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2019-2020 NBA All-Star Starters

2019-2020 All-Star Starters
(Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2019-2020 NBA All-Star starters were announced this week. As always, there were some absolute no brainer calls, and some controversial decisions.

A reminder for the uninitiated, that the All-Star starters are chosen by a composite of the fan vote, which makes up 50% of the final decision, a players vote makes up 25% and a selection of media have the final 25% of the vote.

That split has helped make the voting process fairer and more aligned with actual NBA basketball. No more crazy selections like Player McPlayerface or Tacko Fall, folks!

I’ve got some thoughts and observations on the final selections, but before I get to those, let’s recap our All-Star starters for 2020.

Eastern Conference:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (Captain) – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors
  • Kemba Walker – Boston Celtics
  • Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
  • Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference:

  • LeBron James (Captain) – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers
  • Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
  • James Harden – Houston Rockets

Whilst the starting group of ten are selected by conference, playground rules apply when selecting the teams themselves. LeBron James will have the first pick this season.

No Surprises in the West

The Western Conference offered little by the way of surprises this time around. The five selected are by consensus the five most deserving. If there is one quibble with the Western vote leaders, it’s Kawhi Leonard. I’ll admit that I’m probably nitpicking here, but Kawhi’s for-the-love-of-God-please-don’t-call-it-load-management has cost him 11 of his team’s 47 games thus far. Is missing 25% of your team’s games enough to raise any doubt about Leonard’s candidacy? His numbers stack up, and he has been the undisputed leader of a stacked Clippers roster. He deserves his spot.

If for whatever reason Leonard – or any other player – didn’t deserve their spot, then Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert should get the nod. The big Frenchman is putting up excellent counting numbers (15.7 points, 14.5 boards and 2 blocks) and is the clear league leader in screen assists. He remains the most dominant defensive player in the NBA. If he doesn’t get an All-Star berth this season, the Jazz should officially boycott the whole weekend.

To long lost All-Star friends.

For the first time since 2009, the NBA All-Star game will not contain Kevin Durant. We’ll also miss Steph Curry, who has been an All-Star every year since 2014. His Warriors teammate Klay Thompson has been a constant since 2015. This year, the All-Star Game will be missing all three, due to various injuries.

Those unfortunate ailments have robbed us of an awkward KD/Warriors reunion. That makes me almost as sad as the injuries themselves did.

LeBron’s longevity is remarkable.

LeBron James will be appearing in his 16th All-Star game in February – each and everyone as a starter. This appearance will move him into 3rd place overall in All-Star appearances behind only fellow Lakers alumni Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 19, and Kobe Bryant with 18. For comparison, LeBron’s 16 All-Star selections are well ahead of the 13 that the Eastern starters have garnered between them.

Trae Young?

In the best Bill Walton voice, you’ve ever heard: Puhleese!

Trae Young’s stats are excellent. Nobody can argue against 29.1 points and 8.8 assists being All-Star calibre numbers. But there is one rather large elephant in the room – the Hawks are awful! All-Stars are supposed to be the best of the best, right? Is a player that is ‘leading’ the worst team in the NBA, that has all the defensive constitution of crepe paper, one of the best 10 players in the league?

For what it’s worth, with Young on the floor, Atlanta is run of the mill terrible, as opposed to the historical ineptitude they vomit up when Trae sits. That’s enough for him to be an All-Star (spoiler for next week’s article, folks) but not a starter.

The case for Jimmy Butler

Let’s be clear: Pascal Siakam is a worthy All-Star starter. This is not meant to detract from his achievement. However, it needs to be said that Jimmy Butler is also a worthy All-Star starter. Despite the fact that he’s apparently forgotten how to shoot (43.9% from the floor and a ghastly 25.5% from deep), he’s the undisputed leader of the most surprising team in basketball.

Miami was expected to be a lower end playoff team this season, but it’s a stretch to say that anyone outside of the Heat organisation thought they would be at the top end of the conference standings. Butler remains a defensive ace, and acts as the point guard for a Heat team that effectively has no other creative force, although Bam Adebayo is developing nicely.

Butler is listed on the ballot as a front court player this year, after being designated a guard for the balance of his career. If he were still a guard, he surely starts ahead of either Young or Walker.

The next step: removing conference designations.

As is now traditional, there will be a bunch of players, usually with Western Conference addresses, that miss out on All-Star selection. Considering All-Star appearances are factored into contract negotiations and even Hall of Fame discussions, isn’t it time that the league’s midseason showcase truly reflected the best from the entire league?

Let’s look at the career of Mike Conley. From his age 26 season back in 2014, Conley could lay claim to being an All-Star, as he could every year up to the end of his reign in Memphis last season. Of course, playing in a conference that through those years had contained Steph Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Russ Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, Conley was never going to get a gig.

Now compare that with the some All-Stars from the East through that time: Goran Dragic, DeMar DeRozan, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Roy Hibbert. If we delve further back, the East has showcased Brook Lopez, Luol Deng, David Lee and Gerald Wallace.

Forget his prime years; if Conley was drafted a pick earlier (Atlanta) or later (Boston), he might have been a 10-time All-Star, instead of being the NBA’s reigning Best Player never to be named an All-Star. The NBA has taken the first step in dealigning the conferences for the starters. Let’s finish the job, and get the best from the whole league to All-Star weekend.

To the Selections….

In the West, as alluded to earlier, the starting quintet was selected pretty much as expected. As such, and with apologies to Rudy Gobert, I’ll give the people what the want. Alex Caruso aside.

  • LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers
  • Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
  • James Harden – Houston Rockets

The East is a different beast. Of the selected starters, I’m not going to quibble with Giannis or Kemba. They’re locked in. As mentioned above, Jimmy Butler has been great, and were he listed as a guard, he’d be a certainty to start. But he isn’t, so he isn’t. Pascal Siakam stays.

The final front court spot is dicey. Joel Embiid has put up wonderful numbers and is a vital cog in that monstrous Sixers defense. But if we use the common trope that the best ability is availability, then Embiid – as he has throughout his career – suffers. The Cameroonian has only played 31 of his teams 47 games – that’s less than 66%. That should matter. In days past, when Centre was still it’s own section on the ballot, Embiid’s place would have been secure, given the only other centre eligible players were Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis and Tacko Fall. But in this era, where the centre is lumped in with the front court, my imaginary vote goes to Jimmy Butler.

At guard, I’ve made my disdain for the Young pick clear. So who to replace him with? Kyrie Irving was next in line in the NBA’s voting. If you want to take Kyrie, great. I’ll come to your house and fight you. Derrick Rose was the next cab off the rank. It’s a great story, seeing what Rose can do now that he’s healthy. It’s such a shame to think that if he’s able to put up 18 points and 6 assists a night, coming off the bench at age 31, with no knees, what he could have done had he lived a healthy career prime. He’s not the starter here, though. Zach LaVine? A hard no.

Kyle Lowry? Ben Simmons? Now we’re talking! Both have been consistently excellent at both ends of the floor for their teams. They’ve both stepped up with injuries around them. Lowry is possibly the NBA’s leading ‘things you don’t notice’ All-Star. He always makes the right play, be it an extra rotation on defense, stepping half a metre to his right to open up the correct driving or passing lane for a teammate, an improvised back screen. If Lowry starts, I could have zero complaints.

However, the nod here goes to the polarising Australian. Simmons is compiling a huge dossier of defensive highlights, so much so that he’s a solid chance for All-Defensive honours. If he creates a turnover at the top of the key, the opposition absolutely panics, knowing that Simmons might be the best player in the league in the open floor. He leads the league in assisted three pointers. With Embiid out, the Sixers offense looks frightening, as Brett Brown surrounds him with shooters. Simmons’ own shooting woes are very real – if they scare you away from starting him, that’s fine, but he’s my pick here.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors
  • Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat
  • Kemba Walker – Boston Celtics
  • Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers

Next week, we’ll check out my All-Star reserves.

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