LeBron James leads NBA in All-Star voting, ties Michael Jordan’s record

LeBron James with fans at 2020 NBA All-Star - Practice & Media Day
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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LeBron James missed the All-Star game as a rookie in 2004.

Starter-choosing fans voted him fourth at Eastern Conference guard – yes, guard – behind Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd. East coaches chose Kidd, Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Michael Redd as reserve guards. Asked about hypothetically going as an injury replacement (that was never needed), LeBron disapproved.

“I wasn’t part of the ones that they picked at first, so I wouldn’t even like to be a part of the team if somebody didn’t go,” LeBron said. “I’m an only child and I never want to be picked second. I don’t come second.”

LeBron has frequently been picked first since.

Fans have voted him an All-Star starter the other 18 years of his career – half the time, including this year, with more votes than anyone else. LeBron ties Michael Jordan for most years leading the NBA in All-Star voting, nine.

That’s more than twice as often as anyone else. Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Julius Erving each led the league in fan voting four times.

LeBron has led the NBA in All-Star voting six straight seasons, a streak that covers the five years of All-Star drafts. The other captain is again Nets forward Kevin Durant, who led the East in fan votes but will miss the All-Star game due to injury for the second straight year. (LeBron’s injury sounds less serious.)

The 2022 NBA All-Star starters:

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

All-Star selections, not starts, get remembered. Which puts the microscope on Wiggins. He’s the only starter who might not have made the game as a reserve.

By the time the Warriors acquired him from the Timberwolves two years ago, the former No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year on a max contact was considered a massive disappointment. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Wiggins could thrive with the Warriors because “we’re not asking him to be a star.”

Well, Wiggins became a star anyway in Golden State by handling his duties in a smaller role and picking the right year to shine.

The Western Conference frontcourt race was wide open with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George injured. Wiggins finished third at the position in fan voting, which counts double the other categories. Media and players both ranked Warriors forward Draymond Green and Jazz center Rudy Gobert ahead of Wiggins. The media had Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns ahead, too.

With Wiggins in, everyone who was seriously in the running to start will likely make the All-Star game regardless.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine and Nets guard James Harden will probably get named reserves by Eastern Conference coaches. Ditto Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Warriors forward Draymond Green, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and Jazz center Rudy Gobert by Western Conference coaches.

Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell are also approaching lock status as reserves.

That’d fill the West roster before even getting to challengers like Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lakers big Anthony Davis, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Suns center Deandre Ayton, Mavericks big Kristaps Porzingis, Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards, Grizzlies wing Desmond Bane and Clippers wing Paul George (who more likely would have been picked if not injured). Some of those players had better cases than Wiggins.

Durant’s injury opens the door for an extra East reserve – helpful, considering the conference’s depth of viable selections.

Beyond LaVine and Harden, Heat wing Jimmy Butler is closest to a lock as a reserve. But that should have been the case last year, and Butler wasn’t selected.

Most of the East’s top reserve candidates are guards: LaVine, Harden, Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, Cavaliers’ Darius Garland and Hornets’ LaMelo Ball. The pool is so deep, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Heat’s Kyle Lowry are barely even mentioned, though they could draw a little consideration. Unless coaches skew the league’s position designations – very possible – or other injuries open more slots, just five of those guards can make it (and it would have been only four if Durant didn’t get hurt).

The bar is lower in the frontcourt with three spots for Butler, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, Pacers big Domantas Sabonis, Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Hawks big John Collins, Heat big Bam Adebayo, Hornets forward Miles Bridges or Hawks center Clint Capela. Unless any guards who can be considered forwards and take a frontcourt spot.

Who should make it as reserves in both conferences? We covered that here.

The reserves will be announced next Thursday (Feb. 3). Then, the All-Star draft will be held the following Thursday (Feb. 10).

LeBron – whose team has won all four All-Star games with captain-picked rosters – will again have the No. 1 pick in the All-Star draft as the overall fan-vote leader. He has said fans voting him into the game has motivated him to compete harder in the exhibition (last year excepted).

Still going strong, LeBron first led the NBA in All-Star voting in 2007. He narrowly topped Yao Ming, who was right in the middle of his NBA career and is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“That’s something I’ve never dreamed of,” LeBron said  of his fan-voting title at the time. “I’ve always wanted to be an All-Star, but being the leading vote-getter over guys like Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson, you never think that’s going to happen. Just getting the opportunity to be the leading vote-getter is kind of unbelievable.”

All these years later, it’s no longer so unbelievable.

It has become the norm.

Five players poised to make first NBA All-Star game this season

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Who is ready to make the leap?

Every season there are players on the cusp of becoming an All-Star — not only has their game improved to be one of the top 24 players in the league, but their stature has risen to the point fans (voting for the starters) or coaches (voting for the reserves) want to see them in the game.

Here are five players on the cusp of making that leap and getting the chance to suit up in Salt Lake City this February for their first All-Star Game.

1. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

He was the centerpiece headed to Indiana in the trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento — and a lot of executives around the league were shocked the Kings gave him up. After the trade, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists a game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage — and this season he’s going to be asked to do even more on a team that is rebuilding (but still has Myles Turner and Buddy Hield on the roster… what exactly is Indiana doing?).

The Pacers will take a step back this season (which doesn’t help his All-Star chances) but Haliburton himself will be unleashed. He will draw the attention of fans and opposing defenses — coaches know and like his game, which is why he stands a good chance to be an East All-Star reserve this season.

2. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Edwards has made the leap in popularity and stature — he is trash-talking Kermit in Adam Sandler’s Hustle — and he probably should have been an All-Star last season averaging 21.3 points a game.

Edwards has the explosive, highlight-factory game and has the big personality fans love (although his homophobic social media post over the summer does not help his cause). He will be in the spotlight more on an improved Timberwolves team — he will be the outside to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert inside — that should be in the mix for the playoffs in the West. Anthony Edwards has a lot of All-Star Games in his future, this season should be his first.

3. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

As a rookie, Mobley was already a top-flight defensive big man who averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game — and he came back this season stronger and ready to make a leap on the offensive end. He finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year voting and took that personally, hitting the gym hard and coming out with a chip on his shoulder this season. He flashed potential last season with the ball in his hands, a guy who could beat his man and be a playmaker. Expect to see more of that, more of Mobley out on the perimeter as a creator this season (maybe even grabbing the board and bringing the ball up in transition himself).

He’s going to get noticed on a Cavaliers team with an All-Star backcourt of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, and if he has added to his game this year it’s Mobley’s turn.

4. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Maxey got thrust into the starting point guard role last season when Ben Simmons never suited up for the 76ers (and played like the guy the 76ers hoped Markelle Fultz would be). Then he thrived after the trade, working a little more off-ball and being a secondary shot creator off James Harden. Maxey averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 assists a game last season, and he is in a position to have those numbers jump again this season.

Maxey is quick with the ball and can get downhill, with the skill set to finish at the rim or pull up and nail the jumper. He shot 42% from 3 last season, although that may be unsustainable (he can shoot, but over 40% every year may be a big ask). Maxey is adding to that game on the court, but it’s his maturity and decision-making — this is his third year in the league — where the biggest leaps are coming.

The 76ers are going to be in the spotlight a lot and should win a lot of regular season games, and with Maxey shining in that light, the All-Star game is a real possibility.

5. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)

Brunson burst out of Luka Doncic’s shadow last season in Dallas and averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game last season — now he’s going to have the ball in his hands every night on the biggest stage in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau will hand Brunson the keys to the Knicks offense, which means the guard’s counting stats should climb — and with that his All-Star chances go up.

There are questions about how the Knicks’ offense will fit together with Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, but Brunson is going to get the chance to prove he can be a No.1 guard. In that spotlight, a trip to Salt Lake City is in the offing.

Steve Nash on Ben Simmons: ‘I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot’

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The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.

Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”

In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.

Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.

Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.

There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.