As we head into February, it’s time for my annual NBA All-Star selections. The official selections were released last night. My selections were all made prior to the announcement, but some of the write-ups were added to based on whether players actually made the All-Star rosters (no Gobert!?). The rules that I used for my selections are as follows:
1. The positions are the same as the fan/media/coaches votes: 5 starters comprised of 2 guards and 3 frontcourt players, plus 7 reserves comprised of 2 guards, 3 frontcourt players, and the final 2 spots regardless of position for each conference. To finalize the rosters, I decided to pick the 12 best from each conference without focusing on positional designations, and then would adjust as needed if there weren’t at least 4 guards or 6 frontcourt players in the final 12. (There were, so I didn’t have to adjust).
2. Only the 2018-19 season is relevant. I love Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki as much as the next guy, but sadly, it’s a no from me dawg.
3. Injuries don’t matter… except the missing games part. Let me explain. Currently, Victor Oladipo is out with a knee injury (he recently had successful surgery). Despite the fact that he wouldn’t actually be able to play in the All-Star game, he is eligible for my selection based on his play this season, as he already played 36 games (Pacers went 25-11) prior to his injury. Conversely, DeMarcus Cousins is healthy again and could play in the All-star game, but he has played in just 6 games this season, and therefore is not eligible for my selection. (I don’t have an exact number of games needed, but 6 is certainly not enough).
4. Off the court issues don’t matter. I’m solely judging the on-court basketball production from each player. You win this round Jimmy Butler.
That’s it! Here we go!
I’m going to do this a bit differently than I’ve done before, and go over everyone who should (realistically) be considered, and eliminate them until we get to 12. Then I’ll select starters from there. So, let’s start off with our field. These are the 24 Eastern Conference players having the best seasons, and whom will be under consideration for my All-Star spots (in order of team standings): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Bojan Bogdanovic, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell, Josh Richardson, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Bradley Beal, Nikola Vucevic, and John Collins. I didn’t intentionally try to create a field that I need to cut in half, but I’m glad it worked out that way.
There are a few others who probably deserve a mention (and might actually have edged out a player or two on this list), but these were the players who I couldn’t immediately dismiss.
Cut 1 – Bojan Bogdanovic, Spencer Dinwiddie.
Both of these guys are big parts of the success of their teams. Bogdanovic has been lights out from deep and his steadiness has helped keep the Pacers afloat even during the absenses of Oladipo. Dinwiddie has been a spark off the bench, increasing his scoring by nearly 5ppg while actually playing less minutes than last season. The Pacers have been great, but when it comes down to it, I think Bogdanovic is just the 4th most important player on the team. The 6th place Nets aren’t good enough for a role player like Dinwiddie to get an All-Star spot.
Cut 2 – Josh Richardson, Andre Drummond.
The Pistons are not good, and Drummond is the second banana on the team. But he’s still averaging a league-leading 14.8 rebounds per game. His shooting has dipped, and he’s a liability at the free throw line again after last year’s stint above 60%. Basically, he just doesn’t do enough to make the Pistons better. Josh Richardson started out this season on an absolute tear. Through his first 18 games, he averaged 20.5 points on 44.5% shooting and 43.7% from deep. As both a player and a leader he looked like a franchise cornerstone, so much so that he was taken off the table in trade talks for Jimmy Butler. Since then, he’s been really bad. In his next 29 games, he’s plummeted to 15.4 points on 37.1% shooting and 33.2% from deep. That is hot garbage. He’s still a freakishly long athlete and great defender, but his inefficiencies have become a liability.
Cut 3 – Domantas Sabonis.
Similarly to Bogdanovic, Sabonis has elevated his game, always makes the right plays, and is one of the best role players in the league. The Pacers absolutely crush when he plays. It’s just tough to include a bench player who isn’t one of the two best players on his team, especially when that team isn’t even in the top 3 in the East. I know that seems kind of arbitrary, and that’s actually kind of true. There really isn’t much to criticize in how Sabonis plays, but he also isn’t elite at any single skill (his 3-point shooting could be considered elite, but it’s a product of him only taking 9 triples this year. Weird stat of the day: he shot 139 3-pointers as a rookie (32.1%), 37 in his second season (35.1%), and is on pace for just 15 in his third season (77.8%). In the modern NBA, I just don’t understand the trend). I wouldn’t begrudge someone voting Sabonis in the All-Star game, but in my opinion the remaining players have a better case.
Cut 4 – Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam.
Bledsoe has turned it on and shown flashes of his leadership from his Phoenix days. His 3-point shooting has been bad (30.3%) but he’s shooting a career high 61% from 2-point. This has been spurred by his ridiculous 75.5% around the basket, where he takes nearly 40% of his shots. Middleton has been as solid as ever. Both are big reasons why the Bucks are in first place. The same goes for Lowry and Siakam. Lowry has taken a step back on offense when he plays with Kawhi Leonard, but part of that is Leonard’s ability as a one-on-one playmaker. His shooting has slipped, but he’s averaging a career-high assists, and he’s still the motor of the Raptors offense. Young players should watch Lowry’s game; he’s almost never standing still, always making the defense work. Siakam has come on strong, and he’ll probably be an All-Star next season, but he’s not quite there yet for me.
It doesn’t seem fair that there’s only 1 player remaining on my list from each of the top 2 seeds in the East, while the next 3 seeds still have a combined 7 left, but part of that has to do with the deep rosters the Bucks and Raptors boast (It could be argued that the initial list should have included Serge Ibaka, Fred Van Vleet, and Brook Lopez as well). It also has to do with the fact that the best player on each of those top 2 teams is really fucking good.
Cut 5 – D’Angelo Russell, Myles Turner.
Russell has taken a leap as a leader and playmaker. He’s averaging career highs in points (19.5), shooting (44%), 3-point shooting (37.6%), assists (6.4), and a career-low turnover rate (13.5%). He’s the engine that makes the Nets go. Turner has always been solid defensively, but this season he’s become an absolute terror. He’s averaging a league-leading 2.7 blocks to go along with a defensive rating of 101.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions – 5th in the NBA). For perspective, the best team defensive rating in the NBA is the Bucks with 103.8. He’s top 10 in the NBA defensively in basically every advanced stat. The Nets don’t drop off too drastically when Russell sits, and they aren’t quite good enough as a team to guarantee at least one All-Star spot. He narrowly misses. Turner hasn’t shown the offensive improvement I’d need to include him over Al Horford or John Collins.
Cut 6 – John Collins.
This was by far the hardest cut. In nearly every stat, Collins is better than Al Horford, and it’s not that close. But Horford might be more important to the Celtics than even Kyrie Irving. He fills so many holes and does all the little things on the offense and defense that nobody in their second year could possible hope to do. Collins will be a regular fixture on the All-Star team for years to come, but Horford just edges him through his veteran savvy that moves the needle a bit more than Collins’ raw dominance. Collins is shooting 58.7% (including 38.1% from deep), whereas Horford is at 53.1% (36.2% from deep). Horford has a better net rating, but that’s also expected by playing with a better team. The Hawks are terrible, but they’ve actually been better lately, and they’re a massive 9.9 points better (per 100 possessions) with Collins on the court. The Celtics don’t have a noticeable statistical dropoff without Horford on the court. A lot of that is the teammates that come on to replace each of them, but that stark difference is not nothing. The Celtics can survive without Horford, but the Hawks are the worst team in the league without Collins. Fuck it, I just convinced myself. I’m revising my pick. Cut 6 – Al Horford.
So our final 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Blake Griffin, Bradley Beal, Nikola Vucevic, and John Collins. From here, I’ll go a bit more traditional, and talk about the All-Stars one at a time.
G: Kemba Walker
The start of his season was nothing short of incredible. He’s increased his volume while staying efficient, and he’s the sole reason the Hornets are probably going to make the playoffs this season. His dropoff over the past month and a half doesn’t change the blistering pace he started at. Perennially underrated, Walker is finally getting talked about as an elite Point Guard.
G: Kyrie Irving
Relative to what we’ve come to expect from Irving, he’s having an average offensive season. (Which is to say, his offense has been incredible). What makes this season so special thus far is his marked improvement on the defensive end. He’s continued his trend from last season of actually trying on defense (most of the time). It seems to be working – shocking! The struggles of (Scary) Terry Rozier make Irving all the more valuable to this team. When Kyrie is locked in on both ends, he takes the Celtics to another level. They better hope he stays.
FC: Giannis Antetokounmpo
As of now, the Greek Freak is a top-2 MVP candidate, and even with the insanity James Harden is pulling in Houston, the fact that it’s this close is crazy. The Bucks are winning, and Antetokounmpo is doing everything and more to keep them atop the Eastern Conference. He’s scoring about the same as last season, but he’s increased his shooting percentage from 52.9% to 57.3%, while grabbing more rebounds and dishing more assists. His defense has always been great, but it’s been even further ramped up this season and he’s been a catalyst to the best defense in the league. Antetokounmpo sports the best defensive rating in the league, the most defensive win shares (and total win shares), and the 2nd best Defensive Box Plus/Minus, behind only the Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert. In short, he’s been dominant on both sides of the ball. He’s rightfully the Captain of the East team.
FC: Kawhi Leonard
After the trade that sent Leonard to Toronto, I was immediately vocal about how good the Raptors would be this year. I’m old enough to have watched Kawhi in his last full season (2016-17), and I didn’t understand why people didn’t think he’d make that big of an improvement to Toronto. He might be the best perimeter defender ever. In history! Pair that with his highest scoring season ever (27.9ppg), and he’s proved everyone wrong who thought the Raptors should stick with DeMar DeRozan. He’s not flashy enough to be considered a top MVP candidate right now, but I honestly think he might be the best player in the league.
FC: Joel Embiid
Last season, Embiid played the most games of his career. The issue is that was still only 63 games. This year, he’s played 47 of 51 games, and he’s been great. Career highs across the board, a 32-15 record (1-3 when he’s been out), and leading the 3-seed 76ers who absolutely flounder when he’s on the bench, and you can make an argument that Embiid is the best Center in the league. (Anthony Davis is still the gold standard, but it’s not as much of a runaway as it once was).
R: Ben Simmons
It’s weird that we describe Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Davis, and Embiid as “unicorns” when they are becoming less and less rare. (That doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible – they are. It’s just to say that comparisons are much easier to come by as the league evolves, and more athletic centers are beginning to shoot from deep). Simmons is the real unicorn in my opinion. The closest comparisons he has are probably Magic Johnson or Giannis Antetokounmpo (who, yes, is also a unicorn in his own right, shut up and let me finish my point). Yet when I watch Simmons play, I’m not reminded of either of them. All I think is, this dude isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. His flaws (shooting) are well documented, but his size, speed, and vision in the fast break are unparalleled. It was tough to leave him off the starters, but he doesn’t carry as heavy a load as Irving or Walker, so he’s the first reserve.
R: Bradley Beal
Beal is one of those players who is constantly overlooked as only a solid contributor. He should be an absolute LOCK for the All-Star game. He was (rightfully) an all-star last season, and he’s done nothing but improve. The Wizards have been better lately, going 9-6 in their last 15 (after starting a brutal 13-23) mostly due to Beal. He’s the only reason the Wizards aren’t hovering around the bottom of the league. Beal has gone from a solid 3-and-D wing to borderline superstar. He’s a top 20 player in the league, period. This spot should be guaranteed.
R: Nikola Vucevic
If you would have told me 3 years ago that Vucevic would be an All-Star lock, I’d have laughed in your face. But here we are, and here he is. The Magic still stink, but there is no more confusion about Vooch’s role in their struggles. He’s always been able to fill up the box score, but that is where his contributions have ended. His inefficiencies have been corrected, and his defense has been – I can’t believe I’m saying this – very good. He’s become the complete package.
R: Vic Oladipo
Seeing Oladipo go down with a serious injury is such a bummer. He’s an extremely hard worker, and over the past season and a half, we’ve seen it pay off as he blossomed into a two-way star. He’d likely compete for a starting spot if he’d played more than 36 games. He hasn’t been quite as solid as last season, but part of that has been his limitations from injuries. He’s still a top-tier Shooting Guard when healthy. Let’s just hope he’s the same player upon his return.
R: Blake Griffin
Griffin has quietly been dominating this season. He was voted 3rd in the MVP race in 2013-14. He’s been about that good this season. In my opinion, he was highly overrated at the time, but it’s still notable that he’s having an arguably better year this season. He’s deserves a guaranteed spot on this list and more national attention. This is one of those jarring cases of media attention disparity from LA to Detroit that shows the big market media bump is real.
R: Jimmy Butler
Butler has been great on the court as usual. The problem is that he can’t develop a cohesive chemistry with seemingly anyone. His work ethic remains top notch, but there’s more to succeeding in the NBA than hard work and talent – you need to be able to play well with your teammates. He’s talented enough to be a positive impact based solely on his skill and effort, but he still leaves something to be desired. I was ready to put the blame on the Timberwolves for mishandling another star, but his antics in Philadelphia make it clear where the problem is. That being said, he has a +13 net rating. He belongs in the All-Star game, though I can’t honestly say I’m upset he missed out.
R: John Collins
He beat out Al Horford for the last spot on my list. What else can I say? He’s been great.
The West is much deeper than the East, so I ended up with a larger field (as expected). So instead of getting to 12 from an original 24, we’ll be starting with 34. Perhaps I was a bit too inclusive of players who were never really going to have a shot at an All-Star spot in the West, but it felt unfair to me to exclude the likes of Montrezl Harrell after including Spencer Dinwiddie. So you’re just going to have to deal with the extended group. Here is the original field of 34 from the Western Conference (in order of team standings): Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, LeBron James, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Devin Booker.
Cut 1 – Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Rose, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic.
Harrell and Rose have been excellent off the bench, but with the Clippers fall back to Earth and the Timberwolves continued struggles, it’s tough to include their bench players in an All-Star list. McCollum and Nurkic are a solid 2nd and 3rd best player on a good Portland team. Zach Lowe recently wrote that “the gap between their second- and third-best players [was] too big and… Nurkic has closed the gap.” While that’s true, and describes a real improvement in Nurkic’s game, it’s also partially due to a regression (if ever so slight) in McCollum’s. He’s no longer a lights out shooter, partially due to getting more attention from the defense, and his playmaking hasn’t improved. He barely missed the All-Star game last season, and the field has only gotten deeper in the West.
Cut 2 – Devin Booker, Draymond Green, Clint Capela.
Devin Booker and Draymond Green are completely different players, but both are cut for the same reason: they’re just not playing up to their usual standards. Booker is shooting a career-low 32.3% from deep, and he’s still a sieve on defense. Green has not been the best version of himself (until very recently) on defense, though he’s still been solid. He’s just been terrible offensively. He’s averaging just 7 points per game on his worst shooting since cracking the starting lineup way back in 2014. He’s begun to fix his shooting woes by utilizing his high motor and increasing his screening activity, but a few weeks of improved play isn’t enough to make up for months of mediocrity. Capela has shown a solid improvement with more offensive responsibility, but with such a simple role and the Rockets early struggles, it’s tough to include Capela.
Cut 3 – Chris Paul, Robert Covington.
Paul is finally showing signs of his age. It also hurts his case that he’s missed nearly half the season, and hasn’t looked fully healthy upon his return. I trust CP3 to turn it on in the second half of the season, but unfortunately he’s not an All-Star. Covington was my pick for quarter-season defensive player of the year. He’s also shooting 37.8% from deep on more than 6 3-point attempts per game. He’d have a better case if the Timberwolves were better, or if he played more than 35 games (despite his teams going 20-15 with Covington active). A great role player, but he needs to take a larger offensive role to earn a spot on the All-Star roster.
Cut 4 – Donovan Mitchell, Buddy Hield, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson, Jamal Murray. It might seem crazy that I’m putting all these players in the same tier, but take a quick look at this chart of their stats per 100 possessions:
Before I tell you who each one is, a couple of things jump out at me. First, this group is incredibly similar (stats-wise). Second, nobody in the group has a positive net rating (surprising for this caliber of player). The player (top row) who shoots the least 3-pointers and makes them at the lowest rate is (as you may have guessed) DeMar DeRozan. He also leads the group in rebounds and assists, and is a respectable 46.3% from the field, overall. The player (second row) who shoots the most 3-pointers and makes them at the highest rate (a scorching 45.8% – good for 4th in the NBA just in front of Steph Curry) is none other than… Buddy Hield! You may have thought Thompson or Murray, but Hield has been far and away the best shooter of the group this season. He’s paired that with being a complete liability on defense, but the makings of a star are starting to show.
Mitchell, Murray, and Thompson are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th row, respectively. Mitchell started slow, but has turned it on as the Jazz have started winning (not a coincidence), but his inconsistencies have been on full display. Thompson is having an off-year shooting by his standards, and he’s started slipping up on defense as well. I’m sure he’ll turn it on in the postseason, as he’s earned my trust. He just hasn’t earned one of my All-Star spots. Murray had made a leap as a playmaker and has helped boost the Nuggets into 2nd place in the West despite a chain of injuries to Denver’s starting lineup. But he still makes too many rookie mistakes to justify putting him over the remaining All-Star candidates.
Cut 5 – Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marc Gasol.
The Clippers were a fun story with their early season success when they were first in the West and winning without a true star through effort and great team basketball. Harris and Gallinari are both having career years, scoring career-highs of deserving of a long look. Gallinari is scoring 19 points per game on 45% shooting (44.6% from deep!) while Harris is scoring 21 on 50% shooting (43% from deep!). Harris is even knocking on the door of the 50/40/90 club (87.8% from the FT line). They are the two most important players on the Clippers, but the two most important players on the 8th place team is a lot less impressive than the two most important players on the 1st place team, and the Clippers fall means neither gets in here.
Gasol has been solid as usual (the 14th place Grizzlies actually outscore opponents when he’s on the court), but he hasn’t been able to carry the load on offense this season. He’s a great defender and the main cog in the Grizzlies’ scheme, but he’s lost a step and can’t cover as many holes as he could at the beginning of the season when he was fresh. The Grizzlies are now in the cellar, and Gasol misses out.
Cut 6 – Luka Doncic.
Before I start, I’d just like to say the All-Star game would be objectively more fun with Doncic in it. I don’t even mind the “snub” label. That being said, he hasn’t realistically earned a spot. He’s exciting, talented, solid in nearly every aspect of the game (his defense is suspect, but it’s mostly due to rookie mistakes and playing for a bad team), and he will be a great player. But he’s not quite there yet. His shooting splits aren’t great (they are solid for a rookie), his team is bad, and he just doesn’t affect games as much as the rest of the players left on the list. Next year, Matador (I still can’t believe that’s a real life nickname, it’s awful).
Cut 7 – Russell Westbrook, De’Aaron Fox.
I’m excited for the backlash on keeping Westbrook out of my NBA All-Stars. But he honestly doesn’t deserve a spot. He’s averaging his lowest points per game (21.7), shooting percentage (41.6%), 3-point shooting percentage (25.0% which is all-time terrible), and net rating (+1 per 100 possessions) since the 2009-10 season. His sheer determination and force of will keeps him as a positive for the Thunder, but he’s not an All-Star. Hell, he’s not even one of the two best players on his own team! Fox has turned into a rising star, and he won’t be left off the All-Star roster for long. He’s elevated his game in nearly every way, and while the comparison of the Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox Duo to Durant, Westbrook is absolutely ridiculous, the reason it’s ridiculous is not Fox.
Cut 8 – Steven Adams, LaMarcus Aldridge.
The final 2 spots came down to Adams, Aldridge, Jrue Holiday, and Mike Conley. Conley gets one of the spots, because these 4 players are all very close, and Conley deserves to be in All-Star game before he retires. He’s been one of the top couple players left out of the All-Star game at least 5 or 6 times. He’d be a multiple time All-Star if he played in the East. He gets the spot just because I want him to get it and it’s my list. He’s a savvy veteran that makes every team he plays for better, and the Grizzlies absolutely fall off a cliff when he sits. If Memphis does trade Conley, I hope he finally gets to play on a contender, so the rest of the league can finally recognize how good he is.
Adams has been the second best player on the Thunder, and all the advanced metrics love him (net rating of +20!). He’s one of the most efficient players scoring in the post, and has a soft floater that is damn near automatic. He’s an absolute tank, probably the strongest player in the league, which he uses well as a solid post defender. Still, he scores significantly less than Holiday and Aldridge, and doesn’t pass well out of the post. A lot of his baskets come as easy dunks from Westbook pick n rolls. He doesn’t quite make the cut.
Aldridge is having another solid season, averaging 21 points and 9 rebounds on about the same splits he’s had over the past *checks notes* holy shit, 11 seasons! He’s a machine. The Pelicans are 7.5 games back from the Spurs, and are in a freefall in the West. It doesn’t make sense that they should have 2 All-Stars when the Spurs have 0. Aldridge has taken on a larger role and most years I’d say he’s done enough to warrant a spot on the All-Star team (he actually was voted in), but I just think Holiday has been better. He’s a pest on defense (5th in the NBA in steals), and constantly takes the toughest matchup. Holiday is scoring about the same (0.1ppg more) as Aldridge on better efficiency, and is adding 8 assists and 5 rebounds a game. He’s really doing it all for the Pelicans, so it’s tough to leave him off solely because he and Davis don’t have anyone good around them (Jahlil Okafor’s last 5 games notwithstanding). Jrue by a hair.
Final Roster of Western Conference All-Stars is Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Paul George, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Rudy Gobert, LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Mike Conley.
G: Stephen Curry
Curry’s brilliance somehow gets overlooked due to the dominance of the Warriors. He’s the greatest shooter in the history of the game, in the middle of his prime. Seriously, look at his current season (29.6ppg on 63% eFG%, 5.1rpb, 5.4apg, 1.2spg, 0.4bpg) compared to his unanimous MVP season (30.1ppg on 63% eFG%, 5.4rpg, 6.7apg, 2.1spg, 0.2bpg). He’s not even being talked about in MVP discussions!
G: James Harden
One of the reasons Curry gets no MVP consideration is because of Harden. He’s not nearly as efficient as Curry, but Harden is averaging 36.3 points a game. You don’t have to look far to find a new scoring record he’s breaking. Not much more needs to be said: it’s a historic season.
FC: Anthony Davis
The best big man in the league from last year has been even better this season. The offense runs through Davis, and he’s sporting an +19 net rating, absurd considering he plays for a team with a 23-29 record (they are 3-8 without Davis). In addition to his career high 29.3 points per game, he’s also grabbing a career-high 13.3 rebounds, and dishing 4.4 assists, nearly doubling his career-high. Oh right, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the league. By requesting a trade, he’s put the Pelicans in a really tough spot; no matter what you get in return, if you give up Anthony Davis, you lost the trade.
FC: Kevin Durant
Durant’s efficiency has dropped this season… and he’s still just 3% from deep away from the 50/40/90 club for a second time. He hasn’t been fully locked in on defense like we’ve seen in the past, but it’s hard to nitpick when the Warriors are on a 13-2 streak and are cruising to a first place finish. He’s earned a starting spot for the 8th time.
R: Paul George
As much as I think it was wrong leaving Davis off the starters (he lost the fan vote tiebreak to George), I’m happy they didn’t overlook George. He’s my leading candidate for defensive player of the year (along with the mainstays of Embiid, Davis, and Gobert) and he’s scoring a career high 27.3 points per game on great shooting. The Thunder fall apart when George sits (even with Adams and Westbrook on the court), and they thrive when he plays. He’s been underrated for years, and I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition that a true superstar of his caliber deserves.
FC: LeBron James
It’s no longer a one-man competition, but LeBron is still probably the best player in the NBA. He doesn’t get a starting spot on my list because he missed 17 games (Lakers were 6-11 in his absence), and they’re currently outside of the playoffs. He made his return yesterday (an overtime win against the Clippers), so I’m sure the Lakers will make the playoffs, but based on his 35 games so far, he hasn’t done enough to displace any of my starting 5 All-Stars.
R: Nikola Jokic
What a season this guy is having! As mentioned above, the Nuggets have to fight through a variety of injuries. Paul Millsap, Will Barton, and Gary Harris (along with a few other deeper bench players) have all missed time due to injury. It doesn’t seem to matter because they have Jokic. He’s cemented his name as the best passing big man ever. He’s also become a stout defender (partially due to how he’s used), and the Nuggets straight up abuse opponents when Jokic plays. His 3-point shooting has dipped back to 31% after shooting nearly 40% from deep last season, but he does so much more than that offensively that you don’t even notice a difference.
R: Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns getting less All-Star fan votes than DeMarcus Cousins (who, when voting began, had yet to play a single minute) is all the evidence I need to get rid of fan voting. Towns started the season in the shadow of the Jimmy Butler situation and it showed. The Timberwolves were 4-9 and Towns was averaging 19.9 points on 45% shooting. Since trading Butler, Minnesota is 21-17 and Towns is averaging 23.6 on 51% shooting. Moreover, Towns had a -1 net rating in the first 13 games (with Butler). Since then, he’s had a +14 net rating. Simply put, he’s been a top-10 player in the league for nearly 40 games, and he should have a guaranteed spot as an All-Star for years to come.
R: Rudy Gobert
I had already written my Gobert section by the time the All-Stars were selected, but I had to re-write it because his exclusion was shocking. There have been snubs before, but this omission is absolutely abhorrent. To anyone who voted for Westbrook to make the All-Star team, but left off Gobert – this is all I have to say to you. Gobert has the best net rating in the NBA (an astronomical +32), he’s the best rim protector in the league, and his offensive role has grown substantially since last season. He was a lock on my All-Star ballot, and I really felt bad when you could see how much being an All-Star meant to him. The voters got this one wrong, plain and simple.
R: Damian Lillard
Lillard is having arguably a better season than last year, when he carried the Trail Blazers to the 3 seed (before getting swept unceremoniously by the Pelicans, with Jrue Holiday thoroughly outplaying the Blazers guards). Lillard is averaging 26.3 points on a career high eFG% of 52.3%. Even if the dropoff from 2nd to 3rd is pretty large, he’s shown he’s a top 3 Point Guard in the West, and that’s definitely worthy of a spot here.
R: Jrue Holiday
Holiday narrowly edged out LaMarcus Aldridge (no small feat) and although he missed out on his second All-Star game, he makes my list here as a worthy All-Star inclusion. Couldn’t have happened to a more humble guy.
R: Mike Conley
In my head, I know Conley will never make an All-Star team. He’s not flashy, he does the dirty work, he never complains, and he never looks for accolades. I’m may be missing somebody (feel free to remind me), but I think that Conley will go down as the best player in NBA history to never make an All-Star team. Even in 2016, Tim Bontemps coined the term “Mike Conley Nonstars” for the group of players who is good enough to be All-Stars, but just gets an unlucky draw and/or barely misses the cut. And you know what? For a player who has done the unheralded work for his whole career, it’s almost more fitting that way. Congratulations, Mike.