NBA All-Star rosters: Giannis Antetokounmpo's hilarious reason for picking Kemba Walker over ex-MVP

NBA All-Star rosters: Giannis Antetokounmpo's hilarious reason for picking Kemba Walker over ex-MVP

The pool of players for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game was finalized last week, and on Thursday night, team captains Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James did a fantasy draft to create two rosters for the league's midseason showcase in Chicago.

Antetokounmpo's third pick, which was a starting lineup spot, came down to Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker. The Milwaukee Bucks superstar eventually settled on Walker, and he had a hilarious reason for why.

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Antetokounmpo does make a good point.

While Harden is capable of racking up assists, he's definitely a shoot-first player, but in fairness, he's won an MVP playing that kind of style. Walker is a really impressive scorer, but he's also a willing playmaker, and anyone who's watched the Celtics this season knows that the veteran guard has no problem feeding his teammates the ball when they're in a groove. Walker's style would be more fun to play with in an All-Star Game setting.

Antetokounmpo made the right choice between Walker and Harden, but plenty of his other picks deserve criticism. If you look at how the two rosters turned out, a strong argument can be made that James has the better overall team.

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game will be played Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.

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Celtics-Bucks Takeaways: Kemba Walker powers C's as others come up short

Celtics-Bucks Takeaways: Kemba Walker powers C's as others come up short

Following Wednesday night’s home loss to the Detroit Pistons, there was a lot of talk among the Celtics players about the need to bring forth better effort against Milwaukee. 

While the effort was indeed better against the Bucks, the Celtics once again came up short in Thursday’s 128-123 loss to Milwaukee. 

Boston trailed by as many as 27 points, only to be within two possessions (127-121) with 51.1 seconds to play.

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On the ensuing Celtics possession, Boston inched closer following a Jayson Tatum dunk. 

Marcus Smart would force a turnover, but his 3-point shot moments later was off the mark which all but sealed the Celtics’ fate in their fifth loss in  their last seven games. 

The Celtics are too good to get caught up in moral victories. 

But clawing back from such a huge deficit on the road against the best team in the NBA, certainly has to be seen as one of the positives that Boston will take away from Thursday’s loss.

KEMBA WALKER

He was pretty hard on himself following the loss to Detroit on Wednesday, letting everyone know that he has to play better in order for the Celtics to be the best version of itself going forward. 

Walker was all that and then some for Boston against the Bucks, finishing with a game-high 40 points on 14-for-23 shooting in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds for his second double-double this season.

It was the kind of performance that the Celtics were hoping would set a tone that others would follow. 

But for most of Thursday’s game, Walker had very little support offensively from his teammates. 

So as much as Walker will feel as though he could have done more to help the team win, that’s just not true. 

He did exactly what the best player on the floor is supposed to do in games against the best of the best. 

But far too many of his teammates struggled at both ends of the floor which can’t happen on the road against an elite team such as the Bucks.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO

His numbers to the surprise of no one, were impressive as he finished with a monster double-double of 32 points and 17 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists and blocking a couple shots. 

But what really stood out about Antetokounmpo’s play against the Celtics was the ability he has shown to pick his spots when to be uber-aggressive and when to keep the ball moving and find one of the bevvy of shooters he’s usually surrounded by when he’s on the floor. 

He’s the league’s reigning MVP and the more you watch him play, the clearer it becomes that as good as he was a year ago, he has made significant strides in his play. 

Much of the focus will center on how he’s shooting the 3-point shot better. But the real area of growth in his game, is the feel he has for how to play. 

And that’s why the Celtics, the Miami Heat, Philly … any team they face in the East will have their hands full against a Milwaukee team which is led by the best player on the planet right now who is only getting better with time. 

ROLE PLAYERS’ IMPACT

As good as Giannis Antetokounmpo was on Thursday, the players surrounding him were just as impressive. 

Donte DiVencenzo had a career-high 19 points off the bench while Khris Middleton (23 points), Brook Lopez (16 points) and George Hill off the bench (12 points) were solid as well. 

But what makes this Milwaukee team so special is that in addition to scoring from lots of different players, they also defend at an elite level. 

Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum both struggled mightily when it came to making shots, and the Bucks defense had a lot to do with that. 

Because of Antetokounmpo’s status as one of the NBA’s best players, the play of those around him gets very little fanfare. 

But make no mistake about it. 

The Bucks are indeed a championship-caliber team with the kind of depth that causes problems for most teams, the Celtics included.

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Celtics' Marcus Smart gets praise from Gary Payton, a shirtless early exit and prepares for Giannis

Celtics' Marcus Smart gets praise from Gary Payton, a shirtless early exit and prepares for Giannis

BOSTON — Marcus Smart’s night ended Wednesday with him stomping shirtless to the Boston Celtics’ locker room. Smart had earned his second technical foul — and an early exit — after unloading some frustration in the direction of referee Leroy Richardson late in the fourth quarter of Boston’s unsightly loss to the Detroit Pistons. 

Smart peeled off his jersey on his way off the court in one final show of exasperation.

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But, a few hours earlier, he was all smiles when a reporter asked about his recent chat with Hall of Famer Gary Payton, who had professed his love for Smart’s game and given him The Glove’s seal of defensive approval.

Smart, in his quest to further muscle his way into Defensive Player of the Year consideration, now has the support of the last guard to win the honor nearly a quarter-century ago.

"That means a lot. Just being a defensive guard and really trying to change that stigma of guards don’t win the Defensive Player of the Year, or even in talks and contention of it,” said Smart. "He’s done it. And [Payton is] one of the greatest to do it. He really opened the door for guards to really really make a name for ourselves on the defensive end.”

Smart made an appearance on Yahoo! Sports’ “The Bounce” program earlier this week where Payton was a panelist and showered Smart with praise.

"It means everything. I think that it shows my hard work is paying off,” said Smart. "That my hard work isn’t going unnoticed. And, for a person of his caliber, his talent, and his reputation to really really acknowledge you as one of the greatest defenders in this era, and to really be on that platform, says a lot because he’s done it, he knows what it takes. 

"He’s one of the greatest to ever do it. It’s a big, BIG big confidence booster.”

On the show, Payton told Smart, "Young fella, I love you. You play both ends of the floor, man. You remind me of myself a lot.” Later Payton added: "You go and take over. You go and be the one to take over and say, 'I'm going to get everybody motivated every time.' Because you've got it in you, you've got the dog in you, you'll get them over the top.”

Smart earned his first All-Defense first-team honor last season and was the top vote-getter among guards in Defensive Player of the Year balloting, but finished a distant eighth overall.

With the Celtics owning the fourth-best defensive rating at midseason, often leaning on undersized Smart to help patch the voids left by the departures of defensive-minded big men Al Horford and Aron Baynes, Smart and his teammates have stumped for him to earn consideration for the NBA’s top defensive honor. 

How exactly can Smart get voters to consider something other than a traditional big man?

"Just gotta keep being me,” said Smart. "Unfortunately, a lot of those polls are popularity contests and I’m not the most popular guy — which is fine with me — but the numbers don’t lie. The impact that I make, doesn’t lie. And the things that I do don’t lie.

"Hopefully we look at the basketball aspects of it, what I really bring to the table and not just the popularity of it.”

Wednesday’s game against Detroit isn’t likely to end up on Smart’s DPOY candidate reel. The Pistons shot 60.3 percent overall and Derrick Rose routinely scorched Boston (even when Smart was practically inside his jersey).

Smart entered the game limiting opponents to 40.1 percent shooting overall, or 4.2 percent below their season average. Considering the caliber of opponent Smart is typically tasked with defending, that’s a staggering number and one of the best on the team (particularly among high-volume regulars).

Smart’s next challenge: Help corral the league MVP when the Celtics visit Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Thursday night. In typical Smart fashion, he’s eager for the opportunity.

In the first meeting between the Celtics and Bucks, Smart defended Antetokounmpo for a team-high 4:31 of matchup time. Smart limited the Greek Freak to five points on 1-for-2 shooting. Smart committed two shooting fouls but also forced three turnovers. Against all other Celtics defenders, Antetokounmpo went 7-for-11 shooting for 17 points with only one turnover.

What’s the secret for Smart, who gives up 8 inches in that matchup with Antetokounmpo?

"For me, it’s just you can’t get tired. Your motor has to be going all night,” said Smart. "When everybody else is tired you have to be the one that keeps going.  Energizer bunny. And you have to try to wear him down as much as you can.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens hasn’t been bashful about putting Smart on Antetokounmpo. And he’s not the only one. In Smart's  Team USA’s stint at the FIBA tournament in China this past summer, coach Gregg Popovich did the same.

Said Smart: “Pop was like, ‘You’re one of our best shots to guard Giannis. Do what you do.’”

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It’s likely Stevens will give him a similar pep talk on Thursday. And Smart is hoping its Antetokounmpo that leaves the court as mad as Smart did on Wednesday night.

It would certainly go a long way towards bolstering his case for that Defensive Player of the Year honor and making more than just Payton take notice of what he’s doing on the defensive end.

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