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Andy Larsen: My picks for the NBA’s All-Star teams

The fan-voted starters are mostly the usual suspects. The reserves is where the intrigue list. The Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley should all make the West roster.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz host the Sacramento Kings, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. They'll be celebrating again if both get picked as reserves for the West All-Star team.

It won’t be the type of NBA All-Star weekend we’re all used to.

The All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, March 7, but that’s the only day of festivities this year. The 3-point contest and dunk contest won’t be on Saturday, but instead will take place in the pregame and during halftime of Sunday’s game. There are no fan activities, NBA parties, or other ticket events as part of the All-Star Game — this is a TV event only.

Yes, the All-Star Game is strictly to make the league money, and yes, the players have grumbled about the game even taking place in a year without an extended All-Star break. They have a point. But in the end, the league has decided it’s happening, and the players’ contracts all enforce All-Star Game participation, no matter the format.

But it almost doesn’t matter — the All-Star teams have always held greater significance than the event itself. Players get bonuses based on their appearance on those rosters — including Rudy Gobert’s $1 million bonus. NBA All-Stars have league cachet, endorsements, and more. It’s an exclusive list of 12 players in each conference.

Who should be on those lists? Here are my picks for the 2021 All-Star Game.

Eastern Conference:

Announced starters:

Backcourt: Bradley Beal, Wizards; Kyrie Irving, Nets.

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Nets; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks; Joel Embiid, 76ers.

Tribune’s reserve picks:

Khris Middleton, Bucks: He’s a little like the Paul George of the Eastern Conference ... shooting 51% from the field, 44% from 3, averaging 20/6/6 a night.

Jayson Tatum, Celtics: Boston is a .500 team so far this season (!) but it’s not because of Tatum — the C’s are outscoring opponents by 4 points per 100 when he’s on the court, and being beaten by 5 when he’s off.

Jaylen Brown, Celtics: This year has been Brown’s leap: He’s actually outscoring Tatum, 25.9 to 25.8, and doing it on better efficiency. It’s the rest of the roster that has been a mess.

Julius Randle, Knicks: At press time, he has 23 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists per game on good efficiency for the league’s third best defense that is the current No. 6 seed in the East. That’s an All-Star!

Bam Adebayo, Heat: Miami has really struggled this year, but I swear it’s not Bam’s fault. He’s averaging 20/10, still passing the ball with aplomb, still defending at a top-10 level. It’s just that everyone else on the team has been out due to COVID or injuries.

Ben Simmons, 76ers: The East’s best team deserves two All-Stars, and Simmons has put up his usual combination of “everything but the shooting.” The 42-point performance against the Jazz reaffirmed his value outside of the Embiid cyclone, and he’s one of the league’s five best defensive players.

Trae Young, Hawks: Young vs. Fred VanVleet vs. Zach LaVine is tough. All three lead below-.500 teams in the East with high scoring. VanVleet has the on-off numbers but not the huge scoring numbers, LaVine has huge scoring numbers but a hugely negative plus-minus. Young has big numbers and clearly helps his team on the court.

Apologies to: James Harden, Nikola Vucevic, Fred VanVleet, Zach Lavine, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward.

Regarding Harden — yes, his less than 20 games with Brooklyn have been no-doubt All-Star level. But he also spent six weeks systematically undermining the Rockets on and off the court while violating COVID protocols around the country. Players are the sum of their positive contributions and their negative detriments.

Vooch has scored well, but man, his Orlando team is bad. It feels like there should be an All-Star Pacer, but it’s hard to pick one. Sabonis is the obvious candidate, but Indiana is weirdly much better with him off the floor. Brogdon doesn’t outshine the other East guards. Harris and Hayward have had terrific and efficient seasons on good squads, but Brown, Tatum, and Middleton have done more.

JAZZ VS. HORNETS

At Vivint Arena

When • Monday, 7 p.m.

TV • ATTSN

Western Conference:

Announced starters:

Backcourt: Luka Doncic, Mavericks; Steph Curry, Warriors.

Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard, Clippers; LeBron James, Lakers; Nikola Jokic, Nuggets.

Tribune’s reserve picks:

Damian Lillard, Blazers: Lillard, now 30, is scoring 30 points and dishing eight assists per game as he’s led Portland to the conference’s fourth seed so far.

Anthony Davis, Lakers: While Davis may not play in the game itself due to his calf strain, his play this season has definitely been All-Star caliber, as he and James lead the Lakers to the league’s second-best record.

Rudy Gobert, Jazz: The Frenchman has been the best player on the league’s best team this season. He now leads the league in plus-minus.

Paul George, Clippers: Even as a wing, PG13 is shooting 51% from the field and 48% from 3 this year, along with career highs in assists for the excellent Clippers.

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz: The Jazz’s scoring leader, Mitchell is largely mimicking last year’s All-Star season across the board. One exception: he’s getting more assists than he did last season.

Mike Conley, Jazz: A zero-time All-Star — he would have multiple nods if he played in the Eastern Conference — deserves this one at age 33. He’s scoring efficiently and has been the Jazz’s big bright spot of improvement in this season compared to last.

Chris Paul, Suns: Who do you give more credit for the Suns this year, Paul or Devin Booker? The advanced stats say Paul, and quite frankly, so does a simple comparative look at their win-loss record.

Apologies to: Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, Christian Wood, Jamal Murray.

The Pelicans have a good roster. That they can’t figure out how to outscore opponents when Williamson and Ingram are on the floor is a problem. McCollum and Wood haven’t played many games; Booker has played the same number as Conley. I still have efficiency and defense concerns about Fox and DeRozan.

Still, all of these are really good players — I wouldn’t mind the league expanding the roster to 15 like the real NBA rosters are.

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