The NBA All-Star Game might not be the most sacred form of basketball despite showcasing the premier players that humanity has to offer, but that doesn’t mean making the contest isn’t valuable. In fact, making the game can be highly invaluable in terms of personal wealth, notoriety, and career trajectory. Being honored could mean a contract bonus kicks in, you could earn more money in free agency, your advertising value skyrockets, and you could become one of the most coveted and well known players in the league. As I said, invaluable.
But the accolades don’t come easily and that’s especially the case in the Eastern Conference this season. There’s some locks, but for the most part there are nearly a dozen other names that could potentially be thrown in the mix as fair arguments. The Eastern Conference has a pile-up of both under and over-performers that provide a huge dilemma for those that decide who gets a career bump and who might fall off after a snub. Should you take a slightly less talented player on a good team or a stat-stuffer on a bottom-dweller? The dilemma might seem slight to many, but it’s an increasingly important commendation that could make or break a career. This year some may break.
We wanted to give some clarity and insight on the cases for each of the players that could grace the United Center in the ides of February. The incessant buzz around the game and the pride that getting a player of a favorite team in could cloud judgement, but we want to give you the facts to help you make the right choices. Everyone has different standards and qualifications, so there isn’t a concrete answer. I don’t want to go based off the fan vote since it’s massively biased, so ignore what the voting results are for the time being. We split the team into different groups, so let’s get started with the locks.
Kemba Walker – Boston Celtics
Important Stats: 21.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 5.0 APG, 38.9% 3P
Kemba is the only lock for the guards in the starting lineup. His 21.6 PPG lead the Celtics, the 3rd best team in the East, and is the leader of the team. His incredible handles and strong shooting has made him a fan favorite in Boston as well as around the world. His fame, leadership, and prowess on the court make him a no-doubter.
Giannis Antetokoumnpo – Milwaukee Bucks
Important Stats: 30.0 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 59.6% eFG%
This is the biggest “of course” in history. Giannis is dominating the NBA in a way that we haven’t seen for many years: physically. His incredible length and ability to do nearly anything on a basketball court put him at the top of the MVP race. Scoring, defense, fame, the MVP, and the best team in the NBA all vault him into an All-Star position.
Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Important Stats: 23.4 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.3 APG
Joel Embiid is a physical phenomenon, maybe not to the point that Giannis is, but a specimen nevertheless. He’s leading Philly in points and rebounds per game while functioning as the team’s clutch player. Philly is only 6th in the East but that’s good enough for the moment. He’s one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA and all of that earns him the nod.
Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat
Important Stats: 20.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.9 SPG
Butler has been exceptional for the Heat this year. He’s embodied Heat Culture, taken the young guys under his wing, and has helped this team earn their 2nd place position in the East. Even though his stats are great there’s still so much more that he does that goes completely unseen on the stat sheet. He’s the heart of this team and earns his spot because of it. Whether he starts or not will be decided by
Pascal Siakam – Toronto Celtics
Important Stats: 24.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 39.1% 3P
Siakam has fought through injuries and low expectations to lead Toronto to 4th in the East and could be a candidate for Most Improved Player again. He’s scoring all over, playing great defense, and he’s putting the entire team on his back in the title defense.The whole country loves him and he’s becoming one of the bigger international faces in the league. Lock.
There are multiple factors in making an All-Star team that go past court production. There’s an entertainment value, popularity among fans, starting games (sorry Lou Williams), and having a good enough team to be a playoff contender, among other things. The players listed check most of these boxes, but might be short in a few categories. It probably won’t hinder their chances too much, but nothing is certain with this group of players.
Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets
Important Stats: 27.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
The biggest argument against Kyrie is that he might not have enough games under his belt. If he stays healthy he should be okay, especially with his numbers. In 14 games he’s averaging a career high in points, rebounds, and assists and a career low in turnovers. The sample size is small but if Kyrie can keep on the court then there’s no doubt. He’s the only good shot for a New York player and his fame simply keeps growing. He has a good shot.
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors
Important Stats: 20.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
Lowry has taken control of this Raptors team as a leader since Kawhi left for LA and he couldn’t have done a much better job. He’s helping the young players fill out their potential while actually stepping his own numbers up as well. That’s not easy to do. He’s playing the highest minutes average of his career while scoring the most points in his career. The biggest question will be whether the Raptors deserve a 2nd player in the competition.
Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks
Important Stats: 29.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.2 SPG
Young is one of the most gifted young players in the NBA and he proves it almost every night. He’s an incredible scorer with great vision and can play well against good defenders. There are a couple major obstacles, though. He plays very bad defense (see my mid-season report card for more info) and it hurts his team. The Hawks are the worst team in the NBA despite Young’s scoring, so you have to question whether they deserve to send a player to the prestigious event.
Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics
Important Stats: 21.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.4 SPG
Tatum has done a whole lot for the Celtics this season and his stat sheet shows it. He doesn’t lead the team in any category but anyone that watches basketball knows that Tatum is one of the most important players on the court for Boston at any time. He eats up minutes and plays good defense to go along with his developing offensive skills. Boston having a great season helps his chances tremendously.
Domantas Sabonis – Indiana Pacers
Important Stats: 18.1 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Sabonis is one of the best young players in the NBA hands down. He can do almost anything on the court and he has great vision for a big man. He’s the main reason that Indiana is in such a good playoff position. He guards some of the best bigs in the NBA and his defensive stats suffer because of it, but he still does a great job and is 4th in total rebounds.
This next tier of players have some work to do. Not all of them will make it, in fact most of them won’t, but there’s a long shot for all of them. It’s possible that a strong surge could knock out some of the “Who’s Next” guys, but it isn’t likely just yet. Most of these players on bad teams and don’t have the best stats, but 12 players make the game from each conference. Let’s take a look at this heavily populated list and why each player has a chance. Warning: I was VERY lenient with this list. Please don’t be upset.
Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks
Important Stats: 19.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 42.1% 3P, 57.6% eFG%
If there was going to be someone who might surprise you with a 50/40/90 shooting season, how many of you would have guessed Khris Middleton? I wouldn’t have. Middleton is only 1.1% off the free throw mark for that accomplishment, but he’s still overlooked due to Giannis. Middleton made his last All-Star game last year and has the same case this year: the Bucks are incredible. If they’re still around 7-8 losses at that time we might not have a choice but to put him in.
Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
Important Stats: 16.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Adebayo is a lead candidate for Most Improved Player this season as his numbers have skyrocketed across the board. He’s looking like one of the premier young two-way players in the NBA and is helping power the Heat to their spot at 2nd in the East. He can score on nearly any big in the NBA and has no issue defending all of them. He’s a true problem now, so imagine what he could be if he can start to find that next step?
Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics
Important Stats: 20.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 56.1% eFG%
Brown worked hard on two things this offseason, redefining his playstyle to thrive as a wing instead of a shooting guard, and his jump-shooting and shot selection. Brown is having his best statistical season of his career as well as his best shooting. The biggest case against him are his teammates, Kemba and Tatum; Boston might not be good enough to warrant 3 All-Stars this season.
Malcolm Brogdon – Indiana Pacers
Important Stats: 17.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 7.4 APG
Brogdon is playing well and he’s one of two reasons that the Pacers are having the year they are, but a closer look at his career might indicated a drop off. With his increased role in the offense his assist numbers and shot attempts have gone way up, but his scoring doesn’t correlate. He’s having his worst shooting season of his career and that seems to indicate he can’t be “The Man” in an offense. Brogdon and Indiana in general always fly under the radar, so the lack of notoriety could put the nix on his hopes.
Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers
Important Stats: 19.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.9 APG
Harris isn’t dominating any statistical categories, but he has been the unsung hero of Philadelphia’s season. He’s one of the few constants on the team and could be referred to as their pacemaker. He might not be a 30 point scorer, but he’s also never going to miss every shot he takes. Unfortunately, the All-Star game doesn’t take kindly to that type of player. He may never see that court because of it.
Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
Important Stats: 16.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 2.2 SPG
Ben Simmons has more working for him than most of the people on this list, but he also has the shooting problem. Simmons simply won’t shoot from the outside and that’s a huge detriment to his game. One of the pros could actually be a con depending on who you’re a fan of. Simmons is one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA and playing in Philly perpetuates that. You either love him, or you hate him. Finally, dude stuffs box scores. He isn’t an elite scorer thanks to his shooting, but his size, athleticism, and vision allows him to grab boards, take the ball down the court, and find open cutters for baskets that many players might not see. Oh, and one more thing, he’s the best perimeter defender in the NBA. His 2.2 SPG leads the league.
Evan Fournier – Orlando Magic
Important Stats: 19.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 41.2% 3P, 56.4% eFG%
Fournier has simply been great for the Magic this season as Aaron Gordon has regressed yet again. He’s shooting and making the highest number of 3s in his career and his finishing near the basket has also been phenomenal. The pick and roll with
Vučević has been a key for Orlando’s offense and the main reason they’re still in the playoff hunt.
Nikola Vučević – Orlando Magic
Important Stats: 18.9 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.3 APG
Just like Fournier, Vučević has been a key cog in the Orlando playoff machine. Vučević is a double-double machine with some of the best post footwork in the NBA. He’s cool, calm, and collected, just like he always has been, and gets a big bucket when it’s needed most. He’s shooting more 3s which helps space the court for guys like Fournier, Gordon, and Terrance Ross. He just isn’t very flashy which is a must for the ASG.
Spencer Dinwiddie – Brooklyn Nets
Important Stats: 21.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.4 APG
With Irving being out for most of the season, Dinwiddie has been “the guy” for Brooklyn. His scoring has been very good and he’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. The biggest issue is that Dinwiddie’s shooting has been terrible. He’s barely above 30% from 3 on 6.4 attempts per game. Combine that with a sub 48% eFG% and you have some truly awful shooting leading your team. His numbers should improve a bit with Irving back but I doubt it’ll be enough.
Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls
Important Stats: 25.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.5 SPG
Chicago’s lone candidate is the high flying shooting guard Zach LaVine, and his best case for the ASG isn’t very traditional. He is scoring at the highest rate of his career and his 1.5 SPG shows that he’s making more of an effort on defense, but the All-Star Game isn’t known for defense and good basketball. It’s known for dunks. Sure, we all want LaVine in the dunk contest, but seeing him fly up there 15 times on Sunday night would be outstanding. Add in the Chicago factor and we just might see it happen.
Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons
Important Stats: 17.3 PPG, 15.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG
Andre Drummond is the best rebounder in the NBA, hands down. That has to be worth something now, right? Well if it isn’t he’s still tied for a career high in points per game and he’s playing incredible defense. He’s the heart of the Pistons and can even lead the break if the conditions are right. Add that to just being a likable person and you have a pretty good candidate.
Devonte’ Graham – Charlotte Hornets
Important Stats: 18.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 7.7 APG
Even though Charlotte is now only 15-30 on the season, Graham has been key in keeping them where they are. His scoring has jumped 13.9 PPG from his rookie season and his passing has gone through the roof. He’s taken his potential and scaled it tremendously in his sophomore season. His shooting isn’t great but he is the go-to guy after not even being a starter to begin the season, so don’t be too startled. The Rising Stats game may be a better fit for the young Hornet, but the ASG is certainly not out of the question.
Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
Important Stats: 27.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.3 APG
By his scoring you can tell that Beal is one of the premier scorers in the NBA. His midrange is surgical and his finishing around the hoop is clinical. Despite the lack of shooters on the roster Beal can also find open men which is a true testament to his vision as he has to pass players open very often. The biggest cry against Beal is his shooting. He’s been very bad from 3 this season as he’s only making 31% of his 7.9 attempts per game. The other argument is that the Wizards are just trash. However, that shouldn’t define Beal and his scoring is tough to deny.
Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers
Important Stats: 17.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.9 APG
This would truly be the biggest pity pick in NBA history. Kevin Love is one of the most miserable humans on the planet and it doesn’t seem like the Cavs are trying to trade him. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland both believe they’re still in college and refuse to utilize one of the best stretch 4s in the NBA and Love hates it. He’s still scoring at a good clip and his rebounding is still great, but he just needs to be out of that situation. Letting him have different teammates for a night, possibly even LeBron, would be a gift.
Marcus Morris – New York Knicks
Important Stats: 19.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 45.7% 3P
Hear me out. I did say I was being lenient, right? Morris has the longest shot of anyone on this list for a bunch of reasons. All he really does is score. He’s getting older. He doesn’t have any notoriety apart from being a twin. He plays for the Knicks. It just doesn’t shape up well for Morris apart from his great shooting. Morris is 3rd in the NBA is 3P% behind just George Hill and J.J. Redick. He doesn’t do much else that would get him in, but man, what a transformation.
Kyrie Irving (If game requirements met)
Ben Simmons (If Kyrie doesn’t have enough games)