Predicting 2020 NBA All-Star Starters
The 2020 NBA All-Star Game is shaping up to be a blend of veteran regulars and a collection of new faces making their first career appearances.
With the third round of fan voting complete, we're beginning to get a sense of who the starters should be. Fan voting counts as 50 percent of the process, with 25 percent coming from select media members and the other 25 percent voted on by the players. Coaches will choose the All-Star reserves in each conference.
One factor that will come into play, especially when it comes to media and player voting, is games missed. Between injuries and load management, the time a player has missed is important when deciding if they're worthy of a starting spot.
While guys like Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Bradley Beal have certainly put up All-Star-worthy numbers when on the floor, all have missed roughly a quarter of the season. Others like Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and D'Angelo Russell have the stats, but injuries have cut their seasons far too short for consideration as starters.
There's also the debate of production vs. team success. While players like Trae Young and Beal have put up better numbers than Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler, the former two play on some of the NBA's worst teams.
Based on All-Star voting returns from fans and how media and players might turn, here are the 10 likely All-Star starters.
East Backcourt: Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Young has the most votes of any guard in the East (2,066,924), and for good reason.
The second-year point guard leads East guards in scoring (28.8 points), assists (8.5), assist percentage (40.1), usage rate (33.8 percent) and assist-to-pass percentage (16.1). He's already one of the most exciting players in the league at age 21, stretching defenses far beyond the three-point line with his outside shooting.
As the Atlanta Hawks' official site notes, Young could become the first and only player since Oscar Robertson to average at least 29 points and eight assists in his second season.
While Young stands to win the fan vote, his nomination isn't a lock yet.
Fellow players and media will deservedly point to the Hawks' Eastern Conference-worst 10-34 record as a reason he shouldn't be named a starter. Young is also terrible defensively despite all the production he delivers on the other end.
Still, players on losing teams can be named starters. Kemba Walker's Charlotte Hornets were 23-24 when he was picked as a starter last season. The Washington Wizards sat at 22-29 last year when Bradley Beal was named a reserve guard, as well.
Yes, the Hawks are bad, but John Collins' 25-game suspension for a violation of the NBA's Anti-Drug Program shouldn't be held against Young. He also transforms the team's offense by a whopping 15.6 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
Even if Young isn't the first choice for media and players, his fan-vote results should help him secure a starting spot.
East Backcourt: Kemba Walker, PG, Boston Celtics
Picking a second starting guard from the East is rather difficult.
Bradley Beal is second to Young in scoring (27.2 points per game) but is doing so on poor efficiency (43.7 FG%, 31.3 3P%) for a Washington Wizards team that's just 14-28 overall. He's also ninth in fan voting.
Ben Simmons is the best defender of the group, barely trails Young in assists (8.4 per game) and has the Philadelphia 76ers at 29-16 to start the season. While that's a strong resume, his 15.5 points per game are the lowest of his career and rank just 19th among East guards.
That leaves Walker, who currently sits third in fan voting behind Young and Kyrie Irving. Irving won't get the votes from players and media since he's only played 15 total games, and Walker could overtake him in the fan poll as he's only 16,985 votes behind.
At 28-14 and battling for second behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the East, the Celtics have been paced by their new star point guard.
Walker has been extremely productive (22.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 44.2/38.8/86.5 shooting) while guiding a Boston team to a sparkling record after it lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency and traded Aron Baynes in the offseason.
The difference in leadership between Walker and Irving has stood out in particular, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both enjoying breakout seasons as members of the Celtics' young core.
While a few players can make arguments for starting spots, Walker should draw enough votes from fans, players and media alike to win one.
East Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Chisel Antetokounmpo's name in now.
This wasn't the case in the backcourt, but there's no questioning his place among the East frontcourt starters.
The reigning MVP is even better this year, putting up 30.0 points (first among East players), 12.8 rebounds (third), 5.5 assists (13th), 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. His plus/minus rating of plus-10.0 is the highest in the NBA.
The Milwaukee Bucks own the league's best record at 39-6, and Antetokounmpo has served as the focal point of everything they do on both sides of the ball. At 6'11" and 242 pounds, he has the ability to run the offense or post up while guarding every position on the other end.
He leads Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors by over two million votes for first place among East forwards and ranks third overall to LeBron James and Luka Doncic. As the leading vote-getters in their respective conferences, he and James should once again be named captains.
Not only should Antetokounmpo be the frontrunner to repeat as league MVP, but he's also added a respectable outside shot (32.5 percent, up from 25.6 percent a year ago), is getting to the free-throw line more than ever (10.3 attempts per game) and has Milwaukee on pace to become just the third team in league history to win 70 or more games.
He just turned 25 in December, but Antetokounmpo will already be making his fourth All-Star Game.
East Frontcourt: Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
After Antetokoumpo, there's no other guaranteed starter in the frontcourt. But of the rest of the pack, Embiid appears to be the most likely selection even though he's currently out following hand surgery.
The 25-year-old center is the best player on a 29-16 Philadelphia 76ers team, averaging 23.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 blocks while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. His scoring has dropped from last year, but that's likely a result of the added talent (Al Horford, Josh Richardson, re-signing Tobias Harris) and not due to anything he has done wrong.
His massive frame is nearly impossible for an average center to handle down low, and Embiid has developed enough of a mid-range and outside shot to keep defenders guessing.
In a league that's moving more and more toward the perimeter, he leads the NBA in post-ups per game (10.3) and post-up points per game (7.7) while shooting 53.5 percent on such plays, higher than fellow bigs Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love.
While games played may hurt his overall resume (31 of a possible 45), Embiid is third among East frontcourt players in the fan vote.
East Frontcourt: Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors
The final starting spot in the East could go to a number of players.
Domantas Sabonis (18.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists) has the Indiana Pacers at 28-15 with no Victor Oladipo. The Celtics' Jayson Tatum (21.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists) is fulfilling his star potential for a 28-14 team. Jimmy Butler's Miami Heat are second in the East at 30-13, and the 30-year-old wing is averaging 20.2 points and a career-high 7.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
While all three can make a claim, they will find it tough to overcome the votes Siakam has received from fans. He is currently second to Antetokounmpo, a testament to how impressive his first season as a leading man for the Toronto Raptors has been.
Instead of crumbling under the pressure of filling Kawhi Leonard's shoes as the team's focal point after he signed a four-year, $129.9 million max contract before the season, Siakam has been one of the league's best surprises.
His stats were expected to improve given the added usage, but 23.8 points (sixth-highest in the East), 7.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game with a 37.8 three-point percentage go above and beyond what most would have imagined.
Even more impressive is the Raptors' record.
After finishing second in the East standings a year ago, Toronto could once again earn the No. 2 seed even after losing Leonard and Danny Green in free agency. Its 29-14 mark is in part due to Siakam's play. He's stepped up as an offensive leader when the team needed him to do so.
But one factor that could push Butler above Siakam in voting by players and media? Games played. Butler has suited up in 88.1 percent of Miami's games, compared to 73.8 percent for Siakam with the Raptors.
West Backcourt: Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks
The West starting backcourt is locked in.
Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic has received the second-most votes of any player behind only LeBron James, and he's easily leading the West guards.
At only 20 years of age and in his second season, Doncic has taken the NBA by storm. He's already registered 12 triple-doubles on the year, using his advanced skill set and 6'7", 218-pound frame to control the game from all areas.
He's second behind James Harden in scoring among West guards (28.9 points), often making near-impossible shots look effortless.
Doncic plays at his own pace like a conductor leading a grand orchestra to play whatever song he commands to perfection. He's rounded out an incredible scoring performance with 9.7 rebounds (first among West guards), 9.0 assists (second) and 1.1 steals per game. His plus/minus of plus-6.1 per game is also first in the group.
Even with Kristaps Porzingis missing 11 games to injury, the Dallas Mavericks are ahead of schedule thanks to Doncic. At 27-15, they're already closing in on their 33-win total from a season ago.
Doncic has the stats, the fan support and the backdrop of Dallas' strong season to guarantee a starting spot in the backcourt. Assuming that holds true, he will become just the ninth player in history to be named an All-Star before turning 21 and the first to start since LeBron James in 2005.
West Backcourt: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
Like Luka Doncic, James Harden is a lock for the West backcourt.
The NBA's leading scorer at 37.1 points per game, Harden is putting together one of the most brilliant offensive seasons in league history.
Looking to make his eighth straight All-Star game, Harden leads the league in per-game three-point makes (4.9), three-point attempts (13.3), free-throw makes (10.7), free-throw attempts (12.4), usage rate (36.9 percent) and points off turnovers (5.4).
All this comes as he plays alongside the NBA's second-leading shot-taker, Russell Westbrook (21.5 attempts per game).
Harden's game is built for All-Star Sunday.
He's the most unstoppable isolation player in the game, with 44.1 percent of his offense coming from taking opponents one-on-one off the dribble. He's scored nearly three times as many isolation points as the next closest player (16.9 per game to Westbrook's 6.3), giving Harden a sparking 1.14 points per possession.
With third-place Damian Lillard nearly two million votes behind, Harden will join Doncic as a starting guard.
West Frontcourt: LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
Not only will LeBron James make (and start) his 16th straight All-Star Game, but he will also continue to add to the consecutive All-Star Games record he set two years ago.
James leads all fan voting with over 4.7 million clicks, and it's not simply because he's winning a popularity contest, either.
The Los Angeles Lakers own the West's best record at 34-9, four games better than the second-place Denver Nuggets. James, 35, is leading the NBA with 10.9 assists per game, a career high in his 17th season. He's fifth among West frontcourt players in scoring (25.5 points) while also pulling down 7.7 rebounds and collecting 1.3 steals per game.
James will also move ever closer to No. 1 all time on the career All-Star Games list.
West Frontcourt: Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Davis has played second (first?) fiddle to LeBron James beautifully this season and is in line to become the first teammate of James to ever outscore the four-time MVP.
This will mark All-Star trip No. 7 in eight years for the 26-year-old Davis, a reward for not only his strong play but the Lakers' sparking 34-9 record as well.
Davis is first in West frontcourt scoring (27.1 points per game), 10th in rebounding (9.4) and second in blocks (2.6). He's been instrumental to the Lakers' fourth-ranked offense and third-ranked defense, possessing the athleticism and size to play and defend either post position.
An ugly, drawn-out trade request last season hasn't seemed to hurt Davis' popularity, either, as he is comfortably second in the West frontcourt fan voting (4.4 million votes), not far behind James.
With other West frontcourt players such as Paul George and Karl-Anthony Towns missing nearly 20 games and a slow start for Nikola Jokic, Davis hasn't had the usual competition for a starting spot, either.
West Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers
The final spot in the West frontcourt will come down to how important missed games are.
The Clippers have climbed to second in the conference at 30-13 even though Paul George has suited up for just 26 games (60.5 percent) and Leonard 33 (76.7 percent).
While George likely hasn't played enough to get serious consideration from the media and players, has Leonard?
If playing over three-quarters of the season is deemed acceptable, then Leonard will be in. His 26.9 points per game are second to Anthony Davis among West frontcourt players. His 7.3 rebounds are tied for a career best, and Leonard's 5.1 assists are by far the highest mark in his nine seasons. Add in another terrific defensive performance, and Leonard should be an All-Star for the fourth time.
If Leonard has missed too many games, Nikola Jokic, Brandon Ingram and Rudy Gobert could make a run at starting.
Leonard looks like he'll finish in the top three of the fan vote (3.0 million, third in West frontcourt), as votes split between those below him should work to his advantage.