Starting at center for the Western Conference is…
Yes, in the first week of fan voting the Warriors’ oft-maligned, clumsy big man received the second most all-star starter votes among Western Conference frontcourt players.
And I’m ecstatic. The NBA, as an entertainment entity, ought to stick strictly to the fan voting.
I mean, how many 6-foot-11 NBA players throw two-handed, no-look, overhead passes, hitting their point guards perfectly in stride for a fast-break bucket?
PLAY OF THE NIGHT! Durant block, Zaza pass and Stephen Curry with the crafty finish.pic.twitter.com/LbtesDH64a
— Derrek Li (@DerrekLi) January 9, 2017
The all-star game is already a popularity contest devoid of defense – plus, it’s the only way Russell Westbrook can win an MVP trophy.
At UCLA, I doubt anyone – other than hardcore Warriors fans and trolls – votes for Pachulia to start. If given the opportunity, I would actually bet thousands of students would rather see freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf this February in New Orleans than Pachulia and his teammate Stephen Curry.
Bruin fans will have to wait at least a couple years to see Ball and Leaf at an all-star game; however, here’s my vote for the five UCLA men’s basketball all-stars under coach Steve Alford’s tenure.
Note: I followed the NBA format of two backcourt and three frontcourt players, and my decisions were based solely on the athlete’s performance at UCLA. Stats are as of Jan. 11.
Lonzo Ball (2016-2017)
What hasn’t already been said about Ball, a surefire lottery pick come June? He’s a knockdown shooter who also happens to play point guard, and a lock to make Sportscenter’s Top 10 every game he plays. The 6-foot-6 freshman averages 14.7 points along with 5.6 rebounds and eight assists per game. Shooting 43 percent from long range and 53 percent overall, Ball is one of Alford’s best offensive weapons.
Kyle Anderson (2012-2014)
The final backcourt spot goes to another lengthy ball handler in Anderson. As Alford’s previous point guard, the 6-foot-9 New Jersey native averaged 12.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and five assists per game. Known as “Slow mo” for his lack of explosiveness, Anderson nonetheless recorded 24 double-doubles in his two years at UCLA, culminating in being named to the AP All-American third team.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Adams (16.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.4 spg), Norman Powell (9.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.1 spg).
Kevon Looney (2014-2015)
Although Looney only played one season in Westwood, he was a model of consistency and a beast on the boards, notching 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game – 3.4 of those on the offensive end. The Milwaukee native also shot 41.5 percent on 3-pointers, making him a prototypical stretch-four in the college game. He recorded 15 double-doubles, more than future No. 1 and No. 3 picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor of Kentucky and Duke, respectively.
TJ Leaf (2016-2017)
The 6-foot-10 Leaf flew under the radar this offseason thanks to Ball, but the freshman possesses an all-around offensive skill set unmatched by any other of Alford’s frontcourt players. The power forward leads the Bruins with 17.4 points as well as 9.1 rebounds per game. Against then-No. 1 Kentucky and Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Leaf showed why he is a cornerstone of UCLA’s success this year.
Thomas Welsh (2014-2017)
With all the offensive playmakers surrounding him on the court, Welsh’s contributions often go under the radar. The 7-footer does have a lethal midrange jumper, but more importantly, he’s a legitimate shot blocker who averages 1.2 rejections per game – this year alone, that number jumps to two per game. Welsh may not light up the scoreboard with his 7.8 points per game, but he’s a true defensive anchor on a team that needs one.
Honorable mention: Tony Parker (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.69 bpg), Wanaah Bail (1.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg).