Who Ya Got, 2018 NBA All-Star Edition: Team LeBron or Team Steph?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks with Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 12, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Stephen Curry and LeBron James have made their picks. The 2018 NBA All-Star rosters are officially official. Kyrie Irving and James are reunited, and it feels oh-so-good. Ditto for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Curry built himself a Golden State Warriors-heavy bench. 

And we, the faithful round-ball republic, got to see...absolutely none of it.

The NBA players union nixed an idea to televise the inaugural All-Star draft, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein. Just in case you couldn't tell, some of us (me) remain bitter about it—particularly after James, upon polishing off his team, tweeted this:

Onward and upward, though. The draft is over. Our gripes must subside for the time being as we tend to more pressing matters.

Like deciding which squad will emerge victorious from the Feb. 18 superstar showcase in Los Angeles.

As a quick refresher, here's how James' crew shapes up after the private, not-at-all-public, untelevised draft:

  • Team LeBron starters: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James
  • Team LeBron reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Kristaps Porzingis, John Wall, Russell Westbrook

And here's how Curry's outfit shakes out following the behind-closed-doors-because-life-isn't-fair selection process:

  • Team Stephen starters: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Joel Embiid, James Harden
  • Team Stephen reserves: Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns

So, who ya got: Team LeBron or Team Stephen?

Starting 5

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 25: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors exchanges a hug with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game between the two teams on December 25, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Both starting lineups are holy-moly-me-oh-my incredible. That much goes without saying. Curry or James would have actively needed to try assembling an uncool opening unit—and, even then, they'd definitely fail.

But Team LeBron's starting quintet is stuh-acked.

Try cobbling together a five-man combination that could remotely compete with a Cousins-Davis-Durant-Irving-James alliance. Go ahead. Do it. 

Except, you can't. It isn't possible. Not even if you allow yourself the flexibility of choosing a fully healthy Kawhi Leonard.

Every member of Team LeBron's starting five graded out as a top-12 player in Bleacher Report's midseason ranking of the Association's best 100 ballers—and four of them finished inside the top 10. You cannot compete with that star power.

Team Stephen's Antetokounmpo-Curry-DeRozan-Embiid-Harden amalgam is more than admirable. It consists of three top-five players. This group will do some damage. But, well, it isn't Team LeBron.

That's the luxury of picking first. James could choose Durant, arming himself with the two best small forwards in the game.

Granted, he wouldn't cop to this. Asked by TNT's Ernie Johnson which player he selected to kick things off, his captaincy said: "I can't tell you that, man. I might have to kill you if I tell you that."

Whatever. James doesn't need to tell us. 

Because Durant himself did, per The Athletic's Anthony Slater:

Unless Curry's official title at Under Armour is "President of Petty Grudges," Durant would be on Team Stephen if he wasn't scooped up by James at No. 1. And Team LeBron is better off for James (probably) (OK, definitely) making the obvious call. 

Plus, provided Irving doesn't bail on the festivities by playing up a sore pinky finger nail or something, Team Stephen's five-star gaggle won't come close to matching the chemistry baked into Team LeBron's starters.

Advantage: Team LeBron

     

Bench

SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 05: Jimmy Butler #23 and Taj Gibson #67 of the Minnesota Timberwolves in action against Klay Thompson #11 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State
Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Twitter was swift and profuse in its praise for Team LeBron. 

Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight just about summed up the general reaction:

These celebratory sentiments are well-deserved. And yet, while we're not ready to pick a winner, social-media peeps are generally sleeping on Team Stephen.

Whereas Team LeBron has an indomitable starting unit, the NBA's first and only unanimous MVP constructed one helluva second unit. His winning theme: the spacing-est spacing in the history of space-y-ness. 

Only one of Team Stephen's second-stringers is shooting under 35 percent from long distance. Team LeBron's bench, meanwhile, has three players failing to eclipse that benchmark—two of which fail to crack the 34 percent plateau.

Take a cumulative tally, and it isn't even close:

Shooting isn't everything. Team LeBron's backups will destroy their counterparts in the rebounding department.

But Team Stephen will actually have to miss shots for that to happen, so, yeah...

Advantage: Team Stephen

    

Offense 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors drives past Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during a game at Smoothie King Center on October 20, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Let's not pretend we can make a decision here.

Both squads are chock-full of scorers, dime-droppers, elite finishers and jump-shot artists. Team Stephen has the clear lead in the spacing department, largely thanks its bench, but Team LeBron bridges that gap in the starting unit.

All five of its members are regular three-point shooters—and that includes Davis, who's nailing a career-high 34.7 percent of his triplets on near-personal-best volume. 

Team Stephen has to contend with Antetokounmpo basically eschewing treys altogether. And Embiid, though a regular three-point jacker, is canning just 29 percent of his deep shots. His quality of looks will improve in this no-defense affair, but we can't ignore months-long inaccuracy. 

Another feather under Team LeBron's cap: from-scratch buckets. 

Among every player who has burned through at least 75 isolation possessions this season, Team LeBron has four of the most 20 efficient scorers—and six of the top 25. 

One-on-one stylings matter in what amounts to a playground sparring. So, too, do alley-oop finishers. And Team LeBron has a few more of those.

Advantage: Team LeBron (by a hair)

Defense

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors boxes out Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers on November 11, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Please excuse me for a minute (or 50) while I go roll on the floor and laugh my butt off.

No one plays defense in the All-Star Game. Exerting extra effort to win something that doesn't count for anything other than minimal bragging rights won't sit well with any player, let alone 24 of the Association's best who have playoff berths and titles to chase.

Still, we have to make a decision—mostly because these rosters allow for one.

Tabbing one team over the other comes down to a single question: Which side has more players who are likely to give enough of a damn to try intermittently at the defensive end?

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green? Current Defensive Player of the Year candidates Joel Embiid and Al Horford? Jimmy "What the bleepity-bleep is an off switch?" Butler? On the same team?

It turns out this almost-negligible scoring measure isn't all that close at all.

Advantage: Team Stephen 

Advanced Stats

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 4: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics defends Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter at TD Garden on December 4, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

FanRag's Nekias Duncan believes we have a clear winner here:

Guess what? He's right.

As HoopsHype's Frank Urbina pointed out using NBA Math's Total Points Added metric: 

Take your pick in another category. The results, for the most part, won't change.

Are you into ESPN's Real Plus-Minus? Team Stephen deploys 10 of the top-25 RPM scores. Team LeBron only has six.

Is player efficient rating your thing? Team Stephen has eight of the top 25 PER marks, compared to Team LeBron's nine.

Look, this isn't a runaway category, and who knows how much influence advanced regular-season stats will have on an exhibition matchup. But the numbers are the numbers.

Advantage: Team Stephen

Who Ya Got?

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 4: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after the game on January 4, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

The head-to-head analysis gives the edge to Team Stephen, and yours truly is inclined to agree.

Bench depth brings this home. All of Team Stephen's ball-handlers, such as Lillard and Lowry, complement one another. They have guys, like Thompson and Horford, who don't need the ball to have an impact. 

And, yes, the across-the-board shooting is huge.

Give James credit for assembling the most Monstarish starting five possible. But in a game increasingly decided by three-point shooting rather than explosion, and with the slightest bit of effort able to sway the entire outcome, Team Stephen has to be the pick.

Overall Advantage: Team Stephen

Unless otherwise cited, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on Jan. 25.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

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