, he’s capable of scoring from almost anywhere – which is good because he’s sure to try.
Second galazy - Kevin Martin, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
After years as a starter and volume shooter, Martin now comes off the bench and averages 3-5 fewer shots than he had in any of the previous eight seasons. Yet, he’s made the transition, shooting more efficiently and still being aggressive enough to get to the free-throw line, a staple of his game for many years now. If there’s a reason the Thunder not missing Harden – at least not yet – Martin’s scoring off the bench is a big reason.
Second galaxy - J.R. Smith, SG, New York Knicks
He’s the east-coast equivalent of Crawford in many respects, right down to the white-hot scoring touch when he’s on and the inability sometimes to recognize even white-hot doesn’t mean every shot is advisable. The difference is that he’s actually putting effort into other parts of the game – most notably, rebounding – and that his overall athleticism and up-tick in hoops’ IQ has been a key component for a Knicks’ team that relies on an awful lot of old heads when healthy.