As I’ve mentioned recently, the NBA All Star starters will be announced on Thursday, followed by the reserves being announced a week after. The starters will probably be wrong, since Dwyane Wade and Zaza Pachulia (yes, that Zaza Paculia) will be in the starting lineups and neither should be in the same state as the All Star Game. Moving past that, I’ve put together what I think the rosters should look like. All stats are accurate as of January 17, 2017.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics– I’d say you could call me a homer if Isaiah wasn’t one of the best ten players in the league this season. He leads the East in scoring, shooting career high percentages from the field and from the free throw line, and is top twenty in assists. In the pre-Harden and Westbrook world, leading the conference in scoring and still managing six assists per game was a rarity. He has completely dominated the months of December and January and has established himself as one of, if not the, best fourth quarter players in the league. The Cavs’ army of devoted fanboys doesn’t want to hear it, but he’s been better than Kyrie this season.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors– The second backcourt spot was a toss up between the duo up north of Lowry and Demar Derozan. The Raptors have been the best team in the East outside of Cleveland again this season, and their offense is now operating at crazy heights, currently averaging more points per 100 possessions than even the Warriors. Though Derozan carried the team as Lowry got off to a slow start this season, Kyle’s been scalding hot since. It’s almost getting redundant at this point since you can seemingly say it every year, but he’s having the best season of his career. He’s averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and player efficiency rating, while shooting a Curry-like 44% on 7.5 three point attempts per game, and is second in the league in real plus-minus. He’s the true engine for the league’s best offense.
Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers– It’s seemingly been a quiet season for Lebron, but he’s still been Lebron. Top ten in points and assists, still rebounding well, and is the best player on the best team in the East. He’s still flopping and overdramatic, still seemingly forgets the Warriors actually beat his team in the Finals two years ago and that it isn’t some one sided rivalry, but he’s still the best.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks– The Greek Freak has become what everyone but Danny Ainge (shoutout to Kelly Olynyk! No, I don’t lose sleep over the fact that Giannis should be a Celtic! Why do you ask?) thought he could be. He is a (pun intended) freakish athlete that effects the game in virtually every way. He’s kept his offense at the level we saw at the end of last year, scoring at will inside, setting up teammates, and getting to the line at the highest rate of his young career. He still can’t shoot three’s, but when you can dunk from the three point line it doesn’t really matter. He’s a menace on defense and could become the fourth player ever to average 2 blocks and 2 steals a game.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls– No one seems to notice or care, but Jimmy Butler has turned himself into one of the best player in the league and he keeps getting better. He’s singlehandedly kept a bad Bulls team afloat, and all his stats either are or are close to career highs. He’s third in the league in real plus-minus. I never thought he’d become this good, and I have no idea how much better he can become, but I’m not betting against him.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers– Kyrie is probably going to start in real life, and although he doesn’t crack my starting lineup, he’s still an all star. He’s having his best statistical season, and as the second best player on last year’s champions he’d probably make the team regardless. I don’t know how he’s only shooting 46% from the field, since whenever I watch him he never seems to miss. Everyone always wants to say he’s better than Steph, but there’s just something missing. His defense is still bad. He still doesn’t really pass, but that doesn’t matter when you have Lebron. I know there’s a lot of Curry fatigue out there, but I don’t think Kyrie is the answer.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers– The best way to get into the #clique and make the Instagram pics is to play like the all star you were in Minnesota. He’s back to averaging 20 points a game, is top ten in rebounding, and is lighting it up from 3. Being on the best team in the East doesn’t hurt his all star chances.
John Wall, Washington Wizards– Somehow always overlooked, John Wall is playing the best ball of his career and is probably the most underrated player in the league. He leads the East in assists and steals, is scoring more than ever, and is more efficient than he’s ever been. He’s leading a resurgent Wizards team that has exceeded expectations, partly due to Bradley Beal actually staying healthy, but mostly due to the fact that Wall has become a truly elite point guard capable of winning games by himself in the Eastern Conference.
Demar Derozan, Toronto Raptors-Mentioned above, but Derozan really carried the Raptors in the first part of the season, leading the league in scoring for a solid month. He’s cooled off slightly, but he’s still averaging a pretty efficient 28 points per game. He gets to the rim and to the line at will, and is a midrange marksman in a league full of 3 point gunners. He’s one of the most frightening players in the league attacking the rim.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers– PG13 is having another good season, but the league takeover that seemed imminent a few years ago has yet to materialize. His once elite defense has slipped this year, but his efficiency on offense has improved, with his highest field goal percentage since his rookie year. He can be streaky from 3, but he’s hot right now, and is the best player on a slightly lackluster Pacers team. In an East without a ton of legitimate all star candidates, though, he makes the team.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets– Fun fact: my freshman year at the University of Connecticut was the year that Kemba took over college basketball and dragged the team to the championship, so Kemba will always hold a special place in my heart. (For the mathletes out there, that would mean my senior year was the year Shabazz Napier did the same. Combine those two with the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, and I’ve seen a lot of winning in my life. I’m an expert in winning.) However, this is no sentimental pick. After the best season of his career last year, he’s been even better this year. His shooting percentages keep getting better as his usage rate goes up. The rest of the Hornets have been inconsistent, but Kemba has kept the team from free fall with his consistently good play.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks– The last spot on the roster could go to a few different players, but my vote goes to the player I think will win Most Improved Player. The other half of one of the most exciting young duos in the league, Jabari Parker has really blossomed as a scorer. After shooting a Wade-esque 25% from 3 his first two years, all of a sudden he’s up to 41%, while steadily bringing his field goal percentage closer and closer to 50%. His defense is….not great, but his smooth, efficient offensive game gets him onto the roster.
Apologies to: Kristaps Porzingis (he should be up for sainthood), Joel Embiid (team is too bad), Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal.
No Apologies to: Hassan Whiteside for the most egregious stat chasing I’ve ever seen. He’s not a good player. Like, at all.
James Harden, Houston Rockets– These first two entries won’t be very exciting because they really need no reasoning. For my money, Harden has been the best player in the NBA this season. The move to point guard has totally unleashed his unique skill set, and now he’s leading the league in assists and is third in scoring. He’s a beast.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder– He’s averaging a triple double.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors– Crazily enough, putting one of the most talented scorers in the history of the NBA with the two best shooters of all time leads to good offense. Durant has been predictably (and otherworldly) efficient, but his defense has been a surprise. Though he’s shown flashes of being an elite defender, he’s embraced that side of the ball this season and has been a disruptive force and is currently twelfth in the league in blocked shots. He’s a decent player.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs– Kawhi “Mr. Electricty” Leonard has taken the mantle of Spurs talisman and has fully committed to the role, quietly chugging along and showing no personality while doing it. But guess what? He’s still getting better. He’s transformed himself from an athletic rebounding specialist in college into an elite offensive player and terror on defense. He’s the best two way player in the league (Lebron doesn’t try enough on defense), and has vastly exceeded all realistic expectations for what his career could be. But it still feels like there’s untapped potential here. I don’t know if the Spurs got lucky or if they really are three steps ahead of everyone when it comes to scouting and player development, but they found another potential all time great to replace the one that just retired.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans– This spot could easily go to DeMarcus Cousins, but I’m going Davis because of the absurdity of some of his stat lines. 50-15-5-5-4. 45-17. 41-16-4 steals. Seemingly every night, he’s doing something crazy. Kind of funny how after last season everyone forgot they loved Davis to fawn over Karl-Anthony Towns. Davis took it personally, apparently. He’s Mr. Glass, though. He misses like every other game with some minor injury. Kobe used to play through pain, if you hadn’t heard. Wouldn’t mind seeing Davis try doing the same.
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors– How about the fact that Steph’s “down season” is still better than Kyrie’s career season? Steph is averaging more points, assists, rebounds, steals, and fewer turnovers than the man who many think (wish?) is better than him. He’s still one of the best players in the league. He’s still the greatest and most prolific shooter of all time. This is his worst three point shooting by percentages. Everyone saying he’s struggling and looking to bury him. He’s shooting 39.8% from 3. On an absurd number of attempts. If the season ended today it would be the first time in his career he shot under 42% from 3. I think he’ll be just fine.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors– The West this year is so ridiculously stacked with potential all stars that I can only take three of the Warriors’ big four. (Sorry, big five. I forgot Zaza is an all star.) I went back and forth on this so many times, but in the end Draymond’s unreal defense this season is what gets him in. Not to mention the fact that he’s averaging more assists than last year while averaging almost one full fewer turnover a game. Plus, given the choice between the two, I would rather have the Warriors win the title than the Cavs. I feel like Draymond missing the all star game would be infinitely more detrimental to their success than Klay missing out.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz– After years of hearing about their promise, the Jazz have finally showed up as a playoff contender, lead by (hopefully) future Celtic Gordon Hayward. After years of keeping the crown fairly easily, Hayward took the title of best American white player from Kevin Love and has kept it this season. Almost makes me teary eyed to see two white boys in the NBA All Star Game. Unfortunately for analysts, Hayward doesn’t fit the traditional white guy mold. He may be scrappy and have a high basketball IQ, but he’s also a great athlete, great off the dribble, and makes the players around him better. He’s averaging career highs in points and rebounds, while shooting more efficiently despite his ever growing role on offense. Not to stray too far from his heritage, though, he’s an avid League of Legends player and was once a pro tennis prospect. Need to counterbalance basketball greatness with that kind of nerdiness to keep his whiteness levels in check.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies– I don’t know why no one thought to let Marc shoot 3s before this season, but he’s gone from having 12 career 3s before this season to shooting almost 40% while taking over 3 per game. Long been one of my favorite players to watch, Marc has taken his game to a new level. With Mike Conley missing significant time and Zach Randolph’s reduced role, Marc has the Grizzlies as the six seed in the West. He’s scoring more than ever while still dishing out his 4 assists a game and playing great defense. In many ways he and Tony Allen are the most lasting pillars of the Grit n’ Grind era, and he’s taken them into the 21st century.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings– Extracurricular antics aside, Boogie is a true beast. Always good for at least 28-10, he’s added a pretty reliable 3-pointer this season, and has a career high PER. He still has lapses on defense, but his active hands help get his share of steals and blocks. The closest thing to the dominant big man of yore, DeMarcus can score on anyone at anytime.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers– CP3 just keeps putting out great seasons. He leads the league in real plus-minus by a wide margin. He leads the league in steals (again), is top five in assists, doesn’t turn it over, and is shooting his usual healthy percentages. All the while maintaining a solid flop rate and continuously yelling at teammates. The actual all star game is better with him in it, as he usually finishes with about 15 assists.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers– God, this was tough. So many players going for the last spot on the roster. In the end, I’m going Lillard. He’s having his best offensive season, with a career best turnover percentage and true shooting percentage. The fact that his defense has been so bad and he still has the Blazers in the playoffs shows how good he’s been with the ball in his hands. Let’s end this before I change my mind again.
Apologies to: Klay Thompson (ask me again tomorrow), Rudy Gobert (best defensive player in the league), Blake Griffin (too injured), Karl-Anthony Towns (how did he not make it?), C.J. McCollum, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe.
LAST SECOND UPDATE:
Chris Paul is going to miss 6-8 weeks after getting thumb surgery, so he needs to be replaced.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves– Yet another tough call, but there just aren’t many guys that can average 20-10, especially at such a young age. He’s really good, and makes the team despite his team’s disappointing season.