All-Star weekend is just a couple weeks away, and with it comes all the excitement of seeing the most athletic, skilled and, frankly put, most talented players the league has to offer. But with the NBA more well-rounded than it has been for several years, not much is guaranteed surrounding the All-Star games’ starting fives. Here are my starters from each conference after an incredible first half to the season:
Kemba Walker, Guard:
Sure, Kemba’s numbers are a bit down compared to last season, but that is entirely due to him leading the Boston Celtics versus the Hornets. Now, as opposed to being the only player who knew how to put points on the board like in Charlotte, Kemba has one of the best supporting casts in basketball, as I’m pretty sure anyone would be willing to take a statistical step back to play with the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Gordon Hayward. Even with his newfound teammate competition, Walker is still putting up 22 points and five assists, shooting a career high 45% from the field and remains one of the most electric and fun-to-watch players in the league. He should be in line for his fourth straight All-Star game and his second start.
Trae Young, Guard:
This one is a little tougher logistically, because often times All-Star selections are based on individual talent as well as team performance. So, for Young, who boasts some of the best talent we’ve seen from the guard position in years but also leads a team that ranks dead last in the Eastern Conference, it is tough to decide whether he should actually get the start. But honestly, the All-Star game has turned into more of a show over the past several years, and hardly anybody can put on a better show night in and night out than the 21-year-old. In just his sophomore season, Young is averaging an insane 29 points and nearly nine assists, placing him in the top five of the league in both categories. He’s got a permanent position on the highlight reel and, despite his team’s lack of success, Young has put together a second-year performance worthy of his first All-Star appearance.
Jimmy Butler, Forward:
Few people expected Butler and the Heat to be able to put together such a successful first season, but here we are halfway through the year: The Heat hold the No. 2 seed in the East and Butler is playing some of his best basketball to date. Butler isn’t going to wow you statistically on any given night like some of these other starters, but he is as consistent as they come on both sides of the court, and his sheer effort, as well as the results we are seeing on the court, are more than enough to earn him a starting spot. Averaging career highs in rebounds (7) and assists (6.4) per game while still scoring 20 a night, Butler has turned into the complete player many hoped he would become, and he will carry his intensity into his fifth All-Star game and hopefully make it a little more exciting than it’s been in years past.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Forward:
This should go without question. The reigning MVP has somehow upped his level of play AGAIN and continues to turn heads every time he steps on the court. The Greek Freak is putting up a career high 30 points and 13 rebounds per game while also chipping in over five assists a night, but it goes further than that. To this point in his career, Giannis has hurt teams with his length and undefendable driving ability, and while he still uses that tool to terrorize opposing teams, he has also finally added at least a glimpse of perimeter game. Antetokounmpo is taking a career high 5.1 3-pointers per game and making them at a 32% clip. This may not seem great but seeing that he is a career 28% 3-point shooter and has never taken more than three per game, this is a major improvement. He has been, is and will continue to be the most dynamic and entertaining player to watch in the NBA for years to come. Lock him in for a long time.
Domantas Sabonis, Center:
Sabonis is being slept on big time in the fan All-Star voting, with the likes of Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid and even Bam Adebayo rating ahead of him. But truth is, when you look at the criteria the NBA uses to select the starting five, Sabonis should easily get the last spot. The big man is averaging career highs across the board by large margins en route to totaling 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists per game. Beyond the stats, he has led the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers to the No. 6 seed in the East, but they are just two games out of the No. 3 spot. Similar to the case of Butler, few people expected Sabonis and the Pacers to do as well as they have thus far, and that should be rewarded by giving the Lithuanian the start in his first All-Star game.
Luka Doncic, Guard:
This should come as no surprise, as Doncic and Trae Young alone could make the 2018 draft go down as one of the best in history. In just his second season in the league Doncic is looking like a perennial All-Star and top MVP candidate for years to come, putting up career highs in points (29.1), rebounds (9.7) and assists (9.0), and is the only other player along with Trae Young to place in the top five of the league in points and assists per game. Doncic makes the game look easy offensively, and his ability to make even the toughest opposing defenses look silly has earned the Mavericks the No. 5 seed in the West, what would be their highest finish since Dirk led the team in 2010. Doncic is a generational talent and should have no trouble making the All-Star game this year and for years to come.
James Harden, Guard:
If you know me you know I kind of can’t stand James Harden, but that does not mean I do not respect him as the best offensive player in the NBA this year and maybe in the history of the league. What Harden is able to do every time he touches the court is incredible. It may be a little boring to watch but incredible nonetheless. Harden’s 36.9 points per game serve as a career-best, leads the league by nearly seven points and would place him at No. 6 all-time for points per game in a season (No. 3 if we only count one year of Wilt). It is impossible to imagine the All-Star game without the star guard despite the Rockets sitting at No. 6 in the West this season, so I guess we just have to get used to it.
LeBron James, God?:
So now take the legacy of Harden and multiply it by one million and that’ll almost get you to LeBron’s. In the debate for the greatest to ever play the game, James continues to amaze during his 17th season in the league. Thus far he has put up 25 points, eight rebounds and a career-high, league-leading 11 assists per game, which would make him the oldest player to ever lead the league in that category. Moreover, he has revitalized the Los Angeles Lakers organization in just his first year, as they sit atop the Western Conference with a crazy 34-9 record, nearly passing the 37 wins they totaled all of last season with half their games still to play. The year LeBron does not take part in the All-Star game will be a sad one, but for now let’s enjoy one of the greatest to ever play while we can.
Kawhi Leonard, Forward:
Across the pond in Los Angeles is Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, who sit just behind Lebron in the No. 2 spot in the West, but that just may be how Kawhi wants it. For his entire career he has worked in quiet confidence, building his skillset under Pop until he was ready to compete with the greatest, and that is what he continues to do. Leonard is the best two-way player in the league (and if not him then it’s his teammate Paul George), who came into the league as a lockdown defender but turned into a huge threat on the offensive end as well. Averaging career highs in points (27.1), rebounds (7.4) and assists (5) while maintaining his efficiency on the defensive end, Kawhi has found yet another gear in his game, and will hopefully even crack a smile while showcasing it in his fourth All-Star game.
Anthony Davis, Center:
We can’t give LeBron all the credit for the Lakers’ success though, despite how much some people want to. In reality, the Lakers have been a two-headed wrecking crew carried by LeBron and AD. Back in the MVP conversation, Davis has once again proven why he was considered one of the best in the league after being stuck in New Orleans for his entire career. Now in L.A. the big man is thriving, averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and a combined four steals and blocks, which are slightly below his averages from his time with the Pels, but that is to be expected when you share the court with LeBron. Like many others on this list, Davis remains a perennial All-Star regardless of the jersey he wears and may even have a little more coming his way by the end of the season.