Christmas Day is one of the most important dates on the NBA calendar, and not only because the league takes over national TV with five marquee games. It's also the start of fan voting for the All-Star Game, which this season will take place in Chicago on Sunday, Feb. 16.
Now that voting has been open for a week, we've gotten the first batch of early returns back, which gives us an idea of who's in position to earn a starting spot. As a reminder, the two top vote-getters in each conference are made captains for the All-Star Game, but fan voting is only 50 percent of the equation to determine the starters. Players and media also get votes, each of which make up an additional 25 percent of the tally.
Following the first week of voting, the two players in the lead in their respective conferences are Dallas Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic, and the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Voting remains open until Jan. 20, so some of these positions are tenuous, but let's take a look at some takeaways from the initial voting period.
1. Race for the most votes is razor thin
Last season, the two captains were LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who ran away with the fan vote. As expected, they're both among the leaders again this season, but a new contender has emerged. And, in fact, not only is Luka Doncic challenging them, he's actually in the lead after the first week of voting with 1,073,957 votes.
That gives him a narrow 599-vote margin over Giannis for the overall voting lead, and a 53,106-vote advantage over LeBron for the lead in the West. Given how things are shaking out in the Eastern Conference, it appears Giannis will have no trouble locking up one of the captaincies. However, both the overall vote leader, and the Western Conference captain are very much up for grabs.
It will be pretty interesting to watch how this all plays out over the next month. Fan voting for the All-Star Game is definitely not the most prestigious honor players are chasing, but it would be pretty impressive if Doncic outmuscles two icons for the top spot in just his second season.
2. The five Western Conference spots might already be decided
While the race at the top is fascinating, and could go down to the wire, it doesn't look like the battle for the five starting spots in the Western Conference will have the same amount of intrigue.
Doncic, of course, is in the lead in the backcourt, and is followed by James Harden, who boasts 749,080 votes. The next highest vote total for guards is Damian Lillard with just 202,498. It's hard to see him making up a gap of over 500,000 votes from the fans, and just as difficult to see players or media voting for anyone besides Doncic and Harden.
Likewise, in the frontcourt, LeBron has a big lead over everyone else with his one million-plus votes. Up next is his teammate, Anthony Davis, who's tallied an impressive 955,246 votes of his own, and coming in third is Kawhi Leonard, at 740,657 votes. The gap between Leonard and the No. 4 vote-getter, Paul George, is nearly 500,000 votes as well. While the player and media vote may be a bit more jumbled than the backcourt, it's really tough to see how George makes up that gap.
Unless something wild happens, the five starters coming out of the West will be Luka Doncic, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and LeBron James. And really, it's hard to argue with that.
3. Kyrie vs. Kemba
Despite one of the most talented rosters in the league, the Boston Celtics were a huge disappointment last season, slogging their way to the No. 4 seed in the East and a second-round exit in the playoffs. And when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford departed in the summer, it seemed like they would have to enter into a rebuilding phase led by their young players. Instead, they pivoted to stealing Kemba Walker away from the hapless Charlotte Hornets.
And when Walker helped lead the Celtics to a terrific start this season -- they're now 23-8, which is good for second place in the East -- it made it easy to pit the two point guards against each other. There were other reasons the Celtics were playing well, but it was all too convenient to point at Irving and declare that he was holding the Celtics back. That conversation has quieted due to Irving's shoulder injury, which has kept him off the floor since Nov. 14, but it's not lost on anyone that the Celtics look better without him.
It's fitting, then, that Irving and Walker are locked in an ultra-tight battle for a backcourt starting spot in the East. Trae Young leads all guards in the East with 443,412 votes after the first week, but right behind him are Irving, who checked in with 432,481, and Walker, who registered 432,031, for a difference of just 450 votes.
There's plenty of time to go, and Irving is unlikely to get many player or media votes considering how much time he's missed. At the same time, it's funny to see them in such a close contest after how interconnected they've been so far this season.
4. Fan favorites crash the party
There are 40 players on the list the NBA released of the top vote-getters from the first week of polling, and it reads as a who's who in the league today. All the top stars are there, even injured players such as Steph Curry and Irving. However, you'll notice there are a few names that seem a bit out of place: Alex Caruso and Tacko Fall.
Those two are far from stars on the floor -- though Caruso is much more of a contributor than Fall -- but they have each become fan favorites in their respective cities of Los Angeles and Boston. And as the voting totals show, that enthusiasm carries out of the arena and into the virtual ballot box.
Caruso picked up 92,233 votes, which has him in eighth place in the Western Conference backcourt, and ahead of players such as Donovan Mitchell and Ja Morant. Fall, meanwhile, crossed into six figures, registering 110,269 votes, a total that , and ahead of his teammate, Gordon Hayward, as well as Andre Drummond and Domantas Sabonis.
Caruso and Fall obviously aren't going to actually make the starting lineup, but this is still sure to jumpstart the annual discussion about whether fans should be trusted with voting for such a historic event.
5. Carmelo's return won't include trip to All-Star Game
After sitting out an entire calendar year since he parted ways with the Houston Rockets last season, Carmelo Anthony finally made it back to the NBA, signing with the Portland Trail Blazers in November. At the time, his return was all anyone in the league could talk about, as players from other teams even joined the chorus congratulating him on coming back.
But even though he's put up solid numbers -- 16.2 points per game and shooting 40.3 percent from 3 -- and got his contract guaranteed through the rest of the season, the buzz has died off. There will be small surges when he plays well, or for meaningful games such as his return to Madison Square Garden, but at this stage in his career he's just not a main attraction.
The early voting returns reflected that fact, as Anthony garnered a very respectable 142,292 votes, but is well off the pace for a starting spot in the Western Conference frontcourt race. At this point he's almost 600,000 votes behind Kawhi Leonard for the third spot, and has no chance of making up that ground.