NBA All-Star Game votes are in. Here is a look at how I made my 2018 starter choices.
It is NBA All-Star voting time and, once again, your LIST maker has a media vote. This is not something I take lightly. In addition to watching an unhealthy amount of basketball each night, I’ve devoured the stats and consulted with a few trusted NBA people to come up with my selections.
I’m throwing out that disclaimer because a few selections still came down to either/or propositions. Voting for all-stars is hard. Picking the reserves is going to be even more difficult, but that’s why we have coaches.
Reminder that we get two backcourt and three frontcourt picks from each conference. Traditional positions like point guard and center do not matter.
Kyrie Irving: Much has been made of the fact that Irving’s numbers aren’t that much different than the ones he posted in Cleveland. He’s still the same old Irving, capable of jaw-dropping scoring bursts that leave defenders muttering expletives and shaking their heads. His defense has been a little bit better, but that’s not enough to vault him into all-star starter territory, let alone MVP talk.
The numbers may be similar, but Irving’s situation in Boston is completely different. Irving is the unquestioned leading man for the Celtics, so much so that their offense falls apart when he’s not on the court. When the game is on the line, there is no doubt Irving will be the focus of attention and his numbers in the clutch are strong. As impressive as he’s been, that kind of production was expected.
Watching Irving operate Brad Stevens’ system has been a revelation. He’s had epic scoring nights and he’s had games where he’s acted as a facilitator for his teammates in the face of double-teams. His teammates, meanwhile, have all testified to his leadership abilities. I’m still not all the way sold on Irving as a top-5 MVP candidate, but he’s earned the all-star nod.
DeMar DeRozan: I’ve always appreciated DeRozan’s throwback game. In a league of 3-and-D wings, any variance is welcome. DeRozan has worked and refined his game over the last few years to the point where it’s become notably effective. Still, it has its limits.
Meet the new DeRozan. His shooting percentages are up and his rate of three-point attempts has finally joined the current century. DeRozan has also taken on a bit more of a playmaking role and proven capable in that regard. It’s not that he changed his style as much as he’s evolved. Put it all together and this has the feel of a career year.
This pick was one of those gut calls between DeRozan and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. I’m giving DeRozan the slight edge to honor Toronto’s regular-season success.
Others: Much as it pains me to leave the wonderful Oladipo off my ballot, it also hurts to not list Kyle Lowry among the starters. Both are deserving of all-star nods. Kemba Walker has been tremendous under difficult circumstances.
John Wall missed a few too many games to crack this starting lineup but he’s an all-star. Bradley Beal offers a compelling case. A few of these guys are going to feel justifiably snubbed. Ben Simmons is a year away. Goran Dragic has been Miami’s best player throughout the first half, but not to the level of Lowry, Walker, Wall, etc.
LeBron James: Watch him survey the floor and make precise passes. Witness his improved three-point stroke. Quake at the sight of James barreling down the paint with a head full of steam and fury. I’ve lost count of the number of career reinventions that James has undergone, but this current version is both frightening and age appropriate.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs)
This is historic stuff, something we’ll tell our kids and our grandkids about once the sport is played by virtual holograms beamed into our eyeballs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: I didn’t spend a lot of time considering Antetokounmpo’s spot on my ballot. Knock on all the injury wood, this is his spot for the next decade. The only real question is where Antetokounmpo rates among the very best in the league. Top five? He’s close. Real close.
The best of The Greek Freak in today’s victory against the Wizards:
27 PTS | 20 REB | 6 AST | 2 BLK
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks)
Joel Embiid: This was the toughest call on the ballot. For a while I had Al Horford in this spot. Then I switched it to Embiid. I came really close to putting Andre Drummond here and Kevin Love has been really good. Decisions, decisions …
I’m going with Embiid. You don’t need to argue with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and a whole bunch of blocks, steals, and assists. His ability is undeniable. When he plays, the Sixers looks like a playoff team. Conversely, they’ve dropped seven of nine in the games he’s missed.
You can make a fine argument for any of the others, but let’s put this in purely unscientific terms: Who do you want to see in an NBA All-Star Game? It’s JoJo for me.
Others: Horford has been sublime. You really need to watch him every night to appreciate how many ways he impacts winning. Drummond and Love need to be in Los Angeles. I’d like to see Kristaps Porzingis there, as well, but not ahead of the other players on this list.
James Harden: He was the MVP frontrunner before the hamstring injury took him out of the lineup and he might still be even with the missed games starting to accumulate. That pursuit is secondary to the Rockets’ goal of competing with the Warriors in the West, so perhaps this setback will be taken as a warning sign.
Regardless, Harden earned the spot with his play through the first 35 games of his season and he’s due back soon, possibly by the end of the week. He’s done more than enough at this juncture for a starting spot on the all-star team.
Steph Curry: I really wanted to put Jimmy Butler in this spot. If he was listed as a forward, this would be an easy problem to solve. Alas, Butler is basically a guard for the Wolves and there are only two backcourt options.
The problem for Butler is that Curry is having yet another historically great season. He’s averaging almost 28 points a game with a True Shooting Percentage of .672. That’s nuts. When Kevin Durant was out of the lineup, Curry performed like an MVP. When he and Durant are in there together, the Dubs are unstoppable.
It gave me pause that Curry has missed a dozen games, but not enough to deny him the nod. Sorry, Jimmy.
Others: Butler has to be in Los Angeles. After all the criticism of the first few months, Russell Westbrook has been tremendous. Damian Lillard has had an excellent under-the-radar campaign. All three should be in LA. I’d love to make space for Klay Thompson, as well.
Lou Williams has had an amazing season, but I don’t see how he makes it ahead of the others. Chris Paul has missed a few too many games, unfortunately. Every all-star game needs Chris Paul.
Kevin Durant: Who’s Golden State’s best player? Trick question, it doesn’t matter! So long as the Dubs avoid this man-made pratfall they should be just fine heading into the postseason. Both Durant and Curry are brilliant individual performers capable of carrying the franchise to a championship. That’s what makes them the overwhelming favorites.
No one cares about defense in the all-star game, but it’s worth noting Durant’s defense with the Warriors has been fantastic. He’s their best rim-protector and he’s taken on huge defensive assignments from James to Antetokounmpo. Anyone still taking shots at his game is just being obtuse.
Anthony Davis: DeMarcus Cousins is putting up obscene numbers, but Davis makes this team go. The Pels are 5.4 points per 100 possessions better when Davis on the floor and 7.1 worse when he’s on the bench. Boogie’s overall impact on the team’s fortunes are essentially neutral. If anything, Davis hasn’t received enough credit for making this pairing work.
Davis is putting up his own video game numbers: 26 points and 10 rebounds per night, along with improved shooting range. Take into account his impact on the team’s defense, and Davis has had the superior season.
Karl-Anthony Towns: This one could have gone a lot of ways. Between Boogie’s absurd stat line, LaMarcus Aldridge’s steady impact on the Spurs, and Draymond Green’s two-way brilliance there’s a case to be made for all of them. None are as compelling as Towns, however.
I wrote about Towns’ development at length in this space last week and won’t bother to rehash the particulars here. It’s finally all starting to fall into place for Towns and the Wolves.
Others: In addition to the aforementioned law firm of Aldridge, Cousins, and Green, I gave heavy consideration to Paul George and Nikola Jokic. Now that OKC has righted itself, George’s true value is apparent for all to see. He may be miscast as a franchise player, but as a co-star he’s perfect. Jokic may be the odd man out here, but he’s on the brink of becoming an all-star fixture.
The West frontcourt is so crowded that DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela are basically afterthoughts. They’ve both been tremendous.
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