The NBA has announced the starting lineups for the 2016 All-Star Game, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to argue about the reserves.
Below, you’ll find SI.com’s picks to fill out both the East and West rosters for the All-Star Game, set for Feb. 14 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. These selections are made following the same protocol used by the coaches when they make the real selections: each conference’s group includes two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wildcard players that can play any position.
To review, here are the starting lineups voted upon by fans:
East: Kyle Lowry, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony
West: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard
Making these picks involves a number of factors, including: each player’s statistical output and advanced stats performance, his impact on his team and his team’s record. All stats and records through Jan. 26.
The fan vote in the East included a few misses, prioritizing name recognition over accomplishments in selecting Wade and Anthony as starters, but no disasters. Both Wade and Anthony are credible All-Star selections this year, while Kyrie Irving, who has been injured most of the season, thankfully won’t clog up a spot because he was passed by Lowry. Without a trickle-down log jam, the East reserve picks are fairly straightforward.
Jimmy Butler, Bulls: SI.com nominated Butler as a deserving starter last week and Chicago’s leading scorer is the easiest reserve selection. The fifth-year guard and reigning Most Improved Player is averaging a career-high 22.3 points with a career-high 21.5 player efficiency rating (PER), while topping all shooting guards, including James Harden, with a +4.3 Real Plus Minus (RPM). A physical, dependable two-way difference-maker, Butler is averaging a league-leading 38.3 mpg, and he’s picked up the scoring slack for the No. 4 Bulls with Derrick Rose in and out of the lineup.
John Wall, Wizards: Lowry stands alone among the East’s point guards in terms of total value this season, but Wall is the best of a crowded second tier loaded with scoring-minded playmakers. Although Wall has been less efficient shooting the ball and the Wizards have taken a step back this season, the former No. 1 pick separates himself from the likes of Reggie Jackson, Kemba Walker and others thanks to his playmaking. Wall leads the East in both assists and assist rate— only Russell Westbrook can match his 19 ppg/9 apg averages, and he trails only Lowry among East point guards with a +3.4 RPM. Wall is also a plus defender, something that can’t be said about Jackson, Walker and Isaiah Thomas, and he ranks second in the conference in steals.
Paul Millsap, Hawks: Another one of SI.com’s All-Star starter picks, there’s no question that Millsap was the most underrated player in the fan voting process. As a point of comparison, Atlanta’s versatile forward pulled down just 41,654 votes, which amounts to just 7.3% of Anthony’s total. Not only have the Hawks been far better than Anthony’s Knicks, but Millsap has posted a better PER, a higher RPM and more Win Shares than Anthony, and it’s not that close. After landing four All-Stars last year, the Hawks might only get one this year. Millsap, who leads Atlanta in minutes, scoring, rebounding and steals and ranks second to LeBron James in PER in the East, is the clear choice over Al Horford.
Chris Bosh, Heat: As noted last week, there really isn’t much separating Millsap and Bosh, making both no-brainer reserve selections. Quietly, Bosh has been on an amazing run, as an All-Star selection this year would mark his 11th consecutive selection. Miami’s leading scorer ranks in the top 15 league-wise in both Win Shares and RPM, and he’s eighth in the East in PER. Bosh has made a smooth transition back to lead option in the post-LeBron James era, without overstepping at the expense of his teammates, and he’s a critical component of one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
Andre Drummond, Pistons: It would be a borderline travesty if “That boy’s up to something” was somehow overlooked by the coaches. The NBA’s leading rebounder has a bulletproof case: he’s helped lead the Pistons to their best season in years despite significant roster turnover around him, he’s the East’s top-performing traditional center, he’s on track to join 2011 Kevin Love as the only players since 1992 to post averages of 17 PPG and 15 RPG and he fares very well on all the major advanced statistics thanks to his dunk-heavy offensive game and remarkable athleticism for his size, which helps make him a stat-stuffing defender. Hopefully West coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t hack him in Toronto.
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: There’s no question which of Toronto’s guards is more important to the cause. It’s Lowry, and it’s not close at all. But DeRozan, a 2014 All-Star, is enjoying a career year in a contract year, averaging 23 ppg, posting a 21.1 PER and compensating for his lack of range by getting to the free throw line more than eight times per game. DeRozan’s impact numbers suggest he could do more defensively and that he’s still a major cut below the likes of Paul George and Jimmy Butler, but his huge playing time load (top five in minutes played), workmanlike scoring ability (top 10 in scoring) and attack mentality (No. 3 in free throw attempts) have been major keys to the Raptors’ consistency this season. With the East’s second-best record and second-best offense, Toronto is well-positioned to land two All-Stars as it plays host to the NBA’s first international game.
Isaiah Thomas, Celtics: The final pick on this ballot comes down to Thomas, the leading scorer and creator on the No. 5 Celtics, versus Atlanta’s Al Horford, Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Chicago’s Pau Gasol, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker and Detroit’s Reggie Jackson. There’s no clean answer. Horford and Batum are more complete players, Love and Gasol possess longer lists of individual accomplishments over the years, and both Walker and Jackson are having strong statistical seasons.
The case for Thomas is this: he’s an offensive machine who ranks among the league leaders in PPG, APG, PER, Win Shares, usage rate, three-pointers and free throw attempts. Although he is a liability defensively and commits his share of turnovers, Thomas is an indispensable piece for the No. 5 Celtics, whose offensive rating improves by more than nine points when he takes the court. In a world without Thomas, Boston’s stellar defense would keep it competitive but its lagging offense would likely drop the Celtics back into the lottery. With Thomas, the Celtics have a shot at a top three seed in the East.
Selecting Thomas over the other players mentioned also has the ancillary benefit of ensuring that each of the East’s current eight playoff teams has at least one All-Star representative.
Kobe Bryant’s selection as a starter puts a noticeable squeeze on the West’s roster.
Chris Paul, Clippers: An All-Star every year since 2008, Paul’s play during Blake Griffin’s absence has solidified his standing as a no-brainer selection once again. Despite playing without their All-NBA forward since Christmas, the Clippers hold the West’s fourth-best record and the league’s fourth-best offense thanks to Paul’s commanding, efficient presence. Although Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook have surpassed him in terms of popularity, the 30-year-old Paul has staved off major statistical decline this season: he ranks among the league leaders in assists, steals, PER, Win Shares and RPM, and he continues to exert an A-list superstar’s influence on a night-to-night basis.
James Harden, Rockets: As disappointing, frustrating and inconsistent as Houston’s season has been, and as central as Harden has been to those negative developments, there’s just no way to slight him in the All-Star process. He’s just too talented and too productive. The NBA’s minutes leader might have fallen out of the MVP conversation and he might have regressed badly in the major defensive categories, but he’s still the league’s second-leading scorer and a top 10 assist man. No other player this season can match his 27 ppg / 7 apg / 6 rpg production this season, and the only two players to put up those numbers for a full season in the last decade are LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. With the Rockets back above .500 and climbing up to the No. 7 spot in offensive efficiency, there’s no way to leave him out.
Draymond Green, Warriors: Not only is Green a more deserving All-Star starter than Bryant, he’s also arguably more deserving than any of the East’s starters, save LeBron James. Golden State’s rim-protecting, play-making, super-charged demon has paired with Stephen Curry to give the Warriors the league’s No. 1 offense, No. 3 defense, and an eye-popping 41–4 record. When Green takes the court, Golden State’s offensive rating improves by 14.6 points and its defensive rating improves by 12.5 points. Those swings are worthy of a spit take.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: With Tim Duncan playing fewer minutes and missing time, Marc Gasol plateauing, Dwight Howard slipping, Andre Drummond still polishing his game and DeAndre Jordan still filling a limited role, Cousins can stake a strong claim to the title of “NBA’s best center.” Sacramento’s talented, physical and often unpredictable big man is posting Shaq-like numbers (27.3 ppg / 11.2 rpg / 1.3 bpg) while leading the Kings to their best season in years. Although Cousins missed eight games this season, a stretch that saw Sacramento go 1–7, he’s made up for it with a monster push over the last 10 days, setting new career-highs of 48 points and 56 points since Saturday. Sacramento’s sub-.500 record and reputation for dysfunction both work against him, but his individual production has reached such a high point that he’s impossible to ignore.
Anthony Davis, Pelicans: One major problem for young players who make everything look easy? The effortlessness of their early success has a tendency to make outsiders panic at the first sign of unexpected strife. Davis clearly isn’t having the season he hoped to have: his numbers are down slightly, his team is in a huge hole in the standings under a new coach, his teammates keep dropping like flies and he’s dealt with more than his fair share of bumps and bruises. Reality check: Davis is still one of only two 20/10 performers in the NBA this year, he’s still second in blocks, he’s still top 10 in PER, he’s only missed five games this season and he remains one of the very best 22-year-olds to ever take the court in the NBA. New Orleans’ problems run deep and Davis isn’t perfect, but keeping him out of Toronto because he hasn’t duplicated one of the most efficient season in NBA history would obviously be misguided.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Dallas has so vastly exceeded expectations this season that it would feel wrong if Mark Cuban’s club was left without a representative at All-Star Weekend. While Nowitzki’s per-game numbers are dampened slightly by a controlled minutes role, he is once again an ultra-efficient and steady alpha scorer for an above-average offense, even though his supporting cast has undergone significant turnover. With Nowitzki on the court, the Mavericks’ offensive rating improves by nearly 10 points, a testament to his timeless shooting stroke, deep range and ability to command attention. Selecting Nowitzki, 37, need not be a sentimental pick: he’s enjoyed excellent health, his PER and Win Shares compare favorably to the other remaining frontcourt candidates (LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, etc.), and his continued ability to play at a high level has been the foundation for the Mavericks’ brisk start.
Klay Thompson, Warriors: The final spot is extraordinarily difficult to fill. Even with the help of a thorough process of elimination, Bryant’s presence in the starting lineup forces some impossible apples-to-oranges choices.
There’s LaMarcus Aldridge, a proven alpha option who sacrificed his own numbers to play for one of the most dominant teams in NBA history. San Antonio’s collective success has left Aldridge with modest 15.6 ppgG and 8.7 rpg, but he’s had his share of dominant stretches and he’s posted a solid 19 PER and a strong 4.4 Win Shares. At the same time, the on-court/off-court stats don’t view him nearly as favorably as teammate Kawhi Leonard, leaving him San Antonio’s distant second All-Star option.
There’s DeAndre Jordan, a tertiary scoring option, high-volume rebounder, high-efficiency finisher and steady defender who fills a defined role for a consistent winner about as well as any player could hope. Jordan is a big reason why the Clippers continue to hum along without Blake Griffin, but Paul gets first dibs at the credit, J.J. Redick has been excellent too, and the Clippers have struggled against top-flight competition.
There’s Damian Lillard, a high-volume scorer carrying a sub-.500 team on an unexpected but uninspiring playoff push. Lillard is a dynamic lead option and an improving play-maker for others, but he missed a seven-game stretch and the advanced stats merely like (rather than love) him.
And then there’s Thompson, who is simultaneously in the discussion as one of the league’s best shooting guards while also possibly being totally replaceable in the Warriors’ machine. Could Golden State still be the title favorite without Thompson, as long as Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were rolling on all cylinders? Quite possibly.
But flip that argument around: Thompson is a major piece in pushing Golden State from a garden-variety title favorite into perhaps the best team of the post-Michael Jordan era. His marksmanship is unfair, especially alongside Curry’s, the threat of his scoring outbursts help open the court for Green, and he’s a dependable, competitive and flexible wing defender. So, yes, he’s the third best player on his team, but that team just happens to be out of this world.
With push finally coming to shove, it’s hard not to reward the 41–4 Warriors with three All-Stars this season, even if that means snubbing deserving candidates like Aldridge, Jordan and Lillard.