B/R NBA Staff: Did LeBron or Kevin Durant Draft the Better 2021 All-Star Team?March 5, 2021
B/R NBA Staff: Did LeBron or Kevin Durant Draft the Better 2021 All-Star Team?
In a league where the world's best talent is on display night in and night out, there's something extremely relatable about watching All-Star Game rosters come down to a school-yard-style draft.
If you've ever played pickup in the park, you know the drill: Show up, pick your captains, and then your captains decide your fate.
It's unlikely your fate ever landed you on either LeBron James' or Kevin Durant's team—but you get the idea.
As the NBA All-Star Game continues to evolve, the draft continues to own the pre-weekend spotlight, and since 2019, fans have tuned in, debated and critiqued how the best basketball captains on the planet make their selections.
On Thursday, LeBron and KD built their squads for the 2021 All-Star Game on TNT, and Bleacher Report asked six writers to break down which superstar deserves the early W based on first impressions.
- LeBron James
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Stephen Curry
- Luka Doncic
- Nikola Jokic
- Damian Lillard
- Ben Simmons
- Chris Paul
- Jaylen Brown
- Paul George
- Domantas Sabonis
- Rudy Gobert
- Kyrie Irving
- Joel Embiid
- Kawhi Leonard
- Bradley Beal
- Jayson Tatum
- James Harden
- Devin Booker
- Zion Williamson
- Zach LaVine
- Julius Randle
- Nikola Vucevic
- Donovan Mitchell
*Kevin Durant has been ruled inactive for Sunday's All-Star Game.
1st Picks Set the Tone
LeBron was clearly looking for revenge on Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors' massacre of his Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals, as a sweep then was almost as lopsided as this All-Star Game draft was now.
James taking Giannis Antetokounmpo was a huge blow to Durant's squad, who needed an MVP forward since Durant himself will miss the game due to injury. Durant's loyalty to teammate Kyrie Irving by making him his own first pick was admirable, but it opened the door for James to select Stephen Curry to create a devastating top three. Adding Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic to his starting five only distanced the gap between the two squads.
The reserve selections didn't go much better for Durant.
While Harden was the easy pick for KD, passing on Paul George in favor of Zach LaVine and Julius Randle was a mistake, and getting Booker with the 12th pick overall was a major reach.
James balanced out his reserve crew nicely with some clutch players (Damian Lillard, Chris Paul), defensive stars (Ben Simmons, Rudy Gobert) and overall talent (Jaylen Brown, George).
Durant was doomed from the start by taking Irving, a mistake he never recovered from.
Numbers Don't Lie
It didn't take long for this draft to become a microcosm of the analytics (Team LeBron) versus eye test (Team Durant) debate.
As someone who's big on the numbers, Team LeBron is an easy pick. Just go position for position. Various catch-all metrics from around the internet suggest Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard are the two best guards in the NBA. LeBron has both. With himself, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic, he also has the three best frontcourt playmakers.
And speaking of Jokic, he's on pace for the third-best individual season of all time, according to box plus/minus.
Oh, and LeBron also landed the two-time reigning MVP.
Once both players got to the benches, KD continued nodding to the eye test, selecting "buckets," as he described Donovan Mitchell. Meanwhile, LeBron just kept piling on playmaking, shooting and various styles that should mesh beautifully.
A Young Man's Game
The All-Star Game is increasingly becoming a young man's game, which is among the reasons Team Durant has the edge over Team James.
Of the four first-time All-Stars, Team Durant has three of them (Zach LaVine, Julius Randle and Zion Williamson). And with James Harden and Kyrie Irving paired together, you can expect those two will generate a generous amount of scoring output for themselves and for their teammates while still being entertaining with their step-back, ankle-breaking play.
But the game will eventually get tight down the stretch (this always winds up happening, right?) and that is why once again, the edge goes to Team Durant.
Because they have the best two-way talent among the perimeter players (Kawhi Leonard) as well as the bigs (Joel Embiid). Of course, James, Steph Curry and the rest of the Team James will put in some work, but when it comes to entertainment and winning, it's all about Team Durant this weekend.
Team KD would look a lot better if, you know, it had Kevin Durant. Jayson Tatum is by no means a scrub, but he's not an automatic flamethrower.
Hell, sub out Tatum for KD, and Team LeBron's starting five is still tough to beat. They're two-syllable huge without gumming up the floor. Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic and Captain LeBron himself can all chuck threes around annihilatory drives. The bench is just as scary. Team KD has James Harden as part of its second unit, perfectly positioning them to score in perpetual droves, but Team LeBron has two of the clutchest players alive, in Damian Lillard and Chris Paul, coming off the pine. Adding Rudy Gobert, Paul George, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to that fold is just silly. That's four All-Defensive types, including two DPOY candidates.
Maybe defense won't matter this year, even with the return of the Elam ending. But KD's squad will struggle to get stops outside its starting lineup even by All-Star-Game standards. This tilt should go to Team LeBron—and perhaps rather easily.
In Defense of Defense
Do teams play defense in the All-Star Game? Typically no, not for the first three quarters. But down the stretch, the game becomes a lot more serious on "the other side" of the ball. And while both captains drafted well, Team LeBron has the advantage with a potential defensive juggernaut to close out the game.
Team Durant is loaded with scorers but can only boast a couple of dominant defenders (Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid). Team LeBron can match the offensive output of players like Bradley Beal, James Harden, Jayson Tatum, Zach LaVine and Devin Booker—but can Team Durant get stops like a lineup of Chris Paul (or Ben Simmons if they want to go big), Jaylen Brown (or Paul George), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and James?
Team James has tremendous shooting (Steph Curry and Damian Lillard) and playmaking in Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Curry, Lillard and James. But what sets the squad apart will be its ability to get stops in the final frame. Team Durant is more of a glass cannon; an elite scoring ensemble without the defensive personnel.
Not Even Close
I don't think it's particularly close.
Team LeBron got the two-time reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, two of his three biggest MVP challengers this year in Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic, two elite wing defenders in Paul George and Ben Simmons, the best of the first-time All-Stars in Jaylen Brown, and Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic.
More of the so-called borderline guys are on Durant's team, and Durant himself isn't even playing in the game.
*Hit the Bleacher Report app to tell us which star gets the win in your book and which team will take home the victory this Sunday, March 7, in Atlanta, Georgia.