Predicting 2020 NBA All-Star Game Reserves

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2020

Predicting 2020 NBA All-Star Game Reserves

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    Ten of the 24 All-Stars for the NBA's 2019-20 campaign were announced on Thursday.

    The starters in the Eastern Conference are Giannis Antetokounmpo (captain), Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid, Kemba Walker and Trae Young.

    Over in the West, LeBron James (captain), Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic and James Harden will start the All-Star Game.

    That leaves us with 14 more All-Stars to come; seven from each conference. Between now and the reveal of the reserves on Thursday, there's sure to be loads of speculation over who will make the cut.

    Here are 14 solid bets, followed by a snubs slide at the end.

    Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet joins “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to discuss the Raptors' current winning season, last year’s NBA Finals, superstar Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard’s departure, being an underdog and learning from Kyle Lowry.

East: Bam Adebayo

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Bam Adebayo has turned his Team USA snub into a remarkable breakout campaign. The basic numbers alone leap off the screen: 15.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals.

    The only players in NBA history who hit all five marks? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson and Chris Webber.

    Beyond the numbers, Adebayo has become a critical component of both the 31-13 Miami Heat's defense and their attack on the other end.

    "We're running the offense through [Adebayo] more and more," Erik Spoelstra told Sports Illustrated this season. "We started that process last year, but the last three months of the season, he's really improved his playmaking and his passing."

    Bigs with vision and passing ability are transformative players. Like with Nikola Jokic in Denver, Miami trusts Adebayo to catch the ball at the high post or the top of the key and hit cutters all over the floor. The 22-year-old has shown an ability to make plays off the dribble too.

    He's the second-most important player on the second-best team in the East. He's earned a spot in the All-Star Game (though his age and experience level may deter some of the coaches from voting for him).

East: Bradley Beal

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Bradley Beal is going to get in on reputation and basic stats. And that's probably fine. In Beal's case, both are quite good.

    He's coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2018 and 2019, which always seems to help. And it's tough to ignore 27.5 points and 6.3 assists.

    But Beal's Washington Wizards have been better when he's off the floor. On the season, the team's net rating (net points per 100 possessions) is 5.1 points worse when he plays. That swing ranks in the 24th percentile leaguewide.

    On defense, ESPN's real plus-minus and FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR rating both peg Beal as one of the league's worst. His defensive marks pull his overall impact into the red in both catch-alls.

    Still, it's not hard to justify Beal's inclusion on the All-Star team if the selection is driven by talent alone. It's hard to imagine his advanced numbers would be as bad if Washington wasn't in what feels like a stopgap year.

    He's a complete scorer who can get buckets at all three levels. His playmaking has continually gotten better over the years. Assists aren't always the best indicator of that, but his 6.3 in 2019-20 are a career high.

    And again, if he was perhaps on a better team this season, we might see a more engaged Beal on defense.

    Putting a player on the All-Star team for what he might do in a better situation might seem silly, but this is a prediction of what the coaches will do, not what they should do.

East: Jimmy Butler

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Jimmy Butler should almost certainly be starting the All-Star Game for the East.

    Butler's Heat have the second-best record in the conference. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the East with a higher RAPTOR rating. And Butler's net rating swing ranks in the 95th percentile.

    This is exactly the kind of player that impact stats help us appreciate even more.

    When asked about his three-point percentage (a paltry 26.3 percent this season), Erik Spoelstra explained to reporters how Butler's impact goes way beyond basic numbers:

    "I think that’s what young players should learn coming into the league of what a max player actually means. It’s not about stats, it’s not about that final number on the box score. It’s not about whatever 2K numbers you can get. It’s not. It’s about how your team functions and are you winning because of a player. And there is no debate about this: He’s having an incredible impact on our winning, on our bottom line, and that’s why we chased him so hard as a max player. 

    "That should be the definition from here on out. But it’s not, it gets clouded, and too often it becomes about stats or people that can pile up a bunch of stats even at a young age, but they’re empty stats and they don’t impact winning."

    Butler can defend anyone man to man. He almost never gets lost in the scheme on that end either. Offensively, he can singlehandedly take over a game or play de facto point guard. There isn't anything he can't do (except hit threes this season, apparently).

    And even if Spoelstra may not want Butler's basic numbers to define him, his are pretty ridiculous: 20.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists. Those marks are matched only by LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Russell Westbrook. Sort the list by true shooting percentage, and Butler trails only Doncic.

East: Khris Middleton

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    One thing you have to remember with anyone on the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks: Their basic numbers are seriously impacted by lack of playing time.

    For example, Khris Middleton is playing just 28.4 minutes. If you adjust his numbers for pace and playing time, he's averaging 23.5 points, 4.7 assists and 2.6 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the line.

    If you sort every player who took at least 100 threes and eclipsed each of those shooting marks, Middleton's points per 75 possessions trails only 2015-16 Stephen Curry, arguably the greatest individual offensive season in NBA history.

    Now, Middleton obviously isn't on the level of the only unanimous MVP selection in league history. He isn't close in points, true shooting percentage or assists. But despite the fact that he made the All-Star team last season, Middleton may now be one of the league's perennially underrated players.

    His game isn't flashy. He's plenty comfortable just shooting his squared-up, fundamentally sound jump shots. But when you hit them as regularly as Middleton has this season, that's enough.

East: Domantas Sabonis

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    There's an argument that Domantas Sabonis should be starting for the East. I'm serious.

    He's been more durable than Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid. And he's putting up a better statistical profile than Siakam. What that comparison ignores is how much more Siakam has to create for himself from scratch, but the numbers show Sabonis is clearly an All-Star.

    On the year, Sabonis is averaging 17.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The Indiana Pacers' net rating is 11.5 points better (94th percentile) when he's on the floor.

    Beyond that, Indiana has turned Sabonis into an offensive hub in a fashion similar to what Miami is doing with Bam. He's doing more of his playmaking damage out of the low post, though.

    In Victor Oladipo's absence, Sabonis has developed into a legitimate star and kept the Pacers firmly in the playoff picture.

East: Ben Simmons

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Another player who probably has an argument to start for the East, Ben Simmons has pulled his season-long averages to 16.0 points, 8.5 assists, 7.8 rebounds and a league-leading 2.2 steals.

    Thanks to all the focus on the lack of jump shots, people seem to have forgotten that Simmons does everything else on a basketball court.

    "We do not give this young man enough credit for what he is absolutely elite at," ESPN's Doris Burke said on Golic and Wingo. "And that's a ton of things. He has been performing at a first-team All-NBA Defense level all season. He's legit 6'10". Can guard 1 through 5."

    Simmons isn't just the Philadelphia 76ers' point guard; he's a Swiss Army knife on both ends of the floor. And in Joel Embiid's recent absence, all his skills have been on vivid display.

    Over his last five games, Simmons is averaging 22.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 2.2 steals. And this run makes you wonder what Simmons might do with a more spread floor for an entire season.

East: Jayson Tatum

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    When Jayson Tatum broke out as a rookie in the 2018 playoffs, few could've imagined that his greater impact on games would come on the defensive end by his third season.

    Most probably still know Tatum as a scorer. He's averaging a career-high 21.5 points. But his true shooting percentage is well below average.

    His size, versatility and switchability on the other end have done wonders for the Boston Celtics, though. His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) swing ranks in the 96th percentile. He's a critical piece of a defense that ranks third in the NBA.

    But All-Star selections aren't often about defense. And though his efficiency may leave some wanting more, there's value in the defensive attention Tatum commands. Opponents have to commit their best wing defenders to Tatum, leaving Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward to attack easier matchups.

West: Devin Booker

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    Since his second NBA season, counting stats have never been the problem for Devin Booker. He's been over 20 points per game in each of his last four seasons. He's been over 26 points and six assists in each of his last two.

    The problem for Booker was his team's records and the things that are harder to measure, specifically defense.

    As Forbes' Ben Dowsett pointed out earlier this season, advanced numbers have generally painted Booker as one of the game's worst defenders. He's never had a positive defensive rating swing. This season, he ranks in the 10th percentile in that department, which would be a career worst.

    But his offensive impact has grown to the extent that we can almost ignore everything he gives back on the other end. His net rating swing ranks in the 83rd percentile because he supercharges the Phoenix Suns offense. They score 113.7 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, as opposed to 101.1 when he's off.

    Among players with at least 500 minutes and a 20-plus scoring average, Booker's 63.0 true shooting percentage trails only that of Karl-Anthony Towns. His two-point percentage is fourth in that bunch.

    Booker is, in a lot of ways, a throwback. His three-point volume puts him near the bottom of that list. And his 2019-20 shot chart lights up the mid-range.

    The well-rounded scoring, when combined with the playmaking for his teammates, makes Booker one of the game's best offensive players.

West: Rudy Gobert

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    This is long overdue for Rudy Gobert.

    It seems almost impossible that a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-NBA center has yet to make an All-Star team, but the selection process' emphasis on scoring and name recognition doesn't do Gobert any favors.

    This season, the coaches can't possibly deny him.

    Among players with at least 500 minutes, Gobert's 20.6 net rating swing leads the NBA. And it's not just the defense that he's impacting. The Utah Jazz are scoring 10.7 more points per 100 possessions when Gobert plays.

    One of the game's best screeners, Gobert makes life on that end significantly easier for his higher-usage teammates. Beyond the obvious (the screens themselves), Gobert's rolls to the rim pull defenders to the paint, giving the scorers more room to operate off their perimeter catches.

    Defensively, Gobert remains a one-man system. One of the most common sights during a Jazz game is an opponent literally making an about-face and dribbling away from the paint upon seeing Gobert.

    And if you want a more basic argument, traditional numbers don't come close to telling Gobert's entire story, but a line of 15.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and a 68.7 true shooting percentage is nothing to sneeze at.

West: Brandon Ingram

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    It may have taken a bit longer than some expected, and it didn't happen for the team that drafted him, but Brandon Ingram has arrived.

    He's averaging 25.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.5 threes for the New Orleans Pelicans. It should come as little surprise that all those numbers are career highs.

    As much as anything, this might just be about smarter shot selection. A smaller percentage of Ingram's shots are coming from the mid-range this season. And his three-point attempt rate has nearly tripled.

    Of course, it helps that he's hitting the shots too, but merely taking those open threes gives you a better chance of playing efficient basketball.

    Ingram also deserves credit for expanding his game in other ways, particularly as a passer and playmaker. The Los Angeles Lakers experimented with him as a point guard, but he's never been empowered to this degree. He has complete command of plenty of possessions throughout a game, especially in the clutch.

    This breakout has been so dramatic and complete that Ingram has revived the old debate about whether he should have been taken No. 1 over Simmons. 

    "Brandon Ingram is now better than Ben Simmons," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "Far superior scorer—P&R, spot-up, iso. Good passer. Versatile defender. 26 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST. No reason to celebrate after a made 3. He hits them all the time."

West: Nikola Jokic

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Nikola Jokic making the All-Star Game is a no-brainer. The more interesting question is whether he should be starting over Anthony Davis.

    Consider the following: When you combine points with points generated by assists, Jokic's 39.9 per 75 possessions top AD's 35.5. He's also ahead of Davis in rebounding rate and net rating swing. He's clearly the Denver Nuggets' best and most important player. Davis, at best, is 1B for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    It's tough to quibble over AD's selection to the starting lineup, but there's more evidence in support of Jokic than some may realize.

    A slow start to the season hurt his All-Star prospects. Through November, he averaged 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists with a 52.0 true shooting percentage. Since then, he's at 21.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game with a 62.4 true shooting percentage.

    The latter run will be more than enough to make the team. Once he eliminates the former (slow starts have been a career norm), more people might be willing to place him among the game's most elite, which is where he belongs.

West: Damian Lillard

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard is having the kind of season many expected from Stephen Curry. With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson out, Curry was going to get his shot at the kind of heavy-usage campaign James Harden gets every year in Houston.

    Of course, a broken hand shelved any chance at that for Curry. Lillard is giving us the fireworks instead.

    He already has two 60-point performances this season. His 8.1 offensive box plus/minus is pushing toward top-30 status all-time. He's averaging a career-high 27.9 points. And he's on pace for nearly 300 threes.

    The Portland Trail Blazers are currently outside the playoff picture. Jusuf Nurkic's absence is a big reason why, and a bizarre offseason that saw the team unload key veterans for unproven talent didn't help. But regardless of all that, Lillard is almost singlehandedly keeping his team in the hunt.

    On the season, Portland is plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor, compared to an abysmal minus-10.5 with him off. That swing ranks in the 96th percentile.

West: Donovan Mitchell

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The game appears to be slowing down for Donovan Mitchell. The reckless drives into the lane and ill-advised floaters in the face of multiple defenders are starting to feel like history. And his efficiency is creeping up because of it.

    For the first time in his career, Mitchell is posting an above-average true shooting percentage. It was perhaps the one glaring weakness left in his game.

    He's not a lockdown defender or one of the game's premier passers, but he's always been able to do a little bit of everything. It's just that his main thing was scoring bunches of points on bunches of shots.

    He's now doing a better job allowing the game to come to him, and the Jazz are thriving because of it.

    When Mitchell is on the floor, Utah scores 115.2 points per 100 possessions, a rate that ranks in the 90th percentile. His swing on that end ranks in the 95th percentile.

    He's the engine on offense. Gobert is the same on the other end. With the Jazz clinging to second place in the West, both snagging All-Star selections is in play.

West: Chris Paul

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    "When [Chris Paul] first got traded and we spoke for the first time, I told him,'I don't know about all the rumors,'" Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan told Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni of rumors that the legendary point guard might never play for his team. "And he said this: 'I only know how to do it one way. Both my feet are in the circle here, and you're going to get all I can give to this organization.' And he's totally lived up to that."

    There's no question about that last part.

    CP3's box plus/minus, true shooting percentage, scoring average and three-point percentage are all up from last season. His plus-13.0 net rating swing ranks in the 97th percentile league-wide. He's serving as a mentor to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and ceding plenty of control to him at the same time. Stories of clashing with teammates the way he may have in Los Angeles and Houston don't feel like they're on their way.

    Paul has seized this opportunity to revive his career and reputation. If his trade value goes up too, so be it. As long as he's in OKC, he's going to push this team as far as he can.

    As we approach the All-Star break, the Thunder have a 99 percent shot to get into the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight's model.

    It's hard to imagine them there without CP3 and his 17.0 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He's done enough to earn his 10th All-Star appearance (and first since 2015-16).


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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Karl-Anthony Towns

    If this were just based on numbers, it'd be hard to keep Karl-Anthony Towns out. Averaging 26.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 blocks in 33.4 minutes per game is absurd.

    But Towns has two big strikes against him. His team is 15-29 and almost as close to 15th place as it is to eighth. He's also missed nearly 40 percent of Minnesota's games.

    Players from bad teams are often chosen. Plenty of All-Stars have missed some time before the game. It's tough to overcome both hurdles, though.


    Eric Bledsoe

    An underrated cog in the Milwaukee juggernaut, Eric Bledsoe is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds in just 26.1 minutes per game. If you expand those to per-75-possession numbers, he's at 19.5, 6.7 and 6.0.

    That and his typically strong perimeter defense make him a real threat to get in.


    Nikola Vucevic

    His true shooting percentage is down quite a bit this season, but Nikola Vucevic's basic numbers aren't far off the marks he put up during his first All-Star campaign in 2018-19.

    If Orlando were above .500, it'd be tougher to hold Vucevic out.


    Montrezl Harrell

    Montrezl Harrell making the Los Angeles Clippers better when he's on the floor may be more impressive than the 19.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game off the bench.

    L.A.'s net rating is 2.8 points per 100 possessions better when Harrell is in the game. That's not easy to do for a team that starts Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (when available).


    Kyle Lowry

    This might be the toughest omission in the East. Kyle Lowry is averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 assists with an above-average true shooting percentage.

    But he's missed 11 games and is posting a negative net rating swing for the second time in his last 11 seasons.

    Russell Westbrook

    His basic numbers (25.3 points and 7.3 assists) are predictably strong, and they've been trending up of late. But the Houston Rockets have been better with Russell Westbrook off the floor this season.

    And no one in the last five seasons has matched his current combination of usage and inefficiency. Kobe Bryant's 2014-15 is the only season you add if you stretch the sample to 10 years.

    That's hard to overcome, even for a team geared as far toward money-ball as the Rockets.


    Other Shouts

    • Fred VanVleet: His basic numbers aren't quite as gaudy as Lowry's, but they're not far off, either.
    • Zach LaVine: Averaging a career-high 25.0 points, but he's posting a negative net rating swing for a 17-29 team.
    • Jaylen Brown: Averaging 20.0 points for a winning team, but his impact pales in comparison to Tatum's.
    • Ja Morant: A human highlight reel averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 assists for a playoff contender as a rookie.
    • Bojan Bogdanovic: Averaging 21.1 points with a 60.7 true shooting percentage and rocking a net rating swing in the 99th percentile.
    • Paul George: Posting good basic numbers, but he's appeared in just over half of his team's games.


    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference,, or Cleaning the Glass and current heading into games on Thursday.