The NBA announced Thursday the first returns in the fan vote for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, and in news that will shock precisely no one, LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers stand above their peers as the leading vote-getters in their respective conferences at present.
Joining James in leading the race to start in the frontcourt — remember, no "forwards" and "centers" this year — are Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, who has received 573,112 votes, and Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, who received 218,246. James' teammate Dwyane Wade (430,925) and Garnett's buddy Rajon Rondo (382,613) are in line to start in the backcourt.
Out west, it's looking like an L.A.-heavy starting unit, as Bryant is slated to team with Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (353,603) in the backcourt, while their respective teammates Dwight Howard (434,168) and Blake Griffin (307,855) man two of the frontcourt spots. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant (605,965) is in line for the third.
Hit the jump for a full breakdown of the top vote-getters in the first round of ballot-casting, a few takeaways and more.
Coming off a stellar 2011-12 season that saw him win recognition as the league's most valuable player following both the regular season and NBA Finals, James — the top overall vote-getter with 641,348 votes — has carried that brilliant play into the 2012-13 campaign. He ranks fourth in the NBA in points per game (25.5), 18th in rebounds per game (8.6) and 12th in assists per game (6.8), while posting career highs in field-goal, 3-point and rebounding percentage and leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating for the 14-6 Heat, who enter Thursday's play sitting atop the Southeast Division.
While his Lakers have struggled to a 9-13 record out of the gate, Bryant — second overall behind James with 639,419 votes — has performed sensationally on offense for coaches Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D'Antoni. Like James, the 34-year-old Bryant has turned in career highs in field-goal and 3-point percentage, and is getting to the foul line more often than he has in five years en route to leading the NBA in scoring at 29.2 points per game. In the absence of injured point guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake, Bryant has also taken on more responsibility as a facilitator, handling the ball more than he's used to and dishing assists (slightly) more often than he did a year ago.
Should voting patterns hold, this would mark Bryant's 15th selection to the All-Star Game, which would tie him with former Laker teammate Shaquille O'Neal for the second-most NBA All-Star appearances all time behind fellow L.A. legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar (19). James is on pace to make his ninth All-Star Game.
As our Eric Freeman discussed last month, fans can vote their favorite players to this year's All-Star Game through social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, as well as large Chinese services like Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ, through the NBA Game Time applications on their smartphones, by texting the player's last name to 6-9-6-2-2 ("MYNBA") or by visiting the online ballot on any wireless device. You can get all the details on the myriad ways to cast your vote at the NBA's official ballot site.
Here are the results for the frontcourt and backcourt positions:
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat: 641,348
2. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: 573,112
3. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics: 218,246
4. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: 210,724
5. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks: 151,744
6. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: 114,735
7. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: 73,366
8. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks: 69,344
9. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers: 68,596
10. Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks: 64,266
11. Shane Battier, Miami Heat: 59,419
12. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers: 57,336
13. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls: 48,450
14. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets: 47,940
15. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics: 36,080
1. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: 430,925
2. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: 382,613
3. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets: 211,426
4. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: 155,989
5. Ray Allen, Miami Heat: 130,016
6. Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks: 47,650
7. Raymond Felton, New York Knicks: 37,974
8. Jason Terry, Boston Celtics: 36,147
9. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks: 35,610
10. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers: 35,193
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 605,965
2. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers: 434,168
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: 307,855
4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: 189,577
5. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: 139,868
6. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: 112,922
7. Omer Asik, Houston Rockets: 88,178
8. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies: 85,279
9. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder: 68,285
10. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: 66,290
11. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: 63,056;
12. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: 61,716
13. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: 59,916
14. Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Lakers: 59,167
15: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 53,779
1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: 639,419
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: 353,603
3. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets: 298,319
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets: 196,108
5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 143,437
6. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers: 118,073
7. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: 69,983
8. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: 54,744
9. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: 47,800
10. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks: 36,495
OK. then: A few takeaways.
• The Jeremy Lin joke everyone made is on its way to becoming a real thing. At the time of Lin's offseason move from the Knicks to the Rockets in restricted free agency, one of many very popular lines tossed around was, "Well, we know who's going to get one of the starting guard spots on the Western Conference All-Star team, because he's going to get the 'I'm big in China' vote that Yao Ming always used to get."
Now, after 19 mostly unremarkable games — plus two pretty great ones — despite ranking 10th in the West in scoring among point guards (and tied for 21st among all nominal West guards), ranking 15th among Western guards in assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting 40 percent from the floor and ... and I'm just wasting my breath. because it's pretty clear that Jeremy Lin hasn't played at an All-Star level for the Rockets this year, and it's likewise clear that, given his national and international popularity — and the fact that he's received more than 100,000 more votes than teammate James Harden, who's fifth in the NBA in scoring — that doesn't really matter. Barring some thumb-on-the-scales stuff from the commissioner's office (which would seem counterintuitive, since many fans clearly want to see Lin there), Lin's looking like a sure bet to represent the host city Rockets; we'll just have to grin and bear it.
• Being injured and famous seems like a pretty good gig. Andrew Bynum, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Ricky Rubio have combined to play zero minutes this season, and they have more than 250,000 combined votes. Luol Deng, Jrue Holiday and Joakim Noah have played more minutes than all but two players (Durant and DeMar DeRozan) this season, and they have less than 160,000 combined. I guess working hard don't beat hardly working.
• Here are five guys who need better publicists:
Varejao — Leading the league at nearly 15 rebounds per game while also posting career-high scoring numbers, organizing the Cavaliers on defense and doing absolutely everything for a team that struggles with him but would be 100 percent lost without him. Maybe the third-best all-around frontcourt player in the league this year; after LeBron and KD, whichever one of Andy or Duncan you wanted would be OK by me. Still, though: That good.
Holiday — The second-best point guard in the East so far, thanks to Kyrie missing so much time and D-Will missing so many jumpers. (Let's consider this a half-vote for Thaddeus Young, too, who's been a steady offensive contributor and a defensive wrecking ball in the Philly frontcourt as a full-time starter for the first time in three years.)
Stephen Curry — A possible top-10 MVP candidate for his work to date with the 15-7 Golden State Warriors now that he's finally healthy, but still next-to-no fan profile.
David Lee — Along the same lines: 19 and 11 with 3.5 assists a night, 13th in the league in scoring, fifth in the league in rebounding, improved a bit on defense as part of the Warriors' overall rise up the defensive ranks, a star performance for star salary on one of the league's best teams, but has yet to move the needle.
Al Horford — Same as it ever was: 16 and 10 with three assists, a block and a steal, strong post defense against opposing fours and fives, quick enough to team with Smith to wreck opponents' front lines and a deft enough passer to use the inside-out game that's helped activate Atlanta's shooters en route to their somewhat surprising 13-6 start, but continues to toil in relative national obscurity.
• Tim Duncan is this close to getting out of going. The first step's done — you're not in line to start. Now just start dropping hints in every city you go that you haven't been feeling so great, that you think Kevin Love is looking great and that for your money Serge Ibaka's been the best big man in the West this year, and hire some interns to vote for all of the guys below you multiple times a day every day for the next month. If you can drop yourself down the voting list and convince enough people that you're starting to slow down, you might just make it out safely. Then, it's "Dungeons and Dragons" and street-racing time!
• Jeff Green? I mean, I guess he's at least played, which gives him a leg (sorry) up on some of those aforementioned sidelined dudes ... but, um, seriously? Way to support the ball cub, Celtics fans. Keep drinkin' that green Kool-Aid.
The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will air live from Toyota Center in Houston on TNT at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. Set your DVRs now so that you won't forget, and let us know what you think of the voting to-date in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.