January is coming to an end, and that means that the NBA All-Star Game is just around the corner. This year, the event will return to Chicago for the first time since 1974 – when Bob Lanier won All-Star Game MVP, Michael Jordan was just 10 years old, and the Toronto Raptors were still over two decades away from existing.
This year, fans once again had the opportunity to vote for their favourite players and send them to Chicago for Family Day weekend. The last day for the public to have their voices heard was yesterday, and now the remaining 50% of the starters’ vote will be divided equally between selected members of the NBA media, and the NBA players themselves.
With the new All-Star Game format introduced in 2018 by Adam Silver which eradicated conferences for one weekend, a playground-style team-captains draft was ushered in, whereby the captains of each team would be the leading fan vote-getters in each conference. Still, 5 starters and 7 reserves are selected from each conference, and then the All-Star Draft is the mechanism which spreads inter-conference talent around.
Based on the most recent fan voting returns from five days ago, it is projected that the captains will be Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James – the exact same as last year – except now, neither will be faced with the decision of drafting between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who are both sidelined with injuries.
This year, despite NBA ratings being down a whopping 15%, fan voting participation has increased by almost 4% (as calculated by the third voting releases of the top 20 vote-getters in each conference). In addition to that, Canada’s beloved Pascal Siakam has seen his voting popularity rise by over 618% from last season, putting him in second place among all Eastern Conference players, and virtually locking his spot as a starter in Chicago on February 17th.
Without further ado, let’s get into some predictions for the All-Stars, beginning with the starters:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak, and reigning NBA MVP, who is on track to potentially repeat again this season, is a lock to start in the 2020 All-Star Game. With the sheer length, athleticism, and constant threat of posterization that Giannis poses, an All-Star Game wouldn’t feel complete without him. Leading the second place vote-getter in his conference, Pascal Siakam, by over 2 million votes, he’s uncatchable at this point, and will be the captain representing the Eastern Conference. Now in his seventh season in the league, this will be Antetokounmpo’s fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, as he takes a break from his aspirations to lead the 39-6 Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Finals.
- Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Siakam has missed 11 of the Raptors 43 games thus far this season, which some argue may be reason to be penalize him through the players vote and the media vote. Already finishing second in fan voting, and being well-liked by his fellow players (which can’t be said about the likes of Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler), should be enough to score him a starting spot next to Giannis. Not to be mistaken that he is undeserving, he is still posting figures of 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per contest on a true shooting percentage of 55.4%, further elevating his game immediately after his Most Improved Player campaign. Also, despite having only played in 32 contests, Spicy P has provided the Raptors with 3.0 of their 28 wins. Fans have certainly witnessed a drop in the level of his game since the first few games of the season when it looked like he could be a real MVP candidate among the Antetokounmpo’s, the James Harden’s and the LeBron James’ of the league, but still the first scoring option for the 7th best team in the league, it would be foolish to say that he’s not at least an All-Star. Besides, what’s some Suvlaki without a bit of Spice?
- Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
The third spot in the Eastern frontcourt essentially comes down to a choice between two candidates – who are friends with one another – but don’t have much other company around the league. Jimmy Butler, and Joel Embiid, former teammates in Philadelphia, have both had several bouts with other players around the league, which will negatively affect the votes they receive from their colleagues. Despite Butler ranking one spot behind Embiid in the fan voting, the Miami Heat have far less talent than the 76ers do, and Butler has still led his team to be three seeds above Embiid’s, just over halfway into this season.
Butler has also played six more games than Embiid so far, and is averaging 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.4 assists, as compared to Embiid’s 23.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Embiid’s figures have somehow regressed from last season, and he’s only contributed 4.3 win shares to his team, whereas Butler has been worth 6.1 of his team’s 30 wins – which implicitly should be a greater figure, given how his leadership has helped shape Bam Adebayo into the fringe All-Star player that he is now.
- Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are deep into another dismal season, sitting dead-last in the East with a mere 10 wins. Some of that can be blamed on John Collins missing 26 games, Kevin Huerter missing 11, and Jabari Parker missing 11, and some of it can be blamed on the fact that before acquiring Jeff Teague last week, the team had no backup point guard, but ultimately the Hawks just aren’t a very good team this year. That being said, it’s hard to ignore that Trae Young currently ranks third in the league in scoring at 29.2 points per game, fourth in the league in assists per game at 8.6, and eleventh in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, at 23.98. The 6’1 sophomore is an electrifying showman – much like a younger version of Stephen Curry, with his ability to control opposing defenses like a force of gravity, and be a threat to score from the moment he crosses halfcourt. Having finished first among Eastern guards in fan voting, the media and players would both have to rank him a consensus third or below for him to not make the cut as a starter – which given his competition – is highly unlikely.
- Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Despite ranking third in fan voting behind Kyrie Irving, and of course, Trae Young, Kemba Walker should find himself as an All-Star starter for the second consecutive season this year. After making a dramatic move to Boston last summer, Walker has proven to be a much better fit for the Celtics than Kyrie Irving was, as can be seen from his ability to find his own shit, and get his teammates involved in the offense. Walker’s leadership has allowed Jaylen Brown to finally blossom next to him in the Celtics’ backcourt this season, inserting his name into the back side of the Most Improved Player conversation. With Walker’s ability to make his teammates better, the Celtics have become the only team in the league with at least three players averaging 20 points or more (Walker, Brown, Jayson Tatum).
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
While Embiid hasn’t lived up the expectations that fans and media had set out for him coming into this season, he is still undoubtedly a top-three centre in the league, and is one of the most dominant interior forces when he has any bit of size advantage and is motivated to take over. The Sixers have underperformed severely, sitting at the 5th seed in the East right now, and are just 6-6 over their last 12 games, however that doesn’t shadow the monstrous double-double that the Cameroonian big man is averaging. Embiid has taken his fair share of criticism, most notably from Shaquille O’Neal, however even without leaving 100% effort on the floor every night, he’s better than most of his competition in the league.
- Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
The little engine that could; the bulldog; Benjamin Button; Kyle Lowry. There’s something about the theory that athletes should progressively become worse at their craft as they age, that just doesn’t seem to resonate with this Toronto Raptors point guard. After failing to score above 15 points per game through his first eight seasons in the league, the now-NBA Champion has averaged fewer than that only once since – due to his choice to take a backseat to the world-class Kawhi Leonard last season. Through 32 games this season, the 33-year-old is posting figures of 20.1 points, 7.6 assists, and 4.5 rebounds, while making good on over 35% of his looks from behind the arc. If he is indeed selected to play in Chicago, this will be Lowry’s sixth consecutive All-Star appearance.
- Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
After a bit of a sophomore slump last year, the Jayson Tatum bandwagon is back in full strength. With a locker room and a court clear of Kyrie Irving, Tatum has increased his scoring to 21.5 points per game, and has arguably been the best player on the Celtics this season. Most recently, he dismantled LeBron’s Lakers squad on MLK Day, dropping 27 points, and handing The King a 32-point loss. Tatum has also improved tremendously defensively, using his length to dare opponents into shooting 39.7% when guarded by him this season. With the combination of his arsenal offensively, and how well his team is playing this season, it seems as though the former rookie sensation may finally be looking at making his first All-Star appearance.
- Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Domantas Sabonis has finally found himself in a starting role with the Indiana Pacers, and with Victor Oladipo having been out so far this season, Sabonis is attempting a career-high 13.5 shots each game, leading to a career-high 17.8 points per game. He’s been an absolute monster on the glass, pulling down nearly 13 boards per contest, and is quietly demonstrating a bit of an outside touch, shooting 25.6% from deep on 1.0 attempts per game. Ultimately, Indiana has been incredible in finding their way to the sixth seed, just 2.5 games out of the second seed without Oladipo, and they deserve to be rewarded for those efforts. Whether the true All-Star on their team is Malcolm Brogdon or Sabonis, is up for discussion, but due Domantas having appeared in more games, and his numbers being more consistent, we’ll give Sabonis the nod.
- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Beal has begun to make a name for himself as perennial All-Star, seeking to earn himself a spot in what would be his third consecutive All-Star Game this year. He’s been without his backcourt buddy, John Wall, since boxing day of 2018. After struggling to lead the Wizards to the playoffs last season, he still opted to sign a 2-year extension, which means that he cannot be traded this season. In an interview last week, he voiced his concern with the state of the team, saying that he was frustrated with losing, and that Washington’s culture needed to change. It was later reported by David Aldridge of The Athletic that Beal is as upset with his team as he’s ever been. Still he’s bringing it on the court, posting 27.2 points per game, which ranks sixth in the NBA. The Wizards aren’t completely out of the playoff pictures, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be searching to find Beal too much help at this year’s trade deadline. Regardless, the faults of the Wizards organizations, and the shortcomings of Beal’s teammates can’t take away from how impressive he’s been this season. Beal is one of the best offensive guards in basketball, and deserves to be in his third All-Star Game this year.
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons is the other piece to the confusing puzzle in Philadelphia. Elton Brand is dealing with two amazingly bright and young future stars, both standing over 6’10, but neither are threats from beyond the arc in an era where shooting is one of the most imperative skills for an NBA player to possess. While stats would state that Simmons is shooting 40% from deep this season, he’s attempting fewer than 0.1 threes per game. To close out to him on the perimeter would be asinine. He is easily the worst three-point shooting point guard in the entire NBA, and maybe even in NBA history. Still, he’s a force in transition, and with his size and strength against other guards, he’s able to thoroughly dominate inside. He’s also an incredibly versatile defender, able to guard anyone on the court with his 6’10, 240 pound frame, which is seen through his 0.7 blocks, and 2.2 steals per game, which ranks first in the league. His size also allows him to see the floor exceptionally well and pass over smaller defenders, which has led to his fifth ranked 8.5 assists per game.
- Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
There’s a lot of competition for the final spot on this team, and choosing between candidates at the bottom of an All-Star roster still means you’re picking between stars. Ultimately, with the game being held in Chicago, it only seems right that Zach LaVine makes his All-Star Game debut as a Bull. Over the last 11 games, LaVine is averaging 30.0 points, making a convincing push to play in the All-Star Game. This all comes shortly after his 49-point night in which he hit 13 three-pointers, including a crazy game-winner over the Charlotte Hornets. On the season, LaVine is putting up a career-high 25.0 points. 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, in addition to shooting a hot 38.8% from the field.
Until Thursday night when the captains and starters for each conference are announced, all we can do is speculate. After that, we can look forward to the reserves announcement on January 30th, and finally tune into the All-Star Draft on February 6th to see what type of tampering occurs this year.
- Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers
- Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
- Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
- Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat