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 West. (Eastern Conference picks are here.)
1. Who would get your early votes for the West’s two starting backcourt spots?
Howard Beck: Steph Curry and Luka Dončić. Yes, Curry will be out for a few weeks, but his excellence over the first third of the season earns him a spot on my fictional ballot today. Dončić (32.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists) is posting career highs in scoring and effective field-goal percentage. In general, I’d prefer my All-Star starters come from winning teams, but it’s been a weird season so far for both the Warriors and the Mavericks, and there’s really no question that these two are the best guards in the West. They get the nod over Ja Morant and Devin Booker.
Chris Herring: I think Stephen Curry has been one of the two or three most impactful players in the league this year. But now that he’s going to miss a couple weeks due to injury, I think it’s fair to say that Luka Dončić and Ja Morant are most deserving in the West backcourt. Both are worthy of the nod; Luka for his do-it-all nature for Dallas, and Ja for being the engine of a club tied for first place despite not even being at full strength yet.
Robin Lundberg: Steph Curry and Luka Dončić. Unfortunately Steph got hurt, but he was having as good a year as he ever has. And we know how good he is, while Luka is a leading MVP candidate. It’s tough to leave Ja Morant and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander off, but I have to give the nod to Curry and Luka.
Chris Mannix: Luka Dončić is an easy choice, with Luka racking up numbers (and triple doubles) for the middling Mavericks. Stephen Curry is an easy choice, too—for now. Curry’s output (30 points per game on 50% shooting and 43.4% from three make him a lock, but his latest injury, expected to keep him out for at least a few weeks, could cost him a starting spot. Or at least make him less worthy of one.
Rohan Nadkarni: Luka Dončić and Stephen Curry. Luka and Steph are two of the top three backcourt scorers in the West, and both their teams would be toast without them. Steph, though he’s currently hurt, is performing arguably better than his unanimous MVP season in 2016. Dončić is a one-man offensive hub who on most nights feels like the most unstoppable force in the NBA.
2. Who would get your early votes for the West’s three starting frontcourt spots?
Beck: Nikola Jokić, LeBron James and Zion Williamson. Jokić, who’s putting together a case for a third straight MVP, is automatic. LeBron is right on the border of my too-many-games-missed clause (and the your-team-stinks clause) … but he gets a waiver, as an all-time great who’s still producing like a top-10 player. He’s earned it. Zion gets the final nod, with apologies to Anthony Davis and Lauri Markkanen. Williamson, healthy at last, isn’t just scoring (25.2 points per game), but doing it with incredible efficiency (.611 eFG%) and elevating his teammates (4.7 assists per game). Davis is out for the foreseeable future, so we might as well cut him now to simplify the process. Markkanen has been a revelation, just not as dominant as Williamson.
Herring: LeBron, Zion and Jokić. Feel like that race isn’t as complicated or fraught, partly because the other usual contenders—Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi, Paul George, Brandon Ingram—have all been out of the lineup for a bit this season.
Lundberg: Nikola Jokić, Zion Williamson and LeBron James. The back-to-back reigning MVP is excelling again, Zion is having a breakout season as he is finally healthy, and LeBron is flexing the kind of longevity we’ve never seen in the league that is sure to result in another All-Star appearance.
Mannix: Nikola Jokić, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
How good is Jokić? Right now perhaps the only argument against him being the front-runner for MVP is that he has won the last two of them. James is still playing at an otherworldly level, even with a dip in three-point efficiency. Davis gets the nod for the third spot with his recent return to dominance, but his most recent injury, like with Curry, could ultimately cost him in the final vote.
Nadkarni: Jokić is back on his MVP nonsense, James is averaging 27 points a night, and Davis is a two-way Goliath who single-handedly made this Lakers season interesting. Jokić’s efficiency is comical. James may not be peak James, but let’s be serious; it’s LeBron. And while Davis may miss at least a month with a foot injury, I think he will return in time to solidify his case. Forget the conference; AD has been one of the 10 best players in the league.
3. Which potential first-time All-Star is most deserving of making the West roster?
Beck: Most years, this would be a quick discussion. But I count six players in the West that are at least worthy of consideration for their first All-Star nod: Markkanen, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Edwards, Anfernee Simons and CJ McCollum. I’ll go with SGA (narrowly over Markkanen) on the strength of his scoring prowess, his playmaking, his elite foul-drawing (10.2 free throws per game) and his ability to make the Thunder one of the league’s most entertaining lottery teams.
Herring: Is there even any question that the correct answer is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? The guy is averaging 31.3 points and nearly six assists on 50% shooting. I don’t think there’s a case to be made for anyone else. The only guard/wing in the NBA who scores more per night than he does is Luka.
Lundberg: I’ll go with SGA. He’s made the Thunder about more than draft picks for the first time in a long time and just so happens to be averaging more than 30 points a game. It’s safe to say SGA has arrived.
Mannix: This shouldn’t be up for debate. SGA, who has been injured or shut down by Oklahoma City for much of the last two seasons, is shining in this one. He’s a dominant scorer (31.3 points), a steady three-point shooter (34.5%) and a lights-out free throw shooter (93.3%), which matters considering Gilgeous-Alexander is getting to the free throw line better than 10 times per game. The Thunder appeared destined for another lost season when Chet Holmgren went down with a season-ending foot injury. Thanks to SGA, they could compete for a play-in slot.
Nadkarni: If Steph misses a ton of time, SGA will have an argument for a starting spot. He is third in scoring, and teams have been unable to deter him from getting in the paint. The West is loaded with backcourt talent, and even then SGA stands out for how well he’s played this year. He’s more than deserving of a spot. He’s a lock.