The NBA declared which 10 players were chosen as starters for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game on Thursday night, and for the subsequent straight season, eight players on my authority polling form made the finished product. I went 4-for-5 in both the East (group commander Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bradley Beal) and the West (group skipper LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, and Stephen Curry).
While I went with Jaylen Brown, who completed second in media balloting, the fan and player vote drove Kyrie Irving into the beginning arrangement. Something comparable occurred in the West: I picked Damian Lillard, who arrived in second in both the player and media surveys, however the strength of the fan vote drove Luka Doncic into the beginning five for the subsequent straight season.
Irving and Doncic are both exceedingly worthy choices—and, in fact, as the last cuts from my starter picks, they were the first names I wrote on the list of reserves I’d choose to fill out the benches for the exhibition that will be held next month in defiance of, y’know, Not that my list matters in this selection process; while fans, players, and media members (like me!) vote on the starting lineups, the reserve corps are up to the coaches. The fact that I won’t impact anything doesn’t mean I can’t spout off about the way things should be, though. I mean, this is the internet, after all.
Having established all that, here are the seven players from each conference—three frontcourt players, two guards, and two “wild cards” irrespective of positional designation—whom I’d pick to round out this year’s All-Star rosters:
FC Anthony Davis, Lakers*
FC Paul George, Clippers
FC Rudy Gobert, Jazz
G Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
G Mike Conley, Jazz
WC Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
WC Chris Paul, Suns
Davis’s start to 2020-21 bears some resemblance to what fellow futuristic big man Giannis Antetokounmpo has been muddling through back East; neither has been quite as impressive as they were during their remarkable 2019-20 campaigns. Like Giannis, though, AD—averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 3.1 combined blocks/steals per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and anchoring the league’s best defense—has done more than enough to earn an All-Star nod.
HOWEVER! As Davis’s recent bout with right Achilles tendinosis will reportedly make it “extremely unlikely” that he returns to the court before the All-Star break, I am compelled to name an injury replacement for him. (Hence that tell-tale asterisk up top.) I’m choosing Zion Williamson, who has already logged more games and minutes than he did during his rookie season, and who has been an even more devastating offensive force in Year 2: 25 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 32.6 minutes per game, shooting a scorching 61.8 percent from the field. Reminder: He’s 20 years old. No player this young has ever scored this much and this efficiently; the last player to even come close was Adrian Dantley, nearly 45 years ago.
Already a juggernaut attacking the basket, Williamson might technically qualify as a weapon of mass destruction now that head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in his hands. Operating as a point power forward over the Pelicans’ past 12 games, Zion’s time of possession, average number of dribbles per touch, drives to the basket per game, and assists are all way up over their early-season levels; in a related story, a New Orleans offense that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency through 16 games has been rubbing shoulders with the league-leading Nets since. I’m going to go out on an awfully sturdy limb here and say that I suspect Zion’s first All-Star appearance won’t be his last.
Before suffering a toe injury that’s sidelined him for the past two weeks, Paul George was off to perhaps the best start of his career. PG took all manner of shit for the role he played in the Clippers’ collapse against Denver last postseason. After a healthy offseason, and armed with a massive four-year contract extension, he promised to come back locked in with a vengeance. So far, so good. The star swingman has paired high-efficiency scoring (24.4 points on 51/48/91 shooting splits and a career-best .662 true shooting percentage) with higher-level playmaking (a career-high 5.5 assists per game) and his customary excellent perimeter defense for a Clipper team that’s been lights out offensively and has played top-of-the-league-caliber defense whenever George has shared the floor with All-Star starter Kawhi Leonard. Whether the revamped Clips will fare better this postseason than last remains to be seen; this version of George, though, sure would help.
Rounding out the reserve frontcourt: the two-way centerpiece of the best damn team in the NBA.
There aren’t any astonishments in Gobert’s down, truly; the Jazz community simply does what he does. The stunt, however, is that he does those things just as, if worse than, any other individual in the group. Scarcely anyone challenges more shots, and few greaterly affect them; rivals shoot 7.4 percent beneath their season midpoints with Gobert challenging, one of the alliance’s biggest differentials. Also, that is the point at which they even get them off: Jazz adversaries take an essentially lower portion of their shots at the edge and from 3-point land when Gobert’s watching the center, a mix of their hesitance to challenge him at the edge and colleagues’ certainty to press up and play forceful at the bend, realizing he’s lying in hold back to tidy up any wrecks. He’s the single main motivation the Jazz indeed rank close to the highest point of the association in focuses permitted per ownership—and, with his consistent screen-setting to spring Utah’s makers, the danger he acts like a vertical spacer with his tip top pick-and-move completing, and his effect as a hostile rebounder and maker of additional opportunity focuses, he’s a huge explanation Quin Snyder’s club sits close to the highest point of the hostile diagrams, as well.
He’s far from the only one, though, and two others get two of my final four spots. The Jazz wouldn’t be the beautiful, brutalizing offensive machine they’ve become without the work of their stellar backcourt.
Mitchell hasn’t blitzed the league with the same fury he unleashed on Denver back in the bubble, but he’s continued his steady growth as a no. 1 scoring option and playmaker. He’s become both a more patient passer and a high-volume long-range marksman—one of just six players in the league attempting at least eight triples a night and knocking down more than 39 percent of them—which have further opened up his game as a slasher and drive-and-kick facilitator. The result: a career-best 24.2 points and 5.1 assists per game, fueling Utah’s evolution into one of the league’s most menacing attacks.
As good as Gobert and Mitchell have been, though, I’m not sure the Jazz reach this level of dominance—they enter Friday a league-best 24-5, with nearly the same point differential as the Year 1 KD Warriors—without Conley bouncing back from a shaky first season in Utah. (Or, more accurately, continuing the bounce-back that began once he got healthy last February.)
Like damn near everyone else in a Jazz uniform these days, Conley’s bombing away, shooting 41 percent from deep on 6.8 attempts per game, both career highs. He’s slotted in perfectly as a complementary ball handler, on- and off-ball threat, and reliable backcourt defender, and has been a common thread in killer Jazz lineups of all stripes: alongside Mitchell, alongside Sixth Man of the Year front-runner Jordan Clarkson, and even, in small doses, as the lone nominal guard flanked by three wings and Gobert, with whom he’s developed fantastic chemistry.
The advanced stats love Conley nearly as much as teammates and basketbloggers do: He’s near the top of the league in regularized adjusted plus minus, ESPN’s real plus-minus, and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, and in the top 20 in box plus-minus and win shares per 48 minutes. That’s all influenced to some degree by the presence of Gobert; more than 85 percent of Conley’s minutes this season have come with the All-Star center on the floor. It’s worth noting, though, that the Jazz are plus-54 in 99 minutes when Conley plays without Gobert this season, posting an even gaudier net rating than when they play together. One theory, humbly submitted: All those fancy numbers are also picking up on the fact that Mike Conley kicks ass, and deserves—at long last—the first All-Star appearance of his 14-year career.
As I mentioned up top, I cast a ballot for Lillard to be in the starting lineup. Since that didn’t happen, I’ll slot him in here as a reserve in recognition of the way he marries mammoth production—29.8 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game, shooting 38.4 percent from deep on 10.8 attempts a night—with team success that oftentimes seems to rest squarely on his shoulders.
Losing Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum (who was on his way to an All-Star berth of his own) seemed like a major blow for a Blazers team that had already been scuffling thanks to a bottom-five defense. But Portland’s gone 10-5 without two of its three best players, including six straight wins to move into fourth place in the West, thanks in large part to its best player. During this monthlong stretch, the Blazers are 7-2 in games in which the score was within five points in the final five minutes, with Dame scoring 44 points on 14-for-22 shooting in 30 “clutch” minutes. That includes a number of late-game bombs that offered reminders of how “Dame Time” became A Thing:
I don’t know if “clutch” (as an actual character trait that some players have and others don’t) exists. If it did, though, it’d probably look an awful lot like Lillard just continuing, year in and year out, to drag the Blazers through whatever they’re dealing with—a rash of injuries, misfiring role players, defensive inconsistency—to wins in games a lot of other teams would lose. That’s also a pretty handy definition for “All-Star,” now that you mention it.
That left me with one remaining slot, and three main contenders: two Suns guards and DeMar DeRozan, who has been tremendous for a San Antonio team that’s just a game and a half out of fourth place.
Yes, a lot of the credit for the Spurs’ success belongs to a killer second unit led by Patty Mills. To the extent that the starters drag San Antonio down, though, it’s become clear that that’s about the precipitous decline of LaMarcus Aldridge: The Spurs are minus-73 in 381 minutes with DeRozan and Aldridge sharing the floor, but plus-54 in 454 minutes when DeMar’s on the court and LaMarcus is on the bench, outscoring opponents by a very healthy 4.5 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions. The arc of NBA history has somehow turned DeRozan into a point small-ball 4, and he’s rolled with it and thrived; he’s dropping dimes and getting to the free throw line at career-best rates (or close to it), hardly ever turning the ball over while posting the most efficient shooting numbers of his career, and serving as a stabilizing agent (especially late in games) as the Spurs’ youngsters continue to grow into their talents.
In the end, though, my decision came down to Paul and Booker—a tough choice made tougher by these wild stats from the Suns’ successful-but-sort-of-odd start: Phoenix has nearly identical (and excellent) net ratings in Booker-but-no-CP3 minutes and CP3-but-no-Booker minutes, and has been outscored when they share the court.
Booker’s been the lead scoring threat, averaging a team-high 24.4 points per game while continuing to cement himself as one of the sport’s most pristine midrange craftsmen; half of his shots have come in the in-between areas, and he’s drilling a career-high 50 percent of them. He’s ceded some playmaking responsibility and late-game control to Paul—to be expected—and his assist and crunch-time numbers have dipped as a result. I don’t love the idea of dinging Booker for that; if anything, his case should be boosted by the willingness he’s shown to make space for an all-league new arrival, curtailing some aspects of his individual game for the greater good of the sort of team success that the Suns have only enjoyed once in the past decade.
It’s only difficult to hoist that over the confirmed case that Paul has made. He’s aided lift a Phoenix safeguard that, following quite a while of neglecting to try and move toward association normal, positions seventh in focuses permitted per ownership. He’s been considerably more lights-out on each one of those floaters and pull-ups than Booker—52.1 percent from midrange, down a tick from last season yet a first class mark—and has run the group with his trademark image of demanding effectiveness. Essentially every high level detail you can discover—except for RAPM, where Booker has an edge—proposes that CP3’s making a more huge belonging by-ownership commitment to winning. He’s additionally proceeded with his work as one of the game’s most lethal grip scorers; just three players have scored more in time to get down to business this season than Paul.
Put it all together, and I go with Paul over Booker and DeRozan just barely. They’re the main calls on the off chance that we need substitutes since a couple of individuals from the Western choice abruptly catch mulish hamstrings or annoying foot hardships as they draw nearer to announcing for lockdown in Atlanta.
Toughest West Cuts
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has continued his ascent as a bona fide centerpiece in Oklahoma City: He’s one of just 11 players averaging at least 20-5-5 on .600 true shooting, with a crunch-time profile shockingly similar to Joel Embiid’s as he carries a should-be-tanking Thunder roster to within striking distance of the play-in chase.
- De’Aaron Fox, who has been even better than SGA in the clutch, who’s posting a career-low turnover percentage, and who has become an absolutely nightmarish cover as his 3-point shot has ticked up, averaging a shade under 26 and 8 over his past 16 games.
- Brandon Ingram, whose overall offensive leap last season has stuck even as Zion has moved to the forefront, and who’s hovering around a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a huge playmaking wing in New Orleans.
- A couple of “gone, but not forgotten” injured standouts: CJ McCollum, who was well on his way to earning one of these spots before a foot fracture paused his career season in Portland, and Christian Wood, who was making good on all that offseason hype to the tune of 22 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in Houston before suffering a nasty ankle sprain.
FC Khris Middleton, Bucks
FC Julius Randle, Knicks
FC Jayson Tatum, Celtics
G Jaylen Brown, Celtics
G James Harden, Nets
WC Zach LaVine, Bulls
WC Fred VanVleet, Raptors
I must be straightforward: I had a considerably harder time with the East than the West. One confounding variable: While I decided not to cast a ballot Harden in as a starter, it’s only difficult to disregard the mammoth measurable record he’s run up since getting to Brooklyn when picking saves.
Solidify’s averaging 24.2 focuses on 50/40/90 shooting, a group driving 11.7 helps, and 8.2 bounce back per game as a Net. He’s shifting back and forth between arranging the offense when he imparts the floor to Irving and Kevin Durant (a 4.4-to-1 help to-turnover proportion and simply a 18.5 percent use rate in Big Three minutes) and going full exclusive armed force when he doesn’t (29.4 focuses on burning .693 genuine shooting and 11.6 helps each 36 minutes without them, utilizing 31 percent of Brooklyn’s assets). Prior to this season, the most intense offense in Basketball-Reference.com’s information base, which stretches back to 1973, had a place with a year ago’s Dallas Mavericks, who found the middle value of 116.7 focuses per 100 belongings. With Harden on the floor, the Nets are averaging 123.5 focuses per 100. A large number individuals may despise how Harden arrived in Brooklyn, however he’s been actually as promoted since his appearance, and the Nets’ title chances look all the more grounded for it.
I had Irving going along with him in an all-Brooklyn reinforcement backcourt, which is a great tongue-twister to test in the event that you need something to do while you, similar to me, keep on losing your psyche in Month 12 of a pandemic. Since Kyrie arrived in the beginning five, however, I’ll opening Brown—for my cash the best two-path watch in the East so far this season—in his place.
Effectively one of the class’ generally adaptable and important wings, Brown has kicked his hostile climb into another stratosphere this season, averaging a profession best 25.9 focuses per game on 50.6 percent shooting. The fifth-year swingman has become a genuine three-level scorer, shooting 72 percent inside the confined region, 54 percent from midrange, 41 percent from past the bend, and 77 percent at the foul line. He’s slicing his way to a profession high 11.3 drives and 4.8 free toss endeavors per game, and has kept on sanding off the keep going unpleasant edges on his hostile game, improving his handle and turning into a more dynamic and forceful playmaker; Brown has multiplied his help rate without a going with ascend in turnovers. It’s been a frustrating beginning in Boston, however in the midst of all the disturbance, Brown has helped keep Boston in the Eastern season finisher pack, and established himself as a no. 1-type ability in his own right.
Middleton takes a hold frontcourt spot here in acknowledgment of his in all cases greatness—20-6-6 on 51/43/91 shooting parts, vocation best work as a passer in a redid Bucks offense that has been one of the alliance’s generally hazardous, and interminably stable protection for a Milwaukee group competing for the best position in the gathering. Just like the case last season, Robin appears to transform into Batman at whatever point Giannis Antetokounmpo removes the cape and cowl: Middleton’s averaging 30-7-7 each 36 minutes when he plays without the double cross MVP, with a utilization rate and genuine shooting rate that takes after the NBA’s greatest whizzes.
Middleton, who is as of now deadly off the catch and pulling up, presents an entire host of new issues for guards since he’s more hazardous off the ricochet (shooting 57.5 percent on 7.4 drives per game, both profession highs) and out of nowhere displaying more keen court vision. As he approaches age 30, Middleton’s playing the best all-around bundle of his profession, and that is sufficient to procure him his third consecutive All-Star compartment.
Tatum began to take off into the stratosphere this time last season. He hasn’t exactly kept up a similar direction this year: His 3-point rate is down a piece, he’s moved back in the direction of a portion of the wandering midrangers he’d generally extracted from his eating routine, and he now and again appears to be a man needing a mediation to wean him off the fadeaway jumpers he misses 62 percent of the time. In any case, progress isn’t generally direct—especially, you’d figure, with regards to contracting COVID-19 a month ago and proceeding to experience the ill effects of its pneumonic eventual outcomes. The bend of Tatum’s improvement actually follows the state of a hotshot: He’s averaging 25.8 focuses, 7.0 bounce back, and 4.7 helps as a 22-year-old—numbers that put him in the respectable organization of Kareem, Oscar, LeBron, T-Mac, and Luka.
He’s kept on expecting a bigger job as a playmaker—an absolute necessity given the exit of Gordon Hayward, the shortfall of Marcus Smart, and the insufficiency of Kemba Walker—and stays one of the association’s most adaptable frontcourt protectors, utilizing his solidarity, briskness, and 6-foot-11 wingspan to dog adversaries here and there the positional range. For all that is turned out badly in Boston this season, the Celtics actually have Tatum and Jaylen Brown, which gives them quite an establishment on which to assemble.
Heading into the season, scarcely anyone would’ve considered Randle such a basic piece. The wounding lefty set up huge scoring and bouncing back numbers during his first season in New York, however battled powerfully in his first endeavor to build up himself as a real no. 1 alternative and foundation; only a couple brief months prior, your normal Knicks fan would’ve been entirely content transportation out Randle a few mediocre possibilities and some future draft picks. Be that as it may, on the strength of a thorough offseason program and with the courageous confidence of new lead trainer Tom Thibodeau, the 26-year-old has totally reworked the account of his profession.
The expansion of a dependable shot—48.3 percent from midrange, 40.7 percent from past the curve, 80.2 percent from the free toss line, all profession highs—has completely opened Randle’s down. Play off of him, and he can stick the J; play up on him, and he can bull-race to the cup; play him for the shot, and he can utilize his consistently misjudged handle and propelling court vision to shower the ball out to shooters. The outcome has been a staggering development, and significantly really shocking creation: 23.2 focuses, 10.9 bounce back, and 5.5 helps per game on .589 genuine shooting, all while driving the association in minutes and playing actual protection for a group that, in perhaps the greatest amazement in the alliance, has jumped from 22nd in focuses permitted per ownership last season to third this season.
It is anything but a misrepresentation to say that Randle’s been the distinction between New York being a season finisher type group and being one of the alliance’s most noticeably terrible; as promising as R.J. Barrett and Immanuel Quickley have looked, he doesn’t have another genuine distinction creator to help shoulder the weight. Disregarding all that, Randle has offered the Knicks a genuine chance at the establishment’s first season finisher billet in quite a while. That is more than stunning; it’s truly damn amazing, and it procures him his first All-Star appearance.
With my trump card spots, I added two all the more newbies—and, truly, sort of amazed myself all the while.
You realize what number of players have at any point found the middle value of 28-5-5 for a full season? Twenty. Twelve are as of now in the Hall of Fame; six more (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook) will stroll in the nanosecond they’re qualified. The other two—Giannis and Luka—are (ideally) still nearer to the beginning of their vocations than the end, however they appear to be well en route to such a tenuous air. All things considered, that rundown may very well hit blackjack this season, on the grounds that Zach god forsaken’ LaVine is raging the palace.
No, LaVine isn’t as great a protector as somebody with his size and actual devices presumably ought to be. (However, as Stephen Noh as of late contended, he probably won’t be as terrible these days as the cemented public view of him proposes.) And no, he’s not a tip top playmaking monitor on the request for a portion of the high-volume ball-ruling makers—Harden, Doncic, Trae Young—who have ascended to unmistakable quality as of late. What he is, however, is perhaps the most proficient scorers in the entire damn class. Here’s the rundown of fellows with utilization rates north of 30% who are making at any rate 55 percent of their 2-pointers, 40% of their 3-pointers, and 80% of their free tosses: Durant, Curry … and LaVine.
Just Dame, Steph, and Bradley Beal have more 30-point games. Nobody midpoints as numerous focuses per final quarter. Just Dame has more complete focuses in time to get down to business. Among high-utilization players, just Steph and Joel Embiid have a higher genuine shooting rate. At one point, possibly it’s an ideal opportunity to quit pounding a player for all the things he can’t do and celebrate what he can. At this moment, there’s possibly a modest bunch of players on Earth fit for placing the ball in the container just as Zach LaVine can. They’re all going to be at the All-Star Game. He should go along with them.
Wth such countless exceptional competitors still on the board—of every extraordinary style, stripes, sizes, and ranges of abilities—I only sort of went with my gut with the last special case spot. I think Fred VanVleet has the right to be an All-Star.
He doesn’t score, encourage, or create features like Trae Young, the alpha and omega of a Hawks offense. He’s not a similar kind of all-court power as Bam Adebayo or Ben Simmons: folks who can run a powerful offense, safeguard every one of the five positions, and demolish protectors from the square or on the move. Assuming any or those folks get in over VanVleet, I’ll comprehend. In any case, at the present time, however—in this year, this second—I believe VanVleet’s played in a way that is better than every one of them.
He has given the two firecrackers and usefulness to a Raptors group stuck on a perpetual excursion, attempting to reevaluate itself subsequent to losing a few key pieces to remain above water in the Eastern season finisher pursue. He’s one of just nine players averaging 20 focuses, six helps, and four bounce back per game. He’s eighth in 3-point makes, tenth in helps, and he drives the class in both stea.
In a season where so much about the Raptors has either changed or occasionally been unreliable, VanVleet’s been a constant, playing in all 29 games and averaging the third-most minutes in the league. Like Conley, the advanced stats love him, especially the impact metrics: RAPTOR (natch), RPM, RAPM, LEBRON, and EPM all value VanVleet as a top-25 player this season.
Maybe that’s a bit rich. Maybe, though, they’re all picking up on the same signal: that the undersized, undervalued, overlooked, and underestimated 26-year-old is the single biggest reason that, amid injuries, inconsistency, and spending the entire season in friggin’ Tampa, the Raptors are keeping their heads above water, back within arm’s reach of a top-four spot in the East. VanVleet has built a career out of betting on himself and disproving doubters; next up, perhaps, are those who never in a million years thought the undrafted kid out of Rockford, Illinois, would turn into an All-Star.
Toughest East Cuts
- Trae Young, who ranks 10th in the league in scoring and third in assists, flirting with .600 true shooting on a superstar usage rate.
- Bam Adebayo, essentially the lone constant in a season full of COVID-19-caused turmoil for the Heat, providing increasingly dominant scoring (80 percent in the restricted area, 44 percent on jumpers, 85 percent from the foul line on six attempts per game) while running the offense (a higher assist rate than any big man save Nikola Jokic) and guarding all five positions on any given night.
- Ben Simmons, who’s been on an absolute tear for the last month and might be mounting a serious bid for Defensive Player of the Year.
- Domantas Sabonis, who’s been every ounce the workhorse Randle has, and every bit as productive—seriously, the similarities are eerie—for a Pacers team that sits a game and a half above the Knicks in the standings.
- Jerami Grant, arguably the league’s most improved player in Detroit, cashing in on his big offseason bet on himself and proving that he does have what it takes to be a no. 1 option.
- Jrue Holiday, who has been excellent on both ends in Milwaukee, posting the best shooting numbers of his career while sitting near the top of the league in steals and deflections as the tip of the spear for a Bucks defense that has clamped down at a top-five rate in his minutes.
- Tobias Harris, looking extremely comfortable back under Doc Rivers’s wing and reminding us what all that money was for.
- Nikola Vucevic, toiling thanklessly and incredibly productively as he carries the guard-stripmined Magic to something approaching respectability as often as possible.