Just like you — just like everyone — I get an NBA All-Star vote this year.
But where yours are probably submitted through Google and go into a pool with tens of millions of votes, mine go into a media pool of 100. The fan votes count for 50% of the formula to determine who starts the All-Star game, whereas the media votes count for 25% of the process. The NBA’s players vote among themselves for the other 25%.
The votes are due Monday, and here’s how I’ve decided to fill out the ballot.
West frontcourt: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard
To me, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been the two best players in the NBA this season. I hope the fan vote holds, and both captain their teams in the All-Star game.
While Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis lead the fan voting, and almost certainly will lead the voting from players and media, I think it’s a really tough decision to choose two between Leonard, Davis, Nikola Jokic, and Rudy Gobert. A quick run-down of their resumes:
Davis leads the team with the best record in the West in scoring, but the Lakers are actually better on the floor with him off it — mostly because he plays so many second unit minutes. That tends to hurt his plus-minus metrics, so he doesn’t rank highly in them. So how much credit do you give the Lakers’ 3rd-ranked defense to Davis? Most of it? Some of it? How about their overall turnaround? They added Davis and just about went from worst to first, despite losing terrific players like Brandon Ingram.
Leonard has only played in 32 games this season — does he therefore have to be 20-25% better than his healthy competition to be named a starter? But Leonard’s plus-minus numbers are terrific (+12.3 on vs. off-court), as are his box-score stats, and he’s really led the Clippers to 3rd in the West.
Gobert’s an advanced-stats darling: the Jazz are a remarkable 16.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. Defense trackers like 538′s RAPTOR conclude that he’s one of the best players in the NBA. His offense is efficient, but less frequently overwhelming than the other players on this list. While Gobert’s certainly done his part, the Jazz’s defense isn’t quite as good as years past, they rank just 8th.
Jokic’s team is just as good as Leonard’s and Gobert’s. Jokic doesn’t score as many points as Leonard, but he might actually be better on the offensive end thanks to his historic passing ability. But the Nuggets are “just” plus-7.5 with Jokic on the court, and I think you can argue Jokic has regressed a tiny bit from last season.
In the end, I decided that the Lakers’ team defense, along with Davis’ contributions to their leap, put him in the starting five. Likewise, I decided that the Clippers’ better net rating, as well as Leonard’s singularly excellent plus-minus among Clippers players — Gobert’s plus-minus is probably skewed by the Jazz’s awful bench early in the season — pushed Leonard above the others. But this conversation is closer than many will think on first glance.
West backcourt: James Harden, Luka Doncic
James Harden remains ridiculous. I mean, teams are just straight double-teaming him at half-court now, and he’s still averaging 37 points per game. He’s clearly one.
Luka Doncic, at age 20, is nearly averaging a triple-double. He’s also using nearly as many possessions as Harden, leading the Mavericks to playoff relevance.
Damian Lillard is still great, but his production isn’t as voluminous as Harden and Doncic’s, and his Portland team has really struggled.
Donovan Mitchell probably should the fourth guard voted in in the West, but despite improving this season, he’s the least efficient of these four players.
East frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid
Giannis was MVP last year, and he’s much better this year. That’s insane. He’d be my MVP vote right now.
In this division, there are two players with limited minutes: Joel Embiid has played only 31 games, and Pascal Siakam has only played 29. Those players are the ones with the most fan votes, but are they better than the ones who have played 20-25% more minutes?
To me, Jimmy Butler has been. The Heat have the second best record in the East, and it’s been really fun to watch Butler turn in the best passing and rebounding year of his career on a team that lacked other big names coming into the season. He’s also averaging 20 PPG, of course, scoring just as efficiently as ever before. He’s been great.
So then, how do you choose between Embiid, Siakam, Tatum, and Sabonis? The Celtics have the best record of the four teams, then the Raptors, then the Pacers, then the Sixers. That goes against Embiid, right?
But Embiid’s box score production is the best of the four, and he’s the best defender of the four. Tatum isn’t quite there from an efficiency standpoint, though his plus-minus numbers have been very good this season. No one ever talks about Sabonis, but he’s the leading scorer and plus-minus standout on a very good Pacers team.
I think I have to give it to Embiid, though. He’s Philly’s defensive anchor, uses more possessions than the others, and I think is saddled with some ill-fitting teammates. Philadelphia’s sixth seed isn’t his fault, in my opinion.
East backcourt: Kemba Walker, Trae Young
Kyrie Irving is currently among the top vote getters in the Eastern Conference backcourt, but he’s only played 14 games. He’s out.
Kemba Walker is the only Eastern Conference guard playing at an All-Star level on a good team, so he wins one slot by default.
After that, who do you choose? Kyle Lowry and Jaylen Brown have been pretty good this year, but they’re second or third bananas on their own team. Ben Simmons hasn’t developed offensively. Trae Young is averaging 29 points and 9 assists per game... for a 9-34 Hawks team. Bradley Beal has 27 and 6 for a 13-27 team. It’s honestly depressing.
I’m choosing Young. Lowry, Beal and Brown’s teams have been better with them off the floor than when they’re on it. Simmons isn’t a liability exactly — he’s excellent defensively — but is so inconsistent, and limits so much about the Sixers’ offense, that I can’t pick him. Young’s legitimately a top-10 offensive player in the league, and doesn’t give it all back on defense; he just needs some help inside. But if we get some creative selections here, I’m fine with that.