The NBA season is not even two months old, yet the 2021 All-Star Game scheduled for March 7 in Atlanta is quickly approaching. Last Thursday, the 10 All-Star starters were announced, with the reserves announcement coming Tuesday night on TNT. So with the selection process drawing to a close and players having made their cases, several of our writers got together to break down who they expect to get picked, who they expect to be snubbed and what we want out of this event as a whole.
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Who are your absolute, no justification needed locks in each conference?
Sam Quinn: I have seven in the West. Anthony Davis would've made it eight, but knowing he won't play, I can't see any argument against LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Paul George or Rudy Gobert. As for the East, it's Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Bradley Beal, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton and Jaylen Brown. Yes, you could argue against Harden or Irving based on off-court matters, but they're indisputably All-Stars based on performance and that's what matters.
James Herbert: In the East: Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Khris Middleton, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. James Harden and Kyrie Irving should be locks based on their numbers, but I at least had to think about how Harden's inelegant exit in Houston and Irving's nine missed games should be weighed against their offensive production, especially given their culpability in Brooklyn's porous defense. In the West: Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. (Yes, I'm aware that this is 75 percent of the team. I stand by it.)
Brad Botkin: In the East, I have almost the entire roster set in stone: Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Khris Middleton, James Harden, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Ben Simmons. I don't see how any of these 11 guys don't get the nod. I'm tempted to say Zach LaVine is a lock for the final spot, but I'll leave it open for the possibility of Trae Young, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, Jerami Grant, Domantas Sabonis, Collin Sexton, Fred VanVleet or Kyle Lowry. But I'm almost positive LaVine gets in. The West has a bit more wiggle room with only nine locks: LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Paul George and Rudy Gobert.
Zach LaVine openly campaigned last season. Mike Conley might not get another chance. Outside of your locks, which possible first-timer do you most want to see in the All-Star Game?
Quinn: I think the degree of difficulty on Julius Randle's season is getting sorely overlooked. Averaging 23 points on 47/40/80 shooting is no easy feat in general, but getting there on a roster devoid of shooting and playmaking is kind of insane. He's averaging more assists than LaVine and is a better defender. His own coach seems determined not to use a sensible rotation. Randle has gone from one of the most toxic players in the NBA to the MVP of a current playoff team, and that's worth rewarding, especially when he's the one dragging this roster kicking and screaming toward competence.
Herbert: In a literal sense the answer is Zion Williamson because who wouldn't want to see him in an All-Star Game. But my real answer is Conley, both for sentimental reasons and because he's been incredible.
Botkin: I want to see Conley get in, and I believe he will. In any other year, I think he might get snubbed for De'Aaron Fox, but given that this All-Star Game is almost entirely about the recognition of the selection with the game itself being something most guys don't even want to play in, it's the perfect chance to reward Conley with his first All-Star nod without major fuss. Plus, he's not some charity selection. He's been fantastic all season for the best team in the league. As mentioned above, I also think LaVine gets a nod in the East.
Who do you expect to be the biggest snub?
Herbert: Conley. Sigh. It hasn't helped that the Jazz have kept rolling without him.
Botkin: Unfortunately, I think De'Aaron Fox comes up short in the West.
Quinn: I expect LaVine to beat out Young considering the general distaste coaches seem to have for his foul-hunting (and his defense), but on merit, he's more deserving. No, the scoring numbers aren't as robust, but his playmaking is eons ahead of LaVine's. The Hawks are 15.6 points per 100 possessions worse on offense when Young sits, roughly double Chicago's decline without LaVine and a constant of his early career. LaVine isn't exactly the empty-calories scorer that some have suggested he is, but he is not the driver of elite team offense that Young is.
A number of stars have come out against the idea of playing an All-Star Game. Should this year's event be optional for selected players?
Herbert: That *sounds* like a nice solution, but I'm not sure the point of having an All-Star Game if it is going to be optional. (If your counterargument is that you're not sure the point of having an All-Star Game during a pandemic-shortened season, well, fair.)
Botkin: I don't see how you can make playing optional. Who would play? We know nobody is really in favor of this game as it is, and it would be the perfect excuse to get a much-needed midseason break without any backlash by citing the very legitimate COVID concern. If you're going to have a game, you have to make playing mandatory, or else you'll have loads of guys opting out and end up with Kyle Kuzma starting for the West.
Quinn: Giving everyone the ability to opt out would water the quality down too much, but would it be so farfetched to give the teams with especially shortened offseasons a reward for their deep playoff runs last season? I'd argue that the Lakers, Heat, Celtics and Nuggets are getting punished for their success, and allowing their players to opt out could serve a number of valuable purposes. It rewards winning, opens the door for more first-timers, ensures that more participants will be engaged in giving fans a proper show, and perhaps most importantly, placates an angry LeBron.