Wow, the East has been a bloodbath since lineups were announced for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game two weeks ago. Since then, three of the conference's reserve selections — the Cavaliers' Kevin Love, the Wizards' John Wall and Tuesday night, the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis — have suffered sidelining injuries that will render them unable to participate in All-Star festivities. The two East replacements so far have been the Pistons' Andre Drummond and the Heat's Goran Dragic. And now, following the KP injury, it might finally be Ben Simmons' turn.
To be honest, I didn't think Simmons should have been an All-Star this year — at least not initially. His offense was a little too erratic, he went silent for long stretches of games too often — his surface numbers were there, and his defense was awesome, but he just didn't seem to have a pronounced-enough effect on whether the team won or lost for me to believe he was one of the 12 best players in the East this season. (The team's 2-8 record with him and no Joel Embiid undoubtedly played a part in that as well.) Which was fine; he's a rookie, with many appearances likely to come, and Embiid was already named a starter. No need to rush the All-Star Process Takeover.
But now, I think it's time to let the Fresh Prince in. It was fine to give the first reserve spot to Drummond (having a career year on a playoff-contending team) and the second to Dragic (having a pretty meh year on a team that should but doesn't have an obvious All-Star, and overdue a lifetime-achievement selection). But now we're out of clear candidates on good teams — unless you really wanna make a belated case for Bucks wing Khris Middleton or recent East arrival Blake Griffin — and at this point, Simmons would have a legitimate gripe if he was again snubbed.
That's in large part because since he was left out the first time, he's been playing some of the best basketball of his young career. In the two weeks since reserves were announced, he's averaging 18-7-7 on 62% (!!) shooting with a steal, a block and just two turnovers, playing some of the East's most productive, efficient basketball. Thanks to a tough schedule (and a dumb L in Brooklyn), the Sixers have only gone 4-4 over that stretch, but his growth has been just undeniable, and his aggressiveness has finally gotten to where it needs to be in the half-court — last night was the only game over that stretch where he didn't take double digits' worth of shots.
The Sixers may or may not objectively deserve two All-Stars overall — they're back to one game over .500, at 26-25, with their 115-102 victory over the previously surging Washington Wizards — but at this point, it's hard to deny that they have two of the 15 best players in the East this season. Will the East coaches finally recognize this, or is Simmons gonna have to play with a chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season? Hell, given how his last few weeks have gone, maybe we should be rooting for the latter.