The All-Star starters were announced, with ballots from the media counting as 25% of the formula. The reserves will be announced next week, followed by captains LeBron James (West) and Kevin Durant (East) selecting teams — the format from the past few seasons.
Here’s the ballot this writer submitted as starters as well as selection for the reserves in both conferences:
West All-Stars starters:
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers: The narrative is turning for LeBron to win his fifth MVP, since the campaign began last season. But his play has been excellent in year 18, controlling a game like no one else. The numbers (25.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.9 assists) are easy to yawn at, only because he’s been doing it so well, for so long. A no-brainer here.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: Another no-brainer, as the Joker has taken a massive leap as a scorer while nearly averaging a triple-double until recently. The Nuggets have struggled with consistency, but Jokic has been a hub and they’ve maxed him out in the meantime. Not many could’ve seen him averaging nearly 28 points a night, but he’s been far more aggressive while maintaining his unselfishness.
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers: The Kawhi-bot looks upgraded, and hasn’t missed pockets of games until recently. But he’s responded to new coach Ty Lue, back to being a terror defensively and has been as consistent as ever. Not as sleek as his Spurs days but he’s set the example for a quietly-scary Clippers team that is ready for a deep run.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: The Warriors may be up and down but Curry has stolen a few games with late vintage flurries and can still go Super-Saiyan with explosions of 62 and 57. He’s carrying the Warriors in his return season, back establishing himself as the most potent guard in the game.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: This really shouldn’t have been an argument. Missing his second- and third-best players for extended periods but yet Portland is better than expected. A man in the top five of MVP consideration should be an All-Star starter. It’s not just the numbers (29.8 points, 7.7 assists) but the effect on games and the moments. He has both.
West All-Stars reserves:
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: Shaq criticism notwithstanding, there’s been incremental growth in his game yearly (24 points, five assists), sometimes subtle. But he’s a centerpiece to a Jazz team that looks like a legit threat to challenge, a feared shotmaker who’ll take on anybody.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: Just because he shouldn’t start doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong. He does. Doncic is still amazing at this, even with the criticisms. He’s lit up the league in February, arguably his most efficient month as a pro (33 points, 43% from 3) while Dallas tries to climb out of its ugly hole.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers: Let’s keep it short and sweet. He’s an All-Star. Period. He won’t play but he should be selected.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: A menace defensively (best defensive rating, second in blocks per game), he’s anchoring a backline that is making a jump in terms of consistency. He’s played so well that it’s hardly even whispered his unfortunate incident that ended last season, and he’s appeared to patch things up with Mitchell as the two are growing together.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (replacement): Is Zion overexposed but underhyped? Who knows the reason, but he’s just as effective and explosive as advertised, and surpassed his games played from all of last season. He’s dominant inside the crowded paint (25 points, 62%shooting), scoring at a historic rate while the Pelicans figure out the best way to build.
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers: The backboard jokes will remain until the postseason, but he’s a threat to go 50-50-90, looking like a new man, refreshed and determined. His numbers are up from last season (24.4 points, 5.5 assists), and he’s served as a critical glue for a team that desperately wants to reshape the narrative.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Whoever doubted Booker could play winning basketball is eating crow so far. The Suns are respectable and Booker is still a catalyst (24.4 points, 4.4 assists). While he’s capable of the 70-point night, consistency is what carries things for Booker, who has only three games under 20 points. And he’s bonding with Chris Paul thus far.
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: No quibble if Ja Morant or Chris Paul or DeMar DeRozan gets this spot. Fox is carrying a Kings squad that’s trying to figure out its talent, but is producing across the board. He’s shooting better and until a recent slide, the Kings have been far more competitive nightly.
East All-Stars starters:
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: Picked up where he left off, as the best basketball player on the planet. The 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists aren’t as difficult to contextualize as other astro numbers in this souped-up season, but from the way he’s looked from the night the season opened it’s evident he attacked his rehab with vigor. As much credit as LeBron James rightfully gets for his longevity, Durant is in Year 14 with two serious lower leg injuries and doesn’t look worse for wear.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Perhaps it’s boredom with the two-time MVP or the ultimate wait-and-see approach with how the up-and-down Bucks will fare in the playoffs, but he’s still pretty incredible (28 points, 11.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists). Even if his game has plateaued to a degree, Antetokounmpo is still a one-man road to contention. The 3-point shooting is a concern but we’re still talking about a sure-fire All-Star starter here.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: A true center hasn’t won MVP since Shaq in 2000 (seriously) but Embiid is seriously challenging that. Nobody has benefitted more from the coaching change to Doc Rivers, and he’s become far more consistent with his decision-making and efficiency (he’s shooting nearly 40% from 3). It seems like he’s been part of the basketball conversation for so long, but he’s putting up 30-11-3 assists in his fifth season of actually playing professional basketball.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: The Wizards stink, but it isn’t Beal’s fault. He’s leading the league in scoring (32.8) and it’s not empty calories, having to perform at the highest level just to keep this team within shouting distance. The Wizards turned the franchise over to Beal, who’s clearly in the center of his prime. It’s on them to maximize it while he’s a nightly nightmare.
James Harden, Brooklyn Nets: His “get-me-out-of-here” act in Houston has been long forgotten with his offensive play in Brooklyn, becoming willful decision-maker playing next to Durant and Kyrie Irving. He’s leading the league in assists and minutes, while shooting a more than respectable 39% from 3. The defense is what it’s been, but he’s positioned himself as the glue in this chemistry experiment in his new digs.
East All-Stars reserves:
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets: Yes, he took a sabbatical and says some off-the-wall stuff, but he’s been a laser-focused offensive weapon when deployed. His scoring and shooting percentages are all career-highs, his finishes around the rim are nightly must-see TV and he’s downright scary with the ball in the last two minutes.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics: Whether you believe his career is following the Kawhi Leonard trajectory or being Andre Iguodala squared, Brown has made the jump this season, keeping the wayward Celtics afloat. Few could’ve foreseen him turning into an offensive weapon (25.9 points) but when people talk about “player development,” Brown may very well be the most recent model of it.
Julius Randle, New York Knicks: Randle looks like a new man under coach Tom Thibodeau, and with a few more wins he could’ve garnered some consideration to be a starter (23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists). But he’s taking more threes, he’s trusting the offense and his teammates more than he did last season and looks to be in phenomenal shape.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers: Of course, the joke is nobody watches the Pacers but Sabonis is a handful. He made the All-Star team last year, then made a jump this year (21.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists). The Pacers can run their offense through him and he can score from so many spots, keeping things respectable while they wait on Caris LeVert’s return.
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers: If there’s a coach who can maximize Harris, it’s Rivers. Harris is on track for a 50-40-90 season — if his free-throw shooting stays up. He’s finding his spots even as Embiid takes a more dominant posture within the offense, another big reason the 76ers have taken residence atop the Eastern Conference.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls: Even though LaVine is listed as a wild card, there’s no way he wasn’t making this list (28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists). His scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are all career-highs while shooting 52%. While the Bulls are still battling the injury bug and searching for consistency with a new regime, LaVine is making a case to be the face of things turning around.
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat: With consideration to the likes of Ben Simmons, Trae Young, Jerami Grant and Jayson Tatum, Butler takes the last spot. Call it recency bias, as Butler has, averaging 21-9-9 in the 11 games since returning from his COVID-19 absence. The Heat simply look better — not perfect — but like a team you have to worry about in the next two months. He’s still a two-way terror and works to get teammates better shots to keep that offense humming.
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