BOSTON -- The NBA opened up the voting for this season’s All-Star game on Christmas, and there’s no shortage of strong contenders in both Conferences.
The Boston Celtics went into the season as a team that many felt could potentially have as many as four All-Stars.
But with about one-third of the season in the books for most teams, the Celtics are on track to have just one representative (Kyrie Irving).
However if the wins continue to pile up for Boston, don’t be surprised if second-year forward Jayson Tatum’s All-Star campaign begins to gain some momentum.
Here’s a look at what should be the starting five for this season’s All-Star game, a list that will change as we get closer to the game itself.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: On just about everyone’s short list for league MVP, Antetokounmpo has been a dominant player in just about every statistical category that matters. And the Bucks have one of the best records in the NBA, a key factor in any MVP campaign particuarly when you’re like Antetokounmpo who stars in one of the NBA’s smaller markets. He is one of the few no-brainer All-Stars this season.
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Kawhi Leonard, Toronto: Similar to Antetokounmpo, Leonard has also been a big winner statistically this season and in terms of wins with the Raptors spending most of this season with the best overall record in the NBA. Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the NBA with the ability to dominate a matchup at both ends of the floor. And with him playing in Toronto, he has the draw potential of both US markets as well as Canada which should be enough to get him voted in as a starter.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: It really isn’t close when it comes to who the top center in the Eastern Conference is this season. Embiid has the strength and power to get to where he wants to, and if you leave him open from behind the 3-point line he has the potential to hurt you there as well. Combine his talent with a strong social media game, and Embiid as an All-Star starter is a given at this point.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte: Every year there are players who have All-Star worthy seasons but don’t get selected. Walker has been there, done that before. But it ain’t happening this year. He has been one of the top two or three producing guards all season and that consistency should be rewarded with another All-Star nod. And with the game being in Charlotte, there's a high probability that if he's not voted in by fans, the NBA coaches will select him as a reserve. The key for him at this point, is to keep the Hornets in the playoff hunt-- which is easier said than done.
Kyrie Irving, Boston: His numbers are similar to those posted by Walker, but that’s not why Irving should be a starter. Simply put, he’s the most dynamic guard in the Eastern Conference and is on the short list of those worthy of consideration for being the best guard in the NBA.
I love the job that Kyle Lowry has done in Toronto, averaging a near double-double with 14.4 points and 9.8 assists per game.
But Irving’s attention-grabbing style of play, coupled with the fact that he’s averaging nearly 10 more points per game than Lowry and about three assists less per game, is why I give him the slight nod over Lowry.
All-Star reserves: Kyle Lowry, Toronto; Victor Oladipo, Indiana; Khris Middleton, Milwaukee; Ben Simmons, Philadelphia; Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia; Blake Griffin, Detroit; Serge Ibaka, Toronto.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers: East coast, West coast. It doesn’t matter. LeBron James is still LeBron James. And that dude, even on the cusp of his 34th birthday, is still one of the best players in the game and certainly one of the greatest to ever play in the league.
Kevin Durant, Golden State: Despite the Warriors not being nearly as dominant as we’ve seen them in past years, Durant remains a show-stopper and on most nights a mismatch waiting to be exploited. He’ll be playing in his 10th All-Star Game and even with the arrival of James from the Eastern Conference, Durant is still likely to be a starter.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans: Even as the New Orleans Pelicans sink in the West (and increase the chances of Davis wanting to leave), he still produces at a ridiculously high level as one of the best all-around players in the NBA which makes him another no-brainer as an All-Star starter.
James Harden, Oklahoma City: The Beard continues to get buckets at a sick clip, and now he’s getting it done on the glass which only enhances his overall impact on the game as one of the league’s brightest stars.
Stephen Curry, Golden State: The former two-time league MVP is having another banner season statistically even if the wins aren’t piling up quite as bountiful as we’ve seen from the Warriors in recent years.
All-Star reserves: Paul George, Oklahoma City; Klay Thompson, Golden State; Nikola Jokic, Denver; Damian Lillard, Portland; Mike Conley, Memphis; Devin Booker, Phoenix; Rudy Gobert, Utah.