Good afternoon everyone – I hope you are doing well, as always.
With the All-Star bench announced Thursday night, I figured that if I ruled the world (and didn’t have to abide by NBA guidelines), it would make sense to reduce the number of people I’d insert in each conference’s final seven spots.
western conference reserves
essentials: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Lauri Markkanen, De’Aaron Fox
It would be challenging, if not impossible, to bring a case against SGA or Lillard; both were the best players in their respective playoffs while averaging over 30 points per game on efficient shooting. Shai leads the NBA in free throws at 51/36.8/90.8 from the diagonal so far, while Lillard ranks fourth in the league in offensive box plus-minus with a career-best true shooting percentage of 63.7 percent.
Morant’s efficiency is down from a year ago, but his scoring remains steady and his assists are much higher than ever while helping to push — sometimes floating feels more appropriate? — Memphis is second in the West. In my opinion, Lauri Markkanen, 52/43/87 and nearly 25 points and nearly 9 rebounds per night, has a good reason to start the game. (I even picked him as a starter in my official vote, tying Nikola Jokic and LeBron James.)
While De’Aaron Fox may represent a fringe case to some… to me he isn’t. Not when he’s leading the league in clutch points with 119 while shooting an absurd 60 percent from the field in those situations — by far the best by any player in the NBA with 50-plus attempts — while As a speedy — the tempo engine for the No. 3 team in the conference. He’s more efficient than ever, and less efficient than ever. While his defense is certainly not elite (few, if ever, when it comes to Sacramento), the effort to improve on that front is notable. he belongs.
Final sights: Anthony Edwards, Domantas Sabonis
Just like Fox, so does his star forward/center Domantas Sabonis.
While he’s not the ignition switch for the Kings the way Fox is, he plays an integral role and can make a difference in Sacramento’s offense, which is the most efficient offense in the NBA. His screens, positioning and handoffs with the likes of Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray left things more open. He also leads the NBA in total rebounds, ranks ninth in the league in total assists, and shoots better than 60 percent from the field. That’s mostly why the Kings — the Kings! ——The reason for the third place.
Maybe some will root for former All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis, which makes sense from a production standpoint. When he’s on the floor this season, he’s been dominant — certainly the best, most efficient version of him we’ve seen with the Lakers; at least as far as the regular season goes.
But that’s about it: he doesn’t get much playing time. If he can stay healthy in the second half, he will have a good reason to be named in the All-NBA team. Still, Sabonis, who has appeared in 47 of 49 games and has missed 24 of 51 games so far, can’t be ignored.
Also, what about Anthony Edwards? Many of us hoped and believed that we would see a leap from him this year, and the fact that he’s been pumping since shortly after Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury proves that he’s here and willing to live up to the high expectations that have been placed on him . Efficient 30- and 40-point nights are now semi-regular for him. The same goes for certain reads and passes, and since Towns retired from the lineup, he’s showing improved playmaking skills and averaging more than five assists a night. This season, he averaged 24.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.5 points per game, creating a career-high efficiency.
The best part: Minnesota, a team that didn’t look interesting early on — many speculated about possible panic trades after a lackluster start with Towns and Rudy Gobert — is doing fine. Before Monday’s loss, the Wolves were tied for the league’s best record in 2023 at 11-4.
In addition to Davis, several others are worth considering for the final few spots. They include Paul George, who had a season on par with the rest of his Clippers; CJ McCollum, who impressed despite having to turn into the No. 1 option many nights in New Orleans; Len Gordon, who is playing some of the best basketball of his life in No. 1 Denver this season; and Devin Booker, who certainly would have had his place were it not for how many games he missed.
essentials: Bam Adebayo, Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Julius Randle
Embiid had the loudest MVP debate over the weekend with the two-time defending MVP (and the possible frontrunner this time?), so his All-Star case was axed. He would have started if it weren’t for the league’s stupid position requirements.
Brown’s rationale for building a team is almost as clear. His hits from beyond the arc have been off target — the worst of his career, in fact — but his aggression near the free throw line and his mid-range shooting have been career-ready. At the highest level of his career, this is more than enough. They all have a lot to do with how he puts up 27 points a night for the East’s top team.
After a lackluster start to the season, Adebayo is inextricably linked to how and why the Heat return to action. He’s the glue in their unusual defense, which has utilized the zone more than any team in modern history. (Though opponents try to knock him out by intentionally leaving his side of the field.) But he’s more than just a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He improved again offensively and set a career-high percentage of jumpers made inside 15 feet. In clutch situations, he’s shooting 57.6 percent (19 of 33) from the field this season. Someone who gets you 21, 10 and 3 points every night is downright horrible when defense is ultimately their best asset.
Big endorsement for Randle, whose name drew a dismayed, diabolical response from New Yorkers last season. It’s a sudden change: Back in 2021, people can’t stop talking about how incredible he is. But going into this season, pretty much everyone wanted him — and his seemingly less than stellar attitude at the time — out of the city.
Statistically, Randle looks a lot like himself two seasons ago. No, the 3-pointer didn’t land on that clip. But 34% isn’t catastrophic, and you can live with it more easily when he works as hard as he does. Despite standing 6-foot-8, he ranks second in the NBA in rebounding. If the Knicks get an All-Star berth, Randle is well-deserved.
As for Harden, many of us were hoping to see a full bounce back from Philadelphia’s postseason truce last season, and he’s done just that since returning from a month-long injury. His free throw numbers are a far cry from his astronomical heyday, but he’s still very efficient, shooting the best 3-pointers since his early days in Oklahoma City, while making more than 11 dimes per game.
So which two players got my last two spots?
Final sights: Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam
Siakam has played more minutes per game than anyone in the NBA thus far (as he did last season), so it’s reasonable to wonder if the cost of making him struggle offensively will lower his stats just a little bit.
Lately, that may have been the case. His true shooting percentage dipped in January. Still, for someone who was named to the All-NBA third team last season, it was impressive to see him average better stats than before: 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
No other contender for the final spot in the Eastern Conference — save for the guy I’m about to mention — can argue that they’re playing as much as Siakam for their team.
That, of course, is Haliburton, without whom the Pacers have now lost 10 of their past 11 games, including games in which he suffered a sprained elbow and a bruised knee. That’s a far cry from the 8-2 record Indiana had in the short stretch before Halliburton’s injury.
The team is very young. But Haliburton’s vet-like presence — both as a shooter and as a maestro and playmaker — has at times helped the Pacers look wiser than their years. He makes the right play almost every time, so mistakes are rare. In some cases, his cross pass will win the game. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he could one day go 50-40-90, as he’s around that now, averaging 20 points and a league-best 10.2 assists a night at age 22.
But choosing him and Siakam means that a lot of talented stars will miss the opportunity.
God knows Jalen Brunson deserves a spot, especially considering his ability to handle the Knicks’ offense seems to have such a huge calming effect on Randle’s game. (While the Knicks are smart about where they are in the standings, they don’t need to have two reps in the game.) Darius Garland must feel he deserves it in a year where his numbers match his last Becoming the same season with the team’s stats, has been playing for a Cavaliers club that is now better than before. Trae Young, even with a brutal shooting rate by his standards, makes a case for how much he gets as a scorer and passer. (But his shooting, combined with his defense and Atlanta’s struggles, make me think there are better options here.) The younger Dejounte Murray and the more efficient Dejounte Murray separated too much. Possession reps, which make it challenging to pick any player from a team that hasn’t lived up to its potential.
The Bulls’ extremely talented offensive guards DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are in a similar situation, though DeRozan’s argument gets support because his numbers are superior, especially in crunch time. , who has scored more points than any player in the East at this point in the season.
Even Jrue Holiday and Jimmy Butler are in this trap (they’re obviously much better defensively): Deserving players need to share the burden with another All-Star teammate. Jrue, in particular, has been excellent for Milwaukee, both scoring and defending, considering how long the team will have to play without star forward Khris Middleton.
If there are injured replacements, good luck deciding which player deserves the nod. There are many.
Meat and Potatoes: Great Reads From SI and Beyond Last Week
- Angela Swartz of Almanac News has an article about Steph and Ayesha Curry, who wrote to the Atherton, CA Town officials objected to the development of 16 townhouses on a 1.5-acre lot almost directly behind the couple’s $31 million gated home. Curry wrote: “We are hesitant to add ‘not in our backyard (literally)’, but … the safety and privacy of us and our children remains our top priority and why we chose Atherton as our home One of the biggest reasons.” In the letter, the Currys at least demanded that the town build a higher fence to keep their view from their home.