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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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In Sports

Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings is leading the NBA in steals. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

In Sports

Monta Ellis is averaging just under 20 points per game. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

All-Star door open for Jennings, Ellis


Near the midpoint of last year's lockout-shortened NBA season, Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings was being bandied about as a possible coach's pick for the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.

Jennings was ultimately not selected by Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for the 12-man squad, or even as a replacement for the injured Joe Johnson.

While the game itself is meaningless, the NBA All-Star team is the last such unit that actually means something. Unlike in baseball and football where every team must be represented, rosters are swollen beyond sanity and selected players are tripping over themselves to beg off with injury, the NBA's midseason classic is a true All-Star showing.

Like a regular roster, there are only 12 men on each team. That means the coach and his staff actually have to make tough decisions regarding the seven non-starters. So if you're not LeBron James, Kobe Bryant (or even Yao Ming, if you go back a few years) it's truly difficult to make an All-Star team.

It's why no one batted an eye when Jennings stated that one of his goals was to make the squad this year. It wasn't looked at selfish. Instead, it was embraced by Bucks coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond.

"We sure hope so," Hammond said of Jennings earning an All-Star nomination. "If you look at last year going into the All-Star game, Brandon was right in the middle of the All-Star conversation and I was really happy for him at that point. Hopefully that will happen again.

"I think Brandon is 23 now. So at 23 years old you hope that he can continue to improve and there's plenty of time to do that. He's got a lot of experience now and we're hoping he can take that next step."

Because after all, if you have an All-Star, chances are your team is playing winning basketball.

But, like in Jennings' case last year, perhaps an All-Star is overlooked because his team isn't winning.

So what comes first?

"I think if you look at the Detroit team when you had four All-Stars in Chauncey (Billups) and Rip (Hamilton) and Tayshaun (Prince) and Ben Wallace, all four of those guys, statistically, you could've made a debate, weren't as good as some other guys," Skiles said, referencing the title-winning Pistons teams in the early 2000s. "But the team won every year and people finally said hey, these guys deserve it. I think the team has to win. And then that follows."

He paused briefly.

"But, if you've got a couple guys playing at that level you probably are going to win," Skiles continued. "We need to win, we need to have a good year and normally when you do that everybody gets recognized. Guys that are role players are recognized for the valuable role they play."

Ellis is in the same boat as his teammate. The 2006-07 NBA Most Improved Player also has a chance to showcase his skills to a different set of coaches on a regular basis than when he was in Golden State, where his offensive ability was often overshadowed by the likes of Bryant, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.

It's not to say the East doesn't have its fair share of top flight "backcourt" players (the NBA's new term – fans are no longer going vote by position) but as far as this season goes, it is severely depleted.

After a hot start to the year, Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving broke a finger and is in the midst of at least a four week absence. Eric Gordon has yet to suit for New Orleans. John Wall (Washington), Derrick Rose (Chicago) and Iman Shumpert (New York) are all out with injuries.

It seems likely that All-Star regulars Rajon Rondo (Boston) and Deron Williams (Brooklyn) will make the team in some capacity, along with Dwyane Wade (Miami). That leaves as few as one, or as many as three, spots for guards.

The door, however slightly, is open for Jennings and Ellis to make an impression.

If the Bucks hang around first place in the Central Division and Jennings continues to play at such an efficient level (16th in the East, 1st in the NBA in steals) while Ellis continues to pour in points (19.1 per game) the Bucks may not test which comes first – the winning, or the All-Star berth – but instead have both happen at the same time.


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