With All-Star voting closing Monday night at 9 p.m., here are one blogger’s opinions on the All-Star teams. These aren’t projections, but suggestions. As always, these subjective opinions are indisputable facts.
We’re following the NBA All-Star format (four guards, six big men and two wild cards). Also considered: aesthetics (how good a player’s game looks to the casual fan) and fairness in team representation (we strive to include as many different franchises as possible).
Eastern Conference starters
- Kyle Lowry (G)
- Jimmy Butler (G)
- LeBron James (F)
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (F)
- Kevin Love (F)
The big shock here is the first name on the list. Just about every pundit across the country has DeMar DeRozan pegged as an All-Star starter, and I plugged his backcourt mate in his place. I suspect fans and writers are seeing that eye-popping 28 points per game average and stopping right there, which is a shame because Lowry is doing some truly special things this season.
The popular narrative is that DeRozan has ascended from good player to great player. But upon closer inspection, it appears DeRozan hasn’t really changed at all. He’s just shooting it and dribbling it a whole lot more (as evidenced by his usage percentage, which has skyrocketed to 34.5% — or third in the NBA). Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry is quietly the best point guard in the entire Eastern Conference. Of course, this is not saying quite as much as proclaiming a point guard to be the best in the Western Conference ... but stay with me.
Per ESPN.com, Lowry is third in the NBA in total RPM, second in win shares, fourth in VORP and sixth in true shooting — while boasting a strong 22-5-7 slash line.
Unlike DeRozan, whose improvement could be superficial, Lowry has shown significant improvement in his game. He’s suddenly shooting two-pointers at a .510 clip (his previous career-high was .488) and three-pointers at a stellar .445 (previous career high was .388). This has jacked his True Shooting percentage (which accounts for free throws and the greater value in three-point buckets) to .642, which is solidly in the 2015-2016 Stephen Curry zone. On top of all this, he’s still one of the better defenders at his position in the league.
Lowry isn’t just an All-Star starter — he deserves MVP votes.
Paul Millsap is surprisingly close to deserving a starting spot, too. But he gets edged out by Kevin Love by a slim margin. If you trust advanced statistics, Millsap is the closest thing in the league to Draymond Green: an outstanding defensive Swiss-army knife forward who really excels at everything that doesn’t have a stat attached to it.
It’s a shame that he’s wasting his talents with a Hawks’ team that seems to be punting on this season. But that’s life as a Kevin-Garnett-with-the-Timberwolves All-Star.
Giannis, LeBron and Butler don’t warrant much discussion. They’re absolutely killing it this season and no one I’m aware of will tell you otherwise.
Eastern Conference Reserves
- Kemba Walker (G)
- John Wall (G)
- Paul Millsap (F)
- Paul George (F)
- Kristaps Porzingis (F)
- Kyrie Irving (Wild Card)
- Isaiah Thomas (Wild Card)
There are a few great players on this bench, but beyond them, it’s tough to scrape together enough clear All-Stars for the East’s bench. That means some pretty flawed players are in contention for an All-Star spot in the East who wouldn’t have a chance in the West.
Let’s get started with the guards, as there’s more of them in contention. First is Kemba Walker, who proudly earns the first All-Star nod of his young career. The UConn product is having the best shooting season of his career, having finally become a legitimate threat from beyond the arc. And John Wall is officially having his best season as a pro, with career highs in assists per game, points per game, steals per game and field goal percentage. His Wizards are fighting for a top-four seed and they deserve a rep.
That leaves three guards fighting for two wild-card slots. And let me tell you: Thomas, Irving and DeRozan would be as bad a trio of defenders to ever step foot on the All-Star court, and that’s saying something. All three of these guys are a huge negative on one end of the court, and even though they’re all helping their teams win, they aren’t nearly as effective as their points per game average will tell you. At least one of them has to go.
For Irving, he’s one of the best All-Star performers in history coming off of a championship. Even if he were having a bad season, he’d still find a spot on this roster.
It’s really tough to leave off a 2016 All-Star averaging 28 points per game for an entrenched playoff team (DeRozan, Thomas). This rose goes to Isaiah Thomas, who becomes Boston’s lone representative. That means DeRozan is sure to be a controversial snub — especially given his awesome dunking ability.
The bigs are tougher. You’ve got two guys (Millsap, Paul George) who are very deserving. But after that, you’re left holding your nose and picking from a bunch of guys who are poor All-Stars at best (Kristaps Porzingis, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Myles Turner), and other guys who are garbage time All-Stars only (Carmelo Anthony, Brook Lopez). Porzingis has entertainment value, likability and market (New York) going for him, so he’s the pick. Plus, this Eastern squad is skewing way too small without a true center and no wild-card bigs.
You can talk yourself into Al Horford instead of Porzingis (allowing us to drop Boston’s Isaiah Thomas for the high-flying DeMar DeRozan), but it’s tough to do so because that means blanking New York, the league’s biggest two-team market. Plus, despite DeRozan’s awesome slash line, I.T. beats him in virtually all of the efficiency metrics (and, unlike DeRozan, he’s the guy on his team).
Ignore the talk of Joel Embiid deserving a spot. He’s missed too many games, and he’s played fewer than 700 minutes this year — about half of that of the average player in this All-Star game. #TrustTheProcess2018
Apologies to: Carmelo Anthony, Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard.
Western Conference starters
- James Harden (G)
- Chris Paul (G)
- Kawhi Leonard (F)
- Kevin Durant (F)
- Anthony Davis (F)
How could I leave Westbrook off?! Although he’s been fantastic this season, his triple-double average is as much a function of overuse as it is his own elite talent. In other words, he’s got the DeMar DeRozan problem: he’s not appreciably better, he’s just shooting it and dribbling it a whole lot more at the expense of his efficiency. His usage percentage is at 41.8, which would shatter Kobe Bryant’s 2005-2006 all-time record by three full percentage points. It’s true that he carries as big a load as anyone in the league, but there are two guys who (in my estimation) clearly do it better: James Harden and Chris Paul.
Not many people will argue that James Harden has been an offensive savant this year, but there will be lot of disagreement with the Westbrook snub.
Here’s my nerdy explanation:
Chris Paul leads the NBA in RPM by 1.93 points. If that held up over the season, it’d be nearly twice the next largest margin since the stat was first tracked back in 2013. His +9.27 is the third highest ever in that time span behind Stephen Curry (2014-2015) and LeBron James (2015-2016). He’s first in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes (.295). He’s posting a career-high true shooting percentage of .609. He’s averaging the highest rebounding rate of his career. He’s connecting on three-point field goals at one of the highest rates in his career (.391). His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 5-to-1. And, finally, he’s enjoying the best offensive rating and the best defensive rating of his career ... whew.
It seems impossible even as I write this, but Chris Paul may be better than ever. As a firm believer that his 2007-2009 run is pretty much the GOAT floor general in NBA history, this is no small praise. Like Lowry, he’s not just an All-Star — he’s a legitimate MVP candidate (as in, better than Westbrook). If you traded Westbrook and Paul straight-up, it is my opinion that the Thunder would become a better team, and the Clippers would become a worse team on the offensive and defensive side of the court (not to mention a disjointed mess with a pissed off Blake Griffin demanding a trade). Feel free to tell me otherwise in the comments.
There is a legitimate case for Draymond Green over Anthony Davis (honest to goodness!), but in the spirit of giving, the Warriors will settle for having one All-Star starter. The All-Star game is in New Orleans, after all — a fan base that has exactly one thing worth cheering for, right now: Davis. About half of Green’s game doesn’t translate to All-Star Sunday, anyway.
Western Conference reserves
- Russell Westbrook (G)
- Stephen Curry (G)
- DeMarcus Cousins (F)
- Draymond Green (F)
- Rudy Gobert (F)
- Damian Lillard (Wild Card)
- Gordon Hayward (Wild Card)
How hard is it to make the Western Conference All-Star team? Just ask Klay Thompson, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, Mike Conley and George Hill — a group of very good players who find themselves on the outside looking in, this season. Any one of them could make a strong push for the hypothetical average All-Star team I’m imagining in my head.
Westbrook, Curry, Cousins and Green are locks in my estimation. They could be starters on that average All-Star team, and they’re undeniably some of the very best players in the NBA. That means the rest of the conference is competing for one forward spot and two wild-card spots. Rudy Gobert is likely the best player of the bunch, but he’s tricky because he’s a defensive center who isn’t very fun for some fans to watch. He’s slow-footed for an All-Star game, and he plays for a team that has a more conventional All-Star option (Hayward). But he’s so far out in front of the rest of the conference in terms of on-court impact, and his team is certainly good enough to justify two All-Stars, so he sort of forces his way into a spot. Gordon Hayward is aboard for the first time as well, giving the 26-16 Utah Jazz two All-Stars for the first time in ages.
Damian Lillard has been a mess defensively, and his team is underachieving hard. Yet he’s pretty close to the same guy he was a year ago when he was snubbed from the All-Star Game (something about Oakland point guards and the All-Star Game, man). Offensively dominant and averaging 26-6-5 in the West is a lot to ignore. One way or another, I’m getting someone off of the “greatest player to never make the All-Star Game” list, and with apologies to Mike Conley, I’m going with The Town’s own.
Karl-Anthony Towns is as promising a young player as there is in the NBA, and he’s been earning the NBA League Pass subscription money all season. However, his advanced numbers pale in comparison to the All-Star bigs on this team, and he plays for a disappointing loser. Yes, they’re only a couple of games behind the Kings, but DeMarcus Cousins absolutely crushes him in the advanced numbers. Klay Thompson shouldn’t have made the All-Star game over Lillard last season, and that minor mistake gets corrected this year.
Apologies to: Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns.
With this grouping, every playoff-positioned team in the NBA gets at least one All-Star except Memphis, and only three non-playoff teams (Sacramento Kings - 10th, New Orleans Pelicans - 11th, New York Knicks - 10th) receive the honor. We could spare Memphis by swapping Marc Gasol with Rudy Gobert (or even Damian Lillard), but that means snubbing the league’s best center, or jilting the much-snubbed Damian Lillard again — both of which seem like worse alternatives. Besides, I paid good money to watch the Dubs cough up that big lead in the bitter overtime loss at Oracle, and there’s got to be a price paid for their insolence. Eat it, Grindhouse.
Who makes your squad? Let us know in the comments!
All numbers are from basketball-reference.com unless noted otherwise.