With the second set of returns from the NBA's All-Star Balloting, the Indiana Pacers remain one of the focal points among fan voting. Paul George remains second in the Eastern Conference behind LeBron James, tallying 712,808 votes. The increased number of votes has George fourth overall in voting as James leads all vote-getters with 854,105. Kevin Durant (850,728) and Kobe Bryant (723,031) are also ahead of George.
Bryant's latest injury may open up more voting opportunities for George if he could move up to third overall, but Bryant was voted the top backcourt player in the Western Conference before playing a game, so it wouldn't be a big surprise of George doesn't track down Bryant in the overall votes. In the Eastern Conference, however, George is set to join James and Carmelo Anthony (580,795) as the starting front court for the All-Star Game.
Roy Hibbert stays locked into the fourth frontcourt spot with 304,829, remaining well ahead of Chris Bosh, who places fifth with 222,861. Despite falling well short in the fan votes, Hibbert's defensive presence will make him a difficult choice to pass up when considering the All-Star reserves. The top seven in the front court remains unchanged, but Detroit's Andre Drummond has made the biggest leap from the first returns, jumping from 11th to 8th.
Dwyane Wade (565,455) and Kyrie Irving (524,000) appear locks for the Eastern Conference's starting backcourt, but Indiana has not one, but two top ten vote-getters in the backcourt. George Hill remains 8th in the East with 66,030 as Lance Stephenson makes his top ten debut at #9, earning 50,444 votes. Stephenson jumping into the top ten allows the discussion to open up about his potential All-Star candidacy, especially with his recent play.
Stephenson has scored in double figures in seven straight games, a stretch where he's averaging 17.4 PTS, 8.0 TRB, and 5.9 AST, while shooting .532 from the field and .423 from three point range. Stephenson also leads the league in triple-doubles with three after posting his third of the year on December 22 against Boston. Stephenson's campaign could certainly be aided by the increasing number of injuries to Eastern Conference players, Brook Lopez being the most recent candidate to lose extended time due to injury, but with his importance to his team increasing, the case can be made for Stephenson's potential reserve role thanks in part to that.
With the injuries, however, and Indiana posting a league best 23-5 record to date, this could be the year more than two Pacers players make an appearance in the NBA All-Star Game. While George and Hibbert appear to be safe bets, making 2014 the first time since 2004 when Jermaine O'Neal and Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest of course) two Pacers have appeared at the same All-Star Game, Stephenson can make it a trio for the first time since the 1972 ABA All-Star Game, when Indiana sent Hall of Famers Roger Brown and Mel Daniels, along with Freddie Lewis.
Hill appears to be a long shot despite coming up eighth in fan voting, but even he can make his own All-Star case due to an overall lack of backcourt talent in the Eastern Conference. John Wall (210,988) and Deron Williams (74,047) seem like the safest bets as reserves, but beyond that, it could create a situation for Hill if he can also have a strong month in January to make his own reserve case. The only Pacers starter who doesn't show up in the balloting results is David West, who as the team's only multiple All-Star, didn't appear to fazed by his lack of choice last year, and likely doesn't find himself too upset about lack of fan voting this season either.
In the Western Conference, the starting frontcourt is led by Durant, Dwight Howard (408,623), and Blake Griffin (399,357) while the backcourt is led by Bryant and Chris Paul (533,647). Bryant's injury will likely threaten his All-Star candidacy, as Stephen Curry is third in the Western backcourt with 481,698. The traditional Western Conference front court should make for an entertaining opening sequence as James, George, or Anthony are currently set to tips off the All-Star Game against Howard with another one of those three set to guard the 6'10" Griffin.
Regardless of the wonky frontcourt situation, the 2014 NBA All-Star Game is set to have plenty of interest for Pacers fans, especially compared to some recent seasons where the Pacers had been shut out of every aspect of the NBA's All-Star Weekend. So enjoy the publicity and be sure to vote for your favorite Pacers on the All-Star Ballot.