The NBA All-Star Game starters were released Friday morning. Unsurprisingly, the fan vote, which is the sole factor in deciding who gets to start in the All-Star game, was a hot mess. Many people look at the All-Star selections as a frivolity that serves as fodder for talking heads during the lean period in the middle of the NBA season, but that is simply untrue. All-Star selections, and particularly starter selections, serve both as important historical benchmarks for Hall of Fame voters and as part of the set of requirements a player must achieve to be eligible for a super-max contract. So, in our eternal quest for award justice, let’s figure out who should be on the All-Star rosters. We will keep this ballot structure the same as those submitted by fans and coaches, with two guards and three front court players (SF, PF, C) on the starting roster and two guards, three frontcourt, and two wildcard players on the bench. Players are listed in the G-FC-WC order.
The two guard spots go to Lowry and Jimmy Butler here. Lowry is finally a properly rated player, or at least close to it. He has been a revelation in Toronto this year, a stat sheet-stuffing point guard who runs a beautiful pick and roll and plays very good defense. There’s a chance John Wall deserves the other guard spot over Jimmy Butler, but the league’s minutes leader gets the nod on my ballot. Butler is the clear leader of a very good (if very confusing) Chicago team. He still needs to improve his 3-point shooting (31.7% on the year) and could improve in the pick and roll, but a combination of elite defense and improved offensive skills land the Marquette alum on our starting squad.
Paul George and Lebron James are very, very good at basketball.
Andre Drummond is the player in this starting five that is really in question. Despite his impressive blocks (1.5 per game) and more impressive steals (1.8) numbers, he’s not a great defender. He’s very young but needs to improve with his understanding of defensive spacing and rotations. Under 36% for the year, his free throw shooting makes him an extreme liability in crunch time when opponents institute the Hack-a-Drummond strategy. Still, he’s leading the league in rebounding by a mile (129 ahead of second place Deandre Jordan) and has probably passed Jordan as the league’s premiere lob threat. The Reggie Jackson-Drummond pick and roll is the focal point of Detroit’s offense, and Andre has added a post move or two to what I will generously refer to as his arsenal. All of this, added to my desire to throw a bone to a big man in a year when only two true centers will make it on my ballot, result in a starter spot for Andre Drummond. Oh, and we have to reward the Pistons for their efforts on this:
Leading your Western Conference All-Star team, the shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers… just kidding. Kobe Bryant is a legend and the second best shooting guard of all time and he has absolutely no business being in the 2016 All-Star Game. The starters for the Western Conference are by far the easiest group to pick. Enough words have been written about Steph’s excellence already, but let me give my innovative take on the reigning MVP: holy shit. Westbrook is the same freak he has been for the last several years. His partner in crime, Kevin Durant, is flirting once again with a 50-40-90 season (FG%, 3P%, FT%).
Kawhi Leonard is playing like the second best player in the NBA this year* and he might be the best perimeter defender the NBA has seen since Scottie Pippen. This year he should win his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award. To put that in perspective, the last two non-big men before Kawhi to win the award were Ron Artest in 2003-04 and Gary Payton in 1995-96. This year Kawhi has stepped up his offensive game, becoming the most important part of the Spurs’ offense when he is on the court. Kawhi is shooting a hyper-efficient 50% from the field and 48% from downtown on 14.6 shots per game. After we get this man a starting All-Star spot, Kawhi needs an Oscar nomination for his work in the best commercial series in the history of the NBA. Opa!
Draymond Green is the only member of this starting five to get snubbed by the fan vote. Honestly, I’m ok with that, purely because his mother’s twitter (@Babersgreen) is one of the best parts of the internet and only gets better when her son doesn’t get the respect he deserves. You can debate putting Boogie Cousins or Anthony Davis in Draymond’s spot, but Green is an irreplaceable part of the best team in the league. The Steph-Draymond pick and roll is the best play in the NBA, and the big man’s decision making ability and ball handling, along with Curry’s shooting ability, is what makes that play so successful.
There is an argument for giving John Wall a spot on the starting squad. He is carrying a beat up Wizards team without a real identity and he’s figuring out that it is pretty tough to lead a winning basketball team when your backcourt running mate and second star is made out of the sugar glass Hollywood uses for movie stunts. Most of Wall’s efficiency numbers are down – he’s down to 43.3% from the field this year. Still, Wall has completely shouldered the load on offense and dragged a very bad team (without Beal) to a record around .500 in a vastly improved Eastern Conference.
Derozan is a clear all-star who has rounded out his game. An elite athlete, Demar has increased both the frequency (12 drives per game – most in the league) and the quality of his drives this year. He is an average defender on a good day, and probably will be for the rest of his career. He also has a tendency to fall in love with his mid-range shot, but he’s shooting it at a very solid percentage and he has dramatically improved from the player he was two seasons ago.
Millsap and Bosh each have a great case to be starters. Paul is having the best year of his career at 30 years of age, posting averages of 22.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Those are pretty incredible numbers, especially on an Atlanta team that likes to think of itself as an ensemble cast. Somehow, he looks even better on tape than in the box score. He consistently makes smart passes and defends well in Atlanta’s scheme. The only complaint with his game is that his three point percentage is down significantly from last year. Bosh has had a similarly brilliant year- his 20.3-8.3-2.6 line per 36 is not quite as impressive as Millsap’s, but he is doing it for slightly more minutes per game and has been rock solid at the center of an extremely inconsistent team.
Carmelo and Pau have both looked rejuvenated in their past-prime 2016 as both their teams have relied heavily on them on the offensive end. Carmelo’s numbers are down from his best years but he is making smart passes more often than he has at any point in his career and actually looks like he’s having fun playing basketball for the first time in several years. Kristaps brings out the joy in us all. Gasol is slow, hampering his defensive ability, but the Bulls’ offense would be stagnant without his offensive skill set and passing ability.
Isaiah Thomas has a case to make this team, and he’s one of the most entertaining players in the league, but I’m giving the last spot to the most important player on the Celtics. Jae Crowder is playing very good defense while putting up 15 points per game on solid percentages. He’s a bit of a swiss army knife on a roster filled with a strange collection of pieces that don’t really fit.
You could argue that Wade and his YMCA mid-range game belong in the All-Star Game, especially since he’s one of the five best shooting guards of all time. I don’t give out legacy votes, though, and Wade’s defense and shot selection are costing the team when he’s on the court. Other players that were close to making the cut include Al Horford, Kemba Walker, Greg Monroe, Reggie Jackson, and Nic Batum.
The first four, to me, are no-brainers. Chris Paul is still Chris Paul. James Harden, while maybe not the most fun player to watch, is one of the best players in the league even in a down shooting season. Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are on the extremely short list of the most gifted players in the NBA. Both have had lazy stretches this year (Boogie’s attitude problems have become a serious issue; A.D.’s can be attributed to frustration with his supporting cast, for now) and both could play much better than they have this year. That being said, the Kings have been horrendous in games without Cousins (1-8 on the year) and Davis is in the top ten in points, rebounds, blocks, and PER (Player Efficiency Rating).
Dirk Nowitzki, similar to Tim Duncan, is having an insane season for any seven-footer, much less for a player of his age. The difference in the two is that Nowitzki is playing over 30 minutes per game, compared to Duncan’s 26.2. Dirk also still serves as the focal point of the Mav’s offense at the ripe old age of 37. Everyone talks about the Popovic-Duncan Spurs, but the Carlisle-Nowitzki Mavs deserve a lot more credit than they get.
Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson grab the last two spots on my All-Star ballot, for opposite reasons. Hayward may be the most underrated player in the league with the exception of Chris Bosh, and he has led an underwhelming supporting cast to a 19-24 record, a half game outside the playoff picture. Hayward combines a versatile offensive repertoire with solid defense on the wing to make him one of the most consistent two-way players in the league. Thompson has stepped back and allowed Steph Curry to lead one of the best teams in the history of the NBA. Thompson has become one of the best defensive 2-guards in the Association and is still shooting 42% from deep while scoring 20 points per game.
You can make an all-star team shooting .415 from the floor and you can make an All-Star team while playing terrible defense, but you can’t do both. Damian Lillard is out. I would like to find a way to fit Marc Gasol on this team, just as I would love a to put Kristaps on the Eastern roster, but neither fit this year. Derrick Favors and Blake Griffin are cut due to missed time for injuries. J.J. Redick is a lot closer to making this team than casual fans would think, but the final cut for my ballot was Lamarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has had a very similar season to Klay Thompson – taking a back seat and showcasing improved defense to improve a title contender. It really hurts to only have one Spur on the roster, but Aldridge misses the cut by a hair.
* Lebron James is still the best player in the NBA. So far this year, though, Steph and Kawhi are playing like the best two players in the league. Lebron will flip the switch on his super powers at some point in April and become the H.P. Lovecraft monster we’re used to seeing in the playoffs, but I don’t want to hear about a player that won’t step on the basketball court for another three months.