The NBA announced its starters for the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta to little surprise.
The frontcourts from both conferences were predictable selections, all bona fide MVP candidates: LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Kawhi Leonard in the West; and Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the East.
As each conference's leading vote-getter among fans, James and Durant will serve as captains in a playground-style draft to be announced at a later date. They will take turns picking first among the eight other starters announced on Thursday before drafting the 14 reserves, who will be selected by the league's coaches and announced on Tuesday.
Undeniable offensive campaigns from Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry — the league's only two scorers averaging 30 points per game nearing the season's midway point — made their respective selections from the East and West player pools inevitable. The second guards and final starting spots were more difficult picks in each conference.
Luka Doncic edged Damian Lillard for the second backcourt spot in the West, despite Lillard's Portland Trail Blazers sitting six spots ahead of Doncic's Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference standings. Kyrie Irving received the last Eastern Conference spot ahead of a group of guards including James Harden, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown.
Fans accounted for 50% of the final voting for All-Star starters. Players and media split the remaining 50% equally. The fan vote broke a tie in the balloting between Doncic and Lillard. Fans respectively ranked them second and third among Western Conference guards. Donovan Mitchell finished fourth in all voting for the West backcourt. Anthony Davis and Paul George finished fourth and fifth behind James, Jokic and Leonard in the conference's frontcourt.
Earlier on Thursday, the NBA officially announced plans for a one-night All-Star extravaganza, including a 3-point contest and skills competition prior to the game and a dunk contest at halftime. For a second straight year, the game will be played to an Elam Ending, which means both teams will be playing to a target score (the leading team's score after three quarters, plus 24, in honor of late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant) in an untimed fourth quarter.
Despite vocal opposition from a number of All-Stars, including James, who called the decision "a slap in the face" to players in the midst of a pandemic, the NBA will host the annual exhibition on March 7 in a state that lost more than 3,000 people to the virus over the past week. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged fans this week not to travel to Atlanta, where masks are not mandated, restaurants can be filled to capacity and bars can serve 50 people.
Find a complete rundown of this year's All-Star starters below.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
25.7 PPG (50/38/71), 8.2 RPG, 7.9 APG
The league's reigning Finals MVP earned his 17th All-Star selection, inching closer to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record of 19. Only Lakers have made so many appearances, as Kobe Bryant played in 18 All-Star Games. James is a lock for the game every season he is healthy and has shown no sign of slowing down at age 36. He also has another chance to tie Bryant's record of four All-Star Game MVP awards. The award was named in Bryant's honor last year.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
27.4 PPG (57/40/87), 11.1 RPG, 8.6 APG
Jokic is enjoying the best season of his young career and is among this year's early MVP favorites. The 25-year-old Serbian currently leads the NBA in nearly every all-encompassing advanced metric, including player efficiency rating (31.4), win shares (6.3), box plus/minus (11.4) and value over replacement player (3.4), per Basketball Reference. His 8.6 assists per game are tied with Wilt Chamberlain's still-standing single-season record for a center from 1967-68.
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
26.7 PPG (51/39/88), 5.9 RPG, 5.0 APG
The two-time Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year is in the midst of the most efficient scoring season of his 10-year career, bolstering his case as the league's top two-way player. That this is only his fifth All-Star selection is remarkable, given his impact on the game since leading the San Antonio Spurs to the 2014 championship. His Clippers are again in that conversation, and each honor from here on out only serves to pad a Hall of Fame résumé.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
30.0 PPG (49/43/94), 6.0 APG, 5.3 RPG
Curry is back in the All-Star Game after the broken left hand that cost him all but five games last season snapped a string of six straight appearances. He has singlehandedly carried the Warriors to a seventh-place standing in the Western Conference with a near 50/40/90 shooting campaign on par with his unanimous MVP season from 2015-16.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
29.1 PPG (48/34/80), 9.4 APG, 8.6 RPG
Doncic's Mavericks (13-15) may be floundering in 10th place, but he is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers at age 21. With a near triple-double stat line, Doncic joins Jokic as the only other player in the league's top 20 for points, rebounds and assists per game. For the record, only four players in NBA history have ever logged a triple-double in an All-Star Game: Kevin Durant (2017), Dwyane Wade (2012), LeBron James (2011) and Michael Jordan (1997).
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
29.0 PPG (52/43/87), 7.3 RPG, 5.3 APG
Durant makes his return to the All-Star Game after last year's Achilles injury interrupted a streak of 10 consecutive appearances. The 32-year-old two-time Finals MVP is every bit the player he was pre-injury, threatening to submit the second 50/40/90 season of his career. Larry Bird and Steve Nash are the only two-time entrants into the club.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
28.2 PPG (56/29/64), 11.4 RPG, 5.8 APG
Antetokounmpo's season is going under the radar as much as a two-time defending MVP's season can go under the radar. He is essentially the same player he was a season ago, although his Bucks have dropped to third in the East standings, which may be disappointing for those who wanted to see Antetokounmpo adjust his game and/or Milwaukee alter its approach. He is still a no-brainer selection for a fifth consecutive start in the All-Star Game.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
29.7 PPG (54/40/85), 10.8 RPG, 3.1 APG
Embiid entered this season in the best shape of his career, and his conditioning has paid serious dividends. He is the game's most dominant low-post presence since Shaquille O'Neal and is threatening to become the first center to win the MVP award since Shaq in 2001. After falling well short of expectations last year, the Sixers comfortably lead the Eastern Conference and are bona fide contenders for the first time, and Embiid's performance is the reason.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
32.8 PPG (47/34/90), 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG
Last season, Beal became the first player in NBA history to average 30 points per game and fail to make an All-Star or All-NBA roster. His Wizards were atrocious and remain so, but Beal's output this year is undeniable. His 32.8 points per game lead the league, and the rest of his offensive game has also risen to a superstar level. Calls to #FreeBradleyBeal from Washington may be put on hold, but it sure will be fun to see him play alongside his peers.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
28.3 PPG (53/44/92), 5.7 APG, 4.6 RPG
Irving left the Nets for a two-week stretch without a comprehensive public explanation, but when on the court this season, he is enjoying a remarkably efficient scoring season. Curry's unanimous MVP campaign is the only season a player has finished with 28 points per game and so high a true shooting percentage as Irving right now (64.7). At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Irving remains one of the game's most thrilling players to watch with the ball in his handles.
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