Voting for the All-Star game on the NBA.com website is restricting. Plain and simple. You have to choose two guards, three frontcourt players and you absolutely cannot pick a player out of his position. If you cannot decide between DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo and you want to cheat and vote for one as a small forward you can’t. It’s against the rules for NBA.com to acknowledge the NBA uses three-guard lineups. To make things worse my vote for Al Horford for starting center over Joel Embiid won’t be validated, fans susceptible to the bubbling personality omit the fact Embiid shoots under 30% from three and hasn’t played 1,000 minutes yet this season.
The East is an easier conference to nail down your starters. There are two locks, one “The stats don’t show it, but you should be an All-Star” and one starting center that’s not named Joel Embiid. LeBron and Giannis stand as the people you cannot leave out of the conversation. There is no reason for James to be inserted in as the starter of the East All-Stars isn’t anything beyond “He’s LeBron, he’s the best and hasn’t aged.” There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to LeBron’s greatness. He’s the best player in the world.
Starting Center: Al Horford
For all the MVP buzz Kyrie Irving’s received, we should also note Horford has a legitimate candidacy. Though the basic stats don’t show it, the thirty-one-year old Horford upped his game and the play of those around him. In just one season Isaiah Thomas went from a fringe All-Star to a top-5 player for the 2016-17 season. In just a few short months Kyrie Irving’s been transformed to a team-friendly player. None of this is coincidental. At age 28, Horford attempted only 65 three-point attempts. This season he’s taken 136 and made 43.4% of them. A testament to his strong work ethic, always improving himself.
Horford proves he’s still the unheralded superstar from his Atlanta glory days, stepping above Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Horford and Embiid have outstanding net ratings of 8.7 (K.P is 1.7), Al’s 5.2 BPM ranks higher than Embiid’s 2.9. The Celtics are on pace for sixty-wins, while the Sixers continue to fight New York, Indiana and Detroit for the eighth spot. Yet, superficially will demand Embiid start the All-Star Game. Horford will never get his due, will never get the respect he deserves for elevating Kyrie Irving in ways not even LeBron could. It’s a damn shame fans are hellbent on making the All-Star event “fun” not realizing Horford is pretty fun too.
Power Forward: LeBron James
Yeah, he’s a four on my roster because I feel like it. It doesn’t really matter where Giannis and LeBron fall on the roster, just as long as they’re on it as starters. If the Cavaliers could get their act together, James has a strong case to make for him being the MVP in a year there seems to be no front-runner. 27.3 PPG, 8.8 APG, 8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG it’s hard to fathom how every year he’s somehow found ways to get better even at his age.
There is a time and place to talk about why the Cavaliers have struggled and LeBron’s role in it. But as a lone individual, James is an unstoppable force that continues to feast upon the hopes and dreams of Eastern Conference foes. We seen what he can do by himself in the playoffs last season even with a Cavs squad not jelling. What else can I say about him other than he’s the third-best player in the history of NBA.
Small Forward: Giannis Antetkoumpo
Just like LeBron, Giannis carries the corpse a fledgling roster unable to create when he’s not on the floor. And unlike LeBron, it isn’t Giannis’s fault. The “Greek Freak” became more than an Internet phenomenon, graduating to otherworldly status as. He’s done everything for Milwaukee short of cloning himself. An unheard of comparison for Giannis this year is 2015-16 Kawhi Leonard and 2010-11 Kevin Durant. Despite Giannis’s inability to shoot long range he still converts 54.6% of his field goal attempts, averaging 28.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 417 of his shot attempts coming from the restricted-area. 245 shot attempts coming from anywhere but in the paint. Just like Ben Simmons, Giannis is limited by an inability to extend beyond his comfort zone. But he possesses so much skill it almost doesn’t matter. Unlike Simmons, Giannis’s face does not turn green when forced to heave a mid-or-longer range shot.
His development is right up there with Kevin Durant (2010-11) and Kawhi Leonard (2015-16) were at the point Giannis is right now. In my opinion, K.D in 2011 was either the second or third best player in the league at the time (Behind Howard and maybe Kobe). Kawhi was second best (in my opinion) to the unanimous MVP Stephen Curry in 2016.
Of course, Giannis is the better athlete and the least polished of the three. Out of the 245 shot attempts outside of the paint, Giannis made only 78. He shoots a poor 28.5% on above the break three attempts and smarter teams like Boston, San Antonio, Cleveland, etc, know how to get him away from his bread and butter. Regardless, the Bucks are a hodgepodge of pieces that are either slightly above-or-below average. Prospects such as Jabari Parker and Thon Maker remain in an enigma. Head coach Jason Kidd looks overmatched at times, overthinking and under-thinking in situational spots that aren’t as complicated as they seem.
With an ORtg of 120, Giannis ranks 17th overall in the league. Giannis owns a higher usage rate than Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis. As of now he’s a step below then for the MVP race. If the Bucks can win somewhere close to fifty-games perhaps he’ll be everyone’s favorite Cinderella Pick.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan beats out Victor Oladipo by a hair! This is the toughest decision I’ve had to make on the East ballot. For everything DeRozan is, Oladipo is arguably better because he isn’t the same liability on the defensive side of the court. But I went with DeRozan because how crucial he’s been to the best Raptors squad of the decade. When the season kicked off, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry stumbled out the gates, first nine games he shot a poor 37.6% from the field. In most instances when your $33 million a year PG falters you’re not winning, but DeRozan kept the Raptors heads above water at 5-4.
DeRozan’s never been one to extend his game beyond being an unbelievable finisher at the rim, over the summer he’s become less reluctant to shoot longer-range shots. Last year, DeRozan attempted 124 threes… this season 137 making 35%. With the steadily declining USG% of Lowry, more emphasis on DeRozan has been put on the offensive end. Shooting a career-high in three-point percentage, averaging the highest assists per game (5.0) and he’s doing this with a turnover rate of 9.6. Which is insanely low considering how much he has the ball. Last twenty-three games, the Raptors won sixteen, with the help of DeRozan scorching the earth 26.9 PPG, 4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 48.6 FG%, 38.6 3P% and an offensive rating of 121.
Throughout the season, DeRozan’s been money, as usual, in the RA, 64.9% on 171 attempts. In 2016-17 DeRozan made 41.2% of his mid-range shots, this year he’s upped it to 46.6%. Shooting 18 of 44 on corner three-attempts, this shows DeRozan isn’t afraid as he was in years past to shoot the ball. In the clutch, DeRozan averages 4.6 points on 45.3% shooting tight situations. He’s an amazing player, possibly the best (pure) two-guard in the NBA.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
The stats are the same as last year. So why the hell is he getting all this praise? Well, it’s the behind the scenes makeup that makes this season from Irving special. Prior to Boston, Irving’s reputation was of one of a selfish gunner. He didn’t have the right mindset to get others involved, like Mike Conley or the traditional point guards of years past. The assists totals don’t show it, but watching Kyrie this season you’d be hard pressed to argue he hasn’t tried to get others involved and forgone stats for victories. This job is difficult when you take into account he’s sharing the court with inexperienced youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart who couldn’t throw the ball into the Atlantic Ocean.
The case for Irving to start the All-Star is purely above statistics, though he’s been very reliable in the clutch. His fourth quarter heroics rivaling fan-favorite Isaiah Thomas. 48.1% from the field, 4 PPG in the clutch, a 119 ORtg and 8.6 Netrg. A remarkable amount of his scoring in the clutch comes unassisted (73.7%) meaning he an act for creating for himself. Whether it be around the basket or jump shot.
Although he isn’t the best Boston Celtics player, he’s the most compelling and deserves the praise he’s received over the course of the season.
Written By: Vinny, @Sailboatstudios on Twitter