Let the debates commence.
The 2023 NBA All-Star Game captains and starters have been announced, and most of it aligned properly.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are once again captains and will go head to head as they did in 2019 and 2020, with Team LeBron emerging victorious twice.
Then came the news of the starters, with the reserves to be announced next Thursday. The eight players who will be picked first in the live All-Star draft before the game tips off on Sunday, Feb. 19 are as follows: Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Nikola Jokic, Donovan Mitchell, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant.
Let’s analyze some winners and losers from the announcement, beginning with the latter:
Loser: Joel Embiid
One fanbase was going to come out hurt from the Eastern Conference frontcourt debate. That fanbase resulted in the Philadelphia 76ers. Out of an elite class comprising Antetokounmpo, Durant, Tatum and Joel Embiid, someone was bound to miss the cut.
That, unfortunately, became Embiid. Make no mistake about it: Embiid is a sensational player who will be one of the first reserves named to the game. But in this sense, he falls into this category. The do-it-all big man has averaged a whopping 33.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.1 steals on a 53/35/86 shooting split, but he couldn’t overcome the other three stars.
Voting results released by the NBA showed that Embiid was right behind Tatum, with the votes tabulated by fans, players and media members. Not placing first or second in any of those three hampered his weighted score.
Winner: Zion Williamson
The most controversial selection from the Western Conference involved Zion Williamson. The New Orleans Pelicans star has missed 29 of a possible 49 games due to various injuries, but that number will increase as the team will reevaluate his current hamstring situation in two weeks.
Williamson’s individual numbers are great: 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals and a 61/37/71 shooting split. No one will debate his statistics warranting a spot on the squad, but the injuries/missed games and the Pelicans’ ability to win without him make it a puzzling selection.
If he would’ve played at least 40 games thus far and sustained those numbers, it wouldn’t be a topic. But because he hasn’t and there were other more worthy selections, it comes into the spotlight, which leads us to the next loser.
Loser: Domantas Sabonis
Williamson finished in third in the Western Conference frontcourt in overall weighted score of the three sections of voting, but someone who arguably deserved it more came a few spots under: Domantas Sabonis.
The Sacramento Kings big man has been a crucial member of the renaissance transpiring in Northern California, as the team, which hasn’t made the playoffs in 16 years, are currently the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Sabonis has averages of 18.4 points, a league-leading 12.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 0.8 steals on a 61/37/75 shooting split.
Sabonis finished six among frontcourt options, behind Anthony Davis and Lauri Markkanen. Davis has played just 26 games this season while Markkanen’s Jazz aren’t as strong and consistent as Sacramento. Sabonis’ downfall was the fan voting, as his ninth-ranked placement saw him plummet.
He should qualify as a reserve, but the Kings’ hot start deserved better recognition. Not to mention, he forgwent surgery on a fractured thumb to avoid a long-term absence.
Winner: Kyrie Irving
Irving had a turbulent first few months of the season with the Brooklyn Nets. He’s had bouts with the media, been suspended for failing to disavow anti-Semitism, defied former head coach Steve Nash and got his sneaker deal cut by Nike.
He’s since returned and featured in 36 games, posting averages of 26.8 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals and a 49/37/90 shooting split, but the early-season issues seem to have been buried under the rug.
Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown and Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton would’ve been two solid options instead of Irving, but finishing first in both the player and fan rank bolstered the Duke product.
Loser: Rocky Mountains
Along with the starters and captains, the jerseys for the game were also revealed. Despite the game being hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah, the only thing the design was evocative of was the Jazz’s bright orange and yellow jerseys.
It feels like a missed opportunity to not have any designs similar to Utah’s vintage purple Rocky Mountains look. Opting instead for the modern-day appeal just doesn’t hit the same. Hopefully the game itself provides enough quality moments to let the jerseys slide.