Time restricted the unveiling of a full All-Star roster, but with the starters being released tonight, we will follow suit.
Western Conference Starters:
G James Harden
James Harden has been underrated this season, in general and in the MVP race. The debate should be way more open than it is between him and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The same should have been the case last year.
The advanced analytics and stats people (Who are adorned and should be commenced at the highest level for revolutionizing basketball and having it played smarter) say that pure points is a bad stat. True, but that’s if you know how to use it right.
Points don’t matter if your team isn’t winning. They do if a team is.
The Rockets are 26-16, and while might not be as high up in the standings as we expected, should still be considered as contenders. Harden is averaging 37.1 points per game on that team and is hitting five threes a game for them as well. You can knock the low shooting percentages and say that a top five player should be better in those categories, but when you factor in Harden’s 37.8 usage rate and the 8.8 minutes a night that he has the ball in his hands (second in the league to Trae Young), then you’ll live with them.
If the season ended today, Harden’s PPG number would rank fifth all-time. Wilt Chamberlian, who some like to filter out due to the sheer insane yet overrated marks of 50.36, 44.83, 38.39 and 37.6, has the four spots ahead of Harden. Some might say Harden, if he finishes above 37.09, might have the highest scoring season in NBA history. Does Giannis really top that?
Harden has hit a bit of a cold streak since the new year (Along with the Rockets themselves, too), but his All-Star spot is still unassailable. No one even makes another close case.
G Luka Doncic
There was zero doubt that Luka Doncic would take a step forward this season. No one knew how grand of one it would be.
It’s been a historic one. Not only is Doncic putting up one of the best seasons from a 20 or 21-year-old ever, but he’s single-handily dragging a Mavericks roster that isn’t all that good into the playoffs. Sure, Dwight Powell went from underrated to properly rated before his devastating achilles injury the other night, and bench guys like Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson have allowed the Mavericks to get away with certain funky lineups. But none of that happens without Doncic having the type of year he is. Dallas is hanging around 30 wins (Using 82 games as a gauge, not games played this season thus far) without him, especially with the way they’re using the still newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis.
Doncic’s rise has questioned the meaning of two different awards at the same time: MVP and Most Improved Player. Like others on this list, there’s a case for Doncic to place third in one and win the other – he’s so much better than last year. Where is that line at? It’ll be an interesting ballot after the Finals. But Doncic’s spot, like Harden’s above, is totally unassailable.
F/C Kawhi Leonard
Though he’s only played in 32 games, Kawhi Leonard’s averages of 26.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and five assists on 46.5 percentage shooting is one of the most complete lines in basketball this season. That’s not even including his 1.9 steals a contest either. The Clippers are 24-8 when he plays this year, and 5-8 when he doesn’t. Though there’s been some sputtering from Los Angeles recently in terms of effort, Kawhi’s season is a testament to how necessary and beneficial the load management is. If Leonard wasn’t putting up these numbers, perhaps it’d be a different conversation. But he is, and because of that, the Clippers should still be considered the title favorites, and load management shouldn’t be such a hot discussion.
F/C LeBron James
It’s an all-LA frontcourt, and everyone is deserving.
Here we can give LeBron James and Anthony Davis equal praise for their accomplishments this year, but it’ll be more fascinating come MVP time. Who gets put higher on the ballot than who?
Davis might deserve more praise. Without him, the Lakers have to stretch LeBron to his maximum capabilities as a 35-year-old on a nightly basis. It’s a 2018 Finals level effort every night from LeBron to get the Lakers to the record they have now without Davis. The rest of the roster is so bad that even superhero performances from LeBron might not even be enough.
Despite that, LeBron absolutely deserves an All-Star spot. He’s proved us wrong about being effective at the point guard spot – the dude will likely win the assist title as he’s averaging 11 per night, 1st in the league by a whopping 1.6 dimes. While the other Laker might be more responsible for the team’s success on this end, LeBron’s defensive engagement has soared this year compared to last – a complete flip from where it had been the past two years.
Giannis Antetokounmpo or Leonard is the best player in the league right now. But remove ‘right now’ and replace it with overall, and The King still reigns.
F/C Anthony Davis
Like Harden, Davis is probably being underrated in the MVP race. The third spot should clearly be his.
Davis hasn’t only helped shoulder a load from LeBron, but is the anchor of what is somehow the league’s fifth-best defense by defensive rating, and that rank has fallen a bit, too.
His versatility on both ends has allowed the Lakers to get away with playing Davis next to a traditional center, like JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard. Defensively, his athleticism allows him to swallow smaller players with those lengthy arms, which ranks third in the league in blocks with 2.6 per game. He’s also picking 1.5 steals a game, a wild number for a center (You know who is second in the league though? Andre Drummond!). That insane length not being wasted down low protecting the rim is invaluable. Combine that with the buy-in from practically everyone else on the roster, and Davis is the engine behind the NBA’s unlikeliest defensive machine.
Eastern Conference Starters:
G Kemba Walker
Swapping out Kyrie Irving for a lesser-talented player in Kemba Walker shouldn’t have worked. But accounting for the style of play and happiness that Walker has brought, it makes sense, and the Celtics are title contenders because of it.
Walker might be the second-biggest reason why Boston could make the Finals, but the Eastern Conference starting guards situation aside from and even including him is bleak. There’s plenty of options, yet everyone option as a starter comes with a big issue or hole. Walker is the closest to unassailable, but its one of his teammates that is having the slightly bigger impact. More on that next week.
G Malcolm Brogdon
This was the toughest spot out of any of the ten starters and it wasn’t even close.
It was agonizing. There were eight candidates and all had a case.
The biggest omission is probably Ben Simmons. While Simmons has excelled recently in Embiid’s absence thanks to increased floor spacing offensively, he hasn’t subtracted from his season-long dominance defensively. But he’s still been a liability for the Sixers late in games when Embiid’s been on the floor. It’s at times tough to get over.
The next closest candidates were Jaylen Brown, Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal. Brown got heavy, heavy consideration – the guy is still a stud defensively and has improved immensely scoring the ball and being consistent on the offensive end. He’s making the contract Boston handed him look more than justifiable.
Lowry was probably overrated in consideration, but while his shooting numbers are majorly down, he’s scoring 5.8 more points a game this year, which helps supplement the loss of Kawhi big time. When Siakam has been hurt, it’s been Lowry picking up what’s left behind. For a guy who’s long been criticized for his lack of an offensive game, this season has proved otherwise. That was essentially the case for him in a starting spot.
Beal is on the worst team out of anyone who made the ballot – starters, reserves, East, West, whatever. The Wizards aren’t even in consideration for the playoffs and won’t make it. They stink.
But they’re way better than anyone imagined. They’re way more fun than anyone imagined, too. That matters, and Beal is the reason why. He’s shelving an unbelievable load for the Wizards.
Washington is somehow 11th in offensive rating, and were hanging around much higher than that early in the year. Beal’s made them watchable. He’ll be a reserve because of it.
Overall though, Brogdon takes the cake. He’s moved into the largest role he’s had since Virginia by taking over point guard duties and playing with the highest usage percentage he’s had in his NBA career by a whopping 5.7 percent.
He’s the point guard of a playoff team that hasn’t seen its best player play a minute for them yet. Without Victor Oladipo, the Pacers were expected to be on the playoff bubble. Now they’re in Toronto’s camp: one piece away from being title contenders.
The piece may not be Oladipo. They might need more on top of it. But with the way Brogdon is playing, it certainly makes that case a lot more viable.
F/C Giannis Antentkoumpo
Likely the front-runner for the MVP award for the second straight season, Giannis has somehow taken another step forward. He’s also tested the borderline for MIP/MVP thanks to that step forward, alongside Doncic and some others.
Milwaukee’s downfall in last year’s playoffs was their halfcourt offense. Toronto built a wall in front of Giannis driving to the rim and swallowed the Bucks whole drive and kick offense. His lack of a jumpshot was totally exposed.
Not surprisingly, he added it. Giannis is only shooting 32.2 percent from three, but he’s taking 5.1 per game. At least he’s trying, unlike another very long, athletic Eastern Conference point guard who was mentioned above.
Similar to Zion Williamson at Duke, though his percentages are low, it feels like the three-ball goes in more than it does. He’s using it extremely effectively, and its having an impact.
Aside from the three pointer, Giannis’ numbers are pure stupid. He’s averaging 30 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game right now on 55 percent shooting from the field. That’s accounting for a low three point percentage too. Giannis is shooting 63.4 percent from two and 77.8 percent around the rim. That’s Shaq-like stuff.
His is the first of three unassailable starting spots on the Eastern Conference team. For as tough as the guards are, the front-court is quite easy.
F/C Pascal Siakam
Putting Pascal Siakam as a starter is a tough considering he’s only played 33 games, but Leonard in the West only played 34.
Yet, it’s also problematic since Jimmy Butler probably deserves the spot thanks to total number of games played. But the NBA is mostly to blame here; they decided to label Butler as a forward instead of a guard.
Even though he’s battled injuries, Siakam gets the spot. The Raptors forward has made two massive leaps in two seasons, and this time it’s keeping Toronto in the playoffs. Toronto is right on the outside of the title contender tier – they’re just not that good yet. One trade could swing that (It seems as if Masai Urji is more likely to go that way than to sell, but they’ll likely just stay pat). Still, the fact that Toronto is one piece away from being a legitimate title contender after losing arguably the best player in the league right now in addition to a key role piece (Danny Green) speaks to how high Siakam has elevated his game. He’s one more leap away from being the best player on a championship team. Does he have it in him?
C Joel Embiid
Another player who has missed a ton of time, Joel Embiid, who, even if he gets the starter nod, won’t be able to play thanks to the broken hand he’s currently dealing with, has been the anchor of fourth-best defense in the NBA. But the defensive rating metric is underrating Philadelphia.
The Sixers rarely win games with offense. They’re holding teams to just 105.1 points a game, second in the league. Yet, they’re point differential isn’t impressive at all: +3.3, 10th in the league. It’s the defense and their talent on that end – the switchability, the stops, the execution – that’s winning them games.
The defensive strategy is working. Embiid is a huge reason why. He’s an absolute force on both ends down low, and occasionally looks like the best player in the league on nights when he shows up. The Sixers are unbeatable when he’s at that level. But most nights – against lesser competition – the defensive side is what they need, from him, and it’s absolutely been there.
Reserves coming next week…