The NBA announced the All-Star reserves in both conferences on Thursday, and the news was surprisingly good for Chicago Bulls fans. Although the Bulls had no starters on the Eastern Conference team, both Luol Deng (making his second straight appearance) and Joakim Noah (a first-time All-Star) made the list of bench players for the East.
Both players obviously deserve enormous credit for keeping the Bulls in the playoff picture while superstar Derrick Rose rehabs his injured knee. That said, the All-Star Game is meant to recognize individual excellence above all, and it’s hard to justify sending both Chicago standouts in a year when some very strong candidates are staying home.
Deng seems the more plausible choice, as he’s shown immense versatility while carrying the Bulls’ offense. He’s averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game, pulling down 6.4 boards a night in a terrific frontcourt, and playing his usual impeccable defense.
The most obvious objection to Deng’s presence on the roster is that Boston stalwart Paul Pierce, a similar small forward with a much more impressive track record, missed the cut. However, Pierce’s numbers are so similar to Deng’s (18.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a night) that it’s pretty much of a toss-up who should go, and Boston already has an ill-deserved starter in Kevin Garnett.
The tougher call when it comes to the Bulls’ representatives is Noah, who admittedly is having a career year. He’s seventh in the league with 10.9 rebounds per game, he’s blocking 2.1 shots a night and (as always) is a wonderful passer for a big man with 4.0 assists per contest.
However, with Garnett serving as the only post player in the East's starting lineup, the bar for reserve centers gets set awfully, awfully high. As well as Noah’s played, Nets center Brook Lopez has been even better.
Lopez has matched Noah’s shot blocking and turned in a solid rebounding effort of his own at 7.4 boards a night. Most crucially, he’s the leading scorer on a very good Brooklyn team, pouring in 18.6 points per game (against Noah’s pedestrian, albeit career-high, 12.2).
If Deng hadn’t turned in another season well worth honoring with an All-Star nod, it would have made sense to reward Noah and the Bulls by sending the hardworking center to his first All-Star Game. With Deng also on the roster, though, Noah just doesn’t have the production to deserve a spot ahead of Lopez this season.