1. With Kobe Bryant out for the All-Star game, if you’re the NBA commissioner, who are you choosing to replace him?
Mike: The new comissioner has already made this decision, and I’m going to answer in support of his decision — Anthony Davis was the only correct answer to this question. The Brow has been a stud all season, putting up averages of 20.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and a league-leading 3.2 blocks per game. I thought he should have been on the team to begin with, especially with Dirk Nowitzki — 21.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.6 blocks per game — making the squad. Sure, the Mavs are seven games up on the Pelicans, but Dirk has a stronger supporting cast that hasn’t been as hurt by injuries as Davis’s crew was in New Orleans — and if a better record makes an All-Star, then why isn’t Goran Dragic on the team? Simply put, Anthony Davis was the biggest snub this season, and new commissioner Adam Silver selecting Davis was just righting a wrong done by the coaches who didn’t pick him in the first place.
Peter. This question won’t generate much discussion. You could make half-hearted arguments for Suns guard Goran Dragic, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins or Grizzlies guard Mike Conley as all being worthy of replacing Kobe, but in the end, Anthony Davis is having far too good a year to pick anyone else for that final Western Conference All-Star spot. Davis is playing heavy minutes for an injured New Orleans team, which needs all the help it can get, and it shows: Davis is a top-five player in the NBA in PER and has an astonishing 10.9 EWA — estimated wins added — through just 50 games, for a team with 22 wins. He might not play for a good team, but Davis is the best player not already picked.
Chris: Anthony Davis was already selected to replace Kobe in the All-Star game, and that was the right decision. Davis is having the breakout year we all expected, averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, along with more than three blocks per contest. Those stats speak as to how he’s developed into a dominant rim protector and versatile scorer. Davis has a PER of 26.64, and he’s putting up these numbers on a below-average Pelicans team, which isn’t easy. A case can be made for Goran Dragic, but Davis is ahead of him in all of those categories, as well as most other categories. Plus, Dragic has a more competent cast around him. This is the first of many All-Star selections for Davis.
Mike wins for saying that Davis should have already made the team, Chris gets 2 points for summarizing Davis’s breakout season, and Peter gets 1 point for sleeping on Dragic.
2. After getting dominated in the Super Bowl, will the Broncos fall victim to the “Loser’s Curse” next season, or will they be back with a vengeance?
Mike: While I certainly don’t think that the Broncos will fall victim to the “Loser’s Curse,” I’m not too sure about the whole vengeance thing. I mean, yeah, it was fun to suggest that Peyton Manning was Evil Manning (Darth Touchdown) this season, but he doesn’t really strike me as a guy to be inspired by revenge. And on a serious note, I think the Broncos will still be a playoff team next season, but whether they win their division with the Chiefs (and, to a lesser extent, the Chargers), looming large will depend on how many of their key free agents return to the fold. The Broncos have nine of their starters from this season on the market, including highly valuable players in Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. If the teams fails to bring those guys back, it will certainly have a tougher time putting together a dominant season — and, of course, if Manning starts to lose his touch or gets injured, they could easily fall right out of playoff contention. So I guess to answer the question, I’d have to fall on the side of vengeance, although I really think it’s more of a “they’ll still be a playoff football team.”
Peter: The Broncos will not be back in the Super Bowl next season — and might not even be in the playoffs — as an impossibly difficult schedule and free agency casualties will bring Denver down. When Peyton Manning torched defenses for a record-setting amount of points last year, he was taking advantage of the fourth-weakest schedule in the NFL. In 2014, the Broncos will have their hands full. They play in an improving and tough AFC West — including two younger playoff teams in the Chiefs and Chargers — in addition to going up against the hyper-competitive NFC West, the other first-place teams in the conference and the AFC East. That schedule only includes two teams below .500: the Raiders and Bills. As the Broncos will likely lose so many of the complementary players who helped them go 13-3 last year — including star wide receiver Eric Decker, starting running back Knowshown Moreno, starting guard Zane Beadles and various players in the secondary and on defense — Denver has little room for error, and I think the team’s reign of terror in the AFC West is over. Either the versatile Chiefs or the Phillip Rivers-led Chargers will take command of that division, and, at best, expect Denver to lose in a wild card game.
Chris: I’m not sure how deadly the “Loser’s Curse” is. I think if a team gets so close to glory and barely misses it, they would be even more motivated to do well. However, I do think the Broncos will struggle next year, but for different reasons. Denver didn’t face a ton of tough defenses until the Super Bowl, which may have caused us to overrate their offense. Factor in Peyton Manning being a year older, and it will be that much tougher. The Broncos are a good team, I just don’t think they’re that much better than the field.
In a wide-open AFC, Denver could be in for some rough patches.
Peter wins for his authoritative overview, Chris gets 2 points for saying the Broncos will struggle, and Mike gets 1 point for highlighting the importance of free agency.
3. Joe Johnson was somehow chosen to appear in his seventh All-Star game by the coaches. Which Eastern Conference player was the biggest snub?
Mike: At first glance, Johnson’s selection seems like a tragedy, given how average he’s been this season. Take a closer look, though, and it’s not as bad as it initially appears. There are only two or three players I’d put above him in the East. I’ll start by saying Lance Stephenson is the popular choice, since being the league’s triple double leader usually means something, and since he’s been the third-most important player on the league’s best team. I’d also put Kyle Lowry ahead of Johnson, given his impressive stats on the conference’s third-best team. But I’m giving the biggest snub award to Al Jefferson, the big man who’s averaging 20 points and 10.6 boards for the Bobcats. Any player putting up 20 and 10 a night deserves serious All-Star consideration, but Big Al has done something even more impressive — he’s made Charlotte a legitimate team rather than a total laughing stock. Granted, they won’t strike fear into the hearts of any decent team anytime soon, but if the playoffs started today, the Bobcats would be the No. 8 seed, and Jefferson is the biggest reason why.
Peter: He’s the popular answer to this question, but also the right one: Lance Stephenson should be an NBA All-Star over Johnson for being a top-five defender in the East, while scoring efficiently — 14.2 points per game on 50 percent shooting, along with 5.3 assists per game — in a system that’s about as fast and fan as watching paint dry. Don’t over-complicate it — Stephenson is an integral part of the NBA’s best team and one of the league’s most statistically significant turnarounds in recent memory, as Indiana is winning at a 78 percent clip compared to 60.5 percent last year. Stephenson scores efficiently, gets rebounds and assists and plays fantastic defense. You can’t ask for much more.
Chris: Joe Johnson is having a decent year, but it hasn’t been All-Star-caliber. Instead, Orlando’s Aaron Afflalo should have gotten the nod. Afflalo is having a career year, averaging almost 20 points per game, while grabbing about four boards and dishing out about four assists. And like Anthony Davis, he’s putting up these numbers on a bad team. Johnson is worse than Afflalo in nearly every major category, including shooting percentage. Give the guy on the tanking Magic a shot.
Peter wins for his case for Stephenson, Mike gets 2 points for pointing out Jefferson’s 20-10 average, and Chris gets 1 point for saying Afflalo is having a career year in Orlando.
Peter wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5