Jayson Tatum knows that it’s tough to make the All-Star team. “It’s a big deal,” the Celtics forward recently told reporters. “Only 24 people get to make the All-Star team every year. It’s not easy, it’s the best of the best.” And as Boston continues to look like one of the NBA’s best teams, the third-year forward has put himself squarely in the conversation to claim one of those spots.
But as Tatum acknowledges, being one of the 24 names selected is a difficult task. So with most teams hovering around the 25-game mark, here’s an early look at what might be your Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars through the first quarter of the season.
We use the same roster restrictions as the coaches and fans: five starters featuring two guards and three frontcourt players and seven reserves with no regard to position.
Bradley Beal (Wizards), Trae Young (Hawks), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Pascal Siakam (Raptors), and Joel Embiid (76ers)
Some of these spots are not up for debate. Giannis Antetokounmpo is seemingly more dominant this year than last year, Pascal Siakam is maybe the most improved player in the league after winning the Most Improved Player award last season and Joel Embiid, heading into Tuesday night’s action, has the third-highest player impact estimate on NBA.com of any player who has played more than 10 games. Plus, Bradley Beal should also get to start his first All-Star game this winter for being the driving force behind Washington’s top-five offense.
The final guard spot is more open. Both Trae Young and Kemba Walker will make the All-Star team this year in some capacity. Young enterered Tuesday night averaging 28.8 points and 8.4 assists per game on 46% shooting from the field. In only his second season, the 2019 Rookie of the Year runner-up has emerged as one of the best high-volume three-point shooters in the league this year, making nearly 39% of his attempts from deep, a higher mark than players like James Harden, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard and the aforementioned Beal.
Walker will make his fourth-straight All-Star team this year, despite a dip in most of his counting stats. The Celtics have the third-best record in the NBA and almost no one has a bad word to say about Walker. Just recently, Celtics Brad Stevens heaped a pile of praise on his star guard saying, “I just told the team afterwards, I said, ‘If you want to be special, then model after Kemba…I mean special is not for everybody, but that’s just different.’” It’s certainly a close call between the two.
Kemba Walker (Celtics), Jimmy Butler (Heat), Andre Drummond (Pistons), Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers), Domantis Sabonis (Pacers), Bam Adebayo (Heat), and Ben Simmons (76ers)
If he’s not a starter, Walker is a no-brainer reserve. So is Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond, who is averaging a nearly 17-17 points-rebounds double-double.
The last four spots are certainly up for debate and could play out in a variety ways before the All-Star reserves get announced. The Pacers’s duo of Brogdon and Sabonis has picked up a ton of Indiana’s slack early in the season with Victor Oladipo still rehabbing his right quad injury injury. Brogdon ranks near the top of the league in drives per game, and has not just improved as a scorer, but overall creator.
As SBNation’s Caitlin Cooper outlined last week, Sabonis’s stellar play through the 2019-20 season comes both in easily countable ways, but also more subtle ways. He’s one of only three players—Giannis and Karl-Anthony Towns being the other two—that is averaging more than 18 points, 10 rebound and three assists per game. He’s a double-double machine, and enters Wednesday night having recorded nine-straight games of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 15-9 Pacers’s starting lineup has been destroying teams when healthy, averaging a plus-16.7 in 152 minutes, tied for second most among lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together. Few people expected Indiana to be as consistent as they have been. Brogdon and Sabonis are central to the team’s success.
Adebayo has become a Mr. Everything of sorts for the Heat since the departure of Hassan Whiteside. Adebayo’s averaging 15.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game and has emerged as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s shown the ability to guard all five positions, being stout both on-ball and off-ball. Plus, his offensive jump has helped Miami leaps and bounds. “He’s really improved his playmaking and his passing,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Kentucky product. “It seems like every month I can give him something more on his plate and he’s been able to take on all of that.”
Simmons is just days removed from one of the finest games of his young NBA career where he scored 34 points and was 9-of-12 from the free throw line in a 47-point win over the struggling Cavaliers. As a team, Philadelphia has gotten off to a slower start than most have expected, but the LSU product still provides a steadying force to the Sixers.
On the Bubble
Zach LaVine (Bulls), Jayson Tatum (Celtics), Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets) and Khris Middleton (Bucks)
James Harden (Rockets), Luka Doncic (Mavericks), LeBron James (Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) and Anthony Davis (Lakers)
If there’s a knock on anyone in this group it would be on Kawhi Leonard, for sitting out nearly a quarter of the season so far due to injuries/load management. But Towns, the most likely other top frontcourt option has missed a handful of games in his own right, leaving little debate about these five players being All-Star starters come February.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Devin Booker (Suns), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Damian Lillard (Blazers), Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves) and Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
There’s a glut of talent in the Western Conference. Towns is again playing at an All-Star level while Devin Booker is helping the Suns achieve a sense of normalcy for the first time in recent memory. Phoenix didn’t have 12 wins until after the All-Star break last year, but that’s bound to change very soon.
Damian Lillard remains one of the league’s most skilled players. And despite a wave of inconsistent team performances, 23-year-old Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has upped his scoring and cut back on his turnovers. Plus it’s an All-Star game, and the former Slam Dunk champion has proven that he can put on a show.
Rudy Gobert was emotional after failing to make the All-Star team last year. But the two-time Defensive Player of the Year should make his first appearance in 2020. Last year’s third-team All-NBA center might not make a ton of plays in the game come February—it’s a guards game after all—but he’s earned his first appearance.
The final two spots are again up for grabs. Andrew Wiggins was one of the NBA’s biggest early seasons surprises, but can the 10-win Wolves really have two All-Stars and the 18-win Clippers and 15-win Rockets only have one?
SI’s Chris Mannix profiled Wiggins’s leap a few weeks ago, noting that new General Manager Gerson Rosas had “hard conversations” with Wiggins this offseason. In doing, Rosas also re-emphasized that the team believes in the former No. 1 overall pick. Wiggins’s usage rate has increased this year, but more importantly so too has his efficiency.
Jokic hasn’t been as good this season as he was previously, but he is still the best player on the fourth-best team in the West. Despite averaging about four fewer points, and seeing decreases in field goal percentage and rebounds, Jokic will probably get rewarded for steering a winning team to the top of the Western Conference.
On the Bubble
Brandon Ingram (Pelicans), C.J. McCollum (Blazers), Montrezl Harrel (Clippers), Paul George (Clippers) and Russell Westbrook (Rockets)