PHILADELPHIA – Nikola Jokic was the easy one.
As one of the select NBA media members chosen to vote for All-Star starters, it’s fair to say I didn’t agonize over voting for Jokic. Not that it mattered — fans, who account for 50% of the vote, consistently had him ranked among the top-three frontcourt players in the West throughout the process — but Jokic was going to be an All-Star starter. In fact, he and Giannis Antetokounmpo garnered more player votes than anyone else in the NBA. That should speak volumes about the respect he’s engendered across the league.
Frankly, it was the rest of the starters that gave me angst.
At 38, LeBron James is averaging nearly 30 points per game on better than 50% shooting from the field. His rebounding is up, his passing remains elite, and he’s the primary reason the Lakers, somehow, remain in shouting distance of homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Of course, there are about 10 teams mired in the middle of the Western Conference, but you can accurately say the Lakers are one of them. Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, we may never see someone like James again. And if the All-Star Game is for the fans, James, for nearly two decades running, is the pre-eminent attraction. He got my vote.
In my opinion, Anthony Davis (26 games) and Zion Williamson (29) didn’t play enough games to warrant inclusion as starters. (Not to mention, the Lakers certainly didn’t need to be represented by two players). That left Paul George, Jerami Grant, Domantas Sabonis or Lauri Markkanen as my final frontcourt starter.
The Western Conference #NBAAllStar Starters Pool!@KingJames (Captain)@StephenCurry30@luka7doncic
Nikola Jokic@Zionwilliamson pic.twitter.com/djZxfHuJ8i
— NBA (@NBA) January 27, 2023
George barely played enough games (35) to qualify, in my mind, especially when the other candidates have been very available. Grant’s Blazers have underwhelmed. It came down to Markkanen and Sabonis, two recently traded big men who’ve quickly found new homes. As impactful as Sabonis has been in shepherding the Kings to the top-half of the Western Conference, I went with Markkanen. I admit the locale of the All-Star Game was a factor, but Markkanen has also been a revelation for a team that was expected to tank. Sabonis has been outstanding; I just found Markannen’s leap, from a 14.8 point-per-game scorer to a 24.8 point-per-game scorer, remarkable.
In the backcourt, Luka Doncic was a no-brainer. If Jokic wasn’t in the race, he’s probably the league’s MVP right now. Between his work rate and production, Doncic should be a starter for the next decade. I strongly considered Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the same reasons Markkanen got my vote. He’s made a supposedly awful team relevant and given them an identity moving forward. I considered Steph Curry, too, but couldn’t reward Golden State’s regression. Ultimately, I voted for Ja Morant, whose Grizzlies are gnawing at the Nuggets in the standings. Electric and impactful, Morant’s among the most exciting players in the league. No one will complain if Jokic winds up throwing lobs to Morant in Salt Lake City.
In the East, Donovan Mitchell was a lock. No trade has altered a team’s trajectory more, at least in a positive manner, than Mitchell to Cleveland. The Cavs are contenders again, and Mitchell, now happy, is having a career year. As an aside, are both Mitchell and Markkanen going to land All-Star bids after being traded for one another?
Picking the East was more difficult than the West. There were almost too many good options. Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton earned serious consideration (and he’ll likely make the team as a reserve). I just felt Jaylen Brown and his staggering offensive output was more deserving. There was also an 11-game distance between the Celtics and the Pacers — a gap too wide to ignore.
The Eastern Conference #NBAAllStar Starters Pool!@Giannis_An34 (Captain)@KDTrey5@KyrieIrving@spidadmitchell@jaytatum0 pic.twitter.com/u2lWl3QSk7
— NBA (@NBA) January 27, 2023
In the frontcourt, someone was getting left off. Kevin Durant was playing some of the most efficient basketball of his life before spraining his MCL. It wasn’t going to be him, although the injury may shift his starting spot to someone else. Boston’s Jayson Tatum has made the leap into the league’s upper echelon, too. Like the All-Star vote, someone, whether it’s Jokic, Doncic or Tatum, is going to get snubbed in the MVP voting.
The last spot came down to Joel Embiid or Antetokounmpo. The choice could’ve flipped depending on the day the vote was submitted. Both are dominant, physical, two-way stalwarts who impact winning and can take over a game. I took Giannis because, in my opinion, he’s had less help than Embiid, and yet the Bucks and 76ers are nearly tied in the standings. With Durant’s injury it may not matter, but when forced to vote, someone was getting left off.
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