NBA All-Star 2014: Should Goran Dragic trek to New Orleans?

Goran Dragic’s All-Star credentials have been gaining steam in the last several weeks, and for good reason. In the two broad categories that make an NBA All-Star, Dragic has shined. He has the individual statistics and he has a team that’s been using his contributions to find itself in the playoff hunt.

Those two things make it a conversation.

The NBA will announce the All-Star reserves that will join Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin as the five Western Conference starters on Thursday — Kobe Bryant’s injury un-officially makes him a scratch, opening another spot for Dragic. It gets complicated at that point, because while coaches vote on the initial list of reserves, the NBA office will select injury replacements.

Here’s what Dragic earning his first All-Star bid comes down to.

What’s the league-wide perspective?

Quickly, here are the numbers. Dragic’s Suns are sixth in the Western Conference standings as of Wednesday morning. The point guard is averaging 19.4 points per game, the 20th-best mark in the league. His 19th-best PER rating is better than reserve candidates Dwight Howard, James Harden, Tony Parker, Mike Conley and Damian Lillard. Dragic is 10th in offensive win shares, 10th in win shares per 48 minutes, 13th in offensive ratings and has been top-20 in assists per game this season, according to Basketball-Reference.

His statistical resume is there, but then it becomes a matter of who else is deserving. Here’s a list of six players who should be locks for the remaining seven All-Star reserve spots — three frontcourt players, two backcourt players and two wildcards — and a replacement for Bryant.

Dwight Howard (frontcourt)
LaMarcus Aldridge (frontcourt)
Anthony Davis (frontcourt)
James Harden (backcourt/starter)
Chris Paul* (backcourt/starter)
Damian Lillard (backcourt)

Since one of the above will replace Bryant, there are still two open spots left and three if Chris Paul doesn’t return before the break, as expected. In my eyes, there are five other players who very much threaten Dragic’s chance at making the All-Star team.

DeMarcus Cousins
Tim Duncan
Tony Parker
Mike Conley
Dirk Nowitzki

Remember: Numbers only go so far, and perception is a big deal.

It’s unfathomable to think the Spurs would lack an All-Star, so it’s likely one of Duncan and Parker get in. Duncan missed the boat in 2012, and Parker could hold out Dragic considering he owns very similar numbers as a 20-point, 6-assist per game point guard.

So we’re down to one spot.

Conley’s defensive abilities could push him past Dragic despite similar numbers, but the Grizzlies sit behind the Suns in the standings. Cousins plays for the struggling Kings, but his 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game are impressive. And Dirk is, well, Dirk.

An injury to Russell Westbrook opened the door, but Kobe Bryant’s expected absence and even Chris Paul failing to return by mid-February will play a major factor in Dragic’s chances. There are a lot of guards deserving and even less spots. It seems Dragic is fighting for the final spot with Duncan, Nowitzki and Cousins, which is tough sledding.

How does Eric Bledsoe and his injury change things?

Things we already know: Dragic has put up bigger and more efficient numbers without Eric Bledsoe. Since the knee injury, Dragic has averaged 21.4 points, 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from three-point range.

The Suns, however, have only gone 7-7 since Bledsoe went down.

So do you take credit from Dragic because he needed Bledsoe for Phoenix to win at a more consistent clip? Or, in a classic Steve Nash MVP argument, does the system he plays in hurt or help his chances?

That’s debatable. But remember, Dragic with or without Bledsoe is still playing alongside a rotation of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and the Morris twins. Even with the improvement of every single one of those players, it’s impressive Dragic has improved so much and has led the team with his dynamic game so well.

In all likelihood, Dragic’s individual torching of a number of teams will help him earn votes from league coaches when the initial list of reserves is released.

If he’s passed over in that regard and the league office would have to select Dragic as an injury-replacement, it might come down to the Phoenix market competing against others — business things. At that point, who knows?

So after that reasonably objective view of it all, do we think Dragic deserves an All-Star bid?

Kevin Zimmerman: Since watching Dragic grow into himself last season, I became a believer he had All-Star potential. After watching him grow in this summer’s EuroBasket, become a father and lead this season’s team, I’ve filled in the 5 percent of doubt. I never thought he’d have a shot at making an All-Star team in the near-future, but the injury bug has opened the doors this year, and I think he’s absolutely deserving. Like the MVP voting, there’s something to be said for being the best player on a very good team – and considering the rest of the Suns’ roster and with all due respect, he’s even more deserving.

Jeff Sanders: There is no doubt about the fact that Goran Dragic is having an All-Star season. He is the best player on a team that would be in the playoffs today and deserves a spot because of it. With that being said, Dragic is in the ultra-tough Western Conference and I am not sure he will squeeze in there. He is in competition with James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley for just a couple spots. What makes the stakes higher for Dragic is that he gets a $1 million dollar bonus for making the game. For his sake, let’s hope his stellar play this season does not get overlooked.

Michael Schwartz: The Suns score about 10 points per 100 possessions more with Dragic on the floor, which is about the difference between Portland’s top offense and Utah’s No. 23 unit. Even with Eric Bledsoe on the shelf, Dragic has kept the Suns humming at a playoff pace by powering the offense with his scoring and facilitating, quite the feat considering the Suns’ lowly preseason expectations. For that, The Dragon deserves the $1 million bonus he would earn by making the All-Star team despite the fact that the West boasts many worthy challengers.

Dave Dulberg: Before Kobe Bryant was un-officially ruled out of the 2014 All-Star Game Tuesday night, I would have still said yes. Now, it’s an absolute. Goran Dragic deserves to be named a reserve on the Western Conference squad. The acumen of general manager Ryan McDonough has been praised on end, as has the teaching prowess of Jeff Hornacek. But in a lot of ways, the Suns’ dramatic turnaround this season has been ignited by Dragic’s on-court improvement. He has elevated his level of play in every phase, making arguably the biggest year-to-year improvement of any single player on Phoenix’s roster. His statistics (19.4 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 37.4 percent shooting from three-point range and 49.5 percent overall) alone are on par with Damian Lillard and Tony Parker. The biggest difference: He’s done it with nine new teammates who weren’t with the organization at this time a year ago. Assuming Chris Paul or James Harden gets added to the West’s starting lineup, there’s no question “The Dragic” deserves a round-trip ticket to New Orleans.

Ryan Weisert: All Star consideration is based on four factors: numbers, efficiency, team success, and benefit to the NBA. The numbers piece is self-explanatory. The efficiency and team success factors are there to rule out “good stats-bad team” gunners like Golden State-era Monta Ellis. The benefit to the NBA factor is a tiebreaker since the league has the final say. Goran checks all the boxes. His season averages are stellar, but in January, he’s top-4 among Western guards in scoring and is shooting 51 percent. His team is firmly in the playoff picture. And an All-Star selection could put Dragic in line to be the next Manu Ginobili, which will benefit the NBA’s international popularity tremendously now that Manu is in decline.

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