The NBA released the first round of All-Star fan voting Thursday, and as has become custom in recent years, the voters chose to reward popularity. LeBron James is the top vote-getter in the world, breaking over one million votes through the first tabulation. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the vote leader in the East, which means if the current results hold, LeBron and The Greek Freak would be the captains for the All-Star draft.
Elsewhere, Luke Doncic and Kevin Durant are Nos. 2 and 3 for West frontcourt votes, while Derrick Rose has the second-most votes amongst guards behind Stephen Curry. In the East, Giannis is trailed by Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid, while Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade are leading all guards. Those who are on the outside looking in on the first ballot include Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum. Others receiving significant votes include DeMarcus Cousins, Zach LaVine, and Vince Carter. (The fan returns can be viewed here.) For now, let’s run through some winners and losers.
Winner: LeBron James
With James now in Los Angeles, he will no longer go head to head with Curry as captains. But they will be battling for votes, and as far as the fans are concerned, King James is still more popular than than both Curry and Durant. It surely helps James that he’s a) one of the best players of all-time and b) he’s playing for one of the most globally popular basketball franchises, but it has to be at least somewhat reassuring for him to remain ahead of his peers in terms of fan voting.
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Loser: The All-Star Draft
Giannis vs. LeBron on the court is always a great matchup, but there’s no real rivalry between the two players. As far as captains go, LeBron and Steph were a great pairing last year. The one that would be most fun this season is probably LeBron and Kyrie, or even LeBron and Kawhi. With the draft being televised for the first time, I need more drama injected into the proceedings. There’s no personal storyline that would add intrigue to LeBron and Giannis going head-to-head as captains. Let’s hope that sorts itself out as the voting continues.
Winner: Luka Doncic
Whoa! Lukamania is in full swing, as the Mavs rookie is currently in like for a starting spot if voting holds. He’s really ahead of guys like KD, AD, and PG, or players who are so good that we can casually refer to them by their initials. If Doncic does end up starting—and we have a long way to go—he would be the first rookie to be voted in as a starter since Yao Ming in 2003. We can debate the merits of what makes an All-Star all day. I think it’s inarguable that Luka has been one of the most fun players in the league this season, and seeing what he can do on a roster filled with superstars would be incredibly fun.
The East-West divide is still too strong. Sure, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi are now in the East, but losing LeBron is another significant blow to conference balance. The fantasy draft helps matters, but the logical next step for Adam Silver is to make the All-Star Game conference agnostic.
I mean, just look at the voting. D-Wade is second in voting among East guards; he would be fifth in the West with the same number of votes. Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler are both in fourth place in frontcourt voting in their respective conference; Davis has nearly 400,000 more votes. The fans have spoken, and there are more popular players out West who deserve a chance to play.
Vince Carter received the seventh-most votes in the East frontcourt. D-Wade is in line to start. I’m on record saying both of these guys should be in the All-Star Game. And the league should add Dirk Nowitzki for good measure. I promise the integrity of the league won’t collapse if the NBA allows players who’ve made a historic impact on the game to participate in one last All-Star on their way out of the league.
I outlined my proposal in my 2019 Wishlist, but basically any players who have announced they are in their final season and have made a certain number of All-Star games should be eligible for a special appointment. I know Vince and Dirk haven’t made formal announcements, but it would be special to see them and Wade share the court with stars who they once fiercely competed with. (I don’t know what to make of Derrick Rose, whose wild number of votes is as shocking as his three-point percentage.) As long as the fans want it, then let it happen.