Well, if everyone else is taking a look at the potential NBA All-Star teams, why not in fantasy hoops, too? The thing is, fantasy is much different than the real picks. We don't give extra credit for career achievements, defense or winning; we don't pick someone who's missed half the season; we don't pick someone who is just a really good role player because darn, wouldn't it be great if he got to play in the big game? We care about the stats. We care about the players, too, and appreciate all that's important, but being a great defender or teammate doesn't win here. Stats are how we win, whether they are cumulative stats or the averages. It's not cold and impersonal, really, because numbers win fantasy leagues, not loyalty or anything else. I respect the All-Star voting and its process, but here, let's talk fantasy.
Below are really good fantasy starting lineups for each conference, and no, value isn't a major factor here, because right now I'm just choosing the best of the best. Maybe later I'll choose a midseason value team, and a least valuable team. That should be fun. And really, it's still January; there is time for some of these names to change before the big weekend, especially at small forward for the East. You can check out what the ESPN.com NBA experts think on the NBA page, and I was surprised at how different the fantasy nominees looked. Compare the names! Man, can you imagine having a fantasy team of these starting lineups?
Point guard: Chauncey Billups is having a terrific season, and there's no reason why he doesn't deserve the spot in fantasy. Jason Kidd got drafted ahead of him, and is doing what he's supposed to, but Billups is better. You know who's next in line after these guys? That would be Toronto's Jose Calderon, who might be a top-20 player right now if he'd been starting ahead T.J. Ford all season long.
Shooting guard: I can't pick Dwyane Wade. I know he's playing great ball now, but he's missed nearly a quarter of the season, and that time does matter. Wade is ranked No. 12 for the season at shooting guard, and fifth in the East. In a week, who knows, he might be No. 1. The thing is, would you deal for him in fantasy? Do you think this is going to end well? I don't. That's a topic for another blog, I guess. So the pick here, based on the numbers, is Charlotte's Jason Richardson. He's averaging 20.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, and a ton of 3-pointers, while Wade is at 24.4 points and 6.7 assists, but only six 3-pointers all season. Michael Redd, Jamal Crawford and Richard Hamilton are also right there. Close race at this spot.
Small forward: OK, this one seems crazy. Caron Butler beats out LeBron James on the ESPN Player Rater, mainly because James missed five games. Is this a crazy choice? On the surface, it's unthinkable for James not to start in real or fantasy at East small forward. James was the first overall pick in the majority of ESPN leagues, and if you ask me if I would trade Butler for James, I would answer yes, emphatically. Who is doing better today, on our rater? It's Butler. Barely. And by the way, he's having a terrific season, and doesn't miss Gilbert Arenas one bit. He is a superstar and top-10 fantasy player. James will start in the All-Star game and should, but he's not the No. 1 ranked small forward in the East right now. Incredible.
Power forward: Kevin Garnett and Butler are the only two East players in the top 10. Then again, this isn't fantasy baseball, and I don't know anyone in an East-only fantasy format. Garnett might not be producing quite the way you hoped, since he was the No. 3 pick in average drafts, and now stands at No. 9 on the rater, but he was still by far the best bet from the Celtics. Chris Bosh is the second-best East power forward, but way down at No. 30 overall.
Center: Dwight Howard is a man-child who is a joy to own, and I know, because I own him. His 22.1 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and .593 field goal percentage are terrific. You know what's coming: What about the free-throw percentage? You know what? Howard has improved this month, and it's not as if he's pulling a Shaq and eliminating his fantasy teams from the category. If Howard were shooting 70 percent instead of 60 percent, like LeBron is, he would be the No. 1 player in fantasy. That's what the Rater tells us. By the way, the No. 2 East center is Samuel Dalembert. Yeah, Sixers!
Point guard: Baron Davis of the Warriors is the No. 1 guy on the ESPN fantasy Player Rater. I thought it was going to be the fabulous Chris Paul, and while he's No. 2, that's still second to the best guy. Davis is averaging 22.4 points, 8.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and has 94 3-pointers. Those are sick numbers. Paul would be a better option to build a fantasy team around, because he's younger and doesn't scare his owners with durability questions. His 21.2 points, 10.5 assists and 2.7 steals are great, but Davis so trumps him in boards and 3s, he's actually more valuable. Again, I was surprised, too. Steve Nash, by the way, is the No. 4 player in fantasy. Three of the four best players in fantasy this season are West point guards.
Shooting guard: And the No. 3 player in fantasy is Kobe Bryant, one of only two shooting guards to rank in the top 25 overall in fantasy for the season. The other is Allen Iverson. Bryant scores the most points, 27.1 per game, and he's balanced everywhere else. He might even score more now that Andrew Bynum is out.
Small forward: Phoenix still scores a ton of points, and the Suns have three players in the top 17 for our game this season. Shawn Marion is the only one ranked first at his position. Marion gets you 16 and 10 nightly, and how many players can average more than a block, a steal and a 3-pointer per game? Just try not to listen when Marion is involved in trade talks. Put him just about anywhere else and I'm not buying.
Power forward: A very close battle here between Utah's Carlos Boozer and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, and frankly I was a bit surprised that Boozer wasn't much better. He's just a bit better. Dirk was the first-round pick, of course, and Boozer was not, but I still think fantasy owners hold Boozer responsible for the Cleveland fiasco and the fact that he's a big man who doesn't block shots. So what? He's getting 22 and 10 a night, while shooting 55 percent from the field and helping in steals. Nowitzki is having arguably his worst fantasy season since becoming a star, but both these guys are top-15 fantasy options. Boozer gets the nod for now.