It's finally time for the NBA's greatest annual tradition: fans yelling at other fans about the way they voted for the league's All-Star Game. In a Thursday night pregame special on TNT, the Inside the NBA crew revealed the 10 starters who will be shuttling back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan next month:
The game itself will take place February 15 at Madison Square Garden.
For those who have been following the early returns, the results shouldn't be much of a surprise. LeBron James and Stephen Curry led their respective conferences in the overall voting, with James still riding the goodwill of his return to Cleveland and Curry's Golden State Warriors riding the goodwill of thrashing the basketball world.
Joining Curry and James is a list of standard-bearers for the sport and a few notable newcomers. John Wall and Anthony Davis made the leap from newbies last year to full-fledged starters in 2015 as they continue establishing themselves as two of the brightest young stars on the planet.
Veterans Pau Gasol and Kyle Lowry have both enjoyed excellent all-around seasons, so their candidacy makes sense. As do the selections of Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol, the former being one of the game's most recognizable faces and the latter (arguably) the best center on the planet.
And then there is Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. We didn't say everything would be perfect. But, unless the NBA decides to follow MLB's footsteps and have the game carry actual weight, it's hard to quibble about the rosters too much. All-Star Games are revenue-generating spectacles for the fan.
Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher also offered his own All-Star roster in this Team Stream Now video:
With all that in mind, let's take a look at who you—the people!—chose to represent the Eastern and Western Conferences.
|Eastern Conference Starters|
|FC||Pau Gasol||Chicago Bulls|
|FC||LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|FC||Carmelo Anthony||New York Knicks|
|BC||John Wall||Washington Wizards|
|BC||Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors|
The names here should be awfully familiar. Anthony and James, each a member of the hallowed 2003 draft class, have a combined 19 All-Star appearances after Thursday's selections. James has made the February classic in 11 of his 12 seasons and is back in the starting lineup despite ongoing injury issues.
It was the longest absence of his career, and James has already missed more games in 2014-15 than he has in any other campaign. Coupled with a noticeable defensive slippage—his outright giving up on possessions has become its own meme—it's fair to call this the worst half-season of his career.
One quick caveat: James' worst NBA season would be many all-time greats' best. He's averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists after Wednesday's win against Utah and remains a stabilizing force in Cleveland. The Cavaliers have lost eight of their nine games with LeBron on the shelf despite the presence of All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
"LeBron is our nucleus and we rely on him heavily, and when he is feeling good, as he is now, he influences in every respect," Cavaliers coach David Blatt recently told reporters. "On the court and off the court. It's good to see."
One of the teams overtaking the disappointing Cavs in the East is Toronto. The Raptors are currently in third place in the East, thanks in large part to Lowry—the star many said should have represented Toronto last season. Lowry's first All-Star appearance comes on the back of a 19.8-point, 7.5-assist, 4.9-rebound line that represents career-highs across the board.
Pau Gasol, the second-highest vote-getter in the East, is in the midst of a return to form few saw coming. The Spaniard is averaging 18.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game and has at times been the Bulls' best player. If he finishes with those numbers, he'll join Elvin Hayes (1979-80) as one of two players in history to go 18-11-2 at age 34 or older.
Anthony is the most questionable selection given the Knicks' downright dreadfulness and his recent absences, but his selection is to be expected. The game is in New York. Carmelo is one of the sport's biggest stars playing in its biggest market. And it's not as if he's been a starkly different player when on the floor this season.
|Western Conference All-Stars|
|FC||Marc Gasol||Memphis Grizzlies|
|FC||Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans|
|FC||Blake Griffin||Los Angeles Clippers|
|BC||Kobe Bryant||Los Angeles Lakers|
|BC||Stephen Curry||Golden State Warriors|
Whereas three of the five Eastern Conference starters are past the age of 30, there's only one in the West who will have hit the dreaded round number come All-Star Weekend. (Marc Gasol turns 30 on Jan. 29.)
The more youthful side is spearheaded by Curry and Davis, two MVP candidates realizing the all-around potential of their games. Curry, despite playing nearly four fewer minutes per game than he did in 2013-14, is keeping his per-game statistics up while improving his game on the defensive end.
Long hidden by former Warriors coach Mark Jackson, new head coach Steve Kerr has helped turn Curry into a better defender by trusting him to stick with opposing point guards.
"He's just found the balance," Kerr told reporters in mid-January. "I've talked before about how for somebody like Steph, who's got that much talent, sometimes it's hard to figure out when to pull back and when to go. Because he figures he can always make a play. And he can. But he's found the perfect balance between attacking and pulling it, being smart."
The Warriors (34-6) are running away with the Western Conference's top seed. Curry would have been a deserving choice for the first-half MVP.
Davis would have a claim to the same if his surrounding talent was better. New Orleans, a no-doubt-about-it playoff team if it was in the East, is looking more and more like it'll be on the outside looking in come April. The Pelicans are battling with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets for the No. 8 seed, a race that's looking more like it'll be a two-teamer as the weeks go by.
Without Davis, who is perhaps a few months away from being considered the NBA's best player, the Pelicans wouldn't even be in the playoff conversation. The long-armed freak is averaging 24.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and a league-high 2.9 blocks per game while making necessary strides as a team defender, too. It's still part of a process, but Davis is essentially a nightly video game at this point.
Things are also going swimmingly for Marc Gasol, who is finally getting the national recognition he started receiving two years ago on #BasketballTwitter. Gasol is the best player on a Memphis Grizzlies team that's exceeding all expectations and beginning to look like a title threat.
It's a different story for the two Los Angeles representatives, as Bryant and Griffin have experienced disappointments on the personal and team levels this season. Griffin has seen his rebound rate plummet as he's floated more toward the perimeter, and the Clippers are nowhere near a championship contender after being a trendy preseason sleeper.
Stephen Curry's chief competitor for the MVP, the Rockets guard and NBA scoring leader is the captain of the snubs. He's at or near the top of the league in terms of PER, win shares, real plus-minus and pretty much any other metric you care to use.
The less that's said about Bryant's candidacy, the better. The Lakers are bad, Bryant's mostly been bad and there are too many great Western Conference players for people to just shrug and move about their day. News of Bryant's rotator cuff tear means it's unlikely he'll make the trip, which is probably for the best for all involved. This will be the second time in as many years Bryant will have to sit out the All-Star Game. Harden will in all likelihood take his place.
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