Three Things to Know: Who should be All-Star Game starters?

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets
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1) Who should be All-Star Game starters?

The brilliant Tom Ziller (why have you not subscribed to his Good Morning Basketball substack yet?) yesterday touched on a topic I had spent too much of last weekend thinking about:

Who is going to make the All-Star rosters this year?

It’s an odd year with some aging stars not playing up to their expected levels and a growing group of rising stars knocking down the door to take their place, all mixed with COVID forcing players to miss time. That combination makes this the most challenging year in memory to pick who should be on the court in Cleveland come Feb. 20 (that’s where the game is this year, if you didn’t know).

All-Star voting is open now for the starters in each conference (two backcourt players, three frontcourt players). Fan votes — through NBA.com, the NBA app, and Twitter — account for 50% of the ballots, another 25% is from the votes of the players themselves, and another 25% to select media (I am fortunate to be one of those media members, which is what started me thinking about it). Those 10 starters are thrown into a pool and chosen into teams by the two captains (the highest vote-getters from fans). The coaches pick the seven reserves from each conference (those reserves also go into a pool to be selected playground-style by the captains).

Here’s where I stand on starters as of today, but my mind could change over the coming weeks before a ballot is cast. I should add, my philosophy is I want to see the best players in this exhibition game and I weigh that, how this season started, and what happened in last year’s playoffs into the mix. I think the idea of picking the All-Stars based solely on less than three months of the most meaningless part of the regular season would be idiotic.

EAST
Trae Young
DeMar DeRozan
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kevin Durant
Joel Embiid

That starting frontcourt three is a lock (with all due respect to Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, and whoever else you want to consider). Young is also a lock at guard, but I could go with DeRozan or James Harden in the other backcourt spot. That is still up in the air for me, both of those players are red hot right now (except for Harden on Monday). Zach LaVine should be a lock to make the team and deserves starter consideration. The coaches have the hard cuts, because after those four guards you can only take one or two more backcourt players from Jrue Holiday, Darius Garland, and LaMelo Ball (and Ziller makes a good point that Fred VanVleet deserves to be in consideration as well, and maybe Cole Anthony).

WEST
Stephen Curry
Donovan Mitchell
Draymond Green
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic

Three of these players are locks (and would be on my five-man MVP ballot today): Curry, Jokic and LeBron. After that, it gets much more challenging. For the open frontcourt spot, Rudy Gobert has a legit case to start, while Paul George would have been hard to keep off before his injury. But for my money, Green has been the best of the lot and deserves the spot, his play on both ends being critical to the best team in the NBA right now. Luka Doncic — who absolutely should make the team — can be listed as a frontcourt player on the reserves next to Gobert and maybe Karl-Anthony Towns (he’s on the bubble, as is Brandon Ingram), freeing up a spot on the crowded backcourt.

Between his play this season and the step forward he has taken — not to mention last season’s playoffs — I lean toward Mitchell starting. For now. Chris Paul and Devin Booker are both close behind, I could change my mind, and the Suns’ starting backcourt should/will make the team. That would leave just two guard spots and the coaches will have to choose them from among Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Dejounte Murray and CJ McCollum. (I think Morant should be a lock for the reserves, but will the coaches see it that way?)

With a few weeks to go, all this is subject to change. But that’s where I am leaning.

2) Trae Young drops a season-high 56 (and it’s still not enough to win)

Most games, the big headline would be the Trail Blazers’ Anfernee Simons putting up a career-high 43 points, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a win to snap a four-game losing streak, and then getting understandably emotional after the game.

But even in a loss, Trae Young’s 56 points overshadowed it. That’s the most any NBA player has scored in a game this season.

Young shot 17-of-26 overall and 7-of-12 from 3-point range (plus he got to the line 15 times and didn’t miss). Young added 14 assists. According to the Hawks, Young had the first 50+ point, 14+ assist game since James Harden on the Rockets back on Dec. 31, 2016.

The previous season-high had been Kevin Durant’s 51-point game at Detroit last month.

3) Jimmy Butler had to be helped off court, did not return against Warriors

Hopefully this is nothing serious.

Jimmy Butler went down with what the Heat called a right ankle injury, and he had to be helped off the court against the Warriors Tuesday night. He did not return.

Butler was trying to drive around Juan Toscano-Anderson, his left foot slipped, and as he fell there was an awkward plant of his right foot. Butler, of course, thought it was nothing later but the Heat are going to wait and do something crazy like wait for their medical staff to make the call.

Miami has survived a rash of injuries this season — Bam Adebayo is still out with a thumb injury — and players being sidelined by COVID. Butler missed 15 games this season. That the Heat have kept winning and are fourth in the East is a credit to their culture. Butler is the Heat’s leading scorer at 23.2 points per game,

Golden State came away with the 115-108 victory in this game. And they may get Klay Thompson back on Saturday.

Highlight of the night: Ja Morant coast-to-coast for the slam

Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the league for my money, and he continues to live up to that reputation. He did it with a coast-to-coast slam against the Nets Monday.

Morant finished with 36, Desmond Bane had 29, and the Grizzlies won their fifth in a row with an upset of the Nets, 118-104.

If you thought Kevin Durant was frustrated after the last Nets loss, how is he now? But the Nets’ stars were not good enough Monday. Durant and Harden combined for 45 points, but on 13-of-38 shooting.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 133, Houston 113
Washington 124, Charlotte 121
Memphis 118, Brooklyn 104
Chicago 102, Orlando 98
Detroit 115, Milwaukee 106
Utah 115, New Orleans 104
Dallas 103, Denver 89
Golden State 115, Miami 108
Portland 136, Atlanta 131
Minnesota 122, LA Clippers 104