The NBA announcement starters for the All-Star Game late last week and will release coaching picks for the reserves on Thursday. I did this exercise with our Josh Robbins three weeks ago, but the landscape has since changed. In addition, starter selection now focuses all attention on each conference’s seven reserve picks.
The biggest debate will be how well we rate how “good” someone is versus how much they’ve been available to play. There’s no right answer here, but the underlying question I always ask myself is, “What will it look like in July after a full season has been played?” If a guy ends up playing 65 games at the All-NBA level, let’s not panic because he missed three weeks in December. If it’s 45 games, then we have a different conversation.
Too often it seems that early injuries end up being overrated in the selection process; we’ll see if that happens this year. Particularly in the West, this is a crucial debate. Players such as Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Sion Williamson played just over half of their team’s games; however, each will likely end the season having played between 50 and 60. Is that enough to put them ahead of players approaching 80-game campaigns such as Domantas Sabonis, Anthony Edwards and Lauri Markkanen?
With Williamson elected somewhat unexpectedly starting ahead of Davis – he had only played 92 minutes more when the vote was announced, is still out of line-up and, while brilliant, hasn’t had the statistical season that Davis had – this debate changes to reserve picks, particularly the two frontcourt reserves in the West.
Namely, do we take Markkanen over Leonard when we know Leonard is a better player? On the other hand, Leonard played barely half as many minutes, and we can reasonably expect him to miss more time (the Mowers predictably sat him in the back-to-back at Cleveland on Sunday, for example, and there are still four to go.) A similar debate involves Davis, who played just 52 minutes longer than Leonard Monday afternoon.
At the very least, three reserve backcourt spots in the West are evident: I morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Damien Lillard. After that, we enter a gray area. To me, Sabonis and Markkanen’s combination of durability and production is too impressive to ignore, so those are my next two picks.
This leaves two free places. From the sustainability club, the next top candidates are De’Aaron Fox and Edwards; I don’t think a reasonable person would pick either of the club’s best midseason (Leonard, Davis or Booker) to start a playoff series. Unlike Sabonis and Markkanen, Fox and Edwards’ 2022-23 half-season performances weren’t so overwhelming for me to ignore. Paul George is somewhere between the two poles; he missed games and wasn’t quite his elite self when he played.
You can argue that I should have brought Booker here rather than Markkanen, but he ends up being my last cut.
My West Reserves: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder; Me Morant, Grizzlies; Damien Lillard, Blazers; Domantas Sabonis, kings; Lauri Markkanen, Jazz; Anthony Davis, Lakers; Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
The East is easier because there are fewer “minutes versus availability” debates, but harder because there are so many All-Star caliber players to choose from.
Let’s start with the fruits at hand: Joel Embid, Jimmy Butler and Tyrese Haliburton. Everything after that in the East is difficult, but it is not.
I do not think so Jaylen BrownThe case of is almost as faultless as everyone seems to think; the story says two Celtics will likely be selected given their record, but I’m not sure his resume is much better than that of, say, pascal i’m sorry, James Harden or Julius Randle.
Ultimately, the best thing for Brown is to be listed as a guard on the ballot. We have to take another one to get to Haliburton, and Brown has played 13 games and 442 minutes longer than Harden. (DeMar DeRozanstill listed as a guard despite not having played there since the Garfield administration, would be another possibility.)
That leaves three spots to split between Siakam, Randle, Harden, DeRozan, Bam Adebayo and Holiday Jrue.
Truly? I’m giving up. Uncle. I don’t have much way of distinguishing between these players. If you want to blame me in the comments for not picking your guy, I mean, there are 15 All-Stars for a 12-man team. Let me try anyway.
First off, I can’t leave out Randle as he’s third in the league in minutes and 19th in BPM. It’s also not the 3-point year of two seasons ago. Sure, he and Siakam could be birds of a feather as high-volume inning eaters who don’t necessarily progress to top roles on elite teams, but that last clause also describes 98% of the league. Randle is there.
Adebayo has to do it too. People will whine to two Heat players when they’re sixth in the East, but have you seen the rest of this list? I have slight doubts: Adebayo is playing the least valuable position, his defense hasn’t quite been at the formidable level the past two seasons, and his steady diet of isos in mid-range pull-ups n may not be the most elegant attack. But it feels like the floor for him, and it’s still arguably better than anyone else available.
DeRozan or Siakam? DeRozan played five more games, his team was slightly less depressing (levels, people), and while he hardly ever shoots 3s, he was a notch better in efficiency (60.3% shots real against 56.5 for Siakam). My apologies to Harden, who hasn’t been healthy enough (32 games) and hasn’t defended enough (when not seated)Siakam and Holiday, who somehow only made one All-Star team in the league’s longest spoof.
My reservations East: Joel Embiid, Sixers; Jimmy Butler, heat; Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers; Jaylen Brown, Celtics; Julius Randle, Knicks; Bam Adebayo, heat; DeMar DeRozan, Bulls
(Top photo by Domantas Sabonis and Bam Adebayo: Darren Yamashita/USA Today)