Whether they like it or not, the best players in the NBA will convene in Atlanta on March 7, the planned date of the 2021 All-Star Game. Fan voting ended on Tuesday, and the starting lineups were announced on Thursday evening. Coaches vote for the reserves, who will be announced on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The game will return to an East vs. West format, which means it will be the first All-Star Game since 2017 to not feature Team LeBron.
As usual, there are more All-Star-caliber players than there are roster spots. Here's a look at the guys who merit consideration for their first appearance, followed by a breakdown of how the teams should shake out. (All stats reflect games played before Feb. 16.)
CBS Sports HQ
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Potential first-time All-Stars
The stats: 28.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes. 60.1 true shooting percentage (TS%), 30.5 usage rate (USG%), 18.1 assist percentage (AST%). Shooting 73 percent at the rim, 50 percent on long 2s and 42 percent on 3s in non-garbage-time minutes, per Cleaning The Glass.
The case for Brown: This year's version of Brown is an entirely different type of challenge for a defense. He's taking and making self-created shots at a much higher rate, a necessity for a team that lost Gordon Hayward in the offseason and has either been without Kemba Walker or had a diminished version of him. Not only has Brown consistently hit shots that modern defenses are designed to give up, but he has also managed to improve his assist rate and cut his turnover rate at the same time.
The case against Brown: None. The only question is whether or not he should be a starter.
The stats: 20.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals per 36 minutes. 59.3 TS%, 22.8 USG%, 28.9 AST%. Shooting 57 percent at the rim, 51 percent on short midrange shots and 41 percent on 3s, per CTG. Utah has a plus-17.7 net rating with him on the court.
The case for Conley: Only Joel Embiid ranks higher in FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR metric, which is a combination of individual and on/off numbers. This is the most efficient Conley has ever been, and the Conley-Gobert pick-and-roll is essentially unguardable because his floater is going in and the spacing is pristine. The Jazz have been the league's best team, and Conley has personified their aggressive-but-unselfish approach on offense. It's finally time.
The case against Conley: He's been sidelined for the last five games with a hamstring injury, and Utah has kept rolling without him. Will coaches vote for Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Conley? If not, he's essentially competing against his teammates.
The stats: 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes. 64.7 TS%, 26.5 USG%, 14.9 AST%. Shooting 64 percent at the rim, per CTG.
The case for Williamson: He is truly a one-of-a-kind player, and he'd be a shoo-in if he had started the season operating the way he has recently. In his last 10 games, Williamson has averaged 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, the result of a significant shift in his approach. Already one of the premier finishers in the game -- he's averaging a league-leading 18.4 points in the paint -- the 20-year-old is now dominating as a creator.
The case against Williamson: He's shown flashes on defense recently, but has been a clear negative on that end, especially in the pick-and-roll and closing out on shooters. There is stiff competition for the Western Conference reserves, and while the Pelicans seemed to be ascending a week ago, double-digit losses to Chicago, Dallas and Detroit have dropped them to 11-15.
The stats: 28.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.0 steals per 36 minutes. 64.5 TS%, 29.9 USG%, 24.3 AST%. Shooting 67 percent at the rim, 51 percent on long 2s and 43 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for LaVine: Almost nobody is doing what he's doing offensively. The efficiency is unreal, considering he takes so many difficult shots. The Bulls have scored like a top-10 offense with LaVine on the court and like the worst offense in the league with him on the bench. He might not be as bad a defender as you think.
The case against LaVine: Chicago's 11-15 record will hurt him with coaches. He still has the reputation of an empty-calories scorer. The Bulls' defense has been way better without him.
The stats: 22.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 0.7 steals per 36 minutes. 58.6 TS%, 26.7 USG%, 25.2 AST%. Shooting 50 percent on long 2s and 41 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Randle: He has thrived in imperfect conditions, meaningfully improving his decision-making and shooting (from the line, from midrange and from deep). It is difficult to overstate the difference between Randle's first and second seasons in New York, both in terms of passing and shooting. That the Knicks are not dead-last on offense is a credit to him; their offensive rating of 102.8 with him on the bench would have ranked last in any season since the 2016-17 Philadelphia 76ers posted an offensive rating of 102.7.
The case against Randle: The raw numbers are nice, but a lot of it is a consequence of him averaging 36.7 minutes per game. He's the fulcrum of an inefficient offense, and coaches might not give him credit for the Knicks' incredible jump on defense, which is the reason they're in the mix for a playoff spot.
The stats: 24.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes. 61.1 TS%, 27.4 USG%, 32.2 AST%. Shooting 64 percent at the rim, 45 percent from midrange and 39 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Gilgeous-Alexander: His star potential was evident as a rookie, and he was a fringe All-Star last season, splitting ball-handling duties with Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. It has nonetheless been stunning to see how easily he has taken to life as a No. 1 option. It is normal for a young player's efficiency to decline in this situation, but Gilgeous-Alexander's has gone the other way. His in-between game and finishing have improved, and he's all but dispensed of long 2s in favor of 3s, which he's hitting at a greater volume and a higher percentage than he did in his first two seasons.
The case against Gilgeous-Alexander: The on/off numbers point to his offensive value, but the Thunder have overachieved because of their defense and they have been much better on that end with him on the bench. He's up against players on better teams, with longer track records, and coaches tend to favor the familiar.
The stats: 25.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes. 56.4 TS%, 29.8 USG%, 33.8 AST%. Shooting 70 percent at the rim and 44 percent on short midrange shots, per CTG.
The case for Fox: Like Williamson, he has made a real push lately. In seven games in February, Fox has averaged 28.6 points and 8.9 assists, leading the Kings to wins over the Pelicans, Celtics, Nuggets and Clippers. All season, though, he's been a more complete player than ever before, destroying defenses in the pick-and-roll and attacking the paint as well as anyone in the league. It's easier to do that when opponents respect your jumper, and Fox is now shooting 44.7 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s.
The case against Fox: All of those recent wins were against shorthanded opponents. Fox's improvement as a shooter is overstated -- he's making a career-low 68.6 percent of his free throws and just 31.3 percent of his pull-up 3s, which represent most of his 3-point attempts -- and he hasn't been as efficient as, say, Gilgeous-Alexander. It's not fair to punish him for his teammates' shortcomings, but coaches might hesitate to pick an All-Star from a team that is 25th in net rating and has the worst defense in the league.
The stats: 19.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes. 55.5 TS%, 23.1 USG%, 27.3 AST%. Shooting 39 percent on 3s, per CTG. Raptors have a plus-4.2 net rating with him on the court and a minus-4.0 net rating with him on the bench.
The case for VanVleet: He just keeps getting better, as evidenced by his franchise-record 54 points (on 17-for-23 shooting!) against the Magic a couple of weeks ago. Even though Toronto's spacing isn't what it was last season and VanVleet has more offensive responsibility, he has maintained his efficiency, cut his turnover rate and remained an elite point-of-attack defender. Advanced stats aren't everything, but FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR ranks him fifth in the entire league in terms of WAR (wins above replacement level).
The case against VanVleet: He wouldn't rank that highly in WAR if he hadn't played more minutes than almost anybody. While his role has grown, he's not the same kind of creator as some other All-Star candidates in terms of usage or efficiency. The Raptors have been erratic, and it's unclear if coaches concerned with team success will be willing to focus on their net rating (ninth in the NBA) instead of their record (12-15). Some of them might pick teammate Kyle Lowry instead.
The stats: 25.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes. 63.4 TS%, 26.3 USG%. Shooting 82 percent at the rim and 42 percent on 3s, per CTG. Rockets have a plus-3.9 net rating with him on the court and a minus-4.4 net rating with him on the bench.
The case for Wood: Undeniably one of the most devastating offensive bigs in the game. He's a lob threat, a pick-and-pop weapon, a terror in transition and a walking matchup problem. If you are picking your Western Conference reserves based on per-minute stats, it is difficult to rationalize excluding him.
The case against Wood: Still sidelined with an ankle injury, he has only played in 17 games this season and nine since the James Harden trade. Any coach uncomfortable with anointing Wood too early can justify leaving him out by pointing to his defense -- still clearly a work in progress -- and his total minutes played.
The stats: 22.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. 57% TS, 25.7 USG%, 14.2 AST%. Shooting 61 percent at the rim and 38 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Grant: In his seventh season, he has gone from a low-usage role player to the star of the show, and the transition has been smoother than anyone expected. Sure, Detroit has a below-average offensive rating (110.6) with Grant on the court, but it has an absolutely abysmal offensive rating (100.7) with him on the bench. He is doing some real heavy lifting, and he has become an excellent free throw shooter seemingly overnight.
The case against Grant: The hot midrange shooting has tailed off -- he's now making 39 percent of his long 2s, per CTG -- and he hasn't been particularly efficient if you take the free throws out of the equation. While he has unquestionably demonstrated that he is capable of doing much more than he did in Denver, there is still skepticism about his ability to do this on a winning team.
The stats: 21.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes. 61.7 TS%, 22.9 USG%. Shooting 50 percent from midrange and 43 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Harris: His 3-point shooting has cooled off a bit lately, but he's still making 46.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and his overall efficiency numbers remain awesome. A beneficiary of Philadelphia's reconfigured roster, Harris is playing power forward exclusively and has traded some of his isolations and post-ups for pick-and-rolls. It has added up to a career year.
The case against Harris: His ability to create offense and his spot-up shooting are important to the Sixers, but no one would argue that he is the player most responsible for their success. Most coaches likely see Harris as their third-best player, and the team hasn't been so dominant that they are likely to vote for both him and Ben Simmons.
The stats: 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes. 54.1 TS%, 25.7 USG%, 28.7 AST%. Shooting 51 percent on long 2s and 38 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Brogdon: Effusive in his praise for the Pacers' new offense, he started the season on an absolute tear, equally comfortable bending the defense as a lead initiator and attacking the paint after the defense had been bent. In this way he's an ideal complement to Domantas Sabonis offensively, and he has remained the same versatile, physical, intelligent defender he has always been.
The case against Brogdon: He has tailed off significantly in the past couple of weeks, and part of this is because teams are going under against him. Making matters worse, Brogdon is shooting just 47 percent at the rim. If any Pacer is going to make it, it's probably Sabonis.
The stats: 20.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes. 63.0 TS%, 20.6 USG%. Shooting 69 percent at the rim, 45 percent from midrange and 41 percent on 3s, per CTG. Atlanta has a plus-2.6 net rating with him on the court and a minus-8.5 net rating with him on the bench.
The case for Collins: The shooting is for real, the post game is coming along and, most importantly, Collins is figuring things out defensively. While his per-game numbers don't pop the way they did the last couple of seasons, he's a better player now.
The case against Collins: The Hawks have been weirdly uninspiring on offense, and if they're going to get an All-Star, it'll almost certainly be Trae Young. Collins' improvement doesn't check the typical boxes -- he's playing fewer minutes, getting fewer touches and scoring fewer points than he did last season.
The stats: 23.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. 57.4 TS%, 25.9 USG%, 20.4 AST%. Shooting 62 percent at the rim and 41 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Sexton: An electric and fearless scorer, he delivered one of the most memorable and magical performances of the season on Jan. 20, upstaging the Nets' Big 3 in their debut. When he's hot, he certainly looks like an All-Star, and it's easy to imagine him putting on a show in that setting.
The case against Sexton: The consistency hasn't quite been there, and neither has his playmaking for others. Having lost eight straight games, Cleveland's strong start feels like ancient history.
The stats: 15.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 4.0 blocks per 36 minutes. 61.8 TS%, 16.9 USG%. Shooting 69 percent at the rim and 62 percent on short midrange shots, per CTG.
The case for Turner: If he's not the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, he has to be in the top three. No one is blocking and affecting shots at the rim like him, and he has made strides on offense, too. The long 2s that drove you crazy are gone, replaced by way more rim attempts and a slight uptick in 3s. Like Collins, he is an atypical "breakout" player, given his decreased usage, but there is a tidier narrative here.
The case against Turner: Having lost seven of their last 10 games, the Pacers might not get a single All-Star. They're definitely not getting three. Beyond that, Turner hasn't been all that accurate as a stretch big -- he's shooting 34.4 percent on wide-open (i.e. the closest defender is six or more feet away) 3s.
The stats: 22.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 9.6 assists and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. 53.4 TS%, 28.0 USG%, 38.1 AST%. Shooting 44 percent on short midrange shots and 35 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for Morant: He's one of the most exhilarating players in the league, with skills tailor-made for the All-Star Game, and he pairs his acrobatic finishes with an advanced pick-and-roll game and unselfish approach to his role as the Grizzlies' lead playmaker. He's seventh in assist rate and second in assists that lead to corner 3s, despite his team's shooting struggles. Memphis has scored almost as well (114.7 points per 100 possessions) as the sixth-ranked Blazers with him on the court and almost as poorly (106.5 per 100) as the 27th-ranked Timberwolves with him on the bench.
The case against Morant: He is taking more 3s than he did as a rookie, but making an identical 0.9 per game, shooting sub-30 percent on both catch-and-shoot and pull-ups. Beyond that, Morant has only logged 418 minutes and played in 14 games. His time is coming, but the competition is too stiff this time.
The stats: 28.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. 62.0 TS%, 27.9 USG%, 25.0 AST%. Shooting 61 percent on long 2s and 44 percent on 3s, per CTG.
The case for McCollum: Before he broke his foot, he was essentially unstoppable. He was taking 7.3 pull-up 3s per game and making 42.1 percent of them. (Points of reference: Stephen Curry is taking a career-high 6.6 pull-up 3s and shooting 42.4 percent on them. Damian Lillard is taking a league-high 7.8 pull-up 3s and shooting 36.4 on them.) McCollum was also making 48.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and on fire from midrange. If he had stayed healthy and sustained shooting numbers even close to these, he would've been a lock.
The case against McCollum: Too small of a sample. He got hurt in the first half of his 13th game.
Who should/will start in the West?
Based on last week's returns (and common sense), we can safely lock in LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Curry. Los Angeles residents Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis are neck-and-neck for the third frontcourt spot, and Luka Doncic leads Lillard for the second backcourt spot.
I'd go with Leonard over Davis by a comfortable margin, based on Leonard's superior playmaking and shooting. (The Lakers have to hope that Davis' jump shot improves when he returns from his calf injury.) Doncic vs. Lillard is a tougher call. Both of them are playing MVP-caliber basketball right now, and it comes down to which nits you'd like to pick. Doncic started the season in a horrific shooting slump and had to play himself into shape. Lillard has been more consistent but bears more responsibility when it comes to his team's defensive ineptitude.
I'd take Lillard.
Who should/will start in the East?
It should not surprise you that Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Embiid are all but officially going to represent the East in the frontcourt. The backcourt is more complicated -- Bradley Beal is ahead of the pack, and Kyrie Irving leads Harden for the second spot. Brown and LaVine likely have too much ground to make up here.
It's not crazy to argue that both Brooklyn guards should come off the bench. Beal has been an even more prolific and efficient scorer than he was last season, and, by virtue of the team he's on, his buckets are much more difficult than the ones Irving and Harden are getting now. Brown has overcome similar challenges and has virtually never had the luxury of playing next to four threatening 3-point shooters. He's also by far the best defender of the bunch.
Realistically, though, Brown is going to be a reserve, and no one should have a problem with either Harden or Irving (or both) starting. If forced to pick one Net, I'd choose Irving because of his superior shooting and the chaos that surrounded Harden in Houston.
Who are the locks?
Beyond the aforementioned James, Jokic, Curry, Leonard, Davis, Lillard and Doncic, I'd be stunned if Paul George or Gobert were snubbed by the coaches. That's nine spots accounted for, leaving three open.
I could theoretically see some coaches leaving Harden and/or Irving off their ballots, but if we assume they're in, I count nine locks in the East as well: Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Beal, Brown, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum and the Brooklyn trio.
Who deserves the final few spots?
In the West, pick three players from this group: Williamson, Conley, Mitchell, Fox, Paul, Devin Booker, Gilgeous-Alexander, Wood, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Ingram, Morant and McCollum. Or pick four if you're assuming that Davis will miss the All-Star Game, opening the door for an injury replacement. (He is reportedly unlikely to return before the break).
In the East, pick three players from this group: Bam Adebayo, Nikola Vucevic, LaVine, Simmons, Harris, Young, Hayward, Harris, Sabonis, VanVleet, Lowry, Grant, Collins, Brogdon, Turner, Sexton and Jrue Holiday.
This is not easy. Giving myself four spots in the West to account for the Davis injury, I think I've settled on Williamson, Conley, Mitchell and Paul, but I'm extremely uncomfortable leaving Booker, Fox and Gilgeous-Alexander out. Differentiating between the candidates in the East drives me even crazier, but I'm leaning toward Adebayo, Vucevic and LaVine, which feels particularly unfair to Randle, Simmons, Sabonis, Hayward, VanVleet and Young. I'll probably feel differently tomorrow.