On Sunday, February 17th, the NBA will hold its 2013 All Star Game in Houston, Texas. When the game tips off, the Los Angeles Lakers will represent 20% of the players taking the court, 40% of those donning the Western Conference jerseys. Not too shabby for a team that will probably miss the playoffs. Such is the weird state of the Los Angeles Lakers, in which a team full of top flight talent is vastly under-performing.
Of course, being an All Star starter is decided by fan voting, and has been a popularity contest more than a deserved honor since the system was instituted. Every year, it seems, one of the guys voted in as a starter doesn't even deserve to be at the game. Carmelo Anthony, Yao Ming, Allen Iverson ... the league's most recognized faces have all had seasons where, through performance or injury, they didn't deserve the honor and got it anyways. It happens all the time. Just this year, two of the Eastern Conference starters are from the 20-21 Boston Celtics (providing the Lakers company in the 'talent does not equal success' category), and neither Kevin Garnett nor Rajon Rondo are having seasons worth remembering.
Here's the thing, though: Kobe and Dwight ... kinda deserve to be there. At least as far as the numbers go. Kobe is scoring off the charts, and until the last three games, he was doing so at an efficiency that was historic in his already historic career. He's second in the league in scoring, ninth in PER, and sixth in the league in win shares despite the fact that stat is tied heavily to a team's overall win total (something which the Lakers are pretty terrible at). Sure, he spent most of the season playing terrible defense, but that's not even really a criteria for the All Star team anyways. This game has always been about offensive capability.
And Dwight, though nowhere near the form that people associate with him, is still just about good enough to be considered a legitimate All Star. He's leading the league in rebounding by a sizable margin (though Anderson Varejao was killing him prior to the season ending blood clot injury he sustained). He's fifth in the league in blocks and sixth in eFG. His 17.1 points per game is below career average, but hardly terrible. Dwight Howard, on paper at least, is a legitimate all star. He shouldn't be starting (not with Tim Duncan having a ridiculous season), but he should be in the game.
That is the conundrum facing the Lakers. They have two superstars, and both are playing well enough to deserve a call up to the All Star game. Kobe is playing about as well as he ever has. Dwight is far below his career norms, but is still providing quite a bit. And Steve Nash hasn't diminished all that far from the form that saw him named to the All-Star team last year. He won't be named this year, because he hasn't played very much and his numbers are down from what was a fringe campaign anyway, but still ... the Lakers are getting decent production out of 3 out of their 4 stars, decent being enough to garner an All Star invite for two of them. And they still look so terrible as a team that I'm not 100% convinced they aren't already tanking for some reason.
This isn't how basketball is supposed to work. Talent is too important to a game in which you can only have five players on the court at the same time.The Lakers have quite a bit of talent, enough to be well represented at the league's celebration of it. But that talent isn't providing them anything where they need it most ... in the win column.