For those of you who missed my selections for my 2019-20 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star selections, you can find that here. The rules for my Western Conference selections will be the same. I have them repeated below in case you didn’t read the previous article:
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 pick the 12 best from each conference without focusing on positional designations, and then adjust as needed if there aren’t at least 4 guards or 6 frontcourt players in the final 12; then select the 2 best guards and 3 best frontcourt players as starters.
2. Only the 2019-20 season is relevant. No legacy picks.
3. Injuries don’t matter… except the missing games part. Confused? Let me explain. If a player is currently injured, (whether he is actually able to play in the All-Star game or not), he is eligible for my selection based on his play prior to his injury; However, if a player has missed games, it inherently limits how much they can contribute to the success of a team, and therefore it will factor into my consideration for selecting him as an All-Star.
4. Off the court issues don’t matter. I’m solely judging the on-court basketball production from each player. I wrote a quick blurb in my ‘Things I like and don’t like’ section a while back about how Kyrie Irving seems like an absolute terrible teammate. Despite my distaste, he didn’t get docked for that.
And there you have it!
Here is the original field of players from the Western Conference (in order of team standings): LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Luka Dončić, Kristaps Porziņģis, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell.
That leaves us with 25 players from 13 teams, leaving off just the Kings and Warriors (although to be fair, D’Angelo Russell has played almost exclusively for Golden State prior to his inclusion in the field).
Buddy Hield and D’Aaron Fox deserve a mention, but Hield has regressed from his blistering 2018-19 season and Fox has only been at full strength for a few weeks. Neither was in All-Star contention in the Western Conference. But that got me thinking – considering the West has a better field of potential All-Stars (and because I wanted to keep both groups at 25), I’ve decided to add a short honorable mention section for those players in the West who would have made the field if they played in the East (though none would have been one of my actual All-Star selections).
Honorable Mentions: Lou Williams, Bojan Bogdanović, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Buddy Hield, D’Aaron Fox, and Andrew Wiggins.
As in the East, to make my final roster, I’ll need to cut 13 from the initial list of 25.
Cut 1 – Montrezl Harrell
It speaks to how valuable Harrell has been to the Clippers that he is the only player from either conference to make my field without being a starter. He’s averaging a career-high 18.9 points per game, and he only plays 28.2 minutes per game! For reference, 15 players are scoring at least 15 points on 30 minutes or less per game, and Harrell has the highest FG% and rebounds of the group. He’s 2nd in WS (behind only All-Star Khris Middleton) and 3rd in points per game (behind Middleton and Lou Williams). He may not be the catalyst of the Clippers – they have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard – but he does the dirty work that plays a big role in making them successful. This is the last year of Harrell’s contract, making only $6 million this season; he’s in for a huge pay raise over the summer.
Cut 2 – Jaren Jackson Jr., Danilo Gallinari, CJ McCollum, Kristaps Porziņģis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jrue Holiday
This is a big group to cut, but it can be summed up as the second-options group. All of these guys have been great, but none of them is the best player on their team, and none of their teams is in the top 5 in the West. Let’s start with Jackson: being drafted in between Luka Dončić and Trae Young is a recipe for looking like a terrible pick. Yet, when I watch him play, all I can think of is how this kid is damn good and a perfect fit on the Grizzlies. He’s helped push Memphis into a playoff spot, and is already showing consistency as a positive on both ends of the court. He’s not quite ready to take over games on a regular basis, but he’s a great fit alongside Ja Morant, and he figures to be an elite two-way player for years to come.
LaMarcus Aldridge has 5 All-NBA and 7 All-Star appearances over the last 9 seasons and has averaged 21.1 points per game on solid shooting splits (.491/.296/.832). Over the past 5 seasons, CJ McCollum has averaged 21.5 points per game on even better shooting splits (.456/.400/.844) and is still yet to be an All-Star, let alone make an All-NBA team. That’s not a knock on the selections, as obviously there’s more to basketball than just scoring, but it’s a heavy contrast for two players who (at least over the past few seasons) I’ve regarded as providing similar value. Still neither is having a better than average season (by their standards) and with the lack of success from the Trail Blazers and Spurs, neither has done quite enough to warrant an All-Star selection in the loaded Western Conference.
Porziņģis has played better over the past few weeks, but his transition back from injury was slow and it was clear over the first few months of the season that despite his declaration of being 100%, he wasn’t quite back to game shape. He and Dončić are the best young duo in the NBA, but Porziņģis hasn’t been consistent enough to be an All-Star.
Holiday is one of my favorite players in the NBA to watch. He’s sneaky fast, he’s an excellent defender, and he always seems to be making the right play. He’s basically the absolute best version of a role player you could ask for. Holiday has flashes where he looks like the best point guard in the league (remember the Pelicans sweeping the Trail Blazers in the 2017-18 NBA playoffs? He outscored Damian Lillard by 9.3 points per game that series), but he seems to be more comfortable in a supporting role. He just doesn’t take on enough of the load as their primary option to be an All-Star.
Gallinari is the type of player that when I look back at his career, I’ll wonder how he never made an All-Star team. He’s been injured pretty constantly over the course of his career and he’s played in the West since his 3rd season in the league, so that doesn’t help, but he’s always been a positive contributor to his teams. He’s had a net rating +9 or higher (per 100 possessions) 7 times over the 11 seasons he’s played. For reference, Paul George has done that twice. Of course, net rating doesn’t tell the whole story (like most stats), but Gallinari has been very good to this point. Unfortunately, very good isn’t enough in the West.
Cut 3 – D’Angelo Russell, DeMar DeRozan
Speaking of very good not being quite enough, D’Angelo Russell and DeMar DeRozan have both been very good. After making the All-Star team in the East last season (he didn’t make my selections), Russell has increased his points per game on improved efficiency, but he’s only played in 34 games and 26 of those were losses. Of course, the Warriors didn’t have any support around him (without Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, their roster was by far the worst in the league), but if your team is that bad, you need to take over more often. Of his 34 games, he scored less than 20 points in 12 of them. That can’t happen as the main scorer if you want to be an All-Star.
DeRozan is having one of the best seasons of his career. For a 3-time All-Star, that’s significant. He’s scoring 23 points per game while shooting 5.3% better than his previous career-best. Last season, the Spurs decided to eschew the trend of forcing more shots from the 3-point line (they shot the least 3-pointers in the NBA) in favor of allowing Aldridge and DeRozan to get midrange looks. This can work – and it did last season! Despite taking the least total amount of triples, they were making them at the highest rate in the league. Unfortunately, without a true superstar or a system that maximizes the 3-point line, the margin for success is very small. This season, while still not taking many triples (2nd least in the NBA), they’re making them at just the 7th highest in the league. Combine that with a slight decline in their defense (including from DeRozan) and you go from winning 48 games to being on pace to win 35. DeRozan is out.
Cut 4 – Ja Morant, Brandon Ingram
Watching Ja Morant play basketball is legitimately dazzling. His numbers from the box score won’t jump off the page, but you can’t watch the Grizzlies play without realizing how impactful Morant is. As someone who doesn’t watch much NCAA basketball (basically March Madness and that’s it), I didn’t understand the Morant hype coming out of the draft. Based on his highlights, measurements, and production in college, he reminded me of Dennis Smith Jr. Morant is an inch taller, with a slightly longer wingspan, but his numbers were worse as a freshman (Smith only played one season at NC State) and he played an extremely easy schedule. It didn’t make sense to me why this guy was a consensus top 2 pick. I even asked other people who watch much more NCAA basketball than I do why he projected to be so much better than Smith, and the best answer people could give was “vision” or “intangibles.” Considering Morant averaged 6.3 assists per game as a freshmen compared to Smith’s 6.2, I was dubious of this elite vision.
It only took me 1 NBA game to understand. I watched the Grizzlies opener in Miami against the Heat – a 19-point loss. Morant scored 14 points and had 6 turnovers while posting a -29. It was one of his worst games this season, but it was enough for me to see what makes him special. The first thing I noticed is how he moves so fast, yet so smoothly. Most rookies have a learning curve where the game looks too fast for them (even the ultra-athletic ones); Morant looked almost too fast for the game. I haven’t been so excited to be wrong in years. That being said, he still does make rookie mistakes. He’s prone to turnovers, and his anticipation on defense is lacking. He definitely isn’t too fast for the game on defense. It’s been better, and his development over the past month defensively is encouraging, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to overcome his defensive struggles. Morant is going to be one of the best point guards in the league for the next decade-plus, but he’s not quite an All-Star this season.
Ingram is having a breakout season, scoring 24.9 points per game. He’s a legitimate scorer, and is averaging a career-high in rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks as well. Despite his increased production, he doesn’t really provide much value aside from scoring. He’s a bad defender, and he benefits offensively from being surrounded by shooters. The Pelicans are actually better when he’s off the court, and they went 5-3 in the 8 games he missed. His improvement has been very impressive this season, but like Morant, he’s not quite there yet.
Cut 5 – The Final Cuts
The last players to be cut came down to 2 of Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook. It usually takes a while for me to make the last few cuts, but this one was relatively easy.
Westbrook has been resurgent this season playing in the high-powered Rockets offense alongside James Harden. He’s scoring 27.0 points per game, and there’s been a few games that the Rockets don’t win without him. But he’s also brought with him his bad habits and hasn’t made the strides in efficiency that I’d hoped he could in the Houston system. Westbrook’s value is sometimes negated by him trying to take over a game where it might be better to find teammates (especially when playing alongside Harden). He’s played in 45 games, and the Rockets have won 29 of them, so clearly Houston is doing fine, but they’re actually on pace for less wins than last season. He definitely impacts a game, but sometimes it’s hard to tell whether that impact is positive: when Westbrook takes 23 shots or more, the Rockets are 12-9; when he takes 21 shots or less, the Rockets are 14-4.
I mentioned it on the Laced Up Sports Podcast back in September (as an aside: check them out, they do good work) that I didn’t understand the Westbrook for Paul trade because Houston was giving up a pick to obtain a worse player. It feels like validation that Chris Paul has been so good this season. He will never have better counting stats than Westbrook, but he holds the edge in… well, everything else: FG%, 3P%, eFG%, PER, offensive rating, defensive rating, net rating, TS%, OWS, DWS, total WS, WS/48, BPM, and VORP. Despite the Rockets being 2 games ahead of the Thunder, Chris Paul contributes to winning so much more than Westbrook does.
When Westbrook is on the court, the Rockets outscore opponents by 3.8 points per 100 possessions (very good!), but they still outscore opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions when he sits. Alternatively, when Chris Paul is on the court the Thunder outscore opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions compared to being outscored by 3.3 points when he sits! Obviously both are playing against starting lineups more often so on/off doesn’t tell the whole picture, but it’s notable that Oklahoma City is 8.2 points per 100 possessions better with CP3 and Houston is only 0.1 points per 100 possessions better with Russ.
Westbrook is also averaging his lowest rebounds, assists, and steals per game in the past 5 seasons while posting his worst net rating (-2) since his rookie season. Ironically, I think he’s actually been better than last season, but he hasn’t made the Rockets better, and he’s definitely been worse than Chris Paul. Russ misses out.
Cut 5a – Russell Westbrook
Donovan Mitchell is kind of a fusion between Paul and Westbrook. He’s athletic and attacking like Westbrook, but he’s efficient and methodical like Paul. Mitchell seems like he’s been in the league for a long time, but it’s still only his third season. He’s one of only 7 players in the past 30 years to average at least 24 points per game shooting at least 45% from the field and 35% from 3-point in one of their first 3 seasons. The others: Kevin Durant (X2), LeBron James, Vince Carter (X2), Karl-Anthony Towns, Reggie Miller, and Paul Pierce. Of that group, he’s 2nd in assists per game, behind only LeBron. He’s absolutely BALLING. Plus, the Jazz are 2 games ahead of the Rockets and 4 games ahead of the Thunder. Mitchell deserves an All-Star spot…
Still, I can’t help but thinking he’s not quite as impactful as Chris Paul. Mitchell still struggles as a defender, even alongside Gobert and a defense that is designed to hide his shortcomings. The Jazz are excellent when he’s not on the court, and while his production is obvious, I’m not sure they couldn’t replicate most of that giving his minutes to the other players on their roster, especially with Mike Conley starting to return to form. Paul does everything you should want from your point guard. It’s not a coincidence that every role player on Oklahoma City is having a good year; it’s a product of Chris Paul being the best floor general we’ve seen since Magic Johnson. Mitchell and Westbrook would both make my roster if they played in the East, but Chris Paul gets this spot.
Cut 5b – Donovan Mitchell
So our final 12 Western Conference All-Stars are LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, James Harden, Chris Paul, Luka Dončić, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
G: Luka Dončić
I’ve honestly never seen a player who plays like Dončić before. The closest comparison I can make is the richest of rich man’s Boris Diaw. I don’t say that to insult him (Diaw’s career-high points per game was 13.3), but rather to illustrate how uniquely he plays. He’s not the most athletic player, but his feel for the game, timing, and creativity in both how he navigates defenders and creates pockets of spacing is as effective as we’ve ever seen. I’ve seen comparisons to Larry Bird, but while Dončić is good enough to warrant it, he doesn’t really remind me of Bird. He’s a bit more athletic, and despite drawing a lot of contact, he creates his shot using spacing from fakes and hesitations rather than the way Bird used his physicality to create open looks. It’s obviously too early to consider Dončić an all-time great, but his first two seasons have arguably been better than anyone’s ever. His PER is 29.2 which is the highest of any player in NBA history in their 2nd season. Need I say more? He starts.
G: James Harden
I’ve written before about Harden: “If you play perfect defense, James Harden will hang 30 on you, burn down your house, collect the insurance money, take your mother out for dinner, eurostep around the check, crumple up her phone number, hit a step-back 3-pointer with it, and walk away doing the cooking motion.” That was from the summer of 2018… He’s averaging 5 points per game more this season than when I wrote that.
FC: LeBron James
LeBron James is the greatest basketball player to ever live. He’s averaging the most assists per game of his career (a league-leading 10.8), but his age is finally catching up to him as his points per game are down to the lowest since his rookie year… to 25.0 (still 12th in the NBA). The Lakers have great talent around him (you may have heard of Anthony Davis), but the rest of the roster isn’t exactly stacked. When LeBron plays, the Lakers outscore opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are actually outscored by opponents. You might think part of that has to do with playing the majority of his time with Davis, but strangely lineups with LeBron that don’t feature AD are actually outscoring opponents by more points per 100 possessions than lineups that do (+12.6 to +10.8; both are incredible numbers). LeBron is leading the best team in the West, and he’s deservedly an All-Star starter once again.
FC: Kawhi Leonard
When Leonard is fully engaged, he’s one of top 2 or 3 players in the league, and the best wing defender in the league by a large margin. Over the past few seasons, we haven’t seen that player consistently. From his ‘injury plagued‘ 2017-18 season, to his frequent DNP-Rest over the past year and a half, Kawhi has not shown up every game. He’s also been less consistent when he does play this season, and he’s tended to give less than full effort on defense for stretches. This has led to his worse net rating of his career. Still, even if he’s only sparingly given 100% effort this season, he’s still elite when he plays at 90%: He’s averaging a career-high in points (27.2), rebounds (7.5), and assists (5.3). Oh yeah and that career-worst net rating is still +10. Leonard is that good.
FC: Anthony Davis
When Davis is healthy, he’s the best big man in the league, and it’s not close. He’s nearly as good a defender as Rudy Gobert, while also contributing 26.6 points per game offensively. He’s one of the only players in the league (along with Giannis and Kawhi) who is a top 10 player on both sides of the ball. Davis might even be top 5 in both. He’s been criticized for his lack of playoff success, but anyone who watched him languish in New Orleans knows that he’s never been the reason his team has faltered. It’s been easy this season to overlook Davis as he plays next to LeBron, but he should be getting more buzz as an MVP candidate. He’s deserving of a starting spot.
R: Nikola Jokić
Jokić would start in the Eastern Conference, and it sucks that I need to leave him off the starting lineup here. He has an argument to make it over Kawhi Leonard: aside from points per game, Jokić has better statistics nearly across the board, he’s played 13 more games, and his team has a better record. Jokić is a deserving candidate. He’s having almost the exact same year as last season where I picked him as 5th overall for MVP. Still, when Kawhi has taken over, he’s just been better than when Jokić has. Jokić is an easy selection, but narrowly misses the last starting spot.
R: Damian Lillard
I touched on how great Lillard has been a few weeks ago, but to reiterate: he’s gone scorched-Earth since the New Year. Over his past 21 games, he’s averaged 34.0 points per game on 45.1% from the 3-point line on over 10 attempts per game. That is an absolutely astounding stat. Lillard has played well enough to be starting (and like Jokić, would start in the East), but this season we’ve just seen too many dominant performances from players in the West, especially considering the Trail Blazers are still currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Still, despite not quite doing enough to start, assuming he continues his red-hot pace when he returns from his groin injury, Lillard will be battling for the All-NBA first team spot, and if the Blazers make a push, I think he’ll get it.
R: Devin Booker
Leaving Devin Booker off the All-Star team is an all-time disrespectful exclusion. Not only has he been better than Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, and Brandon Ingram (all of whom didn’t make my All-Star roster, but made the actual team), but he’s been better than four more players who did make my roster! At least he’s there as a replacement, and I hope he takes home the MVP as a fuck you to the voters who left him off the team.
R: Rudy Gobert
How someone feels about Gobert is a good litmus test for whether that person is actually watching NBA games or just following stats and individual teams. He’s one of those guys who you need to watch how differently a team plays against him compared to other teams’ centers to really understand his impact. Most teams schemes their offense differently depending on who they’re playing, but nowhere is that more obvious than with the Jazz. If they get a switch in the 1-5 pick and roll, most point guards can either blow past the big man or force them into too steep of a drop and get an easy floater. Gobert is a master at limiting this and forcing the point guard into a difficult shot or scaring them into passing out of the mismatch. For someone who sees the Timberwolves constantly struggle in this regard, watching Gobert is a startling contrast. Teams avoid bringing Gobert into the pick and roll action because he’s so dominant defensively. Added to the fact that he’s an elite rim-runner in the Jazz halfcourt offense, he’s one of the most valuable players in the league to his team. Despite Mitchell being the lead scorer and initiator, everything the Jazz do is centered (pun intended – sorry) around Gobert’s actions. He’s an All-Star.
R: Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns was left out of the All-Star game amidst a season that has seen the Timberwolves go on double-digit losing streaks multiple times. You could argue that Towns hasn’t done enough to warrant a place, but if you do, then you’d have to argue the same about Trae Young. Both Young and Towns have produced great counting numbers with very little help, but while the Timberwolves are 2.5 games better than the Hawks, somehow Young has been celebrated while Towns is roundly criticized and snubbed from the All-Star game. I charted the scoring and efficiency of the top 25 scorers in the NBA this season:
He’s been one of the 3 best offensive players in the league this season. His defense has been rightfully criticized, but he’s nowhere near as big of a negative on defense as he is a positive on offense. He deserves an All-Star spot and recognition as the best offensive big man in the league.
R: Paul George
George was another All-Star snub that went under-the-radar due to the more notably egregious omissions of Bradley Beal and Devin Booker. He isn’t having the same incredible season as last year (his points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game are all down), and he’s been out for a good portion of the season (he’s missed 21 games). But he’s still one of the 12 best players in the West. Part of the drop in his production is due to him playing 7.5 minutes less per game. On a per-36 minutes basis, his numbers are relatively the same as last year, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate. George hasn’t been on the same level, but he’s still an elite two-way player on the 3rd seed in the West, and deserves to be an All-Star.
R: Chris Paul
Read Above. He makes it over Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell. With Lillard’s injury, Mitchell gets the replacement nod.
That’s the final team. Now let’s have some fun watching the best players in the world!