Evaluating the Raptors’ All-Star Candidates

The story of Goldilocks is one of the best fairy tales ever written. It’s truistic now, but the concept of something being too much, too little, or just right is both a piece of sacred wisdom and infinitely applicable. It’s not just porridge temperature or bed rigidity that can be too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft. Almost everything can fit onto the Goldilocks spectrum, including the Toronto Raptors’ All-Star candidacies.

Too hot – Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam will most likely start in the NBA All-Star game. Like that Hansel, he’s so hot right now. His raw per-game stats, 23.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists are enough, let alone the manner in which he acquires those numbers. His improvement has been unmapped and unmatched. Siakam has grown into the top dog scorer that every team needs in the playoffs; he’s a whirling, spinning, faking, driving fiend, and he’s almost unguardable in single coverage. Yes, his mid-range attempts and efficiency inside the arc have slipped since last year, but that’s what happens when opponents know you’re a team’s best player. You have to take harder shots. Siakam still makes them at a great level for such a high-volume scorer. That he can shoot from deep now is a necessity. Perhaps just as important in his development is his passing ability. Siakam is sporting a career-high assist rate, which is good for 85th percentile for his position in the league. When teams double him, he makes them pay with smart passes, and he’s getting much faster at recognizing the correct pass with pace. His turnover rate is a career low, as well.

All told, Siakam is the very definition of an All-Star. As of the last returns, he was in second in the East for fan votes, and he’ll likely be chosen as a starter after the coaches and players have their say.

That the Raptors are such a successful team is probably more a virtue of the team’s depth and continuity than Siakam’s pure talent alone, but that’s not how All-Star votes work. Toronto is thriving after losing Kawhi Leonard, and Siakam will benefit the most from that fact, in terms of his All-Star candidacy. Things need to be simple when it comes to binary results, and when it comes to the All-Star game, you’re either a one or a zero. In this case, Siakam is too obviously going to play. It’s not really worth discussing too much further, other than giving recognition to Siakam for his work ethic and how well it’s paying off this year.

Too cold – Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet is close, but he’s probably not there yet. He has All-Star adjacent numbers, averaging 18.4 points and 6.7 assists per game. Though his pace can sometimes conflict with Toronto’s preferred up-tempo attack, he has been an injection of poise and stability whenever on the floor. His shooting gives Toronto one of its most potent weapons; in fact, among players attempting the same or more triples per game, VanVleet has the eighth-highest accuracy. VanVleet’s numbers are solid. Most impressive is his defensive impact, where his 2.0 steals per game are third in the whole NBA. He’s one of the league’s best guard defenders, and he has the box score stats this year to prove it. VanVleet is close, certainly, but he may be a year away from real All-Star consideration.

There’s a logjam at the guard position in the East. VanVleet finished 10th in fan votes in the East, so he won’t compete to start. That honour, rightly or wrongly, will likely go to Trae Young and Kyrie Irving, who currently lead in the fan vote. That means VanVleet will have to compete with Kemba Walker, Malcolm Brogdon, Zach LaVine, Devonte’ Graham, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons, and Bradley Beal to be chosen by the NBA Head Coaches. There are only four that VanVleet could fill in that scenario: two spots for reserve guards and two wildcard spots. The wildcard spots can go to any position, so VanVleet would be competing there with an even deeper crop of players. It’s a tough ask, especially because he’ll be competing against a teammate with better stats and more name recognition.

Just right – Kyle Lowry

Lowry has played in five consecutive All-Star games, where he’s averaged 10.0 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He hasn’t been one of the All-Star games’ flashiest participants, but he’s been one of its most consistent attendees, at the very least. Lowry may never receive the amount of respect he deserves, but he does receive a fair amount.

This year, Lowry should once again be a near-lock to be named to the All-Star game. He probably won’t win a starting spot, sitting in fifth in the East after the most recent returns, but the coaches always seem to name him to a reserve role. If there’s any one group of people who know enough to respect Lowry the correct amount, it’s NBA coaches.

And this year there’s plenty, as always, for which to respect Lowry. He’s averaging 20.1 points and 7.6 assists per game, which is matched or surpassed by only four other players in the league: Trae Young, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, and Damian Lillard. Lowry has carried his team to a winning stretch despite missing four of the team’s most talented players at the same time. He notched some masterful performances in the past month, including a 28-point game in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 30 points in a win over the Boston Celtics, and 32 in a franchise-record 30-point comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks. Lowry has shown that he can still carry a team, and he’s gone into KLOE mode more this season than he has since 2016-17.

The requirements to play in an All-Star game aren’t always related to winning. It’s usually about who can score the most, or hit the splashiest shots, or dunk the high-flyingest dunks. Even though Lowry’s value is mostly tied to winning, and he doesn’t add a ton of aesthetic surplus, he still fits in with the best players in the NBA. Lowry is at home among the best. The Raptors have a record, at 29-14, that usually deserves two All-Star berths, and Lowry is quite likely to snatch that second one. His selection, as it has been for five years in a row, would be just right.

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