For as much as the San Antonio Spurs are synonymous with making the playoffs, the same could be said for the franchise's association with the NBA All-Star Game.
To find the last time a Spurs player didn't partake in the annual star-studded event, you have to go all the way back to 1996-97 which just so happens to be the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs.
With San Antonio hitting its stride and now 30-22 in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, a 22nd consecutive playoff appearance seems all but certain.
As such, either DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge - or perhaps both - could be among the seven Western Conference All-Star reserves announced on Thursday as voted on by the coaches.
If you had to pick just one, who should get the nod?
The Spurs didn't look like the Spurs
To fully appreciate the degree to which the Spurs have recovered following a sluggish start, let's rewind back to December 5.
On the road in Los Angeles on the second night of a back-to-back after being blown out at Utah, the Spurs watched as LeBron James unleashed a vintage performance, scoring 20 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers outscored the Spurs 43-31 over the final 12:00 to complete the comeback.
That marked the fourth loss in five games for the Spurs, with three of the losses coming by 30 or more points. At 11-14 in the Western Conference, the Spurs were sitting in second-to-last place ahead of only the hapless Suns who were 4-20 at the time.
Not only did the Spurs have a losing record through 25 games for the first time in two decades under Gregg Popovich, they appeared lost on the floor and at times unable to muster up even a fight.
At that very moment, the thought of the Spurs making the playoffs or sending anyone to Charlotte seemed beyond implausible.
How many times over the last decade has the collective basketball conscience foolishly written off the Spurs?
No longer playing possum
Two days after that blown fourth-quarter lead at the Staples Center, the Spurs once again squared off against LeBron's Lakers, this time at home.
This time the Spurs flipped the script, outscoring the Lakers 44-21 in the fourth quarter. It was that moment when the Spurs started to once again look like the Spurs.
Since then, the Spurs are 19-8 which is the second-best record in the West behind only the Golden State Warriors.
If you ask me, that's when the defining stretch of San Antonio's season began. To answer the question of which Spurs player belongs in the All-Star game is to answer the question of which Spurs player is most responsible for saving their season.
It's somewhat apples and oranges to compare DeRozan and Aldridge given the incredibly different roles they serve on San Antonio.
Long regarded as one of the league's best pure scorers, DeRozan has re-invented himself on the fly in his 10th season as a play-making point forward, taking over the primary distributor role for a Spurs team that lost starting point guard Dejounte Murray with a season-ending injury in the preseason, long-time starter Tony Parker to free agency and long-time playmaker Manu Ginobili to retirement.
Aldridge remains one of the most steady and bankable offensive post threats in the game. That's certainly been the case during San Antonio's resurgence as he's been by far the team's leading scorer despite taking the exact same number of shots as DeRozan.
Perhaps more important than placing the brunt of the weight on counting statistics is taking a closer look at how the Spurs as a team have performed with their two stars on the floor.
Dating back to that pivotal turning point, San Antonio has outscored teams by a whopping 13.3 points per 100 possessions whenever Aldridge has been on the floor without DeRozan. Flip the two and the Spurs have been a wash. Given that they haven't exactly lit the world on fire when sharing the floor and it's safe to say that leaning on Aldridge has had a bigger impact on San Antonio's turnaround.
It's for that reason why if given the choice between who should represent the Spurs in the All-Star Game, I'd give the nod to LaMarcus Aldridge.
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