This season has featured plenty of NBA players competing for key accolades.
There are about six different MVP candidates now, and it would probably be even more if not for injuries from superstars like Steph Curry. The MVP race is not the only award that has gained a ton of traction, though. This has also been the case for NBA All-Star voting.
With voting coming to a close at the end of the week, let’s examine who should earn the start.
Western Conference Backcourt
Luka is pretty much a shoo-in as an All-Star Starter. It is insane that someone his age is probably going to earn his fourth straight First Team All-NBA honors. His numbers have been unreal this year. On top of his 60-point triple-double a couple of months ago, he has 33.7 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, 8.8 assists per game, and a player efficiency rating of 30.1. (For context, the league average efficiency rating is 15.0.) With all this, his team is currently the fifth seed in the West, which is one seed lower than where they were last year, but that is by no means an indictment on Luka. Without him, they are a lottery team, without a doubt
SGA has been extremely talented for years. Many people did not realize just how great he was until this season, but he is now regarded higher thanks to his team’s success. He is averaging 30.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, and has a PER of 26.5, which is seventh in the league. Also, the fact that the Thunder are right around .500 despite losing their top-three draft pick is impressive. It is completely understandable why people would want to put Steph Curry here since he has been so fantastic when he is on, but the fact that he has missed 14 games is a little too strong.
Western Conference Frontcourt
This one is an absolute no-brainer. The reigning back-to-back MVP has somehow expanded on his big seasons and has been playing debatably better. He averages 25.1 PPG, 11 RPG, and 9.9 APG with a PER of 32.4. With all of this, he leads the league in most of the advanced stats such as win shares, box plus-minus, and value over replacement. Jokic’s biggest critique last year was that his numbers were not translating to wins, but with the proper supporting cast, he has his team as the No. 1 seed in the West. There may be a lot of disagreements with some of these picks, but this should not be one of them.
Despite not winning a ton this season and not playing the elite defense he used to play, James is producing more on the offensive end than ever before. He is averaging 29.8 PPG and 7.0 APG with a PER of 25.1. Believe it or not, these numbers are comparable to his 2013 season in Miami, which many say was the best version of James. The main critique of the star is that he has not been able to lead his team to wins. With this being said, there are only a handful of players who would be able to carry the load that James has, especially with Anthony Davis injured the past couple of weeks. Though James still gets criticized a ton, there should not be any disagreements here, either.
This is where it gets controversial. Where is Anthony Davis? Where is Zion Williamson? While on a per-game basis, Davis and Williamson are probably more deserving than Markkanen, it’s not justifiable to have them as starters, even if you think they should be All-Stars. Regardless of what you think, Markkanen has been having a fantastic season, too. He is one of the front-runners for Most Improved Player, averaging 24.8 PPG and owning a PER of 23. He is also seventh in win shares and fourth in offensive win shares. Even though the Jazz have slowed down from their red-hot start, Markkanen’s production has remained sky-high.
Eastern Conference Backcourt
Mitchell has been one of the most underrated players in the league for the past couple of years, and it has only continued this year. He was actually in the MVP race at the very beginning of the year, but he fell off since the top six to eight guys ahead of him have been truly insane. For the season, Mitchell is averaging 28.4 PPG and has a PER of 23.3. He is also ninth in win shares and seventh in value over replacement. There are a lot of good debates out there; Mitchell’s All-Star candidacy should not be one of them.
The best No. 2 option in the league deserves a starting spot in the All-Star Game. Brown continues to be one of the more under-appreciated players in the league. Despite not having the best handles and being not as great of an off-ball defender, he is still averaging 27.1 PPG and has a PER of 20.2. Brown has taken yet another step this year and is one of the main reasons why the Celtics are where they are now.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt
The Eastern Conference is the most competitive in terms of deciding the three guys who deserve it most. Tatum should be one of those guys as he is averaging a career-high in PPG (31.1) and has a PER of 25. He is also fifth in win shares and sixth in value over replacement. He very well could be the favorite to win MVP now, and it is pretty hard to debate against someone who puts up as dominant stats as he does, plays elite defense, and is the No. 1 option on the best team in the league.
The two-time league MVP and former NBA Finals MVP does not need much of an explanation as to why he deserves to be a starter. He is currently averaging 31 PPG and 11.9 RPG, plus a PER of 27. He is also eighth in box plus-minus and 10th in value over replacement. Antetokounmpo has put up a handful of stinkers this year, but in the big picture, he has been fantastic. His usual No. 2 option, Khris Middleton, has been hurt for a good amount of the season and, as a result, Antetokounmpo has not been himself. With this all being said, the Bucks are still narrowly in second in the East and Antetokounmpo is the main reason for that.
Perhaps the guy putting together the quietest MVP-like season in a while is Joel Embiid. He is averaging 33.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, and has a PER of 30.9. Embiid is also eighth in win shares, fourth in box plus-minus, and ninth in value over replacement. His second and third options have both missed more than 10 games each due to injury, but the Sixers are still a top team in the East. Many people are going to say Kevin Durant should be here (and he’ll probably get voted in, perhaps as the captain), but when you’re competing in the most stacked position in the toughest conference, small things like injuries must factor in.
Follow Chris Driscoll on Twitter @allamericanhooper
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