NBA All-Star Game 2019: How many Warriors make the cut, Luka Doncic's chances and other questions on early voting
Also: Can Oklahoma City potentially have three All-Stars? Just how bleak is the East?
Zaza Pachulia isn't getting the support he used to, but the first returns for All-Star voting were pretty wacky: Derrick Rose over James Harden! Dwyane Wade over Kemba Walker! Luka Doncic over Kevin Durant!
The lesson, as always, is to take this extremely seriously and get worked up about it. Wait, what am I talking about? This is a popularity contest, not a true measure of how everybody has performed this season, and I bet we'll see a strong reaction to the aforementioned weirdness when the second returns are released. This is as good a time as any, though, to start thinking about what this year's All-Star teams could actually look like. A few questions:
How many Warriors will make it?
Stephen Curry and Durant are locks, but, unlike the past two seasons, there is no guarantee that the Golden State Warriors will have four All-Stars. In fact, for the first time since 2015, they might only have two.
Draymond Green's case for inclusion is simple: While Golden State has only been average on defense overall, it has still been elite with Green on the court. He is still arguably the best and most versatile defender in the league. The problem is that he is having a rough season offensively, shooting 40.6 percent and making only 24.6 percent of his 3-pointers. As smart as he is, the coaches who vote for All-Star reserves (and routinely dare him to shoot!) could hold his lack of efficiency against him.
Klay Thompson's season has been even more confusing. He is shooting more frequently than ever before, but his accuracy -- particularly from 3-point range -- has fallen off. Thompson has a career 3-point percentage of 41.6 percent and has never shot worse than 40 percent from long range in a season, but he is sitting at 34.4 percent through 38 games. His 50.9 percent effective shooting percentage is in the 56th percentile for wings -- last season, that number was 58.8 percent, which put him in the 93rd percentile. His defense still passes the eye test, but, the Warriors have been much better on that end with him on the bench.
A Big 3 in OKC?
Paul George is playing like an MVP candidate, so he's in. Russell Westbrook will almost certainly make it, too, despite the fact that he's having the least efficient season of his career. His 3s aren't falling, his midrange shooting has been awful and he's been weirdly worse at getting to the free-throw line and making free throws, but he's a former MVP averaging a triple-double on one of the best teams in the league. The interesting thing here is whether or not their Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Steven Adams will get the consideration he deserves.
Adams is not a typical All-Star. People think of him as a bruiser and a role player. This is the first season in which he has averaged double-figure shot attempts. Don't be surprised, though, if there is a push from the nerdier corners of the basketball internet to get him to Charlotte. Adams is averaging 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds and, more importantly, anchoring the best defense in the league. I'm not going to predict that this will add up to his first All-Star appearance -- the West is insane, and coaches might not want three Thunder players to make it -- but it is interesting to put his credentials up against the likes of Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela.
Does Luka actually have a chance?
I mean, the guy is definitely playing like an All-Star. Doncic is averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists, and he's getting better and better as the season goes on. In the East, I could see him making it. In the West, it's tricky.
Let's assume, for Doncic's sake, that Thompson, Green and Adams all miss out. Let's also assume that Rose does not make it. I'd count Curry, Harden, Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Westbrook, George, Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard as locks if healthy. That leaves three spots.
Here is Doncic's competition for those spots: DeMar DeRozan, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gobert, Capela, LaMarcus Aldridge, Devin Booker, Tobias Harris, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Jamal Murray. I might even throw De'Aaron Fox's name in there. Per minute, you could argue Montrezl Harrell has been one of the best players in the league.
An early guess: Towns and DeRozan will make it. Beyond that, it's hard to say what will happen, but I doubt the coaches will pick a rookie over some of those guys. I just wish we could throw away conferences and simply send the best 24 players.
Just how bleak is the East?
Pretty bleak! It's easy to pick the starting five -- Kyrie Irving, Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid -- but, soon after that, there's a drop-off. I am comfortable calling Victor Oladipo a lock despite the fact he hasn't been as efficient as he was last season, and I'm quite sure Jimmy Butler and Blake Griffin will make it, too. When filling out those last four spots, though, I have questions:
- Will the coaches reward Bradley Beal for his strong individual season despite all the Wizards' dysfunction?
- How do you weigh Kyle Lowry's shooting struggles against his career-high assist numbers?
- How much do coaches care about Nikola Vucevic's advanced numbers?
- How much do they care about Andre Drummond's 17 points and 15 rebounds per game?
- Can Khris Middleton build on his last few games and get his percentages back up?
- Could Domantas Sabonis or Spencer Dinwiddie get some consideration despite coming off the bench?
Ben Simmons' production is good enough, but he is divisive and the coaches might not want to put three Sixers in. I could make serious cases for Pascal Siakam, John Collins, Josh Richardson and Marcus Morris. I wouldn't be surprised if the coaches selected Al Horford again, even though he hasn't been his normal self. I would be surprised if they selected Zach LaVine, even though he's averaging 23 points. I guess what I'm saying here is it's a good thing that the All-Star Game isn't East vs. West anymore.
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