Shootaround: Winning Without All-Stars


He’s not technically an All-Star yet. Leave us alone. (Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons)

What’s up, fellow DeMar DeRozan fan club members? This shootaround stemmed from Dan asking the question, “What’s the best possible team you can make without including any players who have made an All-Star team?” After much thought and a few volatile Facebook chats, we came up with our squads. Let us know which team you’d bet on. We’re all very eager to have people side with our particular team.

Dan Diez

PG – Kemba Walker

SG – Avery Bradley

SF – Giannis Antetokounmpo

PF – Karl-Anthony Towns

C – Myles Turner

Sixth Man – Bradley Beal

The two no brainers for me are Giannis (whose last name I refuse to try to spell) and Karl-Anthony Towns, who are all but guaranteed all-star spots this season.  

In filling out a team around them, there are going to be some snubs from the best players left in the lot. I like what Thibs has done by pairing KAT with a five, so I will keep him as a four.  

At the five, I will forgo the freakish athleticism of Whiteside for the spacing benefit (a necessity in maximizing Giannis) of Myles Turner. These three create a defensive powerhouse and Avery Bradley is the best defensive non all-star guard to compliment the lineup.  

For the fifth starter I will take one of the most clutch shot creators, Kemba Walker, to play the one. It took a lot to resist keeping Giannis at the one and taking Gordon Hayward as the shot creator, but if this team is going to have an iso-baller, I need to see defenders dance (you know that stuff brings in revenue).  

Although Mike Conley holds the defensive edge over both, I am trying to create a championship roster, not a parallel universe to Memphis’ grindhouse.  The sixth man will be one of the most overpaid yet underrated starters currently in the league, Bradley Beal.  

Despite the conflict of having a Bradley Beal and an Avery Bradley on the team (see: George Hill, Paul George) he would be a great instant offense guy off the bench.  He isn’t a defensive stalwart but the trees behind him will allow him focus on getting buckets.  Throw these guys in with Rick Carlisle for and you got yourself a ring.

Brian Kane

PG: Giannis Antetokounmpo

SG: Bradley Beal

SF: Trevor Ariza

PF Kristaps Porzingis

C: Clint Capela

Sixth Man: Kent Bazemore

First of all, Point Giannis is a must in this exercise. As I write this, I don’t know who the rest of the Contested Long Two contributors are choosing for their starting five, but I would be shocked if Giannis wasn’t on more than half of them. The growth he’s shown this season is staggering. He’s putting up 22 points per game to go along with almost six assists and nine rebounds, and his game tape is even more impressive than his numbers. He’s absolutely dominated opponents from the point guard position. He warps the defense with his totally novel combination of handles, vision and size. Since this year has been his inauguration into the superstar club, he’s yet to land a spot on an All-Star team. Cop-out? Maybe. But we’re writing this in December, not February, so technically I’m following the rules.

The simple question this team needs to answer is this: how do you best compliment a singular player like Antetokounmpo? My thesis statement: match his best attributes and fill in what he lacks. Pair Giannis with length, speed, shooting, solid defense, and an experienced X-factor type who’s been there, and you have an unstoppable machine.

Imagine Giannis commanding all the attention in the arena as he gallops on the break. The defense knows there’s no one man on their team who can stop his deadly euro-step and eiffel tower throwdown, so they have to collapse into a congealed mesh of human to try and stop his forward progress. If they don’t collapse, he’ll bury them in dunks and layups. If they do, two of the best shooters in the league trail on the wing, ready to shoot 50% on wide open threes, or pump fake and attack. Oh, and on the other half of shots that clang off the rim, the defense has both Antetokounmpo and a trailing and always hungry for a poster putback Porzingis to deal with.

In the halfcourt, Beal, Ariza and Porzingis are all threats to shoot from the perimeter, and have the capacity to break their man down off the dribble. The spacing on this team would be Warriors-esque considering how much focus the defense would need to pay Giannis. And any head coach worth his chops could make a Giannis/Kristaps, Beal/Kristaps or Beal/Capela pick and roll the most dangerous play in the league. There are too many players with more than one go-to on this team to handle on offense.

However, this team would earn its legacy as a defensive juggernaut. Let’s look at these wingspans: Giannis 7’3, Beal 6’8, Trevor Ariza 7’2, Porzingis 7’6, Capela 7’5. Four out of the five starters on this team have a wingspan of 7 feet or longer; four out of five of these starters can guard all each player in modern 5-man units (and I’m only leaving Beal out of this because he wouldn’t be “great” guarding bigs); three of the five are dominant on-ball defenders, and three of the five are dominant rim protectors; all five of these players are plus defenders and all five are among the best athletes in the league. I don’t see a team scoring from closer than 35 feet against these guys.

Kent Bazemore would lead any bench unit with his gritty, high energy play and his combination of size, shooting, and defense. I like him most in this role because he would pair with any one player from the starting lineup to make for one of the fiercest second units in the league. He could handle the ball in a pick and roll with any of Giannis, Ariza, Porzingis or Capela as the screener, or he could play off the ball if Beal was the primary ball handler with his ability to spot up or making heady cuts to the basket. He’s also a fierce competitor and would add a Draymond-like fire to this admittedly young team. He would also technically be a serviceable backup plan in the event Beal gets injured, but since we’re operating in hypothetical-world right now I’m going to pretend that’s not an almost-certainty.

In a tough matchup or in a long playoff run, the combination of Baze and Ariza would be the stabilizing force this team would need. Ariza has been to the promised land, winning a title with the Lakers in the 09-10 campaign. He hasn’t been there for a while, but he’s shown he knows how to play in big moments.

I really can’t see a way to beat this team. The Cavs and Warriors would have nightmares if this unit ever assembled. Giannis probably already gives LeBron nightmares considering his single-handed trouncing of the Cavs earlier this year, and do you think Steph Curry ever wants to imagine the possibility of running Bradley Beal off a pick just to see the Greek Freak closing out on him? Me neither. Screw championship contender, I’m calling this a championship favorite.

PS: Special shoutout to Mike Conley for yet another snub. You forever deserve better.

Scott Levine

PG: Mike Conley

SG: Khris Middleton

SF: Gordon Hayward

PF: Harrison Barnes

C: Rudy Gobert

Sixth Man: Giannis Antetokounmpo

This team has everything you need. If you don’t have Stephen Curry or LeBron, then success in the playoffs often comes from having the fewest flaws possible. Offensively, all of my perimeter players can thrive with and without the ball. You cannot leave Conley, Middleton, Hayward or Barnes open from three.

Barnes’ three point shooting is down this year at 34.3%. I am going to assume that the main reason for that is having to create for himself on the Mavericks more than he probably should. I don’t know, though. I haven’t watched many Mavericks games this year. I see that they’re playing sometimes, and I’m like, “Why would I watch that?” So, yeah.

Conley, Giannis, Hayward, Barnes, and Middleton can be the primary ball handler in a pick and roll with Gobert. Hayward and Giannis in particular will excel at getting to the line. I am going to have Gobert set infinite screens and roll to the basket mercilessly. I will also use Barnes as a screener in pick and pops, that can eventually turn into pick and rolls with Barnes and Gobert, or Barnes and Giannis. We’re eventually going to get a switch we like.

It does feel weird to include Middleton on this squad since he tore his hamstring in September. I am keeping him here, though, as an homage to his 2015-2016 season; the gold standard for mid-usage non-All-Star shooting guards. He scored 18.2 points a game, shot just shy of 40% from three, was the Bucks’ most reliable defender, and always seemed to be a better playmaker than I remembered. He can absolutely run a pick and roll, and averaged four assists a game last season. That last part separates him from the Courtney Lees and Danny Greens of the world. Both would be welcome additions to this team, but Middleton is just a little better.

He would not score 18 on this team, but I want every perimeter player to be able to run the offense in a pinch. I want an offense that can be bent, but never broken. In order to survive in the playoffs, your offense needs a backup plan, a backup to that backup plan, and so forth.

To provide even more versatility, Giannis will be the point guard when he subs in, and can replace any player on the floor. I want to reap all the benefits of playing Giannis at point without having to live and die by him. Even though he isn’t starting, he will play more minutes than Barnes on nights when the matchups call for it, and will ideally average thirty minutes a game. Giannis currently averages 35, but I am hoping that I will get more total time of peak Giannis if I give him more breaks, similar to how the Spurs handled Manu.

Defensively, you can’t fuck with this squad. Mike Conley is one of the best defensive point guards in the league. Khris Middleton is solid. Hayward is an underrated defender with a gift for playing the passing lanes. Barnes has the speed to hang with skilled forwards, and the strength to bother traditional 4s. Besides, if anyone’s struggling to guard their man, I’ll just sub Giannis in for them.

The toughest omission was ultimately going with Rudy Gobert over DeAndre Jordan at center. While DeAndre gives you everything you want from a modern day rim-running five besides free throw shooting, I will take Gobert’s transcendent defense. I also want to give Gobert a shout out for his strong season 25 games through. He is leading the league in blocks and field goal percentage, is sixth in rebounding, and has improved his free throw percentage to 67.6%.

The most impressive stat, however, is that the Jazz have the eighth best offensive rating, and the sixth best defensive rating, giving them the seventh highest net rating in the league. This is impressive for Gobert because both Derrick Favors and George Hill, their only two other consistently strong defenders, have only played 11 games apiece this season. If Gobert can anchor a team that doles out significant minutes to Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson, and Joe Ingles, I trust him to make this squad a top five defense.

This team could definitely be a better rebounding team, but I’ve prioritized offensive creation and defensive competency over having glass cleaners.

Barnes and Giannis will have a tall task keeping opposing 4s off the glass. Barnes is rebounding well due to the dearth of rebounders on the Mavs, but he averaged around five rebounds his last two season in Golden State, which isn’t bad. Giannis has also had a great rebounding season at about nine per game, but it’s unclear if he can keep that up against larger players.

The only rebounding matchups I worry a little about are the Clippers and Cavs. I have a plan for both, though. Against Cleveland, I can put Gobert on Thompson and I think Barnes or Giannis can handle Love since he will spend many possessions out of position for offensive rebounds on the perimeter. Against the Clippers I will have the small forward help off of Mbah a Moute to contain Blake, and have Gobert on DeAndre.

Yes, Mbah a Moute is shooting better this season, but he still only takes 1.6 attempts a game, and only shoots when he’s wide open. He has not earned my full respect yet. I’m pumped that he can shoot, though. That’s awesome. Good for the Clippers. I’m rambling now, let’s give the mic to Jake.

Jake Mattleman

Point Guard: Mike Conley

This was probably the toughest decision, with Kemba Walker as a closest as possible second. Obviously Kemba has a complete game and is a go-to player in crunch time with his wicked crossover. However I like Conley’s game management, distribution and he’s more battle tested. He can hit big shots, consistently makes the right plays and is effective defensive player. My trust in his dedication to making the right play on every play, gives him to edge.

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick

Redick is a total nightmare for defenses and his impact in Los Angeles is sometimes underrated. His raw statistics are modest at 15 points per game, with little else that’s noteworthy, but he shoots the three over 40% consistently each year. Additionally, his skill set and movement changes the way defenses guard the weak side. His effort on defense is solid, which makes up for his lack of athleticism and has made big shots over the years. Avery Bradley was strongly considered here due to his defensive prowess, however I view his statistics this year as a bit inflated based on his situation. J.J. fits into any team and any scheme.

SF: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis is slowly becoming a complete player and will certainly be an All-Star this season. He averages 22 ppg, 9 rpg, and 6 apg, while playing fantastic defense at multiple positions … and he’s only 22 years old. Besides all the statistics, Giannis has the competitive fire you want from a team leader. The improvement of his jump shot suggests relentless work off the court each offseason with more to come. Probably my easiest choice.

PF: Serge Ibaka

Serge is one of those players that’s totally solid and has the toughness you want at the 4 position. I liked the way be played a few years ago around the basket and has drifted away, but he’s still a plus offense player. On defense he’s a superb one on one defender, rim protector, and team defender at the four or five. Danilo Gallinari was considered here, but I’ll choose toughness over shooting every day. Edge to Serge.

C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Another player who will undoubtedly make the All-Star team this season and many more in the future. 21 ppg, 10 rpg, 21 years old, and works inside and out. His potential is unlimited, but he’s already a cornerstone on the court for the young T-Wolves. Not much to say here and not much competition. Gobert is probably the closest.

6th man: Gordon Hayward

I absolutely love Hayward for a slew of reasons: Ability to create his own shot, great defensive positioning, not scared of the moment, and team leader. Bringing off the bench is insulting and for one I’m outraged with myself. In crunch time this team would sit Serge and play Gordon, moving Giannis to the 4.

The Contested Long Twos staff apologises to the following players who did not see their names on this list: DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, C.J. McCollum.

This entry was posted in Brian Kane, Dan Diez, Jake Mattleman, Scott Levine. Bookmark the permalink.

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