No matter how you feel about actually watching the NBA All-Star Game, it’s certainly an honor for the players. It has to be feel good knowing you were either selected by fans or opposing coaches as one of the best (or at least most entertaining) players in the league.
I watch the All-Star Game every year, and while the highlights are cool, it’s not quite as fun knowing the players aren’t trying their hardest. I get a lot more enjoyment leading up to the game, arguing with fellow fans about who deserves to be playing.
That leads us to the objective of this piece: predicting which players from each conference get to partake in the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.
For this exercise, I’ll be operating in a fantasy world where all existing injuries heal at their scheduled pace and no further injuries occur (this is the best way to do it, trust me). As always, fans pick the starters and coaches pick the reserves, so I’ll obviously be taking that account.
And, lest you get too upset over your favorite player’s exclusion, I’ve provided an exhaustive list of every player who I believe has any shot whatsoever at making his conference’s roster.
So if there’s a player not on the honorable mentions list who you think will make it, I don’t know what to tell you, other than the fact that you might be crazy or I mistakenly missed someone (I’m not perfect, after all).
So, here goes:
Eastern Conference Starters
Backcourt Starters: John Wall (Washington Wizards) and Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
There’s no clear frontrunner at the Eastern Conference backcourt spots. Wall led the position in voting last year with 886,368, but that number was eighth among all players and both Kyle Lowry and Dwyane Wade were within 100,000 votes of him.
Wall’s a pretty safe pick here since he just turned 25 years old and is both a fan favorite and the best floor general in the Eastern Conference.
The pick of Irving, on the other hand, involves more conjecture. He’s recovering from a fractured kneecap, but Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto says he should be back on the court “well before” January when it was originally reported he could be out through the new year.
Even if Irving’s stats suffer slightly as he works himself back from the injury, the Cavaliers team will be getting off to a much better start than it did last season, presumably racing off to the East’s No. 1 seed. The increasing popularity of 23-year-old Kyrie and his contending team should let him pass Lowry and Wade.
Frontcourt Starters: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Paul George (Indiana Pacers) and Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
LeBron will lead the Eastern Conference in All-Star voting. Next.
George was surprisingly popular with voters in the 2013-2014 season, placing third after LeBron James and Kevin Durant. His Pacers squad was on a roll, but no one mistakes them for being one of the league’s more popular teams.
The athletic small forward is now out to prove he can make a full return from a broken leg. He showed flashes he could during a six-game stint in April, but now it’s time to convince the league he’s truly back. I have no doubt voters will get behind him as he tackles this challenge.
Anthony plays in New York and was voted as a starter last year even when his Knicks were stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The talented scorer is also coming off an injury from last season, but his knee was good enough to attend the USA Basketball Training Camp in August.
Eastern Conference Reserves
Backcourt Reserves: Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls) and Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat)
Butler will make a strong run for a starting spot, as he has possibly unseated Derrick Rose as the Bulls’ best player heading into 2015-16. His offense reached a level no one knew it could reach last year, but it did come at the cost of slight defensive slippage. Look for Jimmy Buckets to find an even better balance between his great offense and stellar defense next season.
I have to admit, Wade was better than I thought he would be last year.
He looked done as a star player in the 2014 NBA Finals, but he came back to post a solid campaign for Miami last season, even though he struggled some more with his knee, but what else is new? With his team healthy and reloaded, Flash should regain some of his trademark efficiency.
Frontcourt Reserves: Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks) and Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
The East needs some post players, and they’ll get some here.
Well, I guess Bosh, Horford and Love are all more finesse big guys, but they’ll do. Bosh and Love are both returning from season-ending injuries (notice a theme with this Eastern Conference squad?), but both are expected back to start the season. Their floor-spacing abilities will afford their teams’ slashers room to attack to the rim.
Horford is one of the more underrated big men in the game because he plays for an under-the-radar team and doesn’t put up huge stats, but he excels in several areas of the game and doesn’t have any major weaknesses.
Wild Cards: Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Unfortunately for the home crowd, Toronto doesn’t get any representation here. Lowry was the very last one left off, which is nothing to be ashamed of. He’s slimmed down this offseason, but I just don’t think the Raptors (who I see as a .500 team) are good enough for Lowry to get a starting or reserve spot like last year.
Drummond, whose Pistons will be probably be in the lottery, is too much of a statistical beast to miss out on the festivities in his fourth season. He averaged 16.1 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game after the All-Star break last year, and he’s still 22 years old. The next step is improving his free-throw shooting, which needs to improve from 38.9 percent to somewhere above 50 percent.
Beal is somewhat of a bold pick. He’s beating out eight former All-Stars in my below honorable mention list, but I do think he’s ready to take the next step. Wall is still the Wizards’ alpha dog on offense, but Beal should become a very close second this year.
Paul Pierce signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, which means the Wizards’ 2013 overall No. 3 pick Otto Porter likely starts. He’s more defensive-minded and often defers on offense, and big men Nene and Marcin Gortat are both on the wrong side of 30. That should mean more touches for Beal, who’s ready for a bigger role with that sweet shooting stroke and athletic physique of his.
Honorable mentions: Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks), Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls), Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic (Miami Heat), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks), DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), George Hill and Monta Ellis (Indiana Pacers), Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic), Al Jefferson (Charlotte Hornets), Brook Lopez (Brooklyn Nets)
Western Conference Starters
Backcourt Starters: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) and James Harden (Houston Rockets)
You may be surprised to see Kobe Bryant not on the list. I believe this is the year his 17-year streak as a voted All-Star starter ends, after narrowly defeating Harden by fewer than 90,000 votes last season.
Harden is a rising superstar in the game, and while Kobe will get a huge amount of votes from fans around the world wondering if this is his last go-round, I do think the Beard edges him out.
And Curry led all players in votes last season and then won MVP and an NBA championship, so he’s probably a lock to win the backcourt vote.
Frontcourt Starters: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers
Davis is an entertaining big man who has gone from “good” to “great” to “historically elite” in three NBA seasons, getting voted as an All-Star starter in year 3 but missing the contest due to injury. In campaign No. 4, I expect nothing less than another slam-dunk selection to the starting lineup.
Durant won the MVP two seasons ago and doubled all other Western Conference frontcourt players in votes that same season. Even if his foot injury bothers him some, he’s popular enough to make the starting lineup.
The third spot is the only one that’s up for grabs. If last year’s voting is any indication, it will go to Marc Gasol. However, I’m picking Griffin here because he was just 95,000 votes behind Gasol, and I also believe his Clippers squad will be better than Gasol’s Grizzlies. Blake’s 25.5/12.7/6.1 line during the 2015 playoffs whet NBA fans’ appetites for what is still to come from the explosive power forward.
Western Conference Reserves
Backcourt Reserves: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The West legitimately has four backcourt players better than the East’s best guard. I believe Paul and Westbrook would be the two starters if they switched conferences.
Anyway, I’m feeling pretty confident about these two spots if Harden squeezes past Kobe into the starting lineup. Both Paul and Westbrook were darkhorse MVP candidates during the 2014-15 campaign and are easily top 10 players in the league.
Paul’s a beast on both ends of the court and the engine of the Clippers, so he’s a no-brainer here. Westbrook’s numbers should dip some with Durant back in the lineup, but his efficiency should get slightly better. No other West guard deserves any consideration above these two for reserve spots.
Frontcourt Reserves: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) and Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
Cousins and Gasol are NBA’s two best centers and both make a significant impact on offense and defense. It’s up to you which is better, but they have too much talent and are too important to lose out to Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green and Tim Duncan, all of whom are not the best players on their teams.
Leonard has taken an interesting route to get to the All-Star Game, winning a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award first, but 2015-16 is finally his year. His per-game numbers won’t look gaudy with the way the Spurs limit their stars’ minutes and touches, but his monster defensive impact and developing offensive game will be enough to convince coaches.
Wild Cards: LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs) and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
Aldridge’s All-Star case also depends on coaches realizing the Spurs’ conservative regular-season approach, but that’s never been a case before. He won’t get his traditional 23 and 10, but 18 and 9 with improved efficiency on a contender should be fine.
It would feel wrong to include only one All-Star from the defending champion Warriors, so they kind of need a second one after Curry. Thompson is a very deserving candidate, as the sharpshooter averaged 21.7 points in just 31.9 minutes per game last season. He also provides above-average defense.
Honorable mentions: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Ty Lawson and Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), Mike Conley and Zach Randolph (Memphis Grizzlies), Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday (New Orleans Pelicans), Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors (Utah Jazz), Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight (Phoenix Suns), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings), Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
Note: All voting and statistical information comes from Basketball-Reference.