The Phoenix Suns bucked an NBA trend this season by employing a pair of point guards whose primary offensive weapon is to drive to the rim and let everything else fall out of that. With Leandro Barbosa on hand, the Suns don't have to miss a beat without Eric Bledsoe.

Coming into the season, the Phoenix Suns planned to employ an unorthodox lineup of two point guards to run the offense from different sides of the floor and creating points off their drives to the rim.

Most of the NBA scoffed at the notion, pointing out that neither Goran Dragic nor Eric Bledsoe could properly compliment the other because neither was a good catch-and-shoot outlet, and that the Suns in general couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with jumpers, let alone the inside of the net, when those drives failed.

Drive, drive, and drive again

Yet, Bledsoe and Dragic produced a 10-3 December record together in the starting lineup (12-6 overall as paired starters) because their to-the-basket game was virtually unstoppable.

Goran Dragic is 5th in the league in drives* per game (9.4) and team points off drives (10.2, of which Dragic scores 4.6 himself on 48% shooting).

*Drive, per player tracking stats, is when a player starts 20+ feet from the rim and drives to within 10 feet or less before shooting or passing. Most importantly for this discussion, this stats excludes fast breaks.

Eric Bledsoe is 15th in the league in drives per game (7.5) and 12th in team points off drives (8.6, of which Bledsoe scores 5.9 himself), finishing 57% of those field goal attempts. That 57% conversion on drives ranks him 2nd in the league (to LeBron James) among players with 5+ drives per game.

But when Eric Bledsoe went down, half the Suns offense went with him. The Suns offense is designed around creating points off drives to the rim, but the next best driver was Ish Smith, ranked 86th in the league at creating 3.8 points per game off drives.

Beep beep!

Enter Leandrinho Barbosa.

When the Suns signed Barbosa after Bledsoe's injury, it was as if the waters parted and provided the Suns with a perfect partner for Dragic in Bledsoe's absence.

"He got to the hole several times," coach Hornacek said of Barbosa after the 117-103 win over Denver in which Barbosa had 13 points and 3 assists. "[It] doesn't even look like he is going that hard but he knows when to do it. He takes one or two dribbles and then he explodes and that explosive step is what gets him by people."

In only 5 games, after missing the past 12 months of NBA action due to a knee injury, Barbosa already ranks 31st in the entire league in drives per game (6.2) and 18th in points created off drives (8.6), despite only playing 22 minutes per contest.

Even better, his 54.2% field goal percentage on drives ranks him 7th in the league, among players who drive at least 5 times per game. Not bad for a guy who wasn't in the NBA two weeks ago.

"I think that could be a big weapon for us as we go forward," Hornacek said. "He can also make some plays and passes and kick outs and it will probably help our whole team. He has always liked to drive the ball."

Suns fans recall that Barbosa's game was tailor-made for creating points off drives. He never created a lot of assists. His career high is 4.0 in 32.7 minutes per game, with the next best season being 2.8 assists per game in 28 minutes. By contrast, Ish Smith is posting 2.3 assists per game this season in only 12 minutes per contest.

Still, the Suns look like a better offensive unit when he is on the court. Being paired with Dragic or Ish Smith is good for Barbosa so he doesn't have to run an offense. But this team doesn't employ traditional point guards. Their point guards are attackers who can handle and score. Dishing is only when the play doesn't work.

But it gets even better

We've only seen a portion of what Barbosa brings to the table though.

A career 40% three-point shooter, Barbosa has not taken or made many threes yet (just 1-8 so far). He's getting to the rim without even being a threat to drain the three.

When Barbosa gets completely comfortable in the scheme, expect his three-or-drive game to be an even better compliment to an already potent offense.

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It was a high scoring game, but the Suns were able to out-score the Nuggets 117-103 to improve their record to 23-17.

Right out the gate, P.J. Tucker hit a three to start the game for the Suns, followed by the fast-break by Goran Dragic and a three by Channing Frye.  The Suns jumped out to an eight point lead before Ty Lawson finally scored at the rim for the Nuggets.

The Suns got careless with an inbound pass the turned into points for the Nuggets. However, both Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green got in on the action early as well with two nice buckets at the rim.  When it looked like the Suns were going to start building the lead, a quick bucket inside by Timofey Mozgov got the Nuggets to within two.

Wilson Chandler hit a jumper to tie it, but then Leandro Barbosa checked in an immediately got to the rim for the Suns.  However, a pick and roll dunk by J.J. Hickson evened the score. 

Barbosa continued to attack the rim and scored another two quick baskets for Phoenix.  However, Denver is keeping the game close all the way by capitalizing on quick baskets off missed shots by the Suns.

Markieff got himself going for the Suns, and Dragic got the steal from Lawson, racing him down court and beating him for the finish at the rim...not easy to do against one of the fastest players in the league.

Alex Len checked in and got fouled hard by Wilson Chandler going to the rim...Barbosa had to hold Len back who was ready to mix it up again...This is one fiery Ukrainian!

Chandler was called for the flagrant one foul and Len went to the line to knock down both shots and the Suns were given possession.  Dragic was fouled and able to convert both of his shots as well...a four point possession!

Len got to the line again on the next trip down and was able to convert one of two.  Len is showing a lot of hustle and physicality out there...he's definitely earning his minutes.  The Suns lead after one, 34-25.

LB with another quick drive and basket to start the second quarter...Meep,Meep!  Markieff Morris and Ish Smith both pushing the tempo and getting baskets in transition early for the Suns as well.

For the Nuggets, Evan Fournier is doing a great job of hitting open shots...Kenneth Faried is still struggling so far, only 1/4 from the field...hopefully he doesn't get it going tonight.  Anthony Randolph got his shot to go, but Markieff is off to another hot start for the Suns, already with 9 points in only 8 minutes of play.

Channing Frye's also making his mark known, he currently leads all Suns with 10.  The only player not finding a way to contribute right now is Marcus Morris who is 0/3 at the moment and has yet to register a rebound or assist either.

Frye hit another couple of threes...He is officially en fuego at the moment.  16 points on 6/8 shooting for Channing in only 12 minutes...scratch that, he now has 18 points after hitting another jumper.  Sizzling!

The Suns and Nuggets continue to trade baskets on both ends of the court, with multiple players getting in on the action.  Plumlee is really struggling to find that hook shot still...and Steve Albert made an astute observation that it seems to be affecting his defense as well...It certainly has.  With Alex Len playing the way he is, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get some extended minutes if Plumlee can't break out of his funk.

Hickson is playing ultra aggressive out there...He gets his hands on rebounds and finishes strong inside.  He is the interior presence for Denver, and a pretty good one at that.

At the half, the Suns keep the lead over the Nuggets with a score of 62-56. Frye currently leads the Suns with 18, Fournier leads the Nuggets with 14.  Both teams are shooting well so far, 51% for Denver and 50% for Phoenix.  The Suns lead with 6 steals compared to just two for Denver, but the Nuggets are controlling the glass so far with 23 rebounds compared to 19 for the Suns.

Green started the second half with a three point make. Then, foul posted up on Ty Lawson and dunked on him...probably my favorite play of the night so far.  Faried with another miss for Denver that led to a reverse lay up by Dragic for the Suns.

Dragic with another lay-up off the glass now...The Dragon is starting to take over!  Timeout Nuggets as the Suns heave stretched the leaf now to 71-57...up by 14, their largest lead of the game thus far.

Wilson Chandler stops the bleeding for Denver with a nice drive and finger roll at the rim, then hits a three on the next possession to close the lead back to nine.  Ty Lawson also hits a jumper and now the lead is down to seven.

Frye gets a tip off a Green miss to end the mini-run for the Nuggets, but then Chandler hit another three for the Nuggets...He's definitely keeping them in this game.

The Dragon hits a jumper to keep the Suns in the lead, but Chandler once again hits a three to shrink the lead even more.  Plumlee once again misses at the rim...only 1/5 at the rim and really struggling.  He only has 4 rebounds so far as well.  You have to wonder if Len is getting ready to check back in sooner than later.

Barbosa checks in and gets to the rim...he now has 10.  Fournier hits another three to shrink the lead down to just four, but Frye's hits a jumper to put the Suns back up by six.

Plumlee goes for the block on Hickson and comes down awkwardly and rolls his ankle.  Markieff comes in for him instead of Len.  The Nuggets are continuing to fight and keep the game close...the Suns need to get good shots and get stops at the other end to keep them at bay.

Frye goes to the line and hits one of two, but it's enough to tie his season high of 25.  The Suns maintain the lead up 84-79 to end the third.  Will they finish this game with enough hustle and energy to put a much needed "W" in the win column?

Ty Lawson starts off the fourth quarter with a quick bucket for the Nuggets to shrink the lead to just three...but then Frye hits a threem and then a baby hook off a quick drive to the basket on the next possession to increase the lead, and register his new season high of 30 points.

Alex Len comes in to make his second half debut now as Markieff moves over to power forward to replace Frye who picked up his 4th foul. Len scores off a pass from Ish Smith...he now has 5 points, which is more than Plumlee.  I bet you didn't see that coming, huh?

The Nuggets are continuing to fight hard, but the Suns second unit is playing with tons of energy, making plays on both ends of the court to hold off any attempt to make a comeback.  They lead 95-86 with just over seven minutes to go in the game.

More back and forth scoring for both teams, with both teams making and missing an equal amount, but the Suns are able to keep the lead without the first unit in the game and only five minutes left in the match.

Len cleans up another miss at the rim to score his season high now of seven points.  He's also playing hard on defense and affecting the inside shots for the Nuggets who have switched to mostly a perimeter game at this point.

With just under five minutes to go, the Suns are still being led by the Ish Smith express who is leading fast breaks and diving to the rim on nearly every possession.  Ish now has 7 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds.Marcus Morris is finally makinbg his mark after a very slow start tonight...he now suddenly has 10 points.

The Suns are leaving the second unit in to finish this one.  They have played the entire fourth quarter and done an outstanding job.

Ish passed to Len for the two-handed dunk to put the exclamation point on this game, he now has 9 points adding to his season high, as the Suns cruise to victory 117-103, and improve their record to 23-17.

Nice win for the Suns, and an important one as well.

Game Leaders:

Channing Frye led all scorers and registered a new season high with 30 points in just 27 minutes of play.  He also had 5 rebounds and 3 blocks...Huge night for Frye!  Markieff Morris had another very productive night with 16 points on 6/11 shooting and 5 rebounds.  Leandro Barbosa had a nice welcome back to Phoenix night with his 13 points, 3 assissts, and 4 rebounds.

For the Nuggets it was Anthony Randolph who had a quiet 19 points along with 3 rebounds and 1 steal.  Evan Fournier, Wilson Chandler, and Ty Lawson all pitched in with 17 points a piece.

There's no question that the Suns have been in a slump lately, losing five of their last seven games, including a loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home in their last showing. Will the Suns be able to turn it around against the Denver Nuggets tonight?

What: Phoenix Suns Vs. Denver Nuggets

Where: U.S. Airways Center - Phoenix, AZ

When: 6:00 p.m. (AZ)

Watch: FSAZ (Locally) , NBA League Pass

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns (22-17) will take on the Denver Nuggets (20-19) in their second game of a five game home stand. The Suns are in the midst of a slump over the past seven games, winning only two of them. The good news for Phoenix is that they are playing at home where their record is 13 - 6. However, the Suns are coming off of a disappointing home loss against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, and they need to hold serve at home against winnable teams in order to stay in the Western Conference playoff race.

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets are also coming off a loss on Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Denver Nuggets are currently in the tenth spot in the West, and are trying to overcome their own injury issues as well. While the Suns are missing Eric Bledsoe after having meniscus surgery, the Nuggets have been plagued with losses of Danilo Gallinari (ACL, possibly out for season), Javale McGee (broken tibia, out indefinitely), and now Darrell Arthur (groin, out tonight). Will the Suns be able to find a way to win against a very beatable opponent at home tonight?

Stats:

Suns:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Goran Dragic 36 35.4 6.8 14.0 48.7 1.3 3.7 36.4 4.5 5.7 79.4 0.9 2.4 3.3 6.0 2.8 1.3 0.2 2.3 19.5
Eric Bledsoe 24 33.5 6.3 13.0 48.6 1.2 3.3 35.0 4.2 5.3 78.9 0.4 3.8 4.3 5.8 3.3 1.5 0.3 2.5 18.0
Gerald Green 39 27.9 4.8 11.2 43.2 2.4 6.6 36.6 1.4 1.7 83.6 0.4 2.7 3.1 1.5 1.5 0.8 0.6 2.8 13.5
Markieff Morris 38 24.8 4.6 9.7 47.0 0.3 1.1 31.0 2.6 3.4 77.5 2.0 3.9 6.0 1.7 1.7 0.9 0.5 2.4 12.1
Channing Frye 39 28.1 4.5 10.1 44.4 2.2 5.3 40.4 0.8 1.1 75.0 1.0 4.5 5.5 1.1 1.1 0.8 0.8 3.0 11.9
Marcus Morris 39 22.6 3.6 8.5 42.7 1.4 3.6 38.6 1.6 2.0 78.5 1.2 3.3 4.5 1.0 1.2 1.0 0.3 2.2 10.2
Miles Plumlee 39 28.0 4.3 8.4 51.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.2 2.4 51.1 2.6 6.3 8.8 0.6 1.5 0.7 1.7 2.7 9.8
P.J. Tucker 39 30.2 3.2 7.8 41.4 1.0 2.3 42.7 1.8 2.3 78.9 2.1 3.8 5.9 1.8 1.3 1.2 0.3 2.5 9.3
Leandro Barbosa 4 21.3 3.5 9.3 37.8 0.3 1.8 14.3 2.0 2.5 80.0 0.8 1.8 2.5 2.3 0.8 0.8 0.5 1.5 9.3
Ish Smith 27 12.5 1.6 4.3 36.5 0.0 0.6 5.9 0.3 0.4 58.3 0.3 1.1 1.4 2.2 0.8 0.7 0.1 0.8 3.4
Archie Goodwin 35 10.5 1.3 3.3 38.6 0.1 0.8 10.7 0.5 0.7 64.0 0.4 1.3 1.7 0.4 0.9 0.4 0.2 0.7 3.1
Dionte Christmas 21 6.8 0.8 2.0 38.1 0.2 1.0 22.7 0.4 0.5 80.0 0.3 0.9 1.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.6 2.1
Alex Len 11 6.1 0.6 1.7 36.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.4 50.0 1.4 0.8 2.2 0.1 0.4 0.2 0.4 1.6 1.5
Viacheslav Kravtsov 16 3.1 0.4 0.6 60.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.5 50.0 0.4 0.4 0.8 0.1 0.4 0.0 0.1 0.4 1.0


Nuggets:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Ty Lawson 37 35.6 5.7 13.5 42.6 1.3 3.5 36.2 5.3 6.6 79.9 0.7 2.8 3.5 8.8 3.1 1.5 0.2 1.6 18.0
Wilson Chandler 31 30.3 4.8 11.7 41.2 1.9 5.5 35.1 1.8 2.5 72.7 1.0 3.8 4.8 1.7 1.0 1.0 0.8 2.8 13.4
J.J. Hickson 39 26.6 4.7 9.3 50.3 0.0 0.1 0.0 2.0 3.5 57.4 2.8 6.3 9.1 1.2 1.6 0.7 0.8 2.5 11.4
Randy Foye 39 25.8 3.6 8.8 40.9 1.9 5.0 37.6 1.6 1.9 83.6 0.3 2.1 2.4 2.3 1.1 0.6 0.4 2.4 10.6
Nate Robinson 39 19.8 3.8 8.8 43.0 1.3 3.5 37.8 1.6 1.9 82.9 0.5 1.5 2.0 2.6 1.3 0.8 0.1 2.1 10.5
Kenneth Faried 37 24.0 4.3 7.8 55.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 1.7 2.9 57.4 2.9 4.9 7.8 0.9 1.1 0.7 0.9 2.1 10.3
Timofey Mozgov 39 19.9 3.3 5.8 56.1 0.0 0.1 0.0 2.2 2.9 73.7 2.1 3.9 6.0 0.5 1.4 0.3 1.3 2.6 8.7
Jordan Hamilton 32 16.9 2.6 6.6 39.8 1.3 3.7 35.9 0.6 0.8 76.0 0.5 3.0 3.5 0.8 0.8 0.8 0.4 0.8 7.2
JaVale McGee 5 15.8 3.4 7.6 44.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 100.0 2.0 1.4 3.4 0.4 1.6 0.2 1.4 3.2 7.0
Andre Miller 30 19.0 2.2 4.8 45.8 0.3 0.6 50.0 1.2 1.6 74.5 0.5 1.9 2.4 3.3 1.1 0.5 0.2 1.1 5.9
Evan Fournier 33 14.1 2.2 5.2 42.7 0.8 2.1 39.1 0.5 0.9 58.1 0.3 1.6 1.9 0.9 1.0 0.2 0.1 2.1 5.8
Darrell Arthur 34 18.2 2.5 6.0 41.2 0.1 0.2 25.0 0.6 0.7 87.5 0.8 2.7 3.5 1.0 0.9 0.5 0.8 2.8 5.6
Quincy Miller 15 9.7 1.7 3.9 44.8 0.4 1.3 31.6 0.7 0.8 83.3 0.8 1.4 2.2 0.1 0.7 0.1 0.2 0.8 4.5
Anthony Randolph 17 11.7 1.3 3.5 36.7 0.1 0.6 20.0 1.5 1.8 83.9 0.5 2.5 3.1 0.4 1.1 0.6 0.7 1.5 4.2


Probable Starting Line-Ups:

Suns:

G - Goran Dragic

G - Gerald Green

F - P.J. Tucker

F - Channing Frye

C - Miles Plumlee



Nuggets:

G - Ty Lawson

G - Randy Foye

F - Wilson Chandler

F - Kenneth Faried

C - J.J. Hickson

Injuries:

Suns:

Eric Bledsoe - Out (Knee)

Leandro Barbosa - Day-to-Day (Shoulder)

Nuggets:

Darrell Arthur - Out (Hip)

Danilo Gallinari - Out (ACL)

JaVale McGee - Out (Broken Tibia)

Keys to the Game:

  • Box Out! - The Suns have been struggling on the boards all season, and while they've improved lately (now ranked 16th in the league), they are playing a Nuggets team who is ranked 5th in rebounding. If the Suns are going to win tonight, they have to do their part on the glass. They don't necessarily have to win the rebounding battle, but they can't allow Denver to get a lot of second chance points.
  • Energy! - The Suns have not been playing quite like themselves lately, with slow starts to games and appearing to settle for the jump shot too often instead of getting to the rim. The Suns are a good three-point shooting team, so when they are open they should take it, but they also need to open up lanes to the basket to get more points in the paint. Which leads me to my next key...
  • Plumlee! - Miles...Where've you been? Plumlee has been a lot quieter lately, and it's having an impact on the team. Not only offensively, but on the glass as well...he just hasn't been playing like the same player we saw burst onto the scene at the start of the season. The Suns need Plumlee's energy and athleticism in the post. He gives the Suns an added dimension when he is playing well that they just can't replace otherwise.
  • Break the Law! - The most dangerous player in a Nuggets uniform is Ty Lawson, and the Suns will need to keep him in check tonight if they want to win this game. Dragic will need to make him work defensively, and the Suns will need to play smart defense to hold him to a minimum tonight.
  • Step Up! - We all know Dragic will do everythning he can to carry the team tonight, but one thing we've learned since Bledsoe went down with an injury is that he can't do it all alone. The Suns need another player to step up tonight, and help shoulder some of the load. Will Gerald Green find his stroke from beyond the arc? Will Markieff Morris continue his impressive performance at home? Will Leandro Barbosa finally make his home debut and "Meep, Meep" his way to the basket? Who knows, but if the Suns are going to get this win tonight, someone other than just Dragic will need to have a big game.

The Western conference has an abundance of talent, meaning the final cuts for the All-Star team are going to be incredibly difficult. Which players deserve consideration the most?

We are now officially one week away from learning who will be starting in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game and two weeks away from learning the reserves.

Last week's voting returns painted two very different pictures. The East starting five is all but wrapped up, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony running away with the vote.

However, outside of Kevin Durant (second leading vote-getter, locked into the starting five), the other four spots are very much up for grabs.

Western Conference

Right now, Kobe Bryant is leading the backcourt vote in the West. As Seth Pollack recently ranted, Bryant will probably come back in time for the All-Star Game and take away a spot from one of the many deserving young guards in the West. If he doesn't play in the game, however, that leaves an injury spot that needs to be filled. The third leading vote-getter guard is Chris Paul, who is also out with injury. That leaves Stephen Curry (who passed Paul in last week's returns) as a voted-in starter and Kobe's spot to be filled later.

In the frontcourt, it's a tight race with players two through six within 125,000 votes of each other. Dwight Howard is second and Blake Griffin is third, but Kevin Love is withing striking distance and LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan aren't out of the picture.

I'll pencil in a Curry-____-Durant-Griffin-Howard starting lineup for the West.

Now we have to fill out the seven bench spots, then pick one more player to replace Bryant. Even with players like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook out with injuries, the West is still absolutely stacked with All-Star caliber talent. Here's my shortlist: LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Goran Dragic, DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Parker, James Harden, Chandler Parson, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Anthony Davis.

Frontcourt

The remaining bigs are Aldridge, Love, Pekovic, Lee, Cousins, Dirk, Randolph, and Davis, and every single one of them deserves strong consideration. Just look at the numbers.

Per Game:

Advanced:

We can eliminate Randolph right away. 17 and 10 is a nice stat line, but Z-Bo is starting to get up there and just isn't the same guy. Memphis' struggles also hurt his case.

Dirk Nowitzki is having a very nice season as a scorer, averaging 21 points. However, while Nowitzki has never been known as a great rebounder, this season is his worst season on the boards since his rookie year. Dallas is hanging onto a playoff spot thanks to Nowitzki, but it's not quite enough to crack my team. Many people disagree with me on this point but this is my column.

Kevin Love is putting up 25 and 13. All-Star, easy pick.

Love's teammate Nikola Pekovic is having a tremendous season himself, but 18 and nine isn't quite enough out West. David Lee is doing a little bit more with 19 and 10, but that still isn't enough.

LaMarcus Aldridge is leading the Portland Trailblazers to a top four seed in the playoffs, and his play has even drawn some MVP consideration. He's putting up career highs in points and rebounds. However, his advanced stats - while still good - aren't quite as impressive. The problem with Aldridge (as Bryan Gibberman has pointed out on Twitter) is that his game doesn't produce 3-pointers or a large amount of free throws. It is all post-ups and mid-range jumpers, and that puts a ceiling on how efficient he can be. Even so, 24 and 11 and the third best record in the NBA means he definitely gets a spot.

Now it gets interesting. DeMarcus Cousins is actually putting up slightly better numbers per 36 than Kevin Love is (and is also leading Aldridge in almost every category). Cousins is having a monster year, his best by far. The Kings are still terrible, but Cousins is showing the organization it was right to pay him. While team success is a factor, I'm not one that simply gives all the All-Star spots to players from the best teams. Cousins takes the third frontcourt spot.

That leaves Anthony Davis as the first man out. The top pick of last year's draft has already taken tremendous strides forward in just his second year and is putting up 20, 10 and 3 blocks. Davis is going to be soooooo good.

Love, Aldridge and Cousins get the three frontcourt spots.

Backcourt

As many good big men as there are in the West, there are even more guards even without Paul and Bryant. James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis, Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, Tony Parker, Isaiah Thomas and of course Goran Dragic. That's 10 names for two spots. How the heck am I supposed to only pick two?

Let's start with the shooting guards.

Per Game:
Advanced:

Monta Ellis is having one of if not the best year of his career. He certainly deserves a mention here. However, advanced still do not like his game. He's a scorer with an offensive rating of just 105 and he's a below average player according to win shares. He'd have a stronger case in the East, but in the West he doesn't make the cut for me.

Martin and Thompson are both having spectacular seasons. Thompson has gotten plenty of buzz as one half of Golden State's Splash Brothers, but Martin has actually been just a little bit better almost across the board offensively. Both are putting up 19 points per game and both are shooting very well from deep. But I feel like the point guards all do a bit more and have better arguments than these two.

That leaves James Harden, and he'll be the only shooting guard to make the cut in the West.

Now it gets difficult. On to the point guards, and I only get to choose one for this spot.

Per Game:

Advanced:

Parker is having a very good season and the Spurs continue to win a lot of games. However, Parker is over 30 now and has been there and done that. Leave the All-Star games to the young guys. Also, he's fallen off a bit from his amazing 2012-13 season and is back closer to his career numbers this year, which is too say he's still one of the best point guards in the league but not necessarily a step above like he was last year.

Mike Conley has been really solid for Memphis, running the offense and taking care of the ball. The Grizzlies are starting to win some games now too. The Grizz have had some significant injury problems, most notably to Marc Gasol, and Conley has had to step it up without him. He's also an absolute pest defensively.

Over the last couple years, Ty Lawson has been a guy who has been about as close as you can get to playing like an All-Star without ever getting serious consideration for making the team, and this year he has stepped it up even more. He's putting up career highs up and down the stat sheet and is leading a resurgent Nuggets team without Andre Iguodala or Danilo Gallinari. His shooting percentage has gone down, but there aren't many players capable of putting up 18 and nine like he is.

Isaiah Thomas has been phenomenal this season and has really asserted himself since Greivis Vasquez was traded away. He's not a big name but his numbers are on par with the rest of these guys. Honestly, Thomas might have the best stat-line of the entire group, all things considered.

Damian Lillard has become even more of a sensation this season than he was last year as the Rookie of the Year. Lillard hasn't been much of a passer, averaging less than six assists per game, but Portland's system doesn't require that from him. What they want him to do is bomb away, and that is certainly what he is doing with 21.5 points and over seven 3-point attempts per game at a 44.4 percent clip. Lillard still needs to become a more efficient scorer inside the arc (barely over 40 percent on 2-pointers), but he's a huge part of why the Blazers are doing so well this year.

Finally, Goran Dragic. Pretty much everyone reading this knows how well Dragic has played this year. He's averaging over 19 points and six assists, and his overall season numbers don't even do justice to what we know he can do as he's really stepped up his game during the two stretches without Eric Bledsoe. He's one of the best guard finishers in the league, shooting a higher percentage inside the arc than even Tony Parker, the gold standard for point guard finishers. He's brought his 3-point percentage up from where it was early in the year as well, hovering around 37 percent. He's shooting 49 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. He trails only Lillard among these six point guards in win shares. And he's doing all of this with an incredibly heavy workload as he is the Suns' best distributor as well as their best finisher, and it can't be easy to balance those two roles, especially with the amount of defensive focus he sees without Bledsoe on the court. Nearly everyone on the team is having a career year, an as most of them are shooters, a lot of that has to be credited to Dragic as the one creating many of those open looks. Goran Dragic has been outstanding and is worthy of being named an All-Star. But is he the most worthy?

I have one spot to hand out in this section. Each of these guys deserves it, but I'm going to have to give it to Lillard. Leading scorer, leader in win shares and a key cog on the second best team in the West. I also need to name a Bryant replacement, and for that I will go with Ty Lawson.

Harden and Lillard are my reserve guards, with Lawson making the team as well.

Wildcards

Two spots left. Time for the final cuts. I'm giving one to a big and one to a guard.

First, my final frontcourt All-Star is Anthony Davis. He does so many things for that Pelicans squad and is seemingly getting better every day. He makes a big impact on the scoreboard, on the glass and on defense as well. He's the total package and he'd be a heckuva lot of fun to watch in an All-Star game.

One spot left, and yes, I'm going with Goran Dragic. I spelled out his case above, so I'm not going to repeat it. Sorry Mike, Tony and Isaiah, but this is a Suns blog.

My Team:

G: Curry, Lillard, Lawson

G: Harden, Dragic

F: Durant, Davis

F: Griffin, Love, Aldridge

F: Howard, Cousins

How does this team compare to my Eastern Conference team?

I reserve the right to change my mind whenever I feel like it. In fact, I'm already reconsidering my Lawson pick and thinking I should put Parker in instead. Or Conley.

The one thing I hope you take away from this is how many good players - and more importantly - how many good point guards there are in the West. There is a very real possibility (and perhaps it is the most likely outcome) that Dragic does not make the team. And there is nothing wrong with that. With so many good players, it simply comes down to preference. Each and every one of these guys has a really strong argument, so don't take offense if Goran misses out. All that means is there are more All-Stars in the West than there are spots on the team.

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