Editor's note: All statistics and rankings are through Tuesday, Feb. 5.
With the first pick of the 2019 NBA All-Star Draft, Team LeBron selects …
Wait. Hold on. As delicious as that sounds, that dramatic moment can’t happen during Thursday night’s first televised All-Star draft on TNT. James does have the first overall pick, but he must first select from a pool of starters as selected by the league’s weighted voting rubric. Sadly, that list of names does not include Davis, who -- don’t know if you’ve heard -- has reportedly named the Lakers as his top trade destination.
As we watch the All-Star draft proceedings for the first time, it prompts the question: What would the best All-Star lineup look like? If you could put together any group of five players, regardless of their starter or reserve designation, to take on the 2019 version of the Monstars, which quintet would you pick?
This isn’t just a grouping of the best players. We’re looking for players that would make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Talent matters, but so do fit and position.
Where do we begin? To me, the fulcrum has to be LeBron James, a skeleton key personified. He’s the top All-Star vote-getter for a reason. He’s also someone who has repeatedly lifted his game to match the occasion (or coasts during the regular season, depending on how you look at it). He averaged an astounding 34 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists last postseason, raising his PER for the third straight year from regular season to postseason. Something tells me All-Star LeBron exists in a level above Regular Season LeBron.
So who would you pair with James? Contrary to the Lakers’ roster makeup, James thrives with spacers, not playmakers. I want everyone around James to be a live shooter. Last season in Cleveland, James’ best partner by plus-minus was a 37-year-old role player by the name of Kyle Korver. Together, those Cavs lineups outscored opponents by a mind-numbing 259 points in 952 minutes. Why? Because Korver can shoot the lights out. And when he’s not draining 3s, he pulls the defense away from James.
This is why playing a non-threat from beyond the arc like Brandon Ingram (29.2 percent from 3-point land this season) gums up a James-led offense. This season, the Lakers score 104.2 points per 100 possessions with Ingram and James on the floor, but that shoots up to 108.5 points per 100 possessions when James goes without Ingram, per NBA.com stats. It’s also not a coincidence that the most successful James-led trio this season includes two willing shooters -- Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
To maximize James, I’m going with Stephen Curry to man the point guard slot. With James on the squad, I don’t need another ball-dominant dribbler like Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Kawhi Leonard. Curry is the best shooter of all time and currently leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot 3-pointers made. Entering play Wednesday night, Curry was shooting 45.9 percent on those 3-point attempts, which is the equivalent of shooting 68.9 percent on a 2-point shot. That’s unfair.
Now, Curry needs to supplemented with an elite wing defender. Klay Thompson would normally fill those shoes, but after a down shooting season, he’s no longer the cream of the crop. Paul George has supplanted him and Leonard as the NBA’s premier two-way wing player. George leads all players in steals per game and loose balls recovered and is second in deflections, through Tuesday's games.
George is my stopper who happens to average 27.8 points on the offensive end. But who mans the center spot? In December, James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that playing with Davis in a Lakers uniform “would be amazing, like, duh.” And he’s right. As I outlined in this week’s Big Number, Davis would represent the best player that James has ever played with. His player efficiency rating is 30.9, better than any of his past co-stars -- Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh or Kevin Love -- before they joined forces with James.
From a skills perspective, Davis is a tailor-made to be at the right hand of the King. Ideally, you’d want a center who can shoot off the pass, defend the rim at a high level and cover tons of ground. That’s Davis in a nutshell.
This season, Davis is shooting 38-of-103 (36.9 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, which is superior to both Joel Embiid (31.2 percent) and Nikola Jokic (30.6 percent entering play Wednesday). Karl-Anthony Towns actually may be the best big shooter of the lot, but defensively, he’s outclassed by Davis. Pull up ESPN’s real plus-minus metric, which estimates a player’s on-court impact, and you’ll find Davis as a top-15 defender league-wide, whereas, through Tuesday's action, Towns isn’t among the top 75. Towns has been better this season, but I’ll still take the other Kentucky Wildcat big.
Deciding between Embiid and Davis for this spot is a coin flip. Embiid holds the edge as a rim protector and embraces being the big man, which is no small thing for a James-led team. But Davis offers more switchability in an outside-in league and creates more havoc in passing lanes with his go-go-gadget arms. This season, entering play Wednesday, Davis ranked ninth in deflections per game, fifth in loose balls recovered and first in blocks per game. Oh, and he averages 29.3 points per game on the other end.
With James and Davis holding down the frontcourt (settle down, Lakers fans), I’m on the lookout for another versatile scorer who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to get 40 points. Kevin Durant is my pick. He’s the best mid-range shooter in the NBA, nailing 51 percent in that zone through Tuesday's action, per NBA.com and he can play like a 7-footer on the other end. One underrated Durant skill: He’s dishing out a career-high six dimes per game through Tuesday night. Could you get a pass through a web of George, Durant, James and Davis? Good luck.
So, there you have it: Curry, George, Durant, James and Davis. That’s my pick. Will we see it on Sunday night? If Giannis Antetokounmpo picks Davis with his first pick of the reserves, I riot.