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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. 

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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]

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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold the Raptors under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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