Predicting NBA All-Star Rosters After 1st Quarter of 2015-16 Season
It's never too early to talk NBA All-Star rosters.
So...let's talk NBA All-Star rosters!
The Association's regular season is old enough to estimate who will partake in the 2016 exhibition affair in Toronto on February 14. The sample size makes this exercise less of a shot in the dark and more of an informed, common sense-based primer.
Individual performances and statistics are the driving force behind most selections but not all of them. We have to take into account the fan vote that determines starters. It doubles as a popularity poll and often favors household names who aren't playing up to All-Star snuff.
There is more freedom when it comes to choosing reserves. The league's head coaches vote on those and aren't as heavily seduced by flashy reputations.
Rosters will stretch 12 players deep, and the seven reserves for each team are a mix of backcourt and frontcourt components. Coaches for either side are not included because their presence is completely objective. The head honchos from the East's and West's best teams are awarded the reins of that conference's All-Star roster.
Now, let us peer into the not-too-distant but still-feels-forever-away future.
East Backcourt Starter: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry is the (healthy) Marshawn Lynch of the NBA—a devastating combination of brute force, demonstrative dexterity and collective know-how.
And he's going to make the second All-Star appearance of his career.
Last season was, relative to his 2013-14 explosion, largely considered a down year for Lowry, and yet he still grabbed the second-most fan votes of any backcourt talent in the East. He should have no problem duplicating that success this time around.
With all of Canada—and, potentially, Justin Bieber—behind him once more, Lowry might actually pace the conference's guard corps in popularity. There's much working in his favor: The Toronto Raptors are again contending for the East's second-best record, the Association's exhibition is being held in Toronto, and this year's Kyle Lowry is, by far, the best-ever Kyle Lowry.
In addition to pumping in 20-plus points and handing out six assists per game, Toronto's fearless floor general is finding nylon on more than 40 percent of his three-pointers while jacking up north of seven in the average contest.
So, in other words, Bieber is free to focus his Twitter clout elsewhere. Lowry should lock down a starting backcourt spot.
East Backcourt Starter: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Disclaimer: Some serious waffling went down before rolling with Dwyane Wade.
It's not that the 11-time All-Star (10 appearances) doesn't deserve a spot on the roster. He's posting one of the league's most balanced stat sheets and remains on pace to play in more than 70 games for the first time since 2010-11.
There are just more deserving candidates at this juncture in Wade's career. The Heat are outplaying opponents by a greater margin per 100 possessions with him on the bench, and his true shooting percentage—collective measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy—has hit rock bottom.
All-Star starting lineups, however, are an unabashed popularity contest, and there is no deserving substitute with enough juice to displace Wade this time around.
John Wall, along with Lowry, edged out Wade in 2015, but the chances of that happening again are virtually nonexistent with the Washington Wizards on the outside looking in at the East's playoff bubble. Kyrie Irving would make for a worthy rival if not for the fact he has yet to play this season.
Neither Jimmy Butler's nor Kemba Walker's brands are strong enough to supersede Wade even during career crusades. Butler made his All-Star debut in 2015 and was still outpaced by Wade to the tune of 330,000-plus votes.
That gap isn't poised to close now, with Wade healthy and playing for an actual contender. For the time being, his streak of consecutive selections—not starts—since 2005 is safe.
East Backcourt Reserves
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Though Butler's shooting percentages and player efficiency rating are down from last season, he continues to be the engine that keeps Chicago humming.
He is the only Bulls player who ranks inside the top 35 of win shares and is one of just nine NBA players averaging 20 points, five rebounds and three assists per game—a list that reads like a who's who of All-Star locks.
Chicago is up to its old defensive tricks again, trailing only the league-leading San Antonio Spurs in points allowed per 100 possessions, and that should only help Butler. The Bulls defense is statistically stingier with him on the sidelines, but he's drawing the toughest individual matchup every night.
Were voting to take place in a vacuum, free from fanatical bias, Butler would be starting in this year's All-Star tilt.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Walker is having his best season.
While his assist numbers are on the decline, he has never been more efficient. He's shooting better than 45 percent from the floor overall, and his 39-plus percent clip from downtown trounces his previous career high by more than six points.
The Hornets are deliberately using him off the ball as a spot-up threat, because they finally can. Defenders no longer have the luxury of cheating off him to provide help; Walker has gravitational pull on the perimeter now and is making it easier for Charlotte's top-seven offense—yes, top seven—to create attacking lanes for Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Jeremy Lin.
Admittedly still an offensive minus overall, Walker has already racked up the same number of offensive win shares he accumulated in each of the last two seasons and is one of just five players averaging at least 18 points and four assists on 39 percent shooting from deep.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Wall is not to blame for the Wizards' descent into basketball purgatory.
On an individual level, though, Wall is playing well. His shooting percentages are rising right along with his shot count, and he is assisting on at least 40 percent of Washington's buckets when on the court while topping 17 points per contest for a fourth consecutive season.
Pencil this man in for another All-Star appearance now.
Notable Snubs: Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Thomas
East Frontcourt Starter: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
This year's fan vote will be the ultimate test of Carmelo Anthony's brand.
Objectively speaking, he isn't an All-Star. His three-point percentage has dipped below 35 percent for a second straight year, and he's shooting at a career-low clip overall.
Despite Anthony notching the second-highest assist rate of his Big Apple tenure, the New York Knicks offense is only scoring a tad more when he's in the lineup. There are stretches when he looks more engaged defensively, but his notoriously lethargic stances are often covered up by random swipes at the ball that sometimes pan out.
Anthony is nevertheless one of the NBA's biggest names. He finished third in frontcourt ballots among his Eastern Conference peers last year, and there's little reason to think he'll drop out of that stratum now—especially with Pau Gasol unlikely to receive the same surge of support his play generated in 2015.
Truthfully, and most definitely ironically, the biggest threat to Anthony's All-Star candidacy is in his own locker room. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis is a cult hero in New York who is gaining popularity across the league and, as the New York Post's Marc Berman pointed out, could get a scale-tipping boon from a fiercely loyal Latvian fanbase:
If Latvian fans follow the same script as last winter, Porzingis could have a fighting chance to be one of the top vote-getters among forwards. Because of a frenzy of ballot-stuffing in the small, hockey-mad Baltic country, Buffalo Sabres right wing Zemgus Girgensons of Latvia received the most votes of any player despite being en route to finishing fourth on his own team in scoring.
At some point, Anthony's celebrity will wane enough to make room for another, more deserving starter. That point, while fast approaching, just isn't now.
East Frontcourt Starter: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
LeBron James was the only Eastern Conference forward in 2014 to earn more All-Star shout-outs than Paul George, and the selection process this year is headed for an identical finish.
George is that good.
Forget All-Star starter. The 25-year-old is a certified MVP candidate.
After missing all but six games last season as he rehabilitated a broken right leg, George ranks in the top eight of both PER and win shares and has the recently renovated Indiana Pacers contending for a top-two conference record.
Pretty much all of his box scores embody the type of ridiculousness that voters most value. If his averages hold, he'll be just the third player over the last 10 years to average 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals for an entire season, joining the ranks of fellow MVP candidates James and Westbrook.
And that, sure as anything, is ridiculous enough to put him back in the All-Star starter's pool.
East Frontcourt Starter: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
You know what's completely, wholly, unequivocally impossible?
Making a case against James getting the nod as an Eastern Conference starter.
More than James is beloved by voters, he is really good at this whole basketball thing. The wrong side of 30 has never known a player like him—someone with his blend of balanced aggression and contrived versatility.
James is registering a PER north of 27 for the ninth time since entering the NBA, tying him with Michael Jordan for the most such seasons in league's history. This is also the ninth time he's averaging at least 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal.
Larry Bird, Jordan and Westbrook are the only other players to have ever matched those per-game minimums, and they've done so a grand total of seven times—or two times fewer than James has on his own.
Please excuse me for a moment while I faint only to regain consciousness so that I can faint again.
East Frontcourt Reserves
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets
Batum is balling out for the Hornets following a down year with the Portland Trail Blazers. He and Walker are co-opting the playmaking duties for the Association's most surprising offense, and Charlotte's starting lineups are surviving defensively without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist largely because of him.
Talk about your "Sweet mother of WHAT" stat lines as well.
Over the last 15 years, two players have averaged 17 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 39 percent or better from long range on at least 30 attempts. Batum is well on his way to becoming the third and joining the likes of...Durant and James.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
It's tempting to give Kevin Love a spot over Bosh, until you realize it actually isn't.
Bosh's offensive numbers are simply splendid. The ball isn't sticking with him, and he's drilling triples with close to personal-best efficiency amid career-high volume.
The Heat offense, a disappointment as it is, wouldn't function without his dependable jumper. Wade has never been a good three-point shooter, and Hassan Whiteside has little to no touch outside 10 feet of the basket.
But Bosh has been even more valuable on the defensive end. Miami deploys the equivalent of a top-two defense when he's on the hardwood and regresses to a less impressive, albeit still sound, top-12 unit without him.
Much of Goran Dragic's and Wade's struggles are masked by him jumping out at ball-handlers who turn loosely guarded corners, and Whiteside wouldn't have the freedom to chase blocks if Bosh weren't quick enough to shimmy into the space behind him as an insurance policy.
Expect his ticket to the All-Star festivities to be punched for an 11th straight year (10th appearance).
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
What Drummond is doing right now, on an individual level, is so awe-inspiring that it's disgusting.
Rebounds have seldom been grabbed in such volume. Double-doubles have never seemed so routine. The way Drummond blocks shots, though not unheard of, looks effortless. He's a statistical machine, rattling off lines reserved for players of decades past.
Moses Malone was the last player to average at least 17 points, 15 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, and he did it in 1982-83. Before that, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1975-76, and both Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo did it in 1973-74.
Having placed himself in the company of four Hall of Famers by stuffing the stat sheet in a way foreign to today's NBA, Drummond has assuredly earned a seat at the All-Star table.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Two players have enjoyed averages of 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal per game in each of the last three seasons, including this one.
James and Millsap.
We're done here.
Notable Snubs: Al Horford, Greg Monroe
West Backcourt Starter: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriros
Stephen Curry is a superhero. Or a demigod.
Revelation: Stephen Curry is a superhero demigod—like Thor, only scrawnier, and instead of a hammer, he combats evil (read: inefficiency) with flamethrowers he calls arms.
Today's NBA isn't merely for Curry. It exists in part because of him. He is on track to break just about every offensive record imaginable and continues to rewrite the laws of efficiency with a trey-tamped shot selection that's theoretically conducive to errancy, not his infallibility.
Never mind that he's slaughtering the NBA's PER record, or that he's racked up more win shares than the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have combined victories, or that he's averaging more of those win shares per 48 minutes than anyone else ever.
Here's Curry's mastery in a nutshell: He is shooting roughly 45 percent when letting it fly more than 25 feet from the hoop.
Twenty-one teams are shooting worse than 45 percent overall.
This is Curry's NBA, folks. He's just letting other people play in it.
West Backcourt Starter: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
That honor, assuming voters actually watch basketball from time to time, would fall to Oklahoma City's point man.
Westbrook is the best player in the NBA not named Stephen Curry right now. He's second in PER and offensive box plus/minus and third in win shares. His net rating is higher than Durant's, and Basketball-Reference's MVP Award Tracker has him listed as the second-most likely winner, ahead of both Durant and James, by a comfortable margin.
Knowing this, does anyone really want to bet against Westbrook snagging his fifth All-Star berth and first starting nod?
Didn't think so.
West Backcourt Reserves
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last season's MVP runner-up has settled down following a disastrous start.
Harden's shooting percentages are still circling the drain, but he ranks second in scoring and inside the top seven of PER and owns a better offensive box plus/minus—which gauges how much better the average offense would be per 100 possessions with a given player on the floor—than George.
Not even Houston's mess of a season can cloud those numbers.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
How would it feel to watch an All-Star game unfold without Paul?
Like it was 2007.
Paul only recently relinquished the "Best Point Guard" crown to Curry and is still piloting one of the league's top 10 offenses. He's averaging less than 32 minutes per game for the first time, but his numbers are nonetheless absurd.
This marks the 10th season in which he's averaged 16 points, eight assists and 1.5 steals per game. Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas are the only other players to reach those statistical yardsticks nine times.
That is to say: This isn't 2007. Paul remains at the top of his game and is a shoo-in for reserve duty.
Notable Snubs: Eric Bledsoe, Damian Lillard
West Frontcourt Starter: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant clearly doesn't belong in the All-Star Game at all, let alone as a starter. But within a voting system that caters to exceptions, the 37-year-old is his own exception.
Fans have elected Bryant as a starter in each of the last two All-Star tilts. Injuries left him unable to participate on both occasions, and he is three seasons removed from star-level production, but it doesn't matter.
That's the ugly beauty of Bryant's brand. His popularity, his importance to fans all over the globe, transcends his actual performance.
Now, on top of that, Bryant is playing out his swan song. The idea of him not being voted into the NBA's nationally televised pickup game is crazy.
Supporters will want him in Toronto, on the floor of Air Canada Centre, for the opening tip. Many of his detractors, if only out of reluctant respect for his on-court accomplishments, will want him there too.
Most importantly, the NBA as an entity wants him there.
"I hope to see him there," league Commissioner Adam Silver said during an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio, as transcribed by NBC Sports' Dan Feldman. "I think he deserves to be there. He’s going to retire as one of the NBA’s greatest players."
Bryant's inclusion will have a trickle-down effect that displaces a deserving starter into the reserve ranks, and that deserving starter will in turn eject a fitting reserve into the snub coalition.
Which, under the circumstances, is fine. All-Star rodeos don't actually matter. They're a foreground for child's play and ego-massaging. They don't have any quantifiable value, impact the standings or affect the playoff picture.
No true injustice is borne from Bryant suiting up alongside those he used to call peers. His participation is simply a harmless career achievement award meant to honor the player who was once worth this exact kind of recognition.
West Frontcourt Starter: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Contract-year Kevin Durant is a lot like the every-year Kevin Durant—only better.
Look at how his per-36-minute splits this season compare to those from his MVP-winning mission in 2013-14:
Eerily similar, don't you think?
Durant's PER is higher than it was in 2013-14; it's also a career best. He is collecting more win shares per 48 minutes than he was then and is in position to join the 50/40/90 club for the second time, a feat only accomplished by Larry Bird and Steve Nash.
Undergoing three foot surgeries in six months last season hasn't even come close to slowing him down. Durant is the same preternatural being with the same unparalleled game—a center-sized wing with sharp handles and controlled explosion that he parlays into brain-bending production.
And if for some reason this isn't enough to promise him a starting slot (it is), Durant should gain a popularity boost from Toronto fans who are looking for an additional opportunity to shamelessly recruit him ahead of free agency.
To Biebs' Twitter!
West Frontcourt Starter: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis' NBA takeover tour is on hold.
Injuries have hit the New Orleans Pelicans hard, and the team hasn't perfected head coach Alvin Gentry's offense as planned. Davis has struggled at points next to his medley of mediocre running mates, and the Pelicans, owners of the NBA's worst defense, haven't found a way to escape the Western Conference's basement.
Some toddler-faced assassin named Stephen Curry is also raining (threes) all over Davis' should-be parade. The return of Durant, killer instinct of Westbrook and unending eliteness of James aren't helping, either.
But for all of New Orleans' warts and his star siblings' success, Davis is playing magnificent basketball and rewriting a piece of history.
In the likely (read: inevitable) event that his numbers stick, this will be the third time he hits 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game—all before his 23rd birthday. No other player has ever done the same.
Tim Duncan did it twice before turning 23, as did Shaquille O'Neal. But not a single soul has done what Davis is doing.
And he's obliterating the history books amid an offensive facelift. More of his shots are coming outside of 16 feet than ever, and it's adversely affecting his field-goal percentage. Despite this, he's performing like the top-five superstar and eventual All-Star starter that he is.
West Frontcourt Reserves
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan's All-Star candidacy is forever.
The 39-going-on-25-year-old Duncan has taken a backseat to pretty much every other Spur on the offensive end, but as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote, he's firmly in play to win Defensive Player of the Year dap:
Say hello to the old man who should be the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.
Tim Duncan has never won that prestigious individual award, but his current pace should put him on track to add the trophy to his massive collection of accolades. After all, it's difficult to find any basic stat or advanced metric that shines a negative light on his point-preventing ability.
Duncan is the foundation upon which San Antonio's league-lording defense is built. He ranks third in defensive rating, and the Spurs allow almost three points less per 100 possessions when he's in the middle.
His Defensive Player of the Year potential is real—real enough to earn him a 16th All-Star selection.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Below is the list of players who have averaged 13 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and one block per game in the same season:
- Larry Bird (1986-87, 1990-91)
- Draymond Green (2015-16)
By no means will this vault Green past Davis or Durant in the fan vote, but it's more than enough to get him in on the endorsement of coaches who value true All-Stars.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Five players this season are averaging 25 points per 36 minutes and assisting on 28 percent or more of their team's made shots when in the game.
Blake Griffin is one of them.
Curry, Harden, James and Westbrook are the other four.
Really let that sink in for a moment. Griffin isn't even the primary ball-handler for the Clippers, and yet he's breaking calculators with point guards and de facto point guards (Harden, James).
That, my friends, is some potent versatility.
Not that we should expect anything less from the five-time All-Star (four appearances). In just a few short years, Griffin has gone from a novelty athlete best known for leaping over the hood of affordably priced sedans to a well-rounded, top-10 megastud with many more All-Star years left in his tank.
Including this one.
(Aside: Lakers head coach Byron Scott most definitely owes Griffin an apology. If not for him slotting Bryant at small forward for most of this season, Griffin would be starting.)
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
League-leading defensive rating? Check.
Top-five PER? You bet.
Most important player for the NBA's second-best team? Absolutely.
If Leonard isn't an obvious choice to make the West's reserve cut, then no one is.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
All these years later, the Mavericks offense remains tailored to Nowitzki.
This should be a problem now that the 7-footer is 37, and it is to some extent. Dallas ranks outside the top 10 of offensive efficiency and sees a stark drop in points scored per 100 possessions when Nowitzki rides the pine.
Relying on someone so old is imperfect and dangerous. But, on the flip side, Nowitzki is the rare senior citizen up to the task. He leads the Mavericks in scoring and is flirting with another 50/40/90 shooting slash.
Is this real life?
Apparently so—though some will justifiably have their doubts once the 18-year veteran participates in his 14th All-Star game.
Notable Snubs: Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.