When the NBA All-Star starters were announced on Thursday evening, few surprises arose. Most of the ten starters were not particularly controversial and, while there was a tie between Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard, there is absolutely no doubt that Lillard will be included when the coaches select the reserves. To that end, it is always fun to argue about which seven players will back up the starters, and our aim in this space is to anoint the best seven representatives from each conference to form the 12-player teams.
There are some shoo-ins among the bunch, but others are a bit tricker to select. At any rate, here is the way it all breaks down, beginning with the Eastern Conference.
- Khris Middleton — Middleton has 51/44/90 shooting splits. He’s completely out of his mind, yet again. Put some respect on his name.
- Jayson Tatum — The Celtics hanging around .50o isn’t ideal but, as you’ll see again in a moment, Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been masterful. The problem is… almost everything else.
- Bam Adebayo — Miami hasn’t been very good this season, but Adebayo isn’t the reason. In fact, he’s averaging 20/9/5 while shooting 57 percent and playing great defense. On the whole, he’s also been the best player for the Heat since Jimmy Butler missed extended time.
- James Harden — Yes, Harden deserves some blowback for the way things ended in Houston. He’s also just been (way) too good to leave off. If you didn’t already agree, watching him lead Brooklyn to a comeback win (without Durant and Irving) over Phoenix earlier this week should do the trick.
- Jaylen Brown — Brown’s breakout season continues with nearly 26 points per game and 41 percent from three-point range. He’s improved almost across the board and is a no-doubt selection.
- Zach LaVine — Jokes about LaVine’s defense largely still apply. Jokes about his efficiency do not. The scoring guard is putting up 28.5 points per game and doing it on 52/44/85 shooting. He has an excellent All-Star case and the Bulls are hanging around the race for the play-in to help his cause.
- Trae Young — As usual, Young’s counting stats are awesome and he is one of the best offensive guards in the league. There seems to be some pushback, largely on account of his foul-drawing, in the national consciousness, and Atlanta’s recent swoon didn’t help. Still, the Hawks have a +3.5 net rating when he plays and a -8.3 net rating when he sits. He’s been excellent, even while shooting a little bit below where his real baseline is.
- Julius Randle — My pal and DIME’s own Bill DiFilippo made quite a case for Randle. He was my last cut and is highly deserving of inclusion.
- Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner — The Pacers are a solid playoff team, and it is odd to leave them out entirely. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the case for any individual, in part because all three have been so good (and valuable) in different ways.
- Nikola Vucevic — Vucevic has been awesome this season in Orlando, and it’s truly a shame that the Magic are so bad. That isn’t the reason he is omitted, but it probably plays a part.
- Gordon Hayward — Charlotte’s investment in Hayward raised a lot of eyebrows, but year one is going well. He is averaging more than 22 points per game, shooting 42 percent from three and looking a lot like the All-Star caliber player he was in Utah.
- Jimmy Butler — This is just a math problem. Butler missed 12 of the first 28 games for Miami. He’s still very, very good and no one should be surprised if the coaches vote him in.
- Paul George — There might be some question about George only playing 20 games so far, but that’s enough. He is shooting 48 (!) percent from three and the Clippers are awesome. He’s getting in and he should.
- Rudy Gobert — Utah is a juggernaut and Gobert still may be the No. 1 defensive force in the league. He’s also underrated on offense. This is an easy one.
- Anthony Davis — Davis probably won’t play (and we’ll replace him later), so this is performative. He’s still done enough to earn an All-Star bid with reduced counting stats, and it would be wise to remember that he’s an uber-elite defender on top of everything else.
- Damian Lillard — Perhaps the easiest selection on the entire board. He’s unbelievably good.
- Donovan Mitchell — Mitchell leads the team with the best record in the NBA in scoring. That usually gets you in the All-Star field but, even if that didn’t sell you, he’s shooting 39 percent from three for the season… even after a slow start.
- Devin Booker — Booker is scoring and assisting a little bit less than last year. That comes with the territory when you add Chris Paul and the talent around you improves. He’s still the best player on a (very) good team, and Booker has proven himself at this point.
- Zion Williamson — This is probably the most controversial selection. I get it. Zion isn’t very good on defense. He’s also averaging 25 points per game with a 67 percent true shooting, and Williamson is seemingly getting better by the day. It’s also the All-Star Game and, as a tie-breaker, go with the fun player.
- Mike Conley (injury replacement) — Call me a hopeless romantic, but it would be fun to have Conley earn his first All-Star bid as the replacement for AD. Slide Zion to the frontcourt and a Wild Card spot opens. It’s not as if Conley hasn’t played well on the court. In fact, he leads the entire sport in net rating. The Jazz can have three All-Stars given their incredible run, and I’m in.
- De’Aaron Fox — Sacramento has been reasonably competitive and Fox is their best player by a wide margin. He has the stats to make a case, and it’ll come for him soon enough.
- DeMar DeRozan — Honestly, this would’ve sounded preposterous to me a few months ago. Now, DeRozan has been pretty awesome for a Spurs team that is right in the middle of the playoff race. He’s been pretty efficient as a scorer to go along with seven assists per game, and his big-shot prowess helps that team.
- Chris Paul — I almost put Paul on the team, even with no statistical argument for it. He’s been awesome again.
- Brandon Ingram — Ingram vs. Williamson could be an interesting argument, but I lean on Zion’s efficiency. Ingram is still enjoying a strong first half.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — SGA needed to have incredibly gaudy numbers to have a real chance. Still, the Thunder are frisky and he’s playing excellent basketball and deserves a mention.