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  • With the starters already announced, it's time to reveal our reserves for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The Crossover names 14 additional players worthy of a trip to Los Angeles next month.
By Ben Golliver
January 23, 2018

After naming the 2018 All-Star starting lineups on Thursday, the NBA is set to announce the All-Star reserves on Tuesday. While the starters were named by a combined vote among fans, players and media members, the seven reserves from the East and West will be selected by coaches in each conference. Coaches must select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two position-less wildcards from each conference.

Last week, The Crossover revealed its official starter selections, which were as follows:

• East: Victor Oladipo (Pacers), Kyrie Irving (Celtics), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Joel Embiid (Sixers)
• West: James Harden (Rockets), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Draymond Green (Warriors)

Note that, in the actual vote, Toronto’s DeMar Derozan was selected in place of Oladipo and New Orleans’s DeMarcus Cousins was named in place of Green.

The following is The Crossover's preferred selections for the 14 total reserves, intended as a complement to the previous starter picks. 

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East Backcourt Reserves: DeMar DeRozan (Raptors) and Bradley Beal (Wizards)

DeRozan (25 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG), the third choice among East guards on this ballot behind Oladipo and Irving, was officially selected as a starter last week. After years of shunning critics who suggested he modernize his offensive game by decreasing his reliance on ball-pounding and tough twos, Toronto’s leading scorer has made strides on both fronts, posting career-highs in True Shooting % and assist rate. Although he remains a minus defender, DeRozan’s work as a steady offensive weapon for a top-five attack has been central to Toronto’s status among the East’s top teams. In past years, Kyle Lowry was the Raptors’ “must-have” All-Star representative and DeRozan was relegated to the fringe/snub group. This year, those roles have reversed.

There isn’t much to celebrate in the nation’s capital at the moment, as the Wizards trudge through uninspired stretches and continue to drop games to lesser opponents. Despite that ominous haze, Beal (23.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.7 APG) has done enough to earn his first career All-Star nod in a thin East backcourt crop. He’s been healthier and more efficient than John Wall, his Wizards teammate, and Washington’s net rating is 9.4 points when Beal is on the court compared to when he’s off. Ideally, three-pointers would represent a larger slice of Beal’s shooting diet, but he’s made steady improvement in his shot selection as he’s aged and is averaging a career-high 5.1 free throw attempts per game. His defensive utility is higher than most of the East’s other second-tier backcourt candidates—given that he can credibly guard both spots—but he picks his spots on that end more often than one would like.

East Frontcourt Reserves: Al Horford (Celtics), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks) and Kevin Love (Cavaliers)

Horford (13.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.3 APG) was a strong starter candidate thanks to the Celtics’ team success, his central role on Boston’s league-leading defense, and his high level of offensive involvement. While not equipped to be a truly high-volume scorer, Horford’s distribution and mobility have helped create necessary space and motion for a young Celtics rotation short of creators. On the other end, his IQ, diligence and ability to switch make him especially valuable as spread lineups proliferate. That two-way impact easily earns him a reserve nod.

Porzingis’s recent decline in scoring and efficiency have taken the shine off of New York’s hot start, dropping him from a possible All-Star starter to a solid reserve. At 22, Porzingis (22.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.3 BPG) has the makings of a top 2018 Most Improved Player candidate and a perennial All-Star in the future. He’s settled nicely into life as an alpha scorer, and he’s leading the league in blocks thanks to his otherworldly length. Although he’s not quite as central to his team’s success as Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Porzingis’s presence on the court improves New York’s net rating 6 points compared to when he sits. One can nitpick his shot selection, his limited interest in facilitating for others, and New York’s status as a lottery team, but Porzingis’s scoring skills and positive defensive contributions are worthy of a trip to LA.

These aren’t exactly the best of times for Love. Months of complaints over his defensive struggles as a center have now given way to reports that he was subjected to internal locker-room skepticism over his recent illness during a loss to the Thunder. Cleveland has been far less consistent than desired, but Love (18.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG) was LeBron James’s key sidekick in the months between Kyrie Irving’s departure and Isaiah Thomas’s return to the court. Love takes and makes more threes than many elite guards—40% on more than five attempts per game—and his gravity on the perimeter is a critical element of Cleveland’s top-five offense. As shaky as the Cavaliers have been in October and January, Love deserves a good chunk of the credit for their sustained success in November and December. As a top-three seed in the East, Cleveland has a strong case to land two All-Stars.

East Wildcards: Kyle Lowry (Raptors) and Andre Drummond (Pistons)

Don’t get too hung up on the fact that many of Lowry’s major indicators—scoring, usage, FG%, FTA—are down considerably this season. The damage isn’t nearly as bad as his dipped stats suggest. Less has been more for Lowry (17 PPG, 6 RPG, 6.7 APG), whose minutes have been more carefully managed after multiple late-season breakdowns in years past. Lowry continues to rank among the top points in Real Plus Minus, and his willingness to decrease his touch time (from 6.9 MPG last season to 5.4 MPG this season) has helped Toronto diversity its attack and make better use of its deep roster. Smart sacrifices like that should be rewarded, not penalized, even if they come with a side of concern that the 31-year-old Lowry’s most prolific and dominant days are behind him.

The fight for the East’s last All-Star spot is a pretty blah battle. Wall wins on name recognition and pedigree, but he’s missed more than 10 games and has seen his shooting efficiency drop considerably from last season. Philadelphia rookie Ben Simmons brings the intrigue, but his total lack of shooting has caught up to him in recent weeks and the Sixers probably haven’t played well enough to warrant two All-Stars. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton is in a similar boat as Simmons: he’s a skilled, complete complementary player who has been overshadowed by a far more talented teammate and whose team is stuck in the East’s clogged middle. Kemba Walker, meanwhile, hasn’t quite duplicated his 2017 All-Star numbers, leaving the Hornets well out of the playoff picture and headed for a potential garage sale at the trade deadline.

That leaves Miami’s Goran Dragic and Drummond, two very different players on teams that are headed two very different directions. Individually, Dragic (17.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG) has been very good but not quite great. The Slovenian guard has been a key driver for the deep Heat’s surprising status as the East’s No. 4 seed, but hardly a one-man machine. Meanwhile, Drummond (14.3 PPG, 15 RPG, 1.2 BPG) was one of this year’s early darlings, thanks to his dramatically-improved free-throw shooting and Detroit’s strong start. But the Pistons have fallen off hard in recent weeks due to numerous injury issues.

Still, Drummond remains the league’s leading rebounder and he has helped keep the Pistons among the league’s top 10 defenses. At 24, he sometimes still feels like an underperformer: he should shoot a higher percentage, he should have a better repertoire of offensive moves, he should be a more imposing shot-blocker, and he should more regularly punish small ball looks with 20/20 explosions. All of that acknowledged, Drummond has managed to triple his assist rate, thereby adding a dimension to his offensive utility and helping compensate for Detroit’s perimeter injury issues. Those gains are enough for him to edge Dragic by a hair on this ballot.

Should any of the East’s top 12 encounter health issues, this ballot would nominate Dragic as the top injury replacement.

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West Backcourt Reserves: Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves) and Russell Westbrook (Thunder)

In a more just world, Butler (21.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5 APG) would have been eligible for the West’s frontcourt and selected as a starter in place of Cousins. Alas, he’s a no-brainer reserve after powering the NBA’s most dramatic year-over-year turnaround in Minnesota. As was the case for years in Chicago, the best measure of Butler’s value is how terribly his team plays whenever he goes to the bench. This year, Minnesota’s net rating is +8.4 with him and -7.4 without him, and he ranks third league-wide in Real Plus Minus. Butler’s ability to oscillate his offensive role has created sufficient space for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and his off-season arrival has helped the young and shallow Timberwolves climb out of the NBA’s bottom tier when it comes to defensive efficiency.   

Ninety-nine percent of guards throughout NBA history would kill to have Westbrook’s season, even though he was mired in an early slump and still possesses scoring and efficiency numbers that are well off his 2017 MVP campaign. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a player nearly averaging a triple-double (24.8 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 10.1 APG) easily qualifies as an All-Star, even if the quality of his minutes hasn’t matched up to Stephen Curry and James Harden, his fellow West guards. It hasn’t been pretty, but the Thunder are in the West’s No. 5 seed with a shot at surpassing Minnesota and San Antonio down the stretch. While Westbrook’s questionable feel for balancing the offensive weapons around him contributed to Oklahoma City’s rocky start, his force of will and persistence has lifted them out of disaster. 

West Frontcourt Reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves) and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans)

Aldridge (22.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 APG) had a compelling case as an All-Star starter: San Antonio has spent much of the season in the No. 3 seed, he stepped up his offensive role in Kawhi Leonard’s absence, and he’s a complete player logging big minutes for one of the NBA’s top defenses. On this ballot, he landed among the reserves for two reasons: 1) San Antonio’s offense has merely been mediocre with him as a lead option, and 2) San Antonio’s defensive success has been based on collective effort and discipline rather than Aldridge’s singular brilliance. Although the 32-year-old big man was left off last year’s All-Star team after a run of five straight appearances, his career-high 23.4 PER and his team’s steadiness without Leonard should get him back in the club this season.

Even though his offensive role has been sliced by Jimmy Butler’s arrival, Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG) should earn his first career All-Star nod in his third season. The former No. 1 pick oozes talent: he’s hitting 40+% of his threes on nearly four attempts per game, he’s threatening to one day become a 50/40/90 shooter as a 7-footer, and he is getting more proficient at recognizing and exploiting mismatches. Like Lowry in Toronto, Towns’s team-oriented sacrifices in terms of shots and touches should draw praise rather than skepticism. Of course, his defense is another story—causing him to lag behind some of fellow unicorns—but it’s trended up in recent months, and Minnesota’s defensive rating is better with him on the court than without him. 

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Aside from Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins (25.2 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG) puts up the league’s most outrageous stat lines. Yes, there are some qualifiers needed: Cousins takes a lot off the table with his turnovers, foul problems, inconsistent defensive effort, and occasional ejections. While his critics harp on his over-reliance on the three-pointer, Cousins’ passable perimeter shooting, comfort roaming the arc, and ability to attack defenders one-on-one off the dribble are key elements of the Pelicans’ No. 6 offense. This ballot’s preference was to name Davis as the Pelicans’ sole All-Star starter, but the actual vote—somewhat surprisingly—placed Cousins in the starting five too.

Regardless, he’s a clear reserve pick, superior to the next tier of big men candidates like the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. Jokic’s Nuggets have suffered from identity issues all season, and their offense has slipped from 2016-17 despite the Serbian center’s play-making ability. Jordan has been steady in the wake of Chris Paul’s departure and another injury to Blake Griffin, but Lou Williams’ electric scoring and unexpected contributions from a host of lesser-known players have also been key to keeping LA afloat. Cousins simply does more than Jokic and Jordan, and the No. 6 seed Pelicans have benefited directly from those contributions in the standings.

West Wildcards: Klay Thompson (Warriors) and Paul George (Thunder)

The West’s final two spots come down to four very worthy candidates: Thompson, George, Portland’s Damian Lillard and LA’s Williams. All four are averaging 20+ points. All four suit up for teams at or above .500. And all four have unique stories: Thompson is the fourth-best player on an all-time juggernaut, George is an alpha-turned-beta in OKC, Lillard is a perennially-snubbed super scorer leading the unspectacular Blazers, and Williams is a career sixth man enjoying the time of his life at age-31 for the injury-ravaged Clippers. Any voters casting their ballots based on narrative would have their hands full.

Here, the preference was for two-way play. While Thompson (20.6 PPG, 4 RPG, 2.5 APG) has the smallest offensive role of the four, his shooting (45.3% on 7.4 attempts) is as deadly as ever. What’s more, he’s missed just one game all season, logging big minutes and taking tough defensive assignments for a top-five defense. With Thompson on the court, Golden State’s defensive rating improves by 5.5 points. By comparison, Portland’s defense is worse with Lillard on the court than when he’s on the bench, and Williams is one of the NBA’s purest all-offense, no-defense gunners. If any team is worthy of landing four All-Stars, it’s the Warriors, who have set the standard in the West for four straight years now.

George, like Thompson, is a quality complementary scorer who makes his team significantly better on defense. It took more than a month for George to find his groove in Oklahoma City, but his stellar three-point shooting (43% on more than seven attempts) and willingness to cede the reins to Westbrook have both been crucial to the Thunder’s improved offense of late. It’s also hard to deny George the final spot given that he’s delivered Defensive Player of the Year-like contributions this year, leading the league in steals and deflections for a top-five defense. 

Lillard’s case is held back by injury issues: He has missed seven games, more than Thompson, George and Williams combined. He’s bit by the regression bug too. Portland’s offense is merely average this season—a noticeable drop from 2016-17—and Lillard’s individual accomplishments are slightly off last year as well. Williams has been sensational as both a scorer and a distributing playmaker this season, but LA’s status on the playoff bubble, the one-way nature of his game, and the presence of so many other qualified candidates on winning teams keeps him off.

Should any of the West’s top 12 wind up as injury scratches, this ballot has Lillard as the next man up.

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