On Thursday, the guys over at TNT will announce the starters for this year's All Star Game in Toronto. It's been the most exciting and competitive season in recent history, and All Star Weekend is a chance for fans to celebrate the best talent the league has to offer. To that end, I will to sift through this year's top performers and figure out who deserves a trip to Toronto.
NOTE: I will choose my all stars, using the NBA's rules (4 guards, 6 frountcourt, 2 wildcard), and without regard for legacy (i.e. Kobe will not be in this list).
Jimmy Butler (G)
Kyle Lowry (G)
Lebron James (FC)
Chris Bosh (FC)
Paul George (FC)
John Wall (G)
Isaiah Thomas (G)
DeMar DeRozan (FC)
Andre Drummond (FC)
Paul Millsap (FC)
Isaiah Thomas (WC)
Reggie Jackson (WC)
Seven of these players are locks to make it: the starters, plus Millsap and John Wall.
Jimmy Butler is maybe the best two-way player outside of San Antonio. Kyle Lowry has dragged Toronto to the second seed in the east. Lebron James is Lebron Freaking James:
Chris Bosh's ability to play both inside and outside on either end allows Miami to make the most of their hodgepodge roster. Paul George, after returning from a horrific injury, has Indiana in fine position despite the fact that their best big man seems to be Ian Mahinmi.
At first glance, John Wall seems like he should be lumped in with the lower-tier players. The Wizards are a couple games below .500 in a competitive Eastern Conference. However, a closer look reveals what sets him apart. John Wall started the year cold. Washington was trying to implement a brand new style of run and gun offense, going from 16th in the league in pace (possessions per game) last season (95.96), to 5th this season (99.9). That's a big change for a team, and especially for the point guard charged with running the show. However, since December 1st, Wall is averaging 22 pts, 10.8 ast, 4.8 reb, and 2.3 stl, all while shooting almost 39% from downtown. And that's all with Beal and Nene missing a ton of games, and a number of other players being in and out of the lineup. Not only is Wall deserving of this spot, he just might be the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
Paul Millsap's game isn't sexy. He doesn't throw down big dunks, cross anybody up, or even torch somebody down low with slick post moves. What he does do, is produce. He puts up 18 pts, 9 reb, and 3 ast, plus about 3 combined steals and blocks per game, while shooting 49% from the floor. Not only that, but he really is a game-changer on both ends of the floor, with enough speed to cover ground, and enough size to bang with anybody in the paint. With the Hawks' balanced attack, that makes him the best performer on a team that is 8 games above .500, and gets him a spot in the all-star game.
With 7 spots locked down, that means there are still 5 more up for grabs, with a myriad of players to choose from:
DeMar DeRozan, Khris Middleton, Dwyane Wade, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Jeff Teague, Pau Gasol, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, [Player from Orlando].
It feels odd to only have one player from the Cavaliers when they've been as dominant as they've looked at times this season. But their offensive sets have basically turned Kevin Love, one of the most dynamic stretch 4's in the league, into Channing Frye on offense. And although his effort level looks to be consistently good, Love's defense is never going to get him into an all star game. Kyrie is also out, simply because he hasn't played enough games and when he has played, he hasn't reached his peak form on a consistent basis. That being said, everybody looks forward to more of this once he's back in rhythm:
DeMar DeRozan is not-so-secretly having a career year, as Zach Levy wrote about, and in addition to being destined for a max contract this offseason, he's also destined for the all star game. DeMar is averaging 23 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast, and getting to the line more than 8 times per game for the second-place Raptors. Not only that, but DeMar has displayed an ability to use picks better than ever before, and is making great use of the post against smaller defenders:
4 spots left, and one of them should definitely go to a member of the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons have shown that they can beat anybody on a given night, handing losses to the Warriors, Cavs, Bulls, and Hawks. In addition, their bench is less than inspiring, meaning their starters must be doing something right. You bet your ass they are. Drummond is putting up a prolific rebounding season that would make former Pistons alum Rodman proud, and he's dominating offensively in the paint. Drummond has room to grow on defense, and his free throws need work (he should call Dwight, who just went 14/18 from the line), but his impact on the game is undeniable.
3 spots left, and the Celtics still don't have a representative. The Celtics are Hawks-ish with their talent distribution, with no superstar-level talent, but a number of very solid players. Jae Crowder's scoring has improved each month so far this season, while Avery Bradley has trended in the opposite direction thanks in large part to injuries. But throughout it all, Isaiah Thomas has been the player that the Celtics consistently look to for offensive plays. The Celtics are in a bit of a holding pattern as they wait to trade some of their depth for a superstar-level player, but meantime, Isaiah is filling the gap quite nicely to the tune of 23 points, 3 reb, and 6.6 ast. The little fella can get eaten alive on defense, but Boston can usually hide him on that end thanks to the two players mentioned above, and lockdown defender Marcus Smart.
The final 2 all star spots could go any number of ways. A second player for the Bulls isn't entirely out of order, but Gasol's defense is predictably lacklustre, and Jimmy Butler frequently looks like a one-man wrecking crew out there. Similarly, it's hard to deny that Wade's been solid, but he's not really having a standout year. Although the Hawks are doing well, Jeff Teague hasn't wowed anyone with his performance this season, and Atlanta frequently looks just as good with Dennis Schroder running the show. As such, Teague is out of an all star spot, and maybe even a starting job if Schroder continues to improve. Carmelo is looking solid as usual, but the Knicks are struggling to stay at .500 despite a surprisingly quick start from rookie/god Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks don't have an all star this year, but they certainly have a lot to look forward to:
Another .500-ish team worth considering is the Hornets. They have been having a rough few weeks, but don't let that cloud the fact that they have drastically outperformed what many people thought they were capable of. Missing Al Jefferson, and more importantly, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets have managed to stay .500-ish, and that's due in large part to the play of Kemba Walker. Kemba's averaging 20 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast, and is the Hornets go-to man when they need a bucket. With Charlotte's big man rotation in flux, Walker has kept a steady hand and guided this team to a few more victories than they might have anticipated, including a Martin Luther King Day 2OT thriller where he dropped 52 (a Hornets franchise record). Kemba's in.
The final spot could go to Milwaukee's Khris Middleton, who is playing at an elite level in January after a ho-hum November and December. However, he'll need a longer stretch at this level in order to get all star consideration.
Ultimately, the final spot goes to Detroit's Reggie Jackson. As I mentioned, Detroit owes nearly all of its success to its starters, and Reggie Jackson is a huge part of that. Averaging 19, 4, and 7, Jackson's ability to cut up defenses and get to the hole (even if it's just to brick an off-balance layup that Dummond can clean up) pushes Detroit in exciting directions and earns Reggie the last spot on the Eastern All Star team.
EAST SNUBS: Wade, Melo, Kyrie, All of Orlando, Middleton
Check out my list of Western Conference All-Stars!