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Once again fans pick LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo to be All-Star captains as starters announced

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LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo remain the kings of the mountain — on top of the standings and on top of the popularity contest that is NBA All-Star voting.

But the game’s young stars — Luka Doncic and Trae Young, in particular — are climbing fast. Both of them came in second in the fan vote.

The NBA has announced the starters for the 2020 All-Star Game and it features a mixture of the expected veterans and some new faces.

The captains are LeBron and Antetokounmpo for the second consecutive year. Next week the All-Star Game reserves will be chosen, then in two weeks the captains will pick their teams. (If you want to know who myself and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports think should be the reserves — and the starters, because we had different choices for the East — check out the latest PBT Podcast where we get into the ASG rosters, as well as Zion Williamson‘s debut.)

The All-Star Game format remains the same as it was the last couple of seasons: The two captains — LeBron and Antetokounmpo — will select their teams playground-style live on a TNT special NBA All-Star Draft Show Feb. 6 (a week before the game). First, they will choose from the pool of starters (listed below) then from the pool of 14 reserves (seven reserves from each conference, selected by the coaches and announced next week).

Here are your All-Star starters, chosen by a combination of fan votes (50 percent of the total), media votes (25 percent) and player votes (25 percent).

WEST
Guard: Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Guard: James Harden (Houston)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (L.A. Lakers)
Frontcourt: Anthony Davis (L.A. Lakers)
Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard (L.A. Clippers)

EAST
Guard: Trae Young (Atlanta)
Guard: Kemba Walker (Boston)
Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Frontcourt: Pascal Siakam (Toronto)
Frontcourt: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

A few notes on these selections:

• The fans voted Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving second among East guards, but he finished sixth in both the media and player ballots, and that dropped him out of a starting spot.

Jimmy Butler was fourth in the fan vote for the frontcourt and third in the media vote, but was not in the top five of the player vote and so he fell behind Siakam for the chance to start.

• LeBron got the most votes of any player, the seventh time he has had that happened.

• When LeBron steps on the court in Chicago it will be his 16th time as an All-Star starter, passing Kobe Bryant for the most in league history.

• Team LeBron is 2-0 in this pick-your-team format and he will be looking to keep a perfect record.

• Doncic and Young give the game two 21-and-under starters. The last time that happened? Back in 1998 with  Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

Damian Lillard was third in guard voting among the fans, players, and media.

Paul George and Nikola Jokic were fourth and fifth among fan and player votes (they flip-flopped positions), but the media had Jokic fourth and Rudy Gobert fifth.

• Here are the voting results in more detail.

Badgered by Shaq, Trae Young says he’ll surpass Stephen Curry as shooter within year

Trae Young and Shaquille O'Neal
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Stephen Curry is the best shooter of all-time.

He’s also 32. Eventually, someone will surpass the Warriors superstar as the NBA’s best current shooter.

Could it be Hawks guard Trae Young, who’s famous for his deep range? Appearing on Shaquille O’Neal’s podcast, Young said he’d top Curry as a shooter within a year.

The context tells a more-complete story, Shaq and co-host John Kincade pressing Young into a meaningless statement:

  • Shaq: “How many years before you overtake Steph Curry as the best shooter in the league? Put you on the spot. Put you on the spot. Let’s go.”
  • Young: [Laughter] “I mean, Steph has done crazy things, crazy numbers.”
  • Kincade: “Yeah, but he’s old as hell, right, though? I mean, c’mon. C’mon”
  • Shaq: “Trae, Trae, Trae.”
  • Kincade: “C’mon, Trae.”
  • Shaq: “Trae, don’t give it that politically correct. One year? Two years? How many years? Say it.”
  • Young: “Ehhh, you – I mean”
  • Shaq: “Say it.”
  • Young: “I don’t know. I don’t know, Shaq. I’m trying to…”
  • Kincade (talking over Young): “C’mon he’s old as hell. Come on, Trae. Say it.”
  • Shaq: “Say it, Trae. Two years? Go ahead and say it, Trae.”
  • Young: “OK. A year.”
  • [Clapping and celebrating by hosts]
  • Young: “That’s just me being, I work too hard.”

Young doesn’t lack confidence when asked even neutral questions. By the time Shaq and Kincade applied their pressure, Young’s response became meaningless. Young clearly didn’t want to say something so bold.

For good reason.

Young shot 36.1 percent on 9.5 3-pointers per game this season, both career highs.

Curry hasn’t take so few 3-pointers per game in five seasons. Aside from his five-game season this year, Curry has never shot below 41.1 percent from beyond hte arc.

Eleven years younger than Curry, Young will probably surpass Curry as a shooter at some point. That could be when Curry enters the twilight of his career with Young in his prime. It might not be until Curry retires. But it’ll probably happen.

It also probably won’t happen soon, as even Young seems to know.

Bookie: Derrick Jones Jr.-Kevin Durant video-game result leaked, tilted betting

Kevin Durant and Derrick Jones Jr.
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Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. beat Nets star Kevin Durant in an NBA video-game tournament.

Their matchup was televised Friday night on ESPN. But Jones said they played and record the game earlier, according to a since-deleted tweet by Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel.

That pre-taping has opened the door to a scandal.

Cool Media PR:

The NBA 2K Players Only Tournament over the weekend caused a headache for sportsbooks because it was pre-taped, and information was ultimately leaked.

“We initially made Durant the favorite to win the tournament, but he was taking very little action over the course of the first 24 hours,” Robert Cooper, Odds Manager at SportsBetting.ag, said. “When we posted the first-round matchup lines and the bets were completely one-sided toward Jones Jr., it became obvious that someone knew the outcome of the game.”

That’s a major allegation.

The NBA is embracing gambling, trying to draw the related revenue while remaining secure. That’s easier said than done, and this episode should serve as a grave warning for the league.

Before going forward, this situation alone is serious. There ought to be major questions facing everyone involved.

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, likely lottery pick, declares for NBA draft

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey
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Kentucky sophomore Ashton Hagans declared for the NBA draft yesterday.

Now comes the main attraction from Lexington.

Tyrese Maxey:

Maxey will likely be a lottery pick, though that requires significant projection to justify.

The guard sometimes looks like a premier scorer. He handles the ball well and create his own shot. He shot well from outside before Kentucky and made 83 percent of his free throws last season. But he connected on just 29 percent of his 3-pointers. That 3-point percentage must – and could – increase majorly in the NBA.

Maxey’s inside game is more advanced. He can change speeds, and his floater is effective.

He’s also a solid defender who plays hard. His approach to the game is commendable – and it has to be. Maxey is not an especially explosive athlete. That gives him a narrow needle to thread as he enters the NBA.

At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Maxey could settle in at either guard position. His potential is highest at point guard, where he’d have the ball in his hands more. But he must distribute better – another skill he showed flashes of but didn’t sustain consistently.

2020 PBT Awards: Rookie of the Year

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson and Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

That Zion somehow lived up to — if not surpassed — his over-the-top hype is “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” stuff. He is (barring injury) going to be the best player out of this class. That, however, is not what Rookie of the Year is based upon, it’s the best rookie of this past season. Morant wins that based on one simple stat: 59 > 19. Or, to use a coaches’ cliché, availability is the greatest ability. Williamson was injured much of the season while Morant averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists a game, turning a team that was expected to be one of the NBA’s worst into a playoff team (as of when play was suspended). Morant is special too, and he had the better season.

Dan Feldman

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Ja Morant is my runaway winner. I want to reward the rookie who produced the most this season. That was clearly Morant, who led the Grizzlies into playoff position – a rarity for a rookie point guard. He was electric. Zion Williamson was even better, but in just 19 games, he didn’t come close to matching the overall contributions of Morant in 59 games.

The actual close race was between Williamson, Nunn and Memphis big Brandon Clarke for the rest of the ballot. Even in his limited availability, Williamson still significantly altered more games than the other two.

Kendrick Nunn gets credit for carrying a much bigger load than Clarke, who was exemplary in his more-limited role.

Keith Smith

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Had Zion Williamson been able to play the rest of the season, and if he dragged New Orleans past Memphis and into in the playoffs, I may have given him the nod. As it stands, it’s Ja Morant’s award to win. Not only was his play terrific all season, but he had Memphis as the surprise of the year. No one had the Grizzlies as a playoff team, and when the season was suspended, they had a 3.5 game lead. A lot of that is owed to Morant. Kendrick Nunn is a distant third, but his first year in the NBA has been one of the biggest surprises in recent memory for a single player. A G League player who had to scrap his way into the league and a full-time starter, Nunn earned this third-place finish.