Voting for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans opened on Christmas Day, and early returns featured the usual suspects in front-running positions.
As seen in the following tweet, courtesy of the game's official Twitter account, the first voting returns were revealed Thursday:
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James leads all vote-getters, while Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving leads the Eastern Conference backcourt. Golden State Warriors superstars Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry lead the way in the Western Conference.
It's no surprise James, who is vying for his 13th straight All-Star selection, has already seized a voting edge in the East. The 32-year-old has been on a tear to start the 2016-17 season, averaging 25.8 points, 8.5 assists and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three.
Dating back to 1946, only Michael Jordan (1988-89), Oscar Robertson (1962-63) and James (2009-10) have maintained averages of at least 25 points, eight dimes and seven boards while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor for an entire season.
Among the other biggest stories in the Eastern Conference is Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who trails only LeBron among frontcourt players.
According to Ben Golliver of SI.com, Antetokounmpo has taken a significant leap in terms of All-Star voting since last season:
The Greek Freak is averaging 23.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game during his breakout campaign.
Out West, Curry is ahead of the pack at this early juncture among backcourt players, while Durant leads all Western Conference vote-getters.
While Curry may not have more impressive raw numbers than Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook or Houston's James Harden, he has continued to operate as one of the league's most lethal guards on the Western Conference's best team.
Curry is averaging 24.2 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.
"The way he shoots the basketball coming off of curls, off the dribble, off the catch, guys flying at him, it's amazing to see," Durant said of Curry, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "When he shoots the ball I think every shot's going in."
Curry and Durant aren't the only Dubs players enjoying early success, as Zaza Pachulia is second to KD among frontcourt players in the Western Conference, ahead of Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Pachulia barely missed out on being named an All-Star starter last season while with the Dallas Mavericks despite modest numbers, and he is receiving another push this year even though he is averaging just 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. As Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post noted, the rules were changed specifically for this example:
This result is exactly why the rules were changed this year — changes that virtually ensure that, no matter how many votes Pachulia picks up from the fans, he has no chance of being an All-Star this season.
Pachulia seems like a near certainty to finish among the top three fan vote-getters at this point — in fact, he had the eighth-most votes overall, trailing only Durant, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But because Pachulia, who currently is averaging 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game as Golden State’s starting center, will almost certainly get little to no support among media members or fellow players, his weighted average has little chance of being anywhere near good enough to crack into the West’s starting five in New Orleans next month.
As a reminder, All-Star voting will function a bit differently this year. Fan participation will account for 50 percent of the total votes, while players and a select group of media members will combine to account for the other 50 percent.
The 2017 NBA All-Star Game will tip off from the Big Easy on Feb. 19. Voting is set to close Jan. 16.