NBA fans love to complain about All-Star selections. The first tweets and stories to follow the official announcement expound upon who got snubbed. But before you exercise your right to go to bat for your favorite candidate, ask yourself this: Who are you going to take off the roster?
The fact is, there are only 12 All-Star spots up for grabs in each conference, plus whatever injury replacements inevitably arise. By the time we're done filling in the perennial superstars, there's just not much space left. Voting for the 2019-20 NBA All-Star Game begins on Christmas Day, so now is as good a time as any to take stock of how the All-Star selections are shaping up.
The league will once again use a weighted formula to determine starters, with the fan vote counting for 50 percent and the media and player vote getting 25 percent each. This means that players who win the fan vote don't necessarily get to become starters. A good example is last season, when Luka Doncic received the second-most fan votes in the Western Conference, but didn't even make the team.
That being said, there are certain players who we can enter in as veritable certainties to make this year's All-Star Game on Feb. 16 in Chicago. We've labeled them as "locks," and then listed players who will likely make the game, followed by those who -- at this point in the season -- are still on the fence.
As a reminder, two backcourt starters and three frontcourt starters are selected, and then all 30 head coaches vote for the reserves: three frontcourt players, two backcourt players and two wild-card picks. Though the actual teams are now picked by captains, the voting process still goes by conference. Things can certainly change by the time voting closes in late January, but as of now here's a look at the All-Star races in both conferences.
Western Conference backcourt locks
The guy is scoring nearly 40 points per game and is one of the most efficient offensive players in the NBA, averaging 1.103 points per possession according to Synergy Sports Technology. He has also led the Rockets to one of the best records in the Western Conference, a major feat considering their injuries and roster makeup. Go ahead and pencil him in as a starter.
Doncic got the second-most votes in the Western Conference last season, but it wasn't enough to get him in the game. That won't be an issue this time around. Even if he misses significant time with his ankle injury, he'll likely end up starting the game given his impressive numbers and the Mavericks' surprise success. Last season Doncic was listed as a frontcourt player, but we'll assume the NBA will switch him to a guard on this season's ballot. Either way, he's in.
The Blazers have disappointed this season, but Lillard certainly has not. He's playing 36 minutes per game at impressive offensive efficiency, while averaging a career high in assists. He'll be suiting up for his fifth All-Star Game in February.
Western Conference frontcourt locks
Any thoughts of a LeBron decline have been completely demolished in the early stages of his 17th NBA season. He's a legitimate MVP candidate who's leading the league with a career-high in assists on the best team in the Western Conference. The All-Star Game staple will once again lead the charge, likely as the conference's leading vote-getter.
No matter your feelings on load management, there's no argument against Leonard having secured his fourth All-Star appearance already. His most notable improvement this season has been his play-making -- he's averaging five assists after never averaging more than 3.5 in his entire career -- while still averaging over 25 points on one of the West's best teams.
Davis has stayed relatively healthy, and he has reminded people of just how good he is after a lost season in New Orleans that led to the move to Los Angeles. As versatile as any player in the league, Davis has been just as brilliant defensively as offensively, averaging over 2.5 blocks to go with his usual point totals.
The only question about George was whether he would play enough games to earn All-Star votes from the players and coaches, and he certainly has done that. He has been brilliant this season in his new surroundings, shooting 40 percent on nearly 10 3-point attempts per game in just over 30 minutes. As his minutes increase his production will go up, cementing him a roster spot in Chicago.
Even with the Wolves' recent dip in the standings, Towns is an undeniable All-Star given his unprecedented production from the center position. He has nearly doubled his 3-point attempts this season to over eight per game under Ryan Saunders, and is hitting them at a 42 percent clip. The defense still needs work, but that won't keep him out of the All-Star Game.
Likely Western Conference reserves
Injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson opened up a couple of backcourt spots in the West, and Mitchell will likely grab one of them. He's averaging a career-high in points while improving his field goal shooting to 45 percent on an always-solid Jazz team.
The Suns have cooled off after their impressive start, but they've improved enough to get Booker his first All-Star appearance. He has dropped about a point per game from last season, but his efficiency has absolutely skyrocketed with a few new teammates in Monty Williams' system. He's currently at 50-40-90 percentages while averaging 25 points and over six assists.
Jokic's numbers are down from last season, but it's not exactly a secret that he came into the year slightly out of shape. He has been much better recently, and should continue that trajectory into the All-Star Game in February. He's one of the most unique players in the league, and the engine of one of the best teams in the West.
On the bubble (Western Conference)
If the Jazz had a better record, Gobert would be a sure thing. Instead he's on the bubble once again, after being openly outraged that he didn't make last season's All-Star team. Gobert is averaging fewer points and blocks than last season in three more minutes per game, but he's rebounding more and his defense, as always, is elite.
It's a testament to the depth of the conference that Ingram is even a question to make it given his stats this season, but the Pelicans' brutal record will likely hurt him come selection time. Even if he misses out on the All-Star Game, Ingram won't be too sad with a lucrative contract assuredly heading his way this offseason.
Wiggins is having a career season, launching more 3-pointers and (mostly) doing away with those dreaded long 2s. But the Wolves have fallen off after a strong start, and he might not impress enough to get the coaches' votes. Wiggins is among the league leaders in clutch scoring (games within five points with five minutes remaining), shooting 56 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3 in those situations.
It's weird to think of an All-Star Game without Westbrook, but it's definitely possible given the depth out West this season. He's down three assists per game from last season, somewhat understandable given how much Harden dominates the half-court offense. He's also shooting a paltry 23 percent on five 3-pointers per game, significantly worse than last season's historically bad marksmanship. It will be interesting to see what happens with Westbrook when the votes are tallied.
Eastern Conference backcourt locks
Assuming Kyrie Irving won't play enough games to earn a spot, Beal is all but guaranteed his third All-Star appearance. He's averaging career-highs in both scoring and assists -- partly thanks to the fact that the Wizards play at one of the fastest paces in the league with the NBA's worst defense. But with so much defensive attention paid to him, Beal's numbers are even more impressive.
Walker has been rock-solid for a Celtics team that has seen players go in and out of the lineup all season. He's shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line, which would be a career high, while averaging about the same amount of points per 36 minutes despite playing with superior players than the ones he had in Charlotte. Walker started last season's All-Star Game in Charlotte, and could make it a repeat this coming February.
No matter how you feel about Simmons' offensive progression, you can't deny that he's an All-Star. He's in the top five in the league in assists while shooting 57 percent from the field ... and he actually has a 3-point percentage for the first time in his career (2 for 5). When you add in his tremendous defensive contributions to one of the NBA's best teams, it's hard to imagine Simmons missing the cut.
Eastern Conference frontcourt locks
It would be hilariously entertaining to hear someone's argument against Antetokounmpo making the All-Star team (would imagine you could find a nice rant on YouTube ... but I digress). The Greek Freak will likely be the leading vote-getter for the Eastern Conference, and deservedly so. He's increased his averages from an MVP season, is probably the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and has led the Bucks to the best record in the East with the league's second-highest usage rate. Enough said.
Sure, the consistency is lacking, but Embiid is an absolute monster at both ends of the court. His numbers are down from last season, but they still make him arguably the best center in the NBA. The Sixers have just started to get hot, so another month of solid production should take away any possible question marks about Embiid's All-Star candidacy.
The Heat are one of this season's biggest surprises, and Butler is a huge reason why. He's clearly relishing his role as the primary play-maker, averaging a career high in assists while scoring over 20 points per game. That, along with his always stellar defense and clutch production, makes him a lock for his fifth All-Star Game.
The defending champs haven't missed a beat despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard, mostly because Siakam has seamlessly filled the role of go-to scorer, bumping up his scoring average by over eight points for the second consecutive season -- simply unheard of. He's also averaging career highs in rebounds and 3-point percentage (38.1) while playing an important role in the Raptors defense. He was in the All-Star conversation before missing the cut last season, but there's no keeping him out this time around.
Likely Eastern Conference reserves
The Hawks have been dreadful, but Young has done his best to keep them in games. His defensive deficiencies are glaring, but he makes up for it by putting on offensive shows on a near-nightly basis. His efficiency has greatly improved this season to go along with a nine-point bump in scoring, as he's connecting on 38 percent of his nine 3-point attempts per game. The only way Young gets held out of his first All-Star Game is if coaches, players and/or media can't look past Atlanta's dismal record.
A Most Improved Player candidate, Adebayo has flourished after taking the full-time starting center position in Miami. He's averaging a double-double with over a block and four assists per game, putting him alongside names like Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett and Giannis Antetokounmpo in terms of his statistical accomplishments. Coaches and players understand his defensive importance as well, so he's going to be hard to keep out of Chicago come February.
The Bucks will probably have the best record in the East when the All-Star voting ends, so they should be rewarded with a second All-Star. Middleton made it last season and has significantly improved his efficiency, flirting with 50-40-90 percentages through his first 21 games. He's also scoring just as many points as last year in more than three fewer minutes per game. He should make his second straight trip to All-Star Weekend.
On the bubble (Eastern Conference)
Tatum has made a leap in his third NBA season, but his All-Star chances could be hurt by the fact that he might split votes with teammate Jaylen Brown. The Celtics have continued to have success despite losing Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Aron Baynes this offseason, and Tatum's consistency on both ends has been essential. Tatum is one of the best defensive players in the NBA according to Synergy, allowing just 0.763 points per possession to opponents.
The Celtics could get all three of Walker, Tatum and Brown into the All-Star Game with the way the trio has played. Brown's improvement has been obvious -- he's shooting 50 percent from the field and 37 percent on 3-pointers while destroying his career-high scoring mark.
After trade rumors just weeks before the season began, Sabonis has been worth every penny of his $75 million contract extension. The last player to average over 18 points and 13 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field is Dwight Howard in 2011-12, so Sabonis is in elite company. The only question is whether there will be enough room in the East frontcourt to accommodate him.
The Pacers are good enough to merit at least one All-Star, and if it's not Sabonis then Brogdon should have a good chance. After coming over from the Bucks, Brogdon has proven he can be the primary play-maker on a very good team with Victor Oladipo yet to make his season debut. He's in the top 10 in the NBA in assists while averaging nearly 19 points and playing excellent defense at a demanding position.
VanVleet has been just as important to the Raptors' strong start as Siakam, and the fourth-year guard's numbers have skyrocketed across the board. Not only is he shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers, but he's also among the league leaders with two steals per game. Hopefully a recent injury won't linger and hurt his chances to make his first All-Star Game.
Who would have thought that if the Nets send a representative to the All-Star Game, it won't be Kyrie Irving or Caris LeVert, but instead Dinwiddie, who has been a revelation with Irving sidelined for the bulk of the early season. The numbers are certainly there, but with Dinwiddie it's more the way he has lifted his team and kept them in the playoff race with Irving out. He's averaging 24.3 points and 7.4 assists since joining the starting lineup on Nov. 16.
Drummond has been a monster this season, keeping the Pistons afloat amid myriad injuries. He's rebounding at an incredible rate -- no NBA player has pulled down over 16.5 rebounds per game in a full season since Dennis Rodman in the early '90s -- while averaging a career high in points and free throw percentage. The Pistons aren't great, but Drummond's numbers are hard to ignore.