On Feb. 14, the NBA will pen its love letter to basketball by trotting out the league's best stars for Toronto's 2016 All-Star Game.
Or, you know, the most popular ones.
The voting booths—or hashtags—are officially closed. Thursday night's TNT special will unveil each conference's five starters, but some choices are already foregone conclusions.
The latest results, posted on NBA.com on Jan. 14, disclosed seismic leads for LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant's minus-0.7 win shares. Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant should also make sure their passports are up to date.
That leaves drama over three spots. One choice is painfully obvious, but the ill-informed voters disagree. Another pits a big-name scorer from a big market against a younger, rising star. The most intriguing competition features two deserving starters, but one all-around stud must sit to make room for a bounty of missed mid-range jumpers from Bryant.
|Position||Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|Backcourt||Dwyane Wade, MIA||Stephen Curry, GS|
|Backcourt||Kyrie Irving, CLE||Russell Westbrook, OKC|
|Froncourt||LeBron James, CLE||Kobe Bryant, LAL|
|Frontcourt||Paul George, IND||Kevin Durant, OKC|
|Frontcourt||Carmelo Anthony, NYK||Draymond Green, GS|
East Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony vs. Andre Drummond
After James and George, one can conjure up a compelling argument for several forwards or centers to complete the Eastern Conference's backcourt. Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh, Al Horford, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love will all stake claims for bench seats, but Carmelo Anthony and Andre Drummond will spar for a starter's introduction.
With Anthony semi-interested in sharing the ball—dishing out a career-high 4.0 assists per game—the New York Knicks are part of a revitalized conference, playing competent basketball at 22-22. He still derives too much value off high-volume scoring to exist among the top pantheon of superstars, but he's a top scorer playing in the Big Apple.
|Carmelo Anthony, SF, NYK||368,336|
|Andre Drummond, C, DET||361,307|
Nine years Anthony's junior, the 22-year-old Drummond has grabbed a league-high 15.4 rebounds per game, two more than runner-up DeAndre Jordan. The center has tallied 36 double-doubles in 42 games, amassing 20 points and 20 boards on five occasions.
A year after suffering 50 losses, the Detroit Pistons currently own a playoff spot at 23-19. Pistons point guard Spencer Dinwiddie campaigned for his teammate in a Jan. 14 post on the Players' Tribune.
"Is Andre Drummond an All-Star this year? Without a doubt," Dinwiddie wrote. "Should he be the Eastern Conference starting center? Absolutely. Is he having an all-NBA, all-world, all-galaxy, play-on-the-Space-Jam-team caliber year? 100 percent."
Anthony isn't enjoying a noteworthy season, but he's the marketable brand name. Expect him to once again win the popularity contest and make his seventh straight All-Star appearance.
Deserving Winner: Drummond
East Backcourt: Kyrie Irving vs. Kyle Lowry
Shame. Shame. Shame. If Kyle Lowry doesn't get the starting nod in front of his hometown fans, anyone who voted for Kyrie Irving should lose Internet access for the year.
The Toronto Raptors point guard isn't just a sentimental choice. He's sporting nightly averages of 20.9 points, 6.5 assists and 5.0 boards. His 6.5 win shares tie Jimmy Butler—who should start alongside Lowry instead of Wade—for most among all Eastern Conference players. Not just guards. They also have that James fellow beat.
|Kyrie Irving, CLE||399,757|
|Kyle Lowry, TOR||367,472|
Irving, on the other hand, has played 14 underwhelming games, scoring 15.8 points per bout on a ghastly .460 effective field-goal percentage. But even if he were posting 30 points a pop with Curry-like accuracy, he has only played 14 stinking games.
Despite the grave injustice miring democracy's efficacy, Lowry expressed gratitude to his supporters, per Sportsnet's Holly MacKenzie:
There's enough injustice in the world. Even though it will take an unlikely comeback for the Raptor, picking Irving over Lowry is too sad. Is common sense prevailing too much to ask? (Probably, but a hoops fan can dream.)
Deserving Winner: Lowry
West Frontcourt: Draymond Green vs. Kawhi Leonard
Nobody should have to pick between Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard. We know a deserving superstar on a historically good powerhouse will get secluded from the Western Conference's starting lineup to instead give Bryant a lifetime achievement award.
As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe declared in his column labeling Green and Leonard rightful starters: "If you're still quibbling about whether Draymond Green is a star, it's best to click back onto that column about the NFL playoffs and rejoin the NBA in May."
|Draymond Green, GS||499,947|
|Kawhi Leonard, SA||487,626|
The glue to the 39-4 Golden State Warriors is averaging career highs in points (14.5), rebounds (9.5) and assists (7.4) per contest. Yet the standard box sheet doesn't do the do-everything star justice. Serving as the fulcrum of Golden State's small-ball lineup, he boasts the league's second-best net rating (21.3) behind Curry.
Leonard, meanwhile, has become the unquestioned star of the 36-6 San Antonio Spurs, who sport an NBA-best plus-14.2 average point differential. Along with upping his offensive game, dropping 20.1 points a game on a .569 effective field-goal percentage, he's by far the planet's premier on-ball defender.
ESPN.com's Ethan Strauss decried Leonard getting left out in the cold:
Your All-Star voting system is broken if Kawhi Leonard isn't voted into the game.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 14, 2016
As everyone salivates over Golden State, San Antonio happily hides under the radar. A quiet star on a deep, small-market juggernaut, Leonard will settle for a reserve role. Thanks, Kobe.
Deserving Winner: Both