By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s that time again. Mid-February may be synonymous with the dog days of the NBA season, but a much-needed reprieve arrives this weekend in the form of the All-Star break.
In the spirit of the self-proclaimed biggest weekend on the NBA calendar, we’ll put together our own teams of All-Stars — with a fantasy spin.
Given that the league’s best players tend to be the best fantasy producers, there will naturally be some overlap with the rosters of Team Giannis and Team LeBron. But since we’ll only be taking into account a player’s overall fantasy value, which is directly tied to health and games played, there will be some variance.
Let’s dive in.
Fantasy value is based on eight-category, roto leagues.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young was incredible over the second half of last season. Well, he’s picked up right where he left off — and then some. As of Tuesday, Young sits just shy of 30 points per game (29.7), an increase of nearly 11 points over last season’s final figure. He’s adding 9.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals while posting a 44/37/85 shooting line on more than nine three-point attempts per game. He’s had a couple of injury scares, but Young has missed only six games, which helps place him among the top five overall values (total production) in Yahoo eight-category roto leagues. Entering the break, Young has been the best fantasy player in the Eastern Conference.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
While the Sixers may be a disappointment as a team, Simmons has quietly had the best fantasy season of his young career. He’ll head to Chicago for his second straight All-Star appearance ranking in the top-10 in total value behind 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 8.3 assists and a league-leading 2.2 steals per game. While his lack of three-point contributions and still-shaky free-throw shooting (62.7% FT) are glaring holes, Simmons is shooting a career-best 58.5% from the field — an incredibly high number for any guard-eligible player.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The reigning MVP is well on pace to repeat, and he’s enjoying another strong fantasy season as perhaps the best all-around player in the league. While Antetokounmpo’s scoring (30.0 PPG) and rebounding (13.5 RPG) numbers are up compared to last year, he actually ranks outside of the top-12 overall. That’s due almost entirely to his drop-off at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting just 61.4%, by far the lowest number of his career and more than 11 percentage points lower than last season.
Considering Antetokounmpo gets to the line more than 10 times per game, that’s a significant bite out of his fantasy value. Still, Antetokounmpo remains an ultra-elite scorer and rebounder who offers fantastic assists production (5.8 per game) for his position to go with his usual defensive numbers. And for the first time in his career, Antetokounmpo is averaging more than one made three-pointer per game.
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Over the last several years, injuries have made Butler a much more valuable per-game fantasy player, as opposed to season-long production. He’s missed a handful of games thus far, but Butler is well on pace to eclipse last season’s game total (65), and he’ll have a chance to play 70 games for just the second time in the last seven seasons.
In terms of total production, Butler isn’t even the best fantasy player on his own team — that honor goes to Bam Adebayo — but he’s undoubtedly the engine of the Heat’s offense, and he’s stayed healthy enough to earn the starting spot he probably should have received on the real All-Star team. Entering Tuesday, Butler is averaging 20.5 points and 1.8 steals per game to go with career-bests in rebounds (6.8) and assists (6.2) per game.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers
Drummond won’t suit up in Chicago on Sunday night, but he’s an easy pick to start on this team. We can quibble about how much Drummond actually contributes to winning basketball games, but his numbers are undeniable. The 26-year-old is putting up a career-high 17.8 points per game while leading the league in rebounding (15.8 RPG) for the third straight season. He’s also chipping in 2.8 assists to go with elite defensive contributions in the form of 2.0 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Free-throw shooting remains Drummond’s biggest flaw, but his 58% mark is at least palatable for fantasy managers — especially considering he’s not far removed from being a sub-40% shooter.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls: It’s been the same old story for the Bulls, which has overshadowed a career year from LaVine, who’s averaging 25.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals while starting all 54 games.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat: With averages of 16.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks, Adebayo has officially gone from super-role-player to legitimate star.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers: A first-time real All-Star, Sabonis ranks 23rd in total fantasy production behind 18.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: Tatum has missed only three games, and he’s putting up career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, made threes and made free throws.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: He’s missed some time, but Beal’s numbers — 29.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.0 steals — speak for themselves. No penalty here for being on a bad team.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks: Middleton is averaging under 30 minutes per game, but he’s having his best per-minute season (by far), while quietly making a legitimate run at the 50/40/90 club.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets: Field goal percentage (37.8%) is a major drag, but Graham’s health — he hasn’t missed a game — gives him the edge over Toronto’s backcourt duo.
Next up: Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Tobias Harris
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden has gone through a few more slumps than in recent years, but he’s still on pace to finish as the top overall fantasy player for the third time in four seasons. His 35.2 points per game currently lead the league by a wide margin, and he’ll almost certainly win the scoring title for the third consecutive season. On top of elite scoring, Harden also rebounds well for his position (6.5 per game), while handing out 7.3 assists to go with 1.6 steals and a career-best 1.0 blocks per game.
While his field goal percentage is relatively pedestrian, Harden is hitting 4.5 threes per game, and he’s once again leading the league by a mile in made free throws (10.3 per game) — a category he’s single-handedly dominated for the last six seasons. Heading into Tuesday night, Harden has made 132 more free throws than any other player.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard was once again snubbed as an All-Star starter, but he’s an easy choice here as the backcourt mate to Harden. In his age-29 season, Lillard is easily having the best statistical year of his career, and he enters the All-Star break on the comedown from one of the hottest individual stretches in recent NBA history. With averages of 29.9 points, 7.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.0 steals, Lillard ranks second only to Harden in total eight-category value.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron’s fantasy value has often fallen short of his on-court value, and while that’s true again this season, the gap isn’t as large as it’s been in years past. James enters Tuesday as the sixth-most valuable player in the NBA, despite shooting under 70% at the free-throw line for the second straight season. James leads the league in assists (10.7 APG) for the first time in his career, and he’s still putting up the elite, across-the-board production we’ve come to expect for the better part of the last 20 years.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Heading into the break, Davis has been the most reliable big man in fantasy basketball. Ranking third in total production, Davis leads the Lakers in scoring (26.5 PPG), rebounding (9.2 RPG), blocks (2.4 BPG) and steals (1.6), while adding 3.3 assists and 1.0 made threes per game. Davis’ field goal percentage is right around his career mark, and he’s made a leap at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting a career-best 85.8% on 8.1 attempts per game. All signs point to Davis cruising to his seventh consecutive season of top-10 fantasy production (per game).
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
After a slow start, Jokic began to heat up in December and has grown more valuable with each passing month. The big man is producing a near-facsimile of last year’s outstanding numbers, and he’s climbed up to fourth overall in total fantasy production. Jokic’s relatively weak defensive numbers may prevent him from moving any higher, but he remains the most well-rounded offensive big man in the NBA.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: He would’ve had a chance at a starting spot, but a pair of ankle injuries push Doncic to the bench.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: A snub in real life, Booker is an easy choice here as the first guard off the bench for the West. He ranks seventh in total production and holds a 50/36/92 shooting line.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers: This has been the best-case scenario for Portland and Whiteside, who’s putting up 15.7 points, 14.1 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.1 blocks per game — all while shooting nearly 72% at the line.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder: Though his assists numbers are down slightly, Paul has been fantastic in every other category — most importantly, games played.
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers: The Finals MVP gets knocked for missing 13 games, but he ranks third overall in per-game fantasy production.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans: Maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA this season, Ingram is suddenly a top-20 fantasy player, thanks in large part to huge leaps as a three-point- and free-throw shooter.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: On pace for a starting spot after a red-hot start, Towns missed too many games (17) due to injury to seriously challenge Davis or Jokic.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs: It’s been a strange year for the Spurs, but DeRozan is quietly putting up 23.0 points per game on a career-best 53.4% shooting.
Next up: Rudy Gobert, Russell Westbrook, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kelly Oubre