The NBA, which will host a scaled-down All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7, announced their official All-Star starting lineups this week. Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal will represent the East, while LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic have been selected in the West. To fill out the rosters, coaches must select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two additional wildcard players, regardless of position, for each conference.
Eastern Conference reserves
Back Room: Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Bradley Beal (Wizard)
Irving and Beal were officially selected as starters, but both were better cast as reserves. James Harden has played a more central role in Brooklyn’s attack than Irving since he arrived at work, while Jaylen Brown has shown far better defensive commitment than Beal on a Celtics team that is way better than the Wizards.
Even so, Irving and Beal are a relatively easy pick. While Irving missed a stretch of seven games for personal reasons, he was an electric and extremely efficient goalscorer with an average of 27.7 points and 5.6 assists, while he almost cracked the shooting club 50/40/90.
Beal continues to lead the rating and usage rate as he valiantly tries to get Washington serious. According to ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, an advanced metric that measures a player’s influence, Beal was a better offensive player than Zach LaVine and Trae Young, two other talented goalscorers who lag behind on the defensive and play for Eastern teams with record losses.
Forecourt: Khris Middleton (Bucks), Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Bam Adebayo (Heat)
A lot has changed for the uninspiring bucks, but Middleton remains a breeze with his solid consistency and important role in Milwaukee’s third-placed offense. The 29-year-old striker averages 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists and flirts with the 50/40/90 benchmark. He was supposed to join his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo in Atlanta.
The same goes for Tatum, who averages a career high of 25.8 points, 7 rebounds and 4.8 assists despite feeling bad about a fight with Covid-19. The Celtics haven’t lived up to expectations so far, but they set a win record on Saturday and deserve to have two All-Stars.
Adebayo is a trickier pick as Miami stays well below .500 after a terrible rash of injury and protocol issues early in the season. The 23-year-old center was steadily present after a dominant run through the bubble and missed just two games this season with an average of 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Though Jimmy Butler remains the Heat’s best player, Adebayo has logged over 300 minutes more than his teammate, and he deserves the nod over New York’s Nikola Vucevic or Julius Randle for his vastly superior defensive acumen.
Wild Cards: Ben Simmons (76ers) and Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)
Simmons’ relatively poor batting average and lack of outside shooting make him an easy target for critics, and Embiid’s sensational season has resulted in their no longer co-stars in Philadelphia. Even so, Simmons makes his mark as a passing playmaker, strong rebounder, and elite multi-position defender. This package of skills should prevent him from advancing Tobias Harris as the second representative of the east leading 76ers.
Sabonis (21.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 5.7 APG) and Randle (23.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 5.5 APG) have practically identical box score numbers and expanded stats about what the fight to make the last squad place a heated debate. Should Sabonis get the nod for Indiana’s better record or does Randle deserve credit for getting by with a weaker supporting cast? The pick here is Sabonis, who made his first pick last year and is back playing more minutes and carrying a heavier load this season.
Hardest Omissions: Jimmy Butler (Heat), Zach LaVine (Cops), and Julius Randle (Knicks)
Western Conference Reserves
Back space: Luka Doncic (Mavericks) and Chris Paul (Suns)
The widespread outcry in response to Doncic’s selection as a starter against Damian Lillard was justified as Lillard was more efficient and his trail blazers are way above the Mavericks in the overall standings. But even Lillard’s strongest proponents would acknowledge that Doncic is a worthy sixth candidate for the West, given his staggering averages (29.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.4 APG). Without Doncic, who has been in near perfect health, the protocol-ravaged Mavericks could have the worst record in the West.
No matter what kind of magic Paul does, he always seems to be flying under the radar. After Paul (17.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 8.2 APG) helped lead the Rockets to the top 65 victories in the franchise in 2018 and make the Thunder 2020 the league’s biggest overtakers, he has the Suns transformed from perennial loser to No. 1 in the West. 5 seeds on Saturday. Don’t let the age or subtle play of 35-year-old Paul fool you, he remains one of the sport’s best guides and dependable closers.
Forecourt: Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Anthony Davis (Lakers) and Paul George (Clippers)
Utah’s run to the top of the west makes Gobert an automatic pick. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year could very well win it again this season as he leads the NBA’s second best defense with exceptional shot blocking, ricochet and positioning.
Davis is out on hiatus due to injury after making a slow start by his high standards (22.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3 APG), but he was still key in the league’s top defense alongside LeBron and an efficient second goalscorer James. The coaches should reward Davis with a selection so that NBA commissioner Adam Silver can name a replacement for an injury.
While George missed a decent amount of time due to injuries and health logs, the gap between him and the other contestants in the forecourt remains due to his numbers (24.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.5 APG), his 50/47 shooting splits / 90, massive and his mutual contributions to one of the best teams in the league. With the Clippers in third place for point difference and win percentage, George should join Leonard in Atlanta.
Placeholder: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz) and Mike Conley (Jazz)
One of this year’s all-star questions: How many representatives does jazz deserve, given that they hold the highest record and the point difference in the league? The minimum answer should be two. Mitchell, 24, has masterfully balanced his scoring chances with his dedication to the team concept, allowing Utah to unleash a devastating and even three-point attack that overwhelmed the opposition.
The case for Conley is tougher: he missed six games this month due to an injury, and his box score stats (16.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.6 APG) don’t exactly scream “Big 3”. Though some might argue his case on sentimental reasons for never making an All-Star team, Conley gets the nod here for his central role on the most consistent team in the league. Without Conley’s commitment, intelligence, selflessness and balance, which are reflected in his leading plus-minus in the league, jazz does not belong in the top 5 on the offensive or on the defensive.
Utah is the only team that has managed to maintain its size this season and deserves to be one of two teams alongside Brooklyn to land three All-Stars. Apologies to Phoenix ‘Devin Booker, who has surrendered some authority since Paul’s arrival, and to De’Aaron Fox, who single-handedly failed to stabilize the Kings, who have the worst defenses in the league, losing five games on streak Saturday.
Injury replacement: Zion Williamson (Pelicans)
This was an unusually flat year for the West due to Harden’s trade in the nets and injury problems for Karl-Anthony Towns, CJ McCollum, Klay Thompson, Ja Morant and Christian Wood.
Williamson (25 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) was a little slow, but he has grown strong and would be a fitting replacement for Davis who preceded him as a franchise player in New Orleans. As a color monster that comes into the basket against most opponents at will, he has shown more skill for his teammates in the last month. While his defensive mobility still leaves much to be desired, his best performances lived up to the hype that followed his successful season at Duke. He has only missed one game this season, usurping Brandon Ingram as the driving force behind the pelicans’ offense on most nights.
The toughest omissions: Devin Booker (suns), De’Aaron Fox (kings) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (thunder)