The 72nd NBA All-Star Game will take place Sunday, Feb. 19, in Salt Lake City. With voting officially open, The Crossover staff weighs in on potential starters and first-time All-Stars in the East. (We’ll break down the West on Wednesday.)
1. Who would get your early votes for the East’s two starting backcourt spots?
Howard Beck: Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell. Brown is a co-anchor of the NBA’s most efficient offense, and one of the best two-way wings in the league. Mitchell’s arrival in Cleveland has lifted the Cavaliers from a young/fun breakthrough team to legit power in the East. At this early stage, I’d give them the nod over perennial All-Stars James Harden (too many missed games), Kyrie Irving (ditto) and Trae Young (sinking efficiency).
Chris Herring: Donovan Mitchell, who’s putting up the best numbers of his career on a team with the league’s best net rating, certainly deserves one of those spots. I’d strongly argue that the other should belong to … center Joel Embiid. Even if he isn’t a guard, so what? He’s undoubtedly been one of the four or five best players in the conference. At a league-best 33 points, 10 boards and almost five assists per game, I’d argue he deserves a starting role far more than Jaylen Brown, regardless of what the NBA says about positional breakdowns. The whole “two backcourt, three frontcourt” thing continues to be a dumb way to think about things in a league that’s been positionless for at least a decade now.
Robin Lundberg: Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown. I think Mitchell has been even better than anyone could have expected with the Cavs, scoring nearly 30 points a game on good efficiency, while JB has proved to be a bona fide star in the league, building on his performance in the NBA Finals.
Chris Mannix: Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown. Winning matters, and Mitchell has been a driving force in the Cavs’ rise to the top of the East standings as both a prolific scorer (29.3 points per game) and a surprisingly solid defender that has helped the Cavs, through Monday, sit atop the NBA in defensive efficiency. Brown has been a consistent presence in Boston’s lineup, building on last season’s second-half success by averaging career highs in scoring (26.4 points) and field goal percentage (49.6%) while continuing to be a versatile defender.
Rohan Nadkarni: Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell. Brown has been a two-way stud for one of the best teams in the league, and Mitchell has been a fringe MVP guy for a frisky Cavs team. I like rewarding Brown for his team’s success. And Mitchell deserves a lot of credit for not only fitting in seamlessly on his new team, but also keeping Cleveland near the top of the standings amid several injuries.
2. Who would get your early votes for the East’s three starting frontcourt spots?
Beck: Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo—with apologies to Joel Embiid, who’s missed too many games. Durant has been absolutely incredible this season, averaging 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists, with by far the best effective field-goal percentage (.609) of anyone in this group. Tatum and Antetokounmpo lead the two best teams in the NBA with their two-way play, and will both be in the MVP discussion next spring.
Herring: I think Tatum, Giannis and Kevin Durant—all averaging 30 points per game or more as the best players on their team—deserve it most, because they’ve essentially played every night. Embiid, who’s missed eight games, can’t say that. But he’s leading the NBA in scoring average, and is a great defender. He had 100 points in less than 24 hours earlier this season. If he gets squeezed out in a foolish numbers game, what are we even doing? The positional aspect of the All-Star Game needs to die already.
Lundberg: The East frontcourt is exhibit A as to why the All-Star rosters should be positionless. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum all deserve to be starters and are all having MVP-type seasons. I’ll bump Embiid and stick with the other three simply because he has played the fewest games and got off to the slowest start individually.
Mannix: Jayson Tatum, Giannis, Joel Embiid. Embiid and Giannis—dominant, two-way players—are locks. Tatum, off to the best start of his pro career, gets the ever-so-slight nod over Kevin Durant due to Boston’s early-season success. But this could be an interesting battle over the next few months for the conference’s final frontcourt starter slot.
Nadkarni: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum. I’m not sure there is much to say about these three guys. On any given night, one of them can be performing at the level of the best player in the league. You can argue each of them is currently in the top five of all players. Tatum, especially, has made an impressive leap this season, and will be in the MVP conversation throughout the year.
3. Which potential first-time All-Star is most deserving of making the East roster?
Beck: Tyrese Haliburton, without question, should make his All-Star debut and become a fixture in this game for years to come. The Pacers have cooled off after their hot start, but the 22-year-old Haliburton has made them fun, competitive and interesting again, for the first time in years. He’s leading the league in assists (10.7 per game), averaging 19.5 points and shooting crisply both inside the arc (.549) and beyond it (.385).
Herring: At nearly 20 and 11 a night and elite shooting metrics, I’d argue Tyrese Haliburton most deserves it. He’s the biggest reason a Pacers team that most of us expected nothing from has been one of the most fun in the league (and one that’s shockingly in the hunt for a postseason spot). Wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Jalen Brunson gets support for a reserve spot. Haliburton strikes me as a more deserving, but I also get the impression he’s destined to have a bunch of these appearances in the near future if he doesn’t land one this season.
Lundberg: If the Knicks continue winning at their current clip, they are likely to have a player recognized. Jalen Brunson is the biggest change for them, the team leader and who I would consider most responsible for the improved play. So I can definitely see him getting a nod, even if his numbers don’t jump off the page like some of the other potential participants in the game.
Mannix: Tyrese Haliburton. Before the season, the Pacers were clustered among the teams expected to jockey for position in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Instead they are a playoff contender, largely due to the impact of Haliburton, an efficient scorer who leads the NBA in assists and has spearheaded Indiana’s pick-up-the-pace offensive attack. With respect to Wally Szczerbiak (Julius Randle over Haliburton? Really?), Haliburton has earned strong early-season consideration.
Nadkarni: I’m not sure if most deserving is the right phrase necessarily, but could Tyler Herro sneak into the All-Star Game? The former Sixth Man of the Year is having his best season now firmly entrenched as a starter. He’s putting up 21/6/4 on 41.7% shooting from three. Miami’s middling start to the season may dampen Herro’s chances. Still, he is outpacing some of his rookie extension peers in what is on pace to be the best season of his career.