Wizards

Quick Links

Morning tip: Explaining my official media ballot for NBA All-Star starters

Morning tip: Explaining my official media ballot for NBA All-Star starters

Initially, I was against media voting. Then after seeing the early returns from the popular vote -- Zaza Pachulia being second among frontcourt players in the West and Dwyane Wade being second among guards in the East -- it felt like my duty to dismount my high horse to inject common sense into the process.

It's just one vote, and arguments can be made for other players besides the ones I choose. While Wade's popularity is understandable, why is Derrick Rose ahead of John Wall and close to overtaking Kyle Lowry? 

NBA players and select media, which account 25% each of the total to determine the starters for the Feb. 19 showcase in New Orleans, participated for the first time as the voting closed at 11:59 p.m. ET Monday. 

Fan voting, which has been reduced from 100% to 50% of the equation to determine the starters, also closed at midnight. The starters will be formally announced on Thursday.

NBA coaches will select the reserves which will be announced Jan. 26. That's seven roster spots for each conference. 

My media All-Star ballot for both conferences was submitted several days ago. Unfortunately, only weighing in on the starters is especially difficult in the East. Before calling my vote absurd, consider that Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen voted for himself and Luke Babbitt. It can always be worse. 

[RELATED: Wizards wear 'Never Stop Dreaming' shirts to honor MLK]

East guards

John Wall (Wizards): There’s no other guard in the conference who is in the same zip code. Career-highs in points (22.9), assists (10.2) and steals (2.2) togo with 4.6 rebounds. And now he’s playing better defense has a team with a winning record which put him over the hump in my reasoning. That the bench has underperformed most of thes season which has prevented the Wizards from closing out more games isn't the fault of the star player. Regardless, he has them in the thick of the playoff race.

DeMar DeRozan (Raptors): The best pure scorer in the conference with a shot-making ability that's second to none. He's averaging a career-high in points (28.1) and on the second-best team. The master of the mid-range, he stands alone for now.

East frontcourt

Jimmy Butler (Bulls): With  Dwyane Wade now in Chicago, Butler has played as a small forward and posting career numbers (24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds). Like Wall, his team's lack of early success isn't because he's not exceptional at his job. 

LeBron James (Cavs): Is there any need to get into details beyond the fact that it's LeBron James? Didn't think so. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): Just as many of the others, he's putting up career numbers, 23.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals on 53.5% shooting playing multiple positions. The only mark against him is his team's record.

A legitmate argument can be made for Kyrie Irving or Isaiah Thomas over Wall as the starter. The double-doubles, however, convinced me to go with Wall. My first draft had Wall and Thomas but there's no justification for leaving out DeRozan. Plus, I didn't think two point guards was the right call just because the conference is deep at the position. No other guards are in double digits with double-doubles. They may average a few more points than Wall, but to average what he does and still make others around him better by setting them up is harder in my opinion. Thomas is a fourth-quarter closer. Kyle Lowry is having a better season than last when he was a starter. Both are All-Stars no matter how you cut it. Irving is on the best team and he's going to get in on that alone (he's also the popular vote leader), but the Cavs don't win when he plays and LeBron James sits (winless this season when that happens). I hold that against him and would put every point guard under serious consideration above him for that reason alone. He gets too much credit for hitting the big shot in the Finals Game 7 last year or in the first meeting with Golden State this season. He needs James to be this effective. Not vice versa. I'm in the minority with this because Irving's talent is undeniable, but that's my thinking.

If I could pick reserves, mine would be Thomas, Lowry, Irving, Bradley Beal, Kevin Love, Paul George and Joel Embiid (yes, I'd take The Process on a minutes restriction over any other center).

[RELATED: Wall sees new national TV game as good sign for Wizards]

West guards

Russell Westbrook (Thunder): Averaging a triple-double at the midway point with career-highs of 30.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.5 assists. He has 20 triple-doubles for the season.

James Harden (Rockets): His numbers are still there, and he's a hair shy of averaging a triple-double, too. His team is elite, and 28.4 points, a league-high 11.7 assists and 8.3 rebounds are impossible to overlook.

 

West frontcourt

Kevin Durant (Warriors): Best player on the team with the best record. His numbers haven't dipped much in his first year there, 26 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and a career-low 2.3 turnovers. He's shooting a career-high 53.7% and almost 40% from three.

Anthony Davis (Pelicans): His career-highs of 29.3 points and 12.3 rebounds have turned around the season for team just a few games out of the eighth playoff spot, The Pelicans opened the season 0-8.

Kawhi Leonard (Spurs): The 24.6 points are his career-high, and his team's best defender is shooting better than 40% from three again for the team with the NBA's second-best record.

There wasn't nearly as much grief involved in voting for the starters as all of the above in the West are clear-cut more deserving. This is the one season where Mike Conley should be rewarded after not making the team because of the numbers game at point guard. He's excelling on a winning team, averaging 20 points and shooting 40% from three. Could've easily gone with Eric Gordon instead given how integral he is to the Rockets' success, but Conley has paid his dues and is an underrated two-way player.

My reserves (if I had a vote): Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Conley, Gordon Hayward, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol.

[RELATED: Michael Jenkins vents about underappreciation of John Wall]

Quick Links

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

natasha-cloud-mystics-pass-usat.jpg
USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 

MORE BASKETBALL NEWS

 

Quick Links

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."

MORE BASKETBALL NEWS: