In writing about Kyle Lowry deserving the starting nod in the Eastern Conference on Monday, I promised I would release a full All-Star ballot some time next week. Well, everyone else seems to have jumped on doing so this week, perhaps looking to beat Thursday`s announcement of the actual starters, so I’ve pulled mine ahead to today, too. I’m not going to go insanely in-depth, because if you wanted that, you’d go read a much better writer in Zach Lowe. Instead, what follows is a quick-hit ballot, some brief explanations, and an anti-All-Star team.
Comment away with your own full ballots, and remember: Two guards and three frontcourt players start, with positions dictated by the NBA. From there, you add two guards, three frontcourt players, and two wild cards, and position definitions are more open if need be.
G: Kyle Lowry
G: Jimmy Butler
F: LeBron James
F: Chris Bosh
F: Paul Millsap
I made my case for the guards already. James should be a no-brainer.
The last two forward spots are tougher, and I know a lot of people are going to give the nod to Paul George, or even Andre Drummond. That’s completely fine, as those two, Bosh, and Millsap have all been of roughly equal quality. Whether it’s by traditional stats or advanced metrics, there’s really not much separating the group.
Perhaps it’s the geek in me wanting to give a little love to the less heralded players, perhaps it’s Bosh wistfulness, or maybe I hate fun, but Millsap and Bosh get the nod for me.
The Hawks have actually been better with Millsap on the bench than with him on the floor thanks in large part to the starting lineup struggling all season long. That’s not something I’m willing to hang on Millsap, who has been solid on defense helping cover as many as three positions, acting as an aggressive on-ball menace and a strong rim protector. He’s been their most effective scorer despite an uncharacteristically cool outside-shooting mark, and in somewhat of a down year for Jeff Teague, Millsap has really stepped up his secondary playmaking. He’s doing a great deal for a 25-17 team, and with little separating the group, he gets the nod for his versatility and how important he is to what the Hawks do.
George has a strong case on a Pacers team that has the same record as the Heat, bouncing back wonderfully after nearly an entire season lost to injury. It’s a great story and the Pacers are over-performing, but George loses the spot thanks to a serious shooting slump since the beginning of December (he’s still getting to the line enough for average efficiency overall, but he’s hit 38.2 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent on threes with four turnovers per-game). Drummond’s numbers are robust and he’s incredibly important to everything the Pistons do on offense, but he doesn’t have the two-way play to beat out the other names here. Bosh, meanwhile, has been his usual excellent self, particularly when Hassan Whiteside hits the bench and the Heat roll with Bosh at the five (they’re fine together, too). He’s been great defensively, he’s hitting a ton of threes, his rebounding is at it’s highest rate since Toronto, and he’s the only consistent piece on the team.
G: John Wall
G: DeMar DeRozan
F: Paul George
F: Andre Drummond
F: Carmelo Anthony
WC: Reggie Jackson
WC: Isaiah Thomas
Again, the guards are mostly covered off, and I don’t think there’s much disagreement on who the top four East guards have been, in whatever order. George and Drummond just missed out on starter nods, and I don’t think there would be much argument against Dad Melo, given how well he and the Knicks have played.
That left two spots for a ton of roughly equivalent players. I thought the Celtics deserved someone, but I couldn’t decide between the menacing defense of Jae Crowder or the so-desperately-necessary offense Isaiah Thomas provides, so they were almost the victim of the first ever instance of “vote splitting” in a one-vote system. Instead, Thomas gets in over his teammate (and Avery Bradley) because his importance to the team has been so extreme – his offensive contribution is enough to outweigh the slide on defense by a significant degree. The Celtics have been 4.1 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor, and that’s not inflated by playing against second units, as Thomas has the Celtics’ fourth-highest “average opponent starters” on the floor for his minutes, per Nylon Calculus.
I ultimately went with Jackson for the final spot as a sort of apology for long being a non-believer, one who’s now being proven wrong on him. The Pistons’ pick-and-roll game with him and Drummond is exceptional, and while the team’s still quite good when Jackson sits, so long as it’s not with Drummond, he gets at least some of the credit. He’s punishing teams that pay Drummond too much attention, he’s making terrific passes, and he’s carrying a fairly major workload for a team that’s over-performing some. The fact that he rarely guards the best opposing backcourt player almost cost him, but he narrowly gets the nod.
Narrowly missing out is Dwyane Wade. He’s been quite good, if a little inconsistent, averaging 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists and still getting to the line a bunch. But he’s scored with below-average true-shooting, hasn’t been very good defensively, and the Heat have been far better without him (noise caveats apply, of course). Al Horford got long consideration, too, for many of the same reasons Millsap got in. Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Nic Batum, and Khris Middleton were all considered, too, not in any particular order.
G: Steph Curry
G: Russell Westbrook
F: Kawhi Leonard
F: Kevin Durant
F: Draymond Green
If there’s much disagreement here, Id’ be shocked. Those who are unsure if Green’s an All-Star haven’t been watching for the last couple of seasons, and the others are, I think, no-brainers to even the most biased fans. Come at me with anything negative about Westbrook and I will end you.
G: Chris Paul
G: James Harden
F: DeMarcus Cousins
F: Anthony Davis
F: Tim Duncan
WC: Dirk Nowitzki
WC: J.J. Redick
What a mess. I honestly thought about voting for Boban Marjanovic, both because he’s the most entertaining player of all time and because it would save me from having to make some really tough decisions. Ruled out off the top: Kobe Bryant (100 percent fine if you him in, I just had too tough a time bumping someone for him), Blake Griffin (missed a little too much time), Ricky Rubio (great advanced metrics speaking to how much he lifts the Wolves, but they’re just too bad to have an All-Star knock someone from this group out, and Rubio’s shooting is atrocious), and Gordon Hayward (just a numbers game, homie).
Even after cutting out those names, you’re left picking four spots from maybe 11-plus players (I think Paul, Cousins, and Davis are pretty straight-forward and clear-cut).
I’m not thrilled with giving Harden the nod given how much his defense has slipped to pre-2014-15 levels and given how the Rockets have played as a team. Still, his offense is so other-worldly that it makes up for the defense, and the ridiculous scoring load placed upon him is deserving of recognition. He’s averaging 27.5-5.8-6.7, doing so efficiently, and leading the league in minutes in the process. Damian Lillard has been awesome for an over-peforming Blazers team, too, in a similar one-sided way, but Harden’s volume earns him the slight edge. I gave long consideration to Klay Thompson (the Warriors probably “deserve” three All-Stars and Thompson’s been great as usual), too.
Duncan almost lost his spot on account of playing time, but he’s been so remarkable in his 26.1 minutes that I couldn’t leave him off. He’s only averaging nine points, sure, but he’s grabbing 7.7 rebounds, dishing three dimes, swatting 1.3 shots, and scoring efficiently when asked. He’s lifted the team by 5.8 points per-100 possessions, grades as a nearly elite rim-protector, and still ranks around the top-20 or top-25 mark in most catch-all advanced metrics despite the reduced role. The Spurs have been phenomenal and should have at least two All-Stars, and Duncan gets my nod over an equally-good LaMarcus Aldridge. Proposal: Change the format so there is a third team with just Warriors and Spurs with Boris Diaw as player-coach-barista.
That leaves the two wild card spots. Nowitzki gets the nod over Aldridge out of O.G. respect and the fact that the Mavs, at 24-19, have won about 24 more games than I anticipated. Nowitzki remains incredible on offense, averaging 17.8 points on 56.2-percent true shooting. He’s a 37-year-old still using a quarter of his team’s possessions and doing so efficiently, and he does enough on defense and on the glass that he can’t be called a one-dimensional shooter, even still. The Mavericks are 9.5 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor and he grades out well, if maybe a shade below All-Star, on most of the advanced metrics. A lot to love with the big German.
And so the final spot can go any of a dozen ways. Redick gets my vote
because he’s so damn handsome because his arms are on fleek because his watch game proper because those tats because he’s been terrific this season, especially when the Clippers have needed it most with Griffin shelved. Some may find DeAndre Jordan more deserving overall, and I wouldn’t argue – he’s had more of an impact based on advanced metrics, he’s a fun fit for an All-Star Game, and his two-way play has been just as, if not more important than Redick’s offensive contribution. But Redick’s leading the league in 3-point shooting at 50 percent on 5.6 attempts per game, and he creates a ton of issues for defense as an ever-moving off-ball catch-and-shoot terror. He’s averaging 16.6 points in 27.7 minutes with an insane 65.5 true-shooting percentage, and while his role may not be that of an All-Star, he’s filling it like one.
Anti-All-Stars (rookies exempt)
G: Nik Stauskas
G: Sasha Vujacic
F: Markieff Morris
F: Bojan Bogdanovic
F: Andrea Bargnani
G: Shabazz Napier
G: Norris Cole
F: Marreese Speights
F: Josh Smith
F: Kyle Singler
WC: Richard Jefferson
WC: Ty Lawson