2020–21 NBA All-Star Selections
With so many current NBA stars already speaking out against the idea of playing this game, I would not at all be surprised if Adam Silver elects to cancel the in-person festivities altogether. The risk of spreading COVID to the best players in the league amongst 15–20 different teams and potentially having to put the NBA season to a screeching halt far outweigh the benefit of playing an essentially meaningless game. Whether you think it’s a good idea to have NBA players from a bunch of different teams in both conferences congregate in Atlanta (previously supposed to be in Indianapolis) for a fanless NBA All-Star game in the middle of a pandemic or not, the teams have to be selected regardless. Let’s start by acknowledging that selected only 12 players to represent each conference is an extremely difficult task. While certain players are clearly all-stars, you could debate the end of each roster for days and not come to a true solution. These are the decisions you have to be able to make so that one day the NBA will respect your decisions enough to give you a ballot (a kid can dream).
The players I consider a lock to be on the team, there is no point in debating. You can debate starter vs off the bench, but everyone understands that they deserve to be all-stars this season, no questions asked.
My Eastern Conference All-Star Starters:
Backcourt: Bradley Beal (Lock)
Backcourt: Jaylen Brown (Lock)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Lock)
Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokuonmpo (Lock)
Frontcourt: Joel Embiid (Lock)
In no particular order,
Jayson Tatum (Lock)
Kris Middleton: His case is becoming pretty simple. Middleton is the clear-cut number 2 player and best shot creator/maker on one of the perennial powerhouses of the Eastern Conference. He’s averaging 20.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game with shooting splits of 51.3% / 45.1% / 89.9% (FG/3P/FT percentages), close to the coveted 50/40/90 club. If you watch closely, though Giannis is the back-to-back MVP, Kris Middleton should be the one taking shots at the end of close games. Consistent and impactful contributions to a winning team at a highly efficient rate scream all-star to me.
Nikola Vucevic: Not everyone will include Vucevic on their all-star team, but I just couldn’t justify leaving him off. Yes, the Orlando Magic are often forgotten about now but with this injury-riddled squad, Vucevic is the only reliable player on the entire roster. Diving into his numbers, he is averaging 24 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, with an impressive 43.5% from 3-point range. Advanced statistics are also in his favor, but most notable is the Player Impact Estimate (PIE)*. PIE is a conglomeration of many statistical categories that help to gauge a player’s all-around contribution to the game. Nikola Vucevic has a PIE of 17.8. Of NBA Players that have played 20+ games so far this season, he ranks 7th between Giannis Antetokuonmpo (PIE = 18.1) and Kawhi Leonard (PIE = 17.5). I rest my case.
Domantas Sabonis: Though he has cooled off lately, we can’t ignore his early-season dominance and now his consistent play to help the Pacers remain in the 5th seed. He took a big step forward last season and continues to build upon that this year. He is averaging 21.1 points/11.4 rebounds/5.5 assists and competing with some of the best big men in the league on a nightly basis. You could nitpick here, but I choose to reward his solid play that has led to consistently a competitive team.
Kyrie Irving/Zach Lavine/Trae Young: The final 3 spots in the Eastern conference were the toughest to determine. It mostly came down to Kyrie Irving, Trae Young, Zach Lavine, and Fred VanVleet (FVV). Of this bunch, Kyrie is the clear-cut leader. Despite his brief disappearance, he has come back and been impactful on the court. Both traditional and advanced statistics support his case.
Zach Lavine has been on a mission this season and it is showing. Lavine is averaging 28.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.3 assists with shooting splits of 51.9/43.0/86.3, nearing the desirable 50/40/90 club. Trae Young similarly has been playing excellent basketball this season. He’s averaging 26.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 9.2 assists and of course has been the driving force on this Atlanta Hawks team. FVV, while not the flashiest of players, is as consistent as they come. He is averaging 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. With all this being said on top of my Bulls’ fandom, Zach Lavine got the all-star nod from me. Below I have some advanced statistics comparisons I used to make final determinations between Trae Young and FVV.
A close look shows that Trae Young and FVV are neck and neck in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, and conversely Net Rating. However, the separating factors to me are True Shooting % (TS%), Usage Rate (USG %), and PIE. In each of these categories, Trae Young has a considerable advantage and with a good lead in each of the traditional statistical categories as well, Trae Young got the last spot on my All-Star roster with a slight edge.
Fred VanVleet: As above
James Harden: James Harden is no doubt an all-star caliber player, but personally I don’t feel the need to reward how he handled himself early this season forcing a trade out of Houston while blatantly disregarding all COVID protocol in place by the league. Since his forced trade the Nets have been underwhelming enough, in terms of their expectations, to be okay with rewarding them with 2 all-stars and not 3. Regardless, I’m sure the coaches will vote him in for the real deal.
Jerami Grant: I truly wanted to put Jerami Grant in the all-star game but when I dug past the fact that he’s putting up career-best numbers the reality is that he is the epitome of a good stats-bad team player. He has proven that he can score with the best of them, but there needs to be a little more substance behind the numbers to justify a bit on the all-star team.
Julius Randle: Though he’s been putting up pretty good numbers, his case is similar to Jerami Grant in that his production is a product of high volume, inefficient play.
Gordon Hayward: His numbers are great, the team is playing well but for some reason, I just can’t get there with Hayward again yet. If he keeps this up through the rest of the year and into next season he will be back in that conversation again for me.
Tobias Harris/Ben Simmons: You’d think that the best team in the conference would have more than one all-start but it’s really a testament to how good Joel Embiid really has been. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris both have extremely inconsistent, showing flashes of high caliber play. To be an all-star is an honor that requires consistent good play to be rewarded. Unfortunately, neither of these guys have displayed that to a high enough level to achieve that honor this season.
Malcolm Brogdon: Not too much needs to be said about him. He’s a very good player, but he doesn’t quite crack the all-star tier this season. He deserved some recognition here though.
Jimmy Butler: You don’t get to be on an all-star team after playing only 13 games. He’s an all-star caliber player, but he won’t get that recognition this season.
My Western Conference All-Star Starters:
Backcourt: Stephen Curry (Lock)
Backcourt: Damian Lillard(Lock)
Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard(Lock)
Frontcourt: Lebron James(Lock)
Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic (Lock)
In no particular order,
Luka Doncic (Lock)
Paul George (Lock)
Anthony Davis (Lock)
Rudy Gobert (Lock)
Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell: I want to address both of these players together, with having Rudy Gobert right above them. The reason I have Rudy as a lock and not these two is simply that most people can’t argue about that. To me though, all three of these players deserve the all-star nod. Donovan Mitchell started off slow but since Mike Conley’s injury has really picked up his play since Mike Conley was injured and is the one doing all of the exciting things we see on a nightly basis. However, Mike Conley has been the consistent driving force for this team all season long. There is a clear increase in the team’s productivity with him in the lineup versus when he is out. Yes, it is fair to say that most of those minutes are tied together with Rudy Gobert, but it’s equally possible that Conley is improving Gobert’s level of play. I can’t say if he is the most deserving player of all this season, but if there was ever a season to make up for snubbin Mike Conley for years, this is the one. Make up for all those season he truly deserved to be an all-star and was never given the opportunity. You don't need numbers to make a case for these two. The Utah Jazz deserve every bit of recognition they will get this season.
Chris Paul: The debate here really came down to Chris Paul vs Devin Booker. The Phoenix Suns have played well to start the year and deserve the recognition. In the end, determining whether CP3 or DBook deserves the credit was harder than expected. Below are comparisons of both traditional and advanced statistics for both players to help make that decision.
In comparing the traditional stats, Chris Paul comes out ahead in rebounds, assists, turnovers, steals, and FT %, while Booker leads in FG%, 3P%, and points. None of this is surprising as that plays in exactly to the roles we would expect them to take on. When it comes to advanced statistics, the story is similar. Booker leads in the offensive rating and shooting metrics while Chris Paul takes charge in defensive rating and PIE. This again is of no large surprise. So what was the big difference from a subpar Suns season last year to 16–9 with a top 4 seed this season? While there was certainly internal growth of the young players, we can’t deny the influence Chris Paul has over this team as well. With that being said, he gets the nod for me over Devin Booker. His time will come, but for now Booker should take the time to learn to win from Chris Paul and soak up as much knowledge as he can.
Devin Booker: As above
Christian Wood: There is no surprise that Christian Wood is playing well in his new city, but to legitimately be in the all-star conversation is even better than expected. He is on the radar and will continue to have success for years to come but this year he is just not quite there yet.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: SGA and the OKC Thunder continue to surprise the NBA. As a team with a stockpile of draft assets, they would hope for high lottery picks to change their fortunes. However, when you have someone as competitive as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander you will always be in games. In the best season of his young career, he’s averaging 22.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. Another case of a deserving player but an excessively difficult conference to crack into the top 12. SGA will be there someday.
Zion Williamson/Brandon Ingram: Both players have been good, and yet both players have been inconsistent. Overall through this season Brandon Ingram has been the better of the two, but Zion is coming on strong of late. The Pelicans and their young stars are frustratingly inconsistent and until they come overcome that and play up to their potential on a consistent basis I cannot reward them.
DeMar DeRozan: The San Antonio Spurs, in typical fashion just will not go away. While everyone has their sights set on the young, up and coming teams in the West to make the playoffs this season, the Spurs continue to be a thorn in their sides with an impressive 15–11 record standing in the 6th seed currently. DeMar clearly has a role in that success averaging 20.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.8 assists but that does not tell the entire story of the Spurs’ success. When DeRozan is on the court, the Spurs boast an offensive rating of 112.2 with opponents having an offensive rating of 114. Conversely, when DeRozan is off the court, the Spurs offensive rating dips to 106.7 but they hold opponents even further to 105.4. This tells me that much of the Spurs’ success can still be attributed to very solid depth and play from the remainder of the roster.
Another year, another set of difficult decisions in determining who deserves to be on the All-Star teams. Here is the final starting rosters for each conference. Voting ends tonight (2/13/21), go out and vote to support your favorite players.