Hours ahead of the moment of truth, Joel Embiid's All-Star chances still seem about 50-50.
The All-Star Game reserves will be announced tonight at 7 ET on TNT, with seven players coming out of each conference. Two of the reserves have to be guards, three must be frontcourt players and the remaining two are wild cards (any position). The vote is on the coaches in each conference.
As a reminder, the Eastern Conference All-Star starters are Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.
Two of the remaining seven spots on the East's All-Star squad must be guards, so you're likely looking at Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry there.
John Wall and Kemba Walker are also deserving and could take up one or both of those wild-card spots.
For the three frontcourt reserves, Paul George and Kevin Love seem to be locks. That leaves three spots — one frontcourt vacancy, plus the two wild cards.
The top candidates for those three remaining spots: Embiid, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Kristaps Porzingis, Wall, Walker, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Bradley Beal.
Nine guys, three spots.
Wall and Walker have made enough of an impact for their teams — both of which are in playoff position — that they'll probably secure those two wild-card spots. (Wall is reportedly in as a reserve.)
That leaves seven guys for one spot: Embiid, Millsap, Whiteside, Porzingis, Drummond and Howard.
Based strictly on stats, you could argue Embiid has the advantage on all of them. Embiid's PER (player efficiency rating) is 24.05, sixth-best in the Eastern Conference behind only Giannis, Thomas, Butler, LeBron and DeRozan.
Howard is ninth in PER, Whiteside is 16th, Drummond 17th, Millsap 32nd and Porzingis 36th.
Embiid is averaging more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks than Porzingis despite playing eight fewer minutes per game. It would be pretty difficult to put Porzingis in ahead of him.
Drummond and Whiteside are each having great seasons — Drummond is averaging 14.2 points and 13.5 rebounds, Whiteside is averaging 16.9 and 13.9.
Both clean up the glass and protect the rim. Neither is as much of an all-around force as Embiid. Neither has the array of low-post moves, the range or the shooting touch of Embiid.
Then there's Millsap, the steady, consistent, modern stretch-four. He's made three straight All-Star Games, and this year he's scoring more than he did in each of those seasons.
This passage from ESPN's Zach Lowe perfectly describes the Embiid vs. Millsap conundrum:
"I've been polling team executives on Embiid's candidacy for the last week, and the response of one Embiid supporter stood out," Lowe wrote. "He lobbied for Embiid over Millsap largely because Embiid would be more fun. Millsap's game is all subtle positioning, canny passing, and laborious drives to the rim. There is no room for subtlety in the All-Star Game, this person reasoned.
"And then he concluded: 'I realize that's not really fair to Paul Millsap.'
"Bingo. The All-Star Game would be more fun with Embiid! His selection would mean so much to Philly fans who have waited so long for The Process to produce something real. All of that makes sense."
Indeed it does, and the NBA All-Star Game is a showcase, an exhibition featuring the most talented (and usually the most popular) players.
Thanks to Twitter and Instagram, Embiid has already become one of the NBA's most popular players. And I mean, really, how many porn stars has Millsap insulted on social media?
The game doesn't determine home-court advantage in the Finals. It doesn't have any tangible impact on anything. Even the bragging rights aren't all that important ... if pressed, could you confidently say who won the last three All-Star Games? The West won 196-173 last year ... that should tell you all you need to know about how competitive the majority of these games are.
With or without you
You already know the factors that could push Embiid below the Millsaps of the world. Embiid doesn't play every game. He misses one-half of every back-to-back. He doesn't exceed 28 minutes. He's played 13 fewer games than Millsap this season.
And yet, none of those things should be the deciding factor. Embiid's presence and quick rise to stardom as a rookie has almost transformed this Sixers team. They've won the last two nights without him, and Embiid wasn't even in Milwaukee on Wednesday, but do the Sixers win that game without him? Is their confidence level anywhere close to what it is right now without him changing their defense, their culture and the national perception of the Sixers?
If you take Millsap away from the 27-19 Hawks, would it have as much of an impact as taking Embiid away from the Sixers?
When Embiid has been on the court this season, the Sixers have an offensive rating of 104.9 and a defensive rating of 101.3. When he's off the court, they have a 100.4 offensive rating and 110.8 defensive rating.
That's a 14-point swing.
Millsap has a 14.5-point on/off swing. Whiteside's is 1.4. The Pistons are actually better offensively and defensively this season when Drummond is off the floor.
That on/off split, like PER, like the traditional stats, shouldn't and won't be used by itself to select a candidate.
But when you start combining all of these factors — Embiid's stats, his per-36 stats, his impact on the Sixers, his all-around offensive and defensive game, the national attention, the personality, the excitement — how do you not select Embiid?
Millsap's made three of these in a row. That should cancel out the built-in excuse some have used that, "Embiid has a lot of All-Star nods in his future."
Embiid's the best two-way threat of all these candidates, and he has a better chance at actually making an impact on the court during the All-Star Game than you'd get from Millsap's mid-range jumpers, Whiteside's rim protection or Drummond's rebounding.
We'll find out tonight at 7 on TNT.