It's becoming an annual tradition. In early February, the water coolers around the Bay Area are held up by people debating over one question: should Monta Ellis be an All-Star?
This figures to be Ellis' best chance ever thanks to a few breaks. Some of his biggest competition in previous years is no longer in the picture. Deron Williams was traded to the Eastern Conference. Brandon Roy retired. Manu Ginobili is out with a broken wrist.
In what's a slow start for him, he's still one of the league's best scorers -- his 21.5 points per game rank ninth in the NBA through Thursday. Plus, Ellis leads all shooting guards in assists per game (6.7), a much-improved aspect of his game.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of his seventh-year guard. "He has great numbers. He's had a great first half. ... He's certainly playing at an All-Star level."
With that said, it appears some other numbers could leave Ellis on the annual snubbed list. Certainly, 42 percent shooting (on pace for his lowest mark since his rookie season) and 3.6 turnovers per game don't help.
But the main numbers that might get in the way: 8-12, the Warriors' record.
The Western Conference starters, as selected by fans, were announced Thursday. The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul were named the starting guards. Ellis finished seventh in the voting.
The coaches, whose votes select
It's almost a guarantee at least one of those wild-card slots will go to a forward, possibly both. The West is loaded with deserving forwards: Minnesota's Kevin Love, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki. And that's not to mention sleepers such as Denver's Danilo Gallinari, Utah's Paul Millsap and even Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan.
A center could also take up a wild-card spot, as Memphis' Marc Gasol, Utah's Al Jefferson and Denver's Nene are all having consideration-worthy years on winning teams.
That leaves Ellis likely in the running for two slots. Make that one, because Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook is a virtual lock for one of the guard spots.
"I won't say I'll vote for him," said Sacramento coach Keith Smart, who coached Ellis during his first six years in the league. "But I will say he'll be a deep thought."
After that, Ellis is arguably the best guard available.
Some young guards are having great years on better teams, such as Denver's Ty Lawson, Houston's Kyle Lowry and Memphis' Mike Conley Jr. But neither can claim the pressure of being the focus of the opponents' defense.
Some older guards have more respect around the league and better reputations as NBA ambassadors, such as San Antonio's Tony Parker, Phoenix's Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Clippers' Chauncey Billups. But they're all having down years and are no longer as dominant as Ellis.
"He's definitely one of the top guys," Utah coach Ty Corbin said. "His athletic ability, the energy that he plays with every time he comes on the floor. There are not too many guys who can score at the pace he can score, the way he can get up and down the floor. What number he is? I don't know. But I think he's one of the better guards in the league."