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NBA All-Star Game 2018: Predicting Captains, Starting Lineups Under New Format

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2018

Kevin Durant and LeBron James are among the top contenders to serve as team captains for this year's NBA All-Star Game.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James are among the top contenders to serve as team captains for this year's NBA All-Star Game.Noah Graham/Getty Images

Before rolling out the new All-Star Game draft, the NBA will first complete the usual step of announcing starters for the midseason showcase.

Instead of the Eastern Conference facing the Western Conference in Los Angeles, two captains will pick teams in an untelevised draft. Despite the format change, the league will still unveil five starters—three frontcourt, two backcourt—from each conference Thursday night. Players and members of the media will once again get a say alongside the fans. 

In addition to the starters, TNT will also reveal both captains. While onlookers can guess most of the starting selections based on the latest fan votes, per NBA.com, the leaders are not locked in stone. Let's project the full results.

       

Captains

James and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference in votes as of last week's updated tally.
James and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference in votes as of last week's updated tally.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

LeBron James has represented the Eastern Conference in each of the last 13 All-Star Games. It's only right that the face of the Association receives captain duties.

The 33-year-old superstar remains perched atop the NBA mountaintop with 27.3 points, 8.8 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game. His 29.7 player efficiency rating narrowly edges out Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.5) for the Eastern Conference lead.

James jumped over the Greek Freak in the updated fan voting. One would expect the veteran to receive more support from his admiring peers, and no respectable media member would leave either off his or her ballot.

If James gets the nod, the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar will almost certainly compete against a Golden State Warriors foe. Entrenched in a two-man race for the West's most fan votes, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have each garnered over 347,000 votes more than the third-ranked James Harden as of the last count.

Stephen Curry and Durant lead the Western Conference in fan votes.
Stephen Curry and Durant lead the Western Conference in fan votes.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

If the teammates get their wish, Curry will assume the extra responsibility. In an interview with The Athletic's Anthony Slater (h/t USA Today's Scott Gleeson), the guard expressed excitement over possibly getting to pick a squad. Durant, on the other hand, stated his disinterest in constructing an All-Star squad.

"I don't want to do it," Durant said. "I'd rather somebody else do it. It's cool to be an All-Star, but all the extra stuff. ... I just want to go play in the game."

Perhaps he wants no part of the publicly manufactured drama bound to surface. Would he be obligated to choose Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson if they're all eligible? How would everyone respond to him shunning Russell Westbrook?

Curry has played just 31 of Golden State's 46 games, and there are only two available starting spots for him, Westbrook and James Harden. Woefully underrated by the fans—Manu Ginobili has more than triple the votes as of last week—Jimmy Butler could even steal some media selections.

Durant has a clearer path to receiving the captaincy he doesn't want. He could easily eschew the thankless role by drafting Curry first and letting his teammate make the executive decisions from the shadows.

        

Predicted Starters

Eastern Conference

FC: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (Captain)

FC: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

FC: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

BC: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

BC: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis are the top candidates for the Eastern Conference's final starting frontcourt spot.
Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis are the top candidates for the Eastern Conference's final starting frontcourt spot.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After falling just shy of the captain's chair, Antetokounmpo will easily secure a starting nod. If the captains don't favor teammates and/or close friends, the 23-year-old stud should be one of the first players snatched off the board.

Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan have run away with the fan vote. With the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors ranked first and second, respectively, in the Eastern Conference, they will both fend off breakout star Victor Oladipo, who is a virtual lock for a reserve spot.

The real intrigue lies in the final frontcourt position. Joel Embiid looks poised to fend off Kristaps Porzingis as the people's choice. Yet as pointed out by NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marshall Harris, the jovial center won the fan vote last year but lost the starting nod due to a lack of player support:

Marshall Harris @mharrisonair

Quick primer on why Embiid wasn't an All-Star starter last year: Only 43 of the 324 participants had Embiid on their ballot. That's 8 votes shy of what he needed to finish tied for 5th and start. Player voting is a joke. https://t.co/knBOB6rMJR

While Embiid has matched last year's games played (31), the cautious Philadelphia 76ers have still held him out of nine games. Health and availability are factors that cannot go ignored. 

Porzingis, meanwhile, has slowed down from a sizzling start. In 20 games since the start of December, the 7'3" unicorn is averaging 21.5 points per game with a 40.3 field-goal percentage.

Oladipo deserves the spot over both supremely versatile big men, but the media and players can't subvert the NBA's rules and choose three backcourt stars. Al Horford must make up too much ground from the players and media, who collectively make up 50 percent of the new formula.

Embiid barely earns his first All-Star Game appearance despite another subpar showing in the player vote.

          

Western Conference

FC: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (Captain)

FC: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans 

FC: DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans

BC: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

BC: James Harden, Houston Rockets

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are both prime choices to get selected as All-Star Game starters.
DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are both prime choices to get selected as All-Star Game starters.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Although not the captain, Curry narrowly edges out Westbrook for a starting backcourt position alongside Harden. While the Houston Rockets' offensive maestro has yet to play in 2018, he still leads the NBA in PER (30.4) and win shares (8.0).

Perhaps more important to his peers, Harden is averaging a league-best 32.3 points per game for the 30-12 Rockets. Last year's MVP runner-up would enter the midseason intermission as the clear front-runner if not for a hamstring injury.

Anthony Davis entrenched himself as a worthy starter before registering at least 45 points and 16 rebounds in consecutive games. He's also averaging career highs in field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentage for the New Orleans Pelicans, who ranks fourth in points per game behind the Warriors, Rockets and Raptors.

A year after winning All-Star Game MVP honors with 52 points on his home floor, the 24-year-old will return to defend his crown as a starter.

DeMarcus Cousins may join his Pelicans teammate at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Following a shaky start to his New Orleans tenure, he is on pace to set personal highs in assists (5.1) and effective field-goal percentage (52.8). 

LaMarcus Aldridge deserves recognition over Cousins and Draymond Green for keeping the San Antonio Spurs afloat without Kawhi Leonard. The fans haven't agreed, allotting him fewer votes than his injured teammate and Los Angeles Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma.

All three will make the game in some capacity, but Cousins' gaudy numbers pop more than Aldridge's quiet resurgence and Green's defensive tenacity.

      

All advanced stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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