The Whiteboard: Way-too-early NBA All-Star ballot

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Voting doesn’t close for two more weeks but we’re taking an early look at the NBA All-Star ballot and picking starters and reserves for both conferences.

It will be two more weeks before NBA All-Star voting closes and selections begin to be announced. A lot can change between now and then but we’re also two weeks into the voting period and I thought it was a good time to share how I see the rosters for each conference shaping up.

I don’t actually have a media NBA All-Star ballot and the fan vote only allows you to select five starters but I’ve gone ahead and made 12 selections for each conference, split into starters and reserves. I’ve also hewed to the position designations on the official ballot even in cases where I’m not sure I agree.

Here are my picks, along with some explanation of my thinking.

Eastern Conference NBA All-Star starters

Guard: Tyrese Haliburton
Guard: Donovan Mitchell
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant
Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Frontcourt: Joel Embiid

Donovan Mitchell should be a backcourt lock and may have earned himself some additional fan votes with his 71-point performance earlier this week. The tougher decisions are the other guard spot and how to fit four deserving frontcourt players into three slots. To me, Embiid and Giannis were easy choices and I opted for Durant over Jayson Tatum in deference to his elite shot-making and less-talented supporting cast.

I’ll happily accept accusations of bias for picking Tyrese Haliburton for the other guard spot. But he’s helped keep Indiana in the playoff race, which very few people saw coming. He’s playing solid defense and leading the league in assists, averaging 20.6 points, 10.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while within striking distance of 50/40/90 shooting splits. To me, that’s a pretty compelling case for a starting nod.

Eastern Conference NBA All-Star reserves

Guard: Jaylen Brown
Guard:
Kyrie Irving
Guard:
 DeMar DeRozan
Frontcourt: Jayson Tatum
Frontcourt: Pascal Siakam
Frontcourt: Julius Randle
Frontcourt:
Kristaps Porzingis

The rest of the Eastern Conference backcourt spots are a bit of a mess. It was hard to leave Trae Young off and Zach LaVine, James Harden and Darius Garland are also tough to leave off. But I went with Brown, Irving, DeRozan for a mix of productivity, team success and availability.

In the frontcourt, Tatum and Porzingis seem like locks to me. Tatum is the leader of the best team in the Eastern Conference and Porzingis has been a resurgent two-way force for the Wizards. The Raptors are struggling but Siakam has never been better, averaging 25.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. I gave the final spot to Randle who has bounced back from last year’s down season, averaging 24.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists one the highest true shooting percentage he’s posted in a Knicks uniform.

Western Conference NBA All-Star starters

Guard: Ja Morant
Guard: Luka Doncic
Frontcourt: LeBron James
Frontcourt: Zion Williamson
Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic

Jokic and Doncic are locks but the rest of the starters leave plenty of room for debate. Devin Booker and Anthony Davis could probably be here on production alone but both will have played in just over half their team’s games by the halfway point of the season and both are likely to be out at least until the end of January. That leaves openings for Morant and Williamson to move into starting roles.

LeBron is a bit of weird case but only if you’re measuring against himself. His numbers are impeccable but the Lakers’ record is a mess and he’s still clearly a bit off his prime. But no one else has a clear-cut better case than him, so it’s not like I’m just giving him the benefit of the doubt because he’s LeBron.

Western Conference NBA All-Star reserves

Guard: Steph Curry
Guard: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Guard: De’Aaron Fox
Guard: Anthony Edwards
Frontcourt: Lauri Markkanen
Frontcourt: Domantas Sabonis
Frontcourt: Paul George

Damian Lillard is the toughest omission here but he’s missed some time. I’d argue Curry has been better and he should be back on the floor soon. With the other spots, I really wanted to celebrate some of the young players making a difference. I’m putting three first-time All-Stars in the backcourt — Fox has helped transform the Kings, Edwards has taken a leap and improved significantly despite a difficult situation and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might be the best one-on-one scorer in the league this season.

In the frontcourt, I think Sabonis and Markkanen deserve recognition, not just for their production but for what they’ve done in leading their teams toward competitiveness. I gave the final spot to Paul George over a mix of interesting possibilities like Jerami Grant, Aaron Gordon and Keldon Johnson.

Over the next few weeks, keep an eye on injuries and availability as that may shape some of the final selections, as well as open up additional slots for injury replacements.


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A night full of close games

The Wednesday night slate featured 12 games. Two went to overtime and seven were decided by three points or less. Here’s what you missed from a night of nail-biters:

  • Cavs 90 — Suns 88Donovan Mitchell followed up his 71-point night with just 20 points on 20 shots but he finished with 9 assists, hit a 3-pointer to put the Cavs up by three with 40 seconds remaining and assisted Evan Mobley on the game-winner.
  • 76ers 129 — Pacers 126 (OT): Seven players on each team scored in double figures. While both teams struggled in overtime (combined 5-of-18 from the field), two made buckets from De’Anthony Melton were enough to give the Pacers the win.
  • Knicks 117 — Spurs 114: Jalen Brunson led the Knicks to a crucial win, putting up 38 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, as well as 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
  • Bucks 104 — Raptors 101 (OT): Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with a triple-double — 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. He also hit Grayson Allen for the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. The Raptors were ultimately doomed by poor 3-point shooting, hitting just 9-of-46 from beyond the arc in the game, including 4-of-20 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
  • Pistons 122 — Warriors 119: The Pistons overcame a 30-point night from Klay Thompson and got a miraculous game-winner as time expired from Saddiq Bey.
  • Lakers 112 — Heat 109: Dennis Schroder led the short-handed Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Schroder finished with 32 points on just 15 shots, including two key free throws to ice the win with just 3.2 seconds left on the clock.
  • Hawks 120 — Kings 117: Eight different players scored 20 or more in this game but Dejounte Murray was the hero. He hit a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left on the clock to put the Hawks up 1, then stole the ball from De’Aaron Fox on the next possession And took it himself for the game-icing layup.

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