More than any other sport, being an All-Star means something in the NBA. There are no requirements that each team is represented. Players don’t typically skip the game for rest, or because they just pitched the day before, or because they couldn’t be bothered to go to Florida to play a meaningless football game. The players show up and compete… on offense… well, only kind of. Either way, with only 24 players being chosen, being an NBA All-Star is an honor. It is an acknowledgment that you are one of the 24 best players in the league – at least in theory.
While the final rosters usually come close to capturing the league’s top players, typically there are a few guys who don’t belong. Part of it has to do with fan voting, as it shifts the selection process towards being a popularity contest. That the NBA requires 12 All-Stars from each conference also can result in some deserving candidates being excluded. So for this All-Star ballot, we’re playing by our own rules:
1. We’re picking the 24 best players in the league. If that means 16 guys from the West and only 8 from the East, so be it.
2. We also don’t care about front court vs. backcourt players. Again, we’re just picking the best guys.
3. We keep saying we want the 24 best guys, but what do we mean by “best”? Imagine you’re starting a team with 14 league-average players, and you need to pick one more guy to fill out the roster. Who, based on their play so far this season, would give you the best chance to win? Those are the players that we’re after.
4. Since we only care about this season, we won’t give Luka Doncic any “I can’t believe he’s doing this and he’s only 19” bonus points. SPOILER: He also might not need them…
5. By the same token, we don’t care about a player’s legacy. Steph Curry isn’t automatically an All-Star because he’s Steph Curry. Steph Curry is automatically an All-Star because he keeps having games like this:
With those guidelines in mind, let us begin with the selections. For simplicity, we’ve grouped players into different tiers, starting with the definite All-Stars and working our way down to the more contentious choices. So without further ado…
1. James Harden – The reigning MVP is somehow playing even better, and has almost singlehandedly salvaged the Rockets’ season.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo – He can’t really shoot, and yet is somehow still one of the most dominant players in the league. Just amazing.
3. Steph Curry – The above video basically says it all.
4. Kawhi Leonard – When the biggest complaint about a player is his laugh, you’re in pretty good shape.
5. Joel Embiid – Dominant on offense, defense, and social media. Truly the total package.
6. Kevin Durant – Averaging 28 points and not too far off from the magical 50/40/90 shooting line. Imagine what he’ll do next year putting up 30 shots a game for the Knicks.
7. Paul George – There’s an unwritten rule that the best player on the Thunder must be an All-Star. That player just happens to be Paul George this year.
8. Kyrie Irving – Before the season, the debate was whether the Celtics had 3 or 4 All-Stars. Turns out they might just have one.
9. Nikola Jokic – Our first, first-time All-Star! Also the only member of the 7-and-7 club – 7 footers who are averaging over 7 assists per game.
10. LeBron James – The King stay the King.
11. Anthony Davis – He really should be a lock… but if you’re one of the 10 best players in the league your team also shouldn’t be 21-25.
12. Damian Lillard – He’s not and probably never will be at Harden and Curry’s level. But that says more about Harden and Curry than Dame.1
13. Karl-Anthony Towns – Let’s not penalize Towns too much for getting bullied by Jimmy Butler for the first month of the season.
14. Rudy Gobert – Donovan Mitchell might get the headlines, but with his contributions on offense and defense, Gobert is easily Utah’s MVP. The Jazz have also rebounded from a sluggish start, which helps his case.
15. Kemba Walker – The Hornets would somehow make the playoffs if the season ended today. The only two reasons we can possibly think of: 1. the East is bad, and 2. Kemba is really good.
The Stat Guys
16. Blake Griffin – Once upon a time, averaging 26/8/5 would have had you on the fringes of the MVP conversation. Instead, Griffin is living in obscurity on a completely uninspiring Pistons team. Hopefully the Detroit comedy scene is treating him well!
17. Russell Westbrook – Spent a lot of time debating whether this was just a legacy pick. His 3-point (and free throw) shooting is borderline indefensible. But the Thunder are one of the best teams in the West, and we can’t help but feel they wouldn’t be close to the same team without him. Plus, haven’t you heard, he’s averaging a triple-double!
The Last Spots
Here are all the contenders vying for the final 7 spots:
The Sidekicks: Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum, and Jrue Holiday
They don’t get as much credit as their more-famous teammates, but still very solid players. Klay isn’t using to being in this tier, but he’s also used to playing better.
Not Sure If They’ve Played Enough, But…: Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry
If either Oladipo and Lowry had played more games, they would have been upgraded to Near-Locks. Both have had some struggles this year, but it’s also impossible to watch either guy play and not see how valuable they are to their teams.
The Clippers Deserve an All-Star: Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari
The only problem is that we don’t know which one…
The Spurs Deserve One Too: DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge
Similar problem as the two Clippers – we’re not really sure who has been more valuable to the team (although we are leaning towards DeRozan).
And so do the Kings…?: De’Aaron Fox
This one is a little more straight forward. Fox has been really good, and has made the Kings surprisingly competent. He’s almost making Kings fans forget that they could have drafted Luka Doncic and still owe an unprotected 1st round pick.
The Boy Wonder: Luka Doncic
Speaking of Doncic, it’s tough to describe his game with mere words. We could just post 50 videos of him hitting step-back 3s and call it a day. But really, all we need is one:
Long Live Grit & Grind: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol
If we casted this ballot at the start of December, Conley and Gasol would likely have both made the cut. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have fallen off and so too have their two best players (especially Gasol).
The Other Nikola: Nikola Vucevic
He’s a borderline Stats Guy. One minute we think he’s having a really impressive season, and the next minute we remember that he’s doing it for the Magic. Come to think of it, this same logic could apply to Blake Griffin…
Borderline Stats Guys: Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker
Two volume scorers on teams that have underwhelmed (or in the case of the Suns, are just plain bad). Utah’s recent surge does help Mitchell’s candidacy, but it may be too little too late. Amazingly Zach LaVine almost qualified here – he has remarkably similar numbers to Booker. But sadly for Zach, a) his defense is atrocious and b) he plays for the Bulls.
The Other Sixers: Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler
Two good players on a good team, but both have a fatal flaw: Simmons can’t shoot and Butler can’t get along with his teammates or coaches.
Can We Just Blame John Wall?: Bradley Beal
Beal is actually having a pretty nice season, apart from playing for perhaps the most underwhelming and dysfunctional team in the league. With Wall now out, Beal is starting to play like a true All-Star.
With all those candidates in mind, here are our final picks:
18. Bradley Beal – We are choosing to blame John Wall…
19. Victor Oladipo – No one would have expected the Pacers to be ahead of both the Sixers and Celtics at this point in the season. Seems only fair that they get an All-Star.
20. Klay Thompson – Sure he’s having a down year, but it’s still a pretty damn good year.
21. Ben Simmons – Just in case Giannis starts feeling bad about his shot, we decided to include Simmons to help put things into perspective.
22. DeMar DeRozan – He’ll never been one of the league’s elite players, which is why he was traded for one. But he’s still very good.
23. Kyle Lowry – Even if you ignore the games missed, his stats aren’t overly impressive. But his impact goes far beyond what’s in the box score, as he makes his teammates so much better (case and point, Serge Ibaka playing like it’s 2014).
24. Luka Doncic – This spot probably would have been Jimmy Butler’s, if not for the fact that he’s currently in the process of ruining his second team of the season. Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, and Tobias Harris also received strong consideration, but we just can’t unsee all of those step-back 3s. Halleluka.