Let the debates begin: The NBA announced Thursday night the starting fives for the Eastern and Western Conferences in the 2016 All-Star Game, which will be held Feb. 14 in Toronto.
|2016 NBA All-Star Game Starters|
|Guard||Dwyane Wade||Miami Heat||12th|
|Guard||Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors||2nd|
|Frontcourt||LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers||12th|
|Frontcourt||Paul George||Indiana Pacers||3rd|
|Frontcourt||Carmelo Anthony||New York Knicks||9th|
|Guard||Stephen Curry||Golden State Warriors||3rd|
|Guard||Russell Westbrook||Oklahoma City Thunder||5th|
|Frontcourt||Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder||7th|
|Frontcourt||Kobe Bryant||Los Angeles Lakers||18th|
|Frontcourt||Kawhi Leonard||San Antonio Spurs||1st|
|Source: Inside the NBA|
Bleacher Report gave fans an idea of what the 10 players will look like in this year's All-Star uniforms:
Bryant's earning the most All-Star votes (1,891,614) was the most predictable outcome after the Los Angeles Lakers star announced this year would be his last in the league. Only twice in the previous 19 seasons did Bryant fail to make the All-Star Game, and the last time came in 1998-99. According to NBA on ESPN, he joins elite company with this year's selection:
In what is his All-Star swan song, Bryant was a lock for the starting lineup, even if he's in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his legendary career.
The 37-year-old told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears he won't be approaching this year's event as some sort of victory lap, a lesson he took from Michael Jordan:
One thing that Michael said was, "Just because it's my last All-Star Game, I don't want you to come out there going soft on me. I want you to play me how you would normally play me." I was like, "Mike, what do you know about me that would lead you to tell me that?" We both got a good laugh out of that.
The thing I remember most was the competition. Those are the things that I will always cherish. Hopefully, they will come out and compete as always this year. Those are the things I will always carry with me. Just true competition.
With 1,604,325 votes, Curry collected the second-highest number of votes. He owned a nearly 600,000-vote lead on James, which is the second year in a row he surpassed the Cleveland Cavaliers star.
Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver tracked how the reigning MVP slowly overtook LeBron over the years:
Ben Golliver @BenGolliver
The tide has turned: Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James in NBA All-Star Game voting, 2013-2016 https://t.co/vvhrAVbxKk2016-1-22 00:47:31
Of course, no All-Star Game would be complete without voting controversy.
In the buildup to Thursday's announcement, one of the more interesting questions was whether Kyrie Irving would get into the All-Star Game ahead of Kyle Lowry. In the most recent voting returns, Irving held a slim 32,000-vote lead over Lowry.
By most performance-based metrics, Lowry owned the edge over his counterpart on the Cavaliers. Here are their per-36 numbers:
|Kyrie Irving vs. Kyle Lowry—Per-36-Minute Comparison|
Hoops Habit's Josh Eberley drew attention to a few other areas in which the Toronto Raptors point guard was the clear winner:
Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 @JoshEberley
Of Lowry/Wall/Irving: Highest PER - Lowry Highest TS% - Lowry Most games played - Lowry Home town player - Lowy #NBAVote - Kyle Lowry.2016-1-14 18:55:47
You could also argue Jimmy Butler, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan and Isaiah Thomas all built stronger All-Star candidacies than Irving. Alas, All-Star voting is largely a popularity contest, and it doesn't hurt when you have LeBron on your side.
Still, Lowry got the nod, which was more than deserved. The home fans in Toronto will have at least one Raptor on the floor to start the game.
In the Western Conference, either Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard was bound to be overlooked by the fans. Bryant and Durant both owned commanding leads in the top two spots, leaving just one opening for Green or Leonard.
The former has been one of the most versatile players in the league and the NBA leader in triple-doubles. Green is also tied for sixth in assists (7.4 per game), which is absurd for a 6'7" power forward.
The latter, meanwhile, is a contender for Most Valuable Player. Leonard is averaging 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds a game while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc, which is second only to J.J. Redick among qualified players. Leonard also has a 93.0 defensive rating, per NBA.com, highlighting how well he has played on both ends of the floor.
With the aid of the international vote, Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia nearly gate-crashed the event. NBA on TNT provided the full voting results from the West frontcourt:
NBA on TNT @NBAonTNT
Here's the voting breakdown. Any surprises? https://t.co/iqOWrfRVXK2016-1-22 00:07:10
The silver lining for Green is that his inclusion as a reserve on the West squad is a mere formality. Few fans remember the number of times a player has started an All-Star Game—All-Star appearances are the only qualifier.
Arguing about which players did or didn't deserve to start the NBA All-Star Game is always a fun exercise, but until the full rosters are announced Jan. 28, it's premature to start talking seriously about snubs.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.