In responding to the question of who the biggest Eastern Conference All-Star snub was, ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan said, “Nobody. In order for someone to be snubbed, there has to be someone undeserving occupying their spot.”
I couldn’t agree more with his sentiments. In general, the right players were selected for the game this year. However, that’s not to say the rosters are perfect. Take a look at my picks for the game, based on the numbers and the eye test.
Disclaimer: I’m somewhat traditional in my picks. I want to see something at least resembling two guards, two forwards, and a big man as my starters. Meaning, no, I will not start Antetokounmpo, Lebron, and Jimmy Butler in one lineup.
Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics
Thomas not being voted a starter this year is criminal, and would have gotten more headlines if not for another, uh, “bad starting decision” in the other conference. His PER is a ridiculous 27.39, and he has 29.1 PPG (second only to the “bad decision”) and 6.3 APG to boot. Watching him knife through the lane is thing of beauty, and he’s molded himself into the superstar that the Celtics have craved for years – especially during the 4th quarter, in which he averages 42.3% 3P shooting, 90.1% FT shooting, and a league leading 10.0 points.
John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
Wall has quietly put together a great season, averaging a double-double with 23.0 PPG and 10.1 APG to the tune of a 23.57 PER, along with his usual great perimeter defense (2.2 SPG). He hasn’t gotten a lot of press because his team is nothing special (26-20 overall) but his numbers speak for themselves. He deserves to be a starter.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Milwaukee Bucks
Most NBA fans predicted that he would take a leap this season, but come on now. “The Greek Freak” has taken the league by storm over the first half of this year, averaging a statline that has literally never been matched before: 23.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.0 BPG, and 1.8 SPG. He’s leading the Bucks in each of those categories while playing whatever position they need him to – usually some combination of shooting guard/small forward who also runs the offense like the point guard. He’s in the thick of the MVP conversation and arguably already one of the game’s top 5 players at the age of 22 – two years younger than rookie teammate Malcolm Brogdon.
Lebron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yup, he’s still really good. 25.7 PPG, 8.5 APG, 7.9 RPG, and a 25.82 PER. An MVP candidate and the best player on one of the favorites to win the title. Still possibly the best basketball player in the world. Nothing new.
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
I know, I know. I know he’s only played 31 games. I know he’s on a minutes restriction. I know he’s not even on the actual All-Star roster. Yet, I still have him here as a starter. Why? Well, honestly, there’s not many deserving F/C candidates for a starting spot in the East. And, when he’s actually on the floor, Embiid has been one of the best at his position in the league, averaging 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 2.5 BPG (despite his limited minutes) and a 24.53 PER, along with almost singlehandedly breathing life back into the 76ers franchise. Plus, “The Process” is just so fun – off the court and on. How could you not want to see him play in the game?
Kyrie Irving, G, Cleveland Cavaliers
Another year, another elite season from Kyrie. He’s still only 24 years old, yet he’s already a four time All-Star who hit the biggest shot of the NBA Finals, leading his team to victory. This year, he’s averaging career highs in points and field goal percentage, while taking the highest volume of shots in his career. He’s really good. He’s an All-Star.
DeMar DeRozan, G/F, Toronto Raptors
DeRozan is a high-volume shooter who’s going to get his numbers. He’s not always the most efficient, but his mid-range jumper is deadly, he’s an elite athlete, and he’s one of the top players on one of the top teams in the East. I don’t believe he deserves the starting nod over Wall and Thomas, but 27.9 PPG and a 25.02 PER speak for themselves; he’s a very worthy All-Star.
Jimmy Butler, G/F, Chicago Bulls
Butler took another step forward this year as a member of the new-look Bulls, averaging a career-high 24.4 PPG and 25.40 PER. He’s still an elite perimeter defender, and he just keeps improving. He’s not a starter over the Greek Freak and Lebron, but he’s a borderline star and the clear leader of a should-be playoff team.
Kevin Love, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
We’re seeing a resurgent Kevin Love this year, and it’s a pleasure to watch. He’s back over the 20 PPG and 10 RPG threshold for the first time since joining with Lebron and Kyrie, hitting threes at his highest rate since the 2010-11 season, and helping the Cavs reach their potential when he’s on the floor – they have a +10.4 Offensive Rating when he’s playing, but a -3.9 when he’s not.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Not getting much love this year because the Heat are not a good team by any means, Whiteside’s actually topped most of his numbers from last year, and is currently tied for the league lead in rebounds. His PER has taken a dip and he’s no longer averaging the ridiculous 3.7 BPG he posted last year, but he’s still one of the top centers in the East – leading them with 7.4 Estimated Wins Added on the year so far.
Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto Raptors
Lowry isn’t flashy, but his numbers speak for themselves. He’s averaging career-highs 22.7 PPG and 4.8 RPG, along with 6.9 APG, leading to a fantastic 23.67 PER. He’s also the team leader and floor general on one of the best squads in the conference. Nothing suggests anything other than a third All-Star appearance for the point guard.
Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte Hornets
I struggle here taking a fifth point guard, but there’s nobody left more deserving than Kemba. Averaging 23.3 PPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.2 RPG, he’s a balanced offensive superstar willing a team with few other weapons to a possible playoff spot.
Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Ah, the previously mentioned “bad decision”. How Westbrook is not starting this game is an atrocity. He’s averaging a triple double. It would take an injury or a catastrophic collapse for him not to win MVP. He gets this spot.
James Harden, G, Houston Rockets
Again, who else could possibly start this game. If not for Westbrook’s superhuman season, Harden would be the surefire MVP, averaging 29.1 PPG, 11.6 APG, and 8.2 RPG – all career highs. His PER is a ridiculous 28.16, and he’s accomplished all he has this season while learning the intricacies of playing point guard. His defense still isn’t great, but his spectacular offense makes up for it a hundred times over.
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi just seems to get better each year. After becoming a borderline MVP candidate last year, he’s upped the ante even further by combining his stifling perimeter defense with a scoring punch of 25.4 PPG, and as a result he’s averaging a 28.16 PER. No Tim Duncan, no problem.
Kevin Durant, F, Golden State Warriors
Yawn. So what he’s on a new team. KD is still going to be KD. 26.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 28.20 PER. All-Star starter. Next please.
Anthony Davis, F/C, New Orleans Pelicans
27.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and a 27.74 PER. Not much debate on this one either. Western starters seem pretty straightforward.
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
Curry is still fantastic, even though he’s not getting nearly the same amount of coverage in the media. He’s had to cede some looks to Durant, obviously, so his numbers have dipped from last year. A “dip” for Steph though is another player’s dream season: 25.0 PPG, 6.1 APG, and 4.3 RPG to go with a 23.89 PER. Oh, and the Warriors are 40-7. Yup, he deserves a spot here.
Chris Paul, G, Los Angeles Clippers; replaced by Damian Lillard, G, Portland Trail Blazers
Paul was leading the Clippers to another great regular season, (nearly averaging a double-double) but didn’t get an All-Star nod due to a recent injury. I believe he should have been selected, then replaced by Dame in order to give one more deserving player the nod (picking 13 All-Stars rather than 12). Lillard’s also had a more than deserving season (despite the Blazers not being great), averaging 26.3 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.8 RPG along with a 23.03 PER.
Gordon Hayward, F, Utah Jazz
Hayward’s flown under the radar for a while, as the Jazz are a small market team who have had little success as of late. However, Hayward has been posting borderline All-Star numbers for years and finally broke out this season, averaging 21.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.5 APG, along with improving his skills of getting and converting at the line (career highs in free throws attempted and free throw percentage), resulting in a 22.04 PER. He, Kawhi and KD are the only small forwards in the West with a PER above 18.5 – it’s no mistake that they are the three playing in New Orleans.
Draymond Green, F/C, Golden State Warriors
Not everyone is his biggest fan, but it’s hard to argue with how good he’s been. He can defend all five positions at a DPOY level, as well as play what is basically a point center role on offense. His numbers aren’t outstanding (10.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 7.5 APG), but they’re extraordinarily balanced; he’s the engine that makes the Warriors go, as he does whatever is necessary for his team to win. And, well, when his team is winning (40-7 as of this writing), it’s hard to argue with considering him deserving of this spot.
Demarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings
Boogie, long touted as an offensive superstar, is having possibly his best season yet, averaging a career high 28.1 PPG, 4.4 APG and 36.7% three point shooting, as well as 10.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.4 BPG. As long as his off-court behaviors don’t hold him back, his talent has rarely been in question; this year will be a well-deserved third selection.
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Similarly to Gordon Hayward, Gasol has long been a borderline All-Star flying under the radar. And, like Hayward, Gasol took a step forward this year, averaging a career high 4.2 APG and over 20 PPG for the first time in his eight-year career – thanks to the addition of a deadly three-point shot (over a 40% three point shooting percentage on 3.7 attempts per game). Combined with his always-strong defense and the success of the Grizzlies (28-21), Gasol has earned his spot here for the third time.
Nikola Jokic, C/F, Denver Nuggets
This might not be the most popular choice, but it’s the best one by the numbers and the eye test. Jokic started off the season poorly, splitting time with Jusuf Nurkic and playing at power forward rather than his natural center spot. Yet, for months now, Jokic has been showing off his incredible blend of passing, shooting, hustle, and general basketball IQ far beyond his years. He has a 26.46 PER, and is averaging 15.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 4.0 APG in only 26.1 MPG; yet per 36 minutes, those increase to 21.4, 11.7, and 5.5 respectively. Those are All-Star numbers. Plus, like Embiid, Jokic is so fun to watch (look up Nikola Jokic passing highlights. You won’t be sorry). Could you imagine him tossing up a lob to Russell Westbrook?
Did I leave anyone out? Anyone here that you don’t think is deserving? Feel free to contact us or comment with any questions or thoughts.
Photo Credits: AP Photo, Getty Images, Bleacher Report