Predicting Which Players Make 2020 NBA All-Star Game

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 25, 2019

Predicting Which Players Make 2020 NBA All-Star Game

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    Let the NBA All-Star voting begin—provided you're reading this at or after 11 a.m. ET on Christmas Day.

    That's when the Association will open its digital ballot boxes and start gathering fan votes for the 69th NBA All-Star Game, slated for Feb. 16 at Chicago's United Center.

    Fan voting will continue through 11:59 p.m. ET on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 20. Then, the official rosters will be revealed over the last two Thursdays in January on TNT, with starters (and captains) named Jan. 23 and reserves announced Jan. 30.

    But who wants to wait that long? Luckily, you don't have to.

    We happen to have access to an always reliable crystal ball, which can see into the future with 20/20 vision. But just in case it's a tiny bit off, we also have present production and past selection trends to help us determine the 12 likeliest All-Star representatives from each conference.

    And since we're so caught up in the holiday spirit, we're using all of the above to provide an early look at the 2019-20 All-Star rosters.

Final Cuts

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    Subjectively selecting the NBA's 24 most deserving All-Star candidates is a tricky task. While a few of the elites have ironclad cases, some sit on the gray area that leaves little separation between them and those who didn't make the cut.

    Obviously, we set our rosters for a reason, but we'd be remiss not to mention the following players who all have various gripes with their omissions:

    • Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers
    • Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
    • Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
    • Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
    • Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
    • Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets
    • Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
    • Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
    • CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
    • Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
    • Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

    Some of these players were closer than others—Brown and Westbrook might've been the toughest exclusions—but all have the numbers to warrant consideration. We granted them as much, but we ultimately went with the following 24.

Eastern Conference Reserves

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    Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

    So much for the Heat being a one-star squad. Bam Adebayo has proved essential in their thrashing of expectations, pacing them in minutes, boards and blocks and holding top-20 league-wide rankings in win shares (ninth), value over replacement player (ninth) and box plus/minus (11th). He's one of only three players averaging 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns are the others.

    Adebayo is the kind of defensive Swiss Army knife that has become invaluable in this position-less game. He's also an explosive finisher around the basket and a deft distributor for his size. For a 22-year-old with limited scoring range, he has few weaknesses.

                        

    Jimmy Butler, SF, Miami Heat

    Some newcomers change the culture of a franchise. Butler only had to reinforce the bonds that already existed in South Beach. The 21-8 Heat are moving on a string defensively, and their offense often resembles a pinball machine the way the ball keeps bouncing around.

    That all comes back to Butler, who arrived as a decorated star but functions more like a glue guy. He's shattering his personal best in assists, posting a career high in steals and making Miami an astounding 15.4 points better per 100 possessions just by taking the floor.

                    

    Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

    Statistically, one could argue this spot should go to Spencer Dinwiddie or even Buzz City's breakout star Devonte' Graham. But with the Bucks again racing ahead of everyone in wins and efficiency, they're all but guaranteed to have a travel partner for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    Why wouldn't it be Khris Middleton again? His shooting rates are all up from last season—he's one hot streak away from a 50/40/90 slash—as are his per-36-minutes marks in scoring and rebounding. He's a (much) more efficient version of who he was (player efficiency rating spike from 16.5 to 20.3), and since that player was an All-Star, this one has to be, right?

                        

    Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

    Indiana's ability to survive Victor Oladipo's absence should send Coach of the Year votes to Nate McMillan and get one of his players to the Windy City. The only question is whether that player should be points and assists leader Malcolm Brogdon or Domantas Sabonis, the high man on the glass and in net rating.

    Sabonis gets our nod for a few reasons. While Brogdon is one of 11 players averaging 18 points and seven assists, Sabonis is the Association's only supplier of 18 points, 14 rebounds and four assists (a line last seen in 2004-05). Plus, the difference in net rating is hard to ignore. The Pacers go from good (plus-5.0) to pretty good (plus-2.3) without Brogdon, while the split with Sabonis takes them from great (plus-7.7) to abysmal (minus-4.7).

                       

    Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

    This selection will probably get some pushback if only for the fact that a big chunk of the basketball world wants Simmons to be something else—be more aggressive, be a better shooter. Be an elite scorer, basically. Given his apparent lack of offensive development, the criticism has its merit.

    But that's a macro concern for the Sixers and their postseason aspirations. None of Simmons' shortcomings change the fact that he's headed to a second straight All-Star selection. Change the conversation from what he isn't to what he is, and suddenly you'll notice only he, LeBron James and Luka Doncic are averaging 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

                       

    Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

    The Shamrocks are sending a wing to the All-Star Game, but which wing will be up for debate. Jaylen Brown has perhaps had the most complete start to the season, shooting higher rates from the field and three and contributing more win shares per 48 minutes. If not for continued bouts with the injury bug, Gordon Hayward might've gotten the nod for his all-around offensive impact.

    But Tatum is the probable pick to make his All-Star debut. He has more name recognition than Brown, a higher scoring average (the column that first captures the attention of the common fan) and, most importantly, the best raw plus/minus of anyone who doesn't play for Milwaukee (plus-241, tied for fourth overall).

                      

    Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

    If you have any good-numbers-on-a-bad-team takes about Young, save them for a Hawks Haters message board. When you're averaging 29 points, eight assists and three triples—a line only previously posted by James Harden—you're an All-Star, even if your team has six wins in 30 tries.

    Young's hot streaks are can't-miss moments, even as he's making them near-nightly occurrences. Whether he's pulling up from the logo, no-look diming a teammate or nutmegging some helpless defender, he's on a short list of the Association's most entertaining acts.

Eastern Conference Backcourt

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    Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

    Washington's offense-over-everything approach has pushed Beal's numbers into the silly stratosphere and positioned the two-time All-Star to make his first-ever start at the world's greatest pickup game.

    He's the top point-producer and table-setter on the NBA's third-best scoring offense. His stat sheet basically features one career best after the next, including 28.2 points, 7.0 assists and a 21.2 PER. He's on course to join an uber-exclusive club of players who averaged 28 points, seven dimes and two triples, which before this season included only James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

    Beal already has 13 30-point outbursts. He had 24 in all of 2018-19 and just 15 the year prior, both seasons in which he earned All-Star honors.

    Surely, his numbers are inflated a bit by Washington's run-and-gun style (second in pace) and the lack of a true No. 2 option (Davis Bertans is second in scoring with 15.4 per night). But that's not reason enough to keep Beal out of the opening lineup.

                      

    Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

    Much like MVP candidates, the best All-Star choices offer a blend of ridiculous numbers, an aesthetically pleasing style of play and a name that resonates across the basketball world. If that player comes attached to a compelling narrative, it's even better.

    Walker checks all those boxes as well as anyone in the East.

    As expected, his move to Boston has cost him a pinch of volume, but he more than replaced it with efficiency. He's one of only five players averaging 22 points, five assists, four rebounds and three triples, and his 40.8 perimeter conversion rate is easily the best in that group.

    The 6'0" scoring guard is a captivating watch when he's in a groove. As a Bronx native, he has all the dribble moves you'd expect from an NYC-bred point guard, and his ability to free himself against bigger, stronger and longer defenders is always a sight to behold. His addition of a quantity-plus-quality outside shot in recent years has only made his arsenal that much more potent.

    He's on a first-name basis with even casual fans, and he'll reap all the narrative-based rewards of correcting any chemistry issues the Celtics encountered during Kyrie Irving's tenure.

    "Kemba might not reach the individual production of Kyrie Irving, but ultimately he's a better fit," ESPN's Jay Williams said on Get Up!, via NESN's Scott Edwards Jr. "He's not a ball-dominant guard, which doesn't disrupt the rhythm of Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown. ... Kemba makes the game easier for the Celtics."

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Captain)

    An All-Star starter each of the last three seasons and last year's leader in player votes, Antetokounmpo should have no trouble reclaiming his captaincy.

    His NBA takeover has been so sudden and so forceful, any concept of a realistic ceiling for him is quickly shattered and replaced with even more potential. He might be the best player in basketball right now—RPM ranks him No. 2, PER puts him No. 1 by a mile—and he only recently celebrated his 25th birthday.

    "When you see him work out, he's a freak of nature," Kevin Garnett said on the Bill Simmons Podcast. "... His first superpower is to make you quit. He wants to dominate you to the point where he wants to step on you."

    Antetokounmpo is in a league of his own. He leads the conference in scoring (31.0), ranks third in rebounds (12.9) and sits 13th in assists (5.6). He's one of only six players in the East averaging at least one steal and one block. Oh, and his club's raw plus/minus is 5.5 points per game better than the conference's No. 2 (plus-13.5; Celtics are next at plus-8.0).

    At this rate, a zombie apocalypse might not even stop Antetokounmpo from leading the East's All-Stars.

                       

    Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

    Measuring Embiid and the 76ers against external expectations might categorize both as coming up a little short. Embiid's numbers are down almost across the board, and rather than fight for control of the East, Philly instead finds itself fifth in the conference standings.

    But remove all preconceived notions from the assessment, and suddenly Embiid is back to looking like an elite, and Philly—with its highest winning percentage in nearly 20 years—looms large as a full-fledged contender.

    Any statistical subtraction for Embiid can almost all be explained by a reduction in floor time (from 33.7 minutes to 30.9). His per-minute-contributions mostly match last season's, and while he's lost a couple of field-goal percentage points, he's also added a few to his three-point and free-throw rates. He holds the sixth spot in defensive rating and lands 12th in defensive win shares.

    There isn't another center offering his combination of post scoring, rim protecting, glass cleaning and shot creating. He takes just enough triples to stretch his defender beyond his comfort zone, and he converts his freebies at a rate seldom seen among 7-footers (82.2 percent at the stripe).

    Even if he's not always the player others want him to be, he's a superstar talent and a no-doubt starter.

                       

    Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

    Despite losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this summer, the Raptors are just a single win behind last season's pace. Different factors go into that, with none greater than Siakam's launch from goodness to greatness.

    Even the most optimistic forecasts couldn't have seen this coming. He has added more than eight points to his scoring average (16.9 to 25.1), more than doubled his three-point makes (1.0 to 2.5) and converted them at a higher clip (36.9 to 39.2), and trimmed his turnover percentage (12.5 to 10.6) despite his usage rate ballooning (20.8 to 29.3).

    This is a bigger leap than he made last season, when he was the runaway winner of the Most Improved Player award.

    He used to be a glorified energy guy who earned his minutes with rebounds and rim runs. Now, he's taking opponents off the bounce, beating them in isolations or running pick-and-rolls, burying above-the-break triples and punishing them in the post. Prior to this season, 57.3 percent of his field goals and 98.2 percent of his threes were assisted; now those numbers have tumbled to 44.1 and 71.6.

    As long as a recent groin injury doesn't linger, he's an easy choice for the East's opening group. The interesting thing is seeing whether he'll get votes in the MIP, MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award races, as he could be a candidate for all three.

Western Conference Reserves

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    Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

    While the Suns' hot start has fizzled, Booker is straight boiling every time he steps inside the lines. He came into the campaign as a career 43.7 percent shooter; he's all the way up to 50.3 this year. His three-point percentage has jumped nearly four points (35.4 to 39.1). His free-throw conversion rate is up more than five (85.4 to 90.5). In case you hadn't noticed, that makes him a legitimate 50/40/90 threat—as a 24.5 points-per-game scorer.

    He's a wrecking ball on offense. He can create his own triples off the bounce or cash them on the back end of a screen. He's a sneaky-good scorer in the post (76th percentile), and he has maintained the playmaking he was forced to find as an emergency point guard last season. He might have his shortcomings on defense, but as his ninth-placed ranking in offensive real plus-minus shows, he's elite the other way.

                     

    Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

    George has been an All-Star each of the last four seasons, and his delayed start to this year isn't enough to snap the streak. It probably will deny him a chance to compete for a starting gig, though, which is just as well since the quality of competition might've done him in anyway.

    His move to L.A. coupled with his recovery from offseason shoulder surgeries cut into his floor time and has dialed back most of his counting categories. But he's still scoring at the second-highest rate of his career (24.2) and posting a personal-best 60.3 true shooting percentage. He's also still finding his footing on defense, which is a scary thought when he's already sitting 14th overall in real plus-minus.

                       

    Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

    Remember, this is an individual honor. So, no, we won't punish Ingram for breaking out during a disastrous year for the Pelicans, especially when they're still awaiting Zion Williamson's debut. If anything, Ingram should arguably be celebrated for crafting his most efficient version inside of the NBA's ninth-worst offense.

    It'd be one thing if Ingram were just accumulating volume. His 25.3 points per game might ring hollow then, but they can't when paired with his 49.1/38.8/83.9 shooting slash. Similarly, it's easier to praise his career-high assist percentage (19.3) when partnered with his personal-best turnover percentage (12.3), or to reward his statistical growth while he's shattering his previous high in win shares per 48 minutes (.125).

    Maybe others will disagree, but here, Ingram's contributions feel more All-Star-worthy than those of Lou Williams, Jamal Murray, CJ McCollum or Andrew Wiggins.

                          

    Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

    Who prematurely bailed on the Joker? It's OK to admit it, since surely you weren't alone. Even the Nuggets were antsy during their sluggish start, and Jokic seemed out of sorts.

    Fast-forward two months, and Denver is fine, and Jokic is a uniquely talented 7-foot offensive hub. He's on course to average 17 points, 10 boards and six assists for the third straight season, a line only one other 7-footer has ever posted: Wilt Chamberlain.

                         

    Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

    Save for a quieter argument in the team success category, Lillard's All-Star credentials appear as strong as ever. He's splashing field goals at a career rate, burying more long-range bombs than ever and easily outpacing his previous high mark in assists.

    The Blazers haven't been themselves—although they've capitalized on a favorable schedule the past month—but those (relative) struggles can't be pinned to Lillard. He has the NBA's 10th-best RPM, and his on/off net differential is an MVP-level 15.9 points per 100 possessions.

                            

    Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

    Some will debate whether Mitchell is truly the most deserving All-Star candidate in Salt Lake City. Certain metrics say he isn't. Utah's interior anchor, Rudy Gobert, leads the team and sits 25th overall with a plus-3.14 RPM; Mitchell ranks 68th with a plus-1.90. And while Mitchell barely moves the needle in net differential (plus-0.8 points per 100 possessions), Gobert's presence creates a seismic shift (plus-13.3).

    But doesn't it feel like Mitchell's name will generate the biggest buzz? He's the (much) better scorer, a (much) more electric finisher and a (much) more recognizable face. It's not like you can scoff at his stats, either; he's one of just 15 players averaging 25 points, four rebounds and three assists.

                          

    Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

    If Towns wasn't going to lose the team success category in lopsided fashion and get trounced in the market size department, he might have a realistic claim for a starting spot. Instead, the super-skilled center will have to settle for his third consecutive All-Star reserve selection.

    He's a disaster on defense, but he's so absurdly talented on offense that no one should care. He can abuse defenders in the post, punish sloppy rotations with pinpoint passes or splash step-back triples—as a 6'11", 248-pound center. Seriously, he's sniping like Stephen Curry this season: 3.6 triples per game at 41.8 percent. Curry's career averages are 3.6 and 43.5, respectively.

Western Conference Backcourt

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    Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

    Even with Antetokounmpo's assaults on the stat sheet, James Harden's historic scoring and all that's brewing in L.A., is it wild to anyone else that we aren't calling this the Year of Luka?

    Dallas' prized prodigy is on course to join Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to ever average 29 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. This is Doncic's second NBA season. He can't legally consume an adult beverage until the end of February. This should not be possible.

    "When you look at Luka, to me, he's the exact same as LeBron—6'7", big body and can do it all," Kendrick Perkins said on 105.3 The Fan, via DallasNews.com. "... His IQ is through the roof, and there's a reason we haven't seen a guy like him since LeBron at this age."

    Doncic trails only Antetokounmpo in PER. In fact, his 31.8 mark in the category trounces the previous best of a player aged 20 or younger (Anthony Davis, 26.5).

    The only thing capable of slowing Doncic so far is the ankle sprain that currently has him sidelined. Otherwise, you're talking about a top-three scorer and distributor and an MVP candidate already.

                         

    James Harden, Houston Rockets

    Speaking of face-melting basketball brilliance, Harden is seemingly preparing everyone for his inevitable 100-point explosion. I want to say that's some hyperbolic hot air, but then you look at his stat sheet, and...who knows.

    The Beard is balling at an unreal rate. His analytically based offensive diet of triples, free throws and point-blank buckets feels like a code-cracker for the sport. He's averaging 38.8 points per game (!!!). You want to call that a Wilt Chamberlain line, but even the big fella only topped that number twice.

    "I've been in the league 19 years, and no disrespect to all the other great players in those 19 years, but he's I think the toughest guy to prepare for," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, per Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle. "... He's one of those guys when you're watching film, it's like you're watching a horror movie."

    Harden paces the Association in three-point and free-throw attempts. For the second straight season, more of his shots come from beyond the arc (14.0 per game) than inside of it (10.9). His strict adherence to the mathematical side of hoops and ability to use his handles and strength to get to those analytically favored spots has made him the most explosive scorer of this season and, arguably, this generation.

    Numerically speaking, he should have a shot at claiming the West's captaincy, since his line also includes 7.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals. But his approach polarizes fans to the point where he may not have the votes needed.

Western Conference Frontcourt

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    Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

    Davis has one playoff series victory and two All-Star starts on his resume. In other words, he's such a dominant force on his own that he doesn't need team success to secure such a special honor.

    But the fact that his production is now tied to a conference leader—and the conference-leading Lakers at that—only strengthens his claim.

    He's been absurdly productive, and as scary as this sounds, his career shooting rates suggest L.A. hasn't even seen his best yet. What it has seen, though, are nightly doses of 27.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 blocks, a conglomerate of contributions only Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have previously provided.

    Repurposed as a top-shelf co-star, Davis has been as productive as ever. His .273 win shares per 48 minutes are just shy of his career best, and his 29.4 PER—fourth-best in the league—is the third-highest he's ever recorded.

                        

    LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Captain)

    Back in October, ESPN.com polled its expert panel on which version of LeBron James was the greatest. It was a fun exercise and an interesting way to form a career retrospective, but it left out a critical part of the question: What if the current version is the greatest?

    That's impossible, right? This is his 17th NBA season. He'll turn 35 before the calendar flips. He's already logged the 12th-most regular-season minutes in league history and the most postseason minutes by nearly 1,000.

    And yet, he's still finding ways to push his game to newer heights. He had never before averaged more than 9.1 assists, and now he's dropping a league-high 10.6 per night. He's never taken (6.2) or converted (2.2) this many threes. His Lakers are on pace for 66 victories, which would match his highest team total of his career.

    That doesn't make this the best version of him. If PER is your metric of choice, this is actually his sixth-least efficient season. But his less-than-best version might still rule the NBA. If RPM is more your style, James is the campaign's top performer by a mile—again (for extra emphasis) as a soon-to-be-35-year-old in his 17th season.

    "It's insane to see what he's able to do, but he's LeBron James, he's different," Antetokounmpo said, per ESPN's Eric Woodyard. "He's an alien. So you expect it from him, but yeah, it's crazy."

                           

    Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

    While it's possible Leonard gets load-managed out of the MVP race, his sporadic absences won't keep him out of the West's starting five.

    He's maybe the best perimeter defender basketball has seen since Scottie Pippen. Leonard is also an effortless go-to scorer, who always finds ways to get to his spots and finishes from all three levels.

    "Kawhi puts his head down and says, 'My job is to defend, to defend all things, and then go score,'" Richard Jefferson told B/R's Ric Bucher. "He does those two things as well as anyone has done them in the game of basketball."

    RPM slots Leonard 25th on offense and third on defense. James is the only other player with top-25 rankings at both ends.

    Oh, and Leonard probably isn't even comfortable yet. His field-goal percentage is at an all-time low. His turnovers are at an all-time high. This is by no means his best version, and he's still a surefire All-Star starter.

                    

    All stats, unless otherwise noted, used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference and are current through games played Dec. 22.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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