The 2016 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday will feature 24 of the best players in the league, all having a unique path to this point.
In each conference, there are players who were top draft picks as well as late bloomers who were initially overlooked. There are first-time selections ready to put themselves among the NBA's elite along with veterans who got here on name recognition alone. Some players have put up huge numbers on losing teams, while others have been key contributors on the league's top contenders.
No matter what each player has done to this point, they will all leave the weekend as All-Stars, a designation no one can take away. Here is a look at the men who have earned this honor for the 2015-16 season.
|23||LeBron James||F||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|13||Paul George||F||Indiana Pacers|
|7||Carmelo Anthony||F||New York Knicks|
|3||Dwyane Wade||G||Miami Heat|
|7||Kyle Lowry||G||Toronto Raptors|
|21||Jimmy Butler||G-F||Chicago Bulls|
|10||DeMar DeRozan||G||Toronto Raptors|
|4||Paul Millsap||F||Atlanta Hawks|
|0||Andre Drummond||C||Detroit Pistons|
|1||Chris Bosh||F||Miami Heat|
|2||John Wall||G||Washington Wizards|
|4||Isaiah Thomas||G||Boston Celtics|
The Eastern Conference will have a familiar look to it with a number of players who are there just about every season, as noted by SportsCenter:
Four NBA players have made every All-Star team since 2005-06: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. pic.twitter.com/FNtwwLfFdf— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 29, 2016
Kobe Bryant will obviously represent the West, but former teammates LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will all be there for the East. Carmelo Anthony has been in eight All-Star Games in this stretch as well and will get the start in the frontcourt.
While these players obviously deserve their honors, a new generation has made things interesting with younger stars filling up the roster.
Guards John Wall, DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler (assuming he's healthy) were at this event last year and will likely be at many more before their careers are done. The same could be said about Andre Drummond, who earned his first selection this year. The NBA's leading rebounder has been a force in the paint all season and has thrown down some ferocious dunks in the process:
Another first-time participant is Isaiah Thomas, likely the most surprising member of the roster considering where he was early in his career. The 5'9" point guard was the 60th pick of the draft and was clearly too small to make an impact. However, he proved his doubters wrong while averaging 21.4 points and 6.6 assists per game for the shockingly good Boston Celtics.
Paul Millsap is the only representative for the Atlanta Hawks after the team brought four players to the All-Star Game a year ago, but the veteran continues to produce at a high rate.
As for Paul George, he deservedly gets a chance to start less than two years after a devastating leg injury that might have derailed his career. He is somehow better than ever, though, and clearly one of the best players in the NBA.
|24||Kobe Bryant||F-G||Los Angeles Lakers|
|35||Kevin Durant||F||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|2||Kawhi Leonard||F||San Antonio Spurs|
|30||Stephen Curry||G||Golden State Warriors|
|0||Russell Westbrook||G||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|23||Draymond Green||F||Golden State Warriors|
|13||James Harden||G||Houston Rockets|
|3||Chris Paul||G||Los Angeles Clippers|
|11||Klay Thompson||G||Golden State Warriors|
|23||Anthony Davis||F-C||New Orleans Pelicans|
|15||DeMarcus Cousins||C-F||Sacramento Kings|
|12||LaMarcus Aldridge||F||San Antonio Spurs|
Usually, players on last-place teams who can't make shots aren't on All-Star rosters, but Bryant qualifies as an exception. With the Black Mamba retiring at the end of the season, fans decided to judge him on an entire career of work, which easily puts him among the best in the history of the sport.
"It'll be a big thrill for the fans," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver explained after the vote was released, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. "Not just in Toronto but around the league to watch that experience and how the fans in arena react to him, and I think it's an opportunity for the larger NBA family to say thank you for his service over the last 20 years."
The lifetime achievement award will put the future Hall of Famer in the national spotlight one last time, especially since the Los Angeles Lakers won't be anywhere near the playoffs this season.
Outside of Bryant, however, youth dominates the West roster. Chris Paul and LaMarcus Aldridge (both 30 years old) have certainly been around for some time, and Kevin Durant is one of the elder statesmen at 27 years old. This will be his seventh All-Star Game, while teammate Russell Westbrook, also 27, will start and play in his fifth.
Of course, it wouldn't be a showcase of the NBA's best without the core of the Golden State Warriors. The squad is an incredible 46-4 through 50 games and will be well-represented in Toronto with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post summed up the Warriors in a joke describing Steve Kerr's coaching style:
I think it's called the "I have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green" offense. It's pretty good. https://t.co/OSofilBkfe— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 1, 2016
These players have been unstoppable this season, and they could put on a show this weekend.
Kawhi Leonard will make his first All-Star appearance, which is a bit of a surprise considering how much he has improved in recent years. Once a role player on a great team, the wing is now one of the best two-way players in all of basketball.
Rounding out the squad is elite scorer James Harden and two of the best big men in basketball in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. With this much talent all over the court, it seems likely we are headed for a big win from the Western Conference.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.