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Selecting 2022 NBA All-Star Game Starters

Who should represent the East? West? Here's one official voter's picks.

It’s All-Star season, and with fans already weighing in (twice) and my media ballot due this week, it’s time to take a look at who has earned the five spots in each conference. Let’s dig in.

Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Nothing too complicated here. Embiid’s numbers are a shade below last season, which gives reason for pause until you remember that injuries were likely all that prevented him from the MVP in 2020-21. Embiid continues to be a formidable inside presence, mixing in a steady jumper—Embiid is on pace to shoot above 36% from three for the second straight season—and getting to the free throw line more than 10 times per game. The Sixers, meanwhile, remain within shouting distance of the top overall seed, remarkable given the absence of a certain disgruntled All-Star point guard.

(An aside: It has been nine years since the NBA eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot, dismissing it as outdated. It was a decision made during a dreadful period for big men—who can forget Jamaal Magloire’s inclusion on the 2004 roster—with an interest in freeing up roster spots for more qualified forwards. The pendulum has swung, though, and it says here the now talent-rich position—Embiid, Nikola Jokić, Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton, et al.—deserves to get an All-Star position back.)

Through injuries, illness, James Harden’s adjustments and Kyrie Irving’s absence, Kevin Durant has been rock solid in Brooklyn. He leads the league in scoring with his third highest average ever while getting to the free throw line (and making them) at a rate not seen since his Oklahoma City days. No brainer.

Giannis, too. Antetokounmpo’s production has been consistent the last few seasons: 28-30 points, 11-14 rebounds, five-ish assists while ranking among the NBA’s best defenders. Giannis’s three-point numbers have dipped below 30% for the first time in three seasons, but he’s bumped his free throw percentage (a more important number for Milwaukee) above 70% for the first time since 2018-19 while averaging 10-plus attempts from the line for just the second time in his career.

Eastern Conference Backcourt: DeMar DeRozan, James Harden

Let’s get complicated! Begin here: At least one Bulls guard should start. I went with DeRozan, the Chicago newcomer who has been worth every nickel of the three-year, $82 million deal the Bulls lavished on him last summer. NBA-types will often respond quizzically when you ask what’s different about DeRozan this season. His efficiency is up, but it’s been pretty good the last few seasons. His three-point percentage has ticked above 35% for the first time, but he’s still attempting a shade under two per game, with more than 90% of his attempts coming inside the arc. He’s an isolation scoring machine but … have you ever watched DeRozan? That’s what he does. What DeRozan is doing is bringing his remarkably consistent offense—he has failed to crack 20 points just eight times this season and has scored in double figures in all 39 games he has played this season.

Picking the second guard was tough. Harden’s name is usually engraved in this spot, but while Harden leads the league in assists, his shooting numbers have nosedived. Zach LaVine has been excellent. You can easily make the case—and some coaches have—that Chicago deserves both backcourt spots. Trae Young is putting up numbers. LaMelo Ball is averaging nearly 20 points per game on a Hornets team in the thick of the playoff race. Fred VanVleet and Darius Garland have impacted winning on teams not expected to. (Hey, Brooklyn—stop promoting Kyrie Irving’s candidacy.)

Forced to choose, I’m taking Harden. He’s flirting with a Westbrookian triple-double average and seems to have adapted to the NBA’s new foul rules, putting up close to 10 free throw attempts per game over the last month. Plus: Brooklyn, even with all the aforementioned lineup issues, is winning. So Harden gets the nod.

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Western Conference Frontcourt: Nikola Jokić, LeBron James, Rudy Gobert

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) attempts to control the ball during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets.

The “where would Team X be without Player Y” is an oft-asked question, but really: Where the bleep would the Nuggets be without Jokić? The reigning MVP is racking up similar numbers to last season while operating with historically high efficiency. Injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have put even more pressure on Jokić, and he has responded. He’s not just an obvious starter—he’s a strong candidate to repeat as MVP.

Meanwhile, we’re running out of superlatives to describe James. In his age-37 season he’s averaging the most points since his first go-round in Cleveland, shooting above 36% from three, better than 60% from two all while playing nearly 37 minutes per game. It’s bonkers. The team around him isn’t good—seriously, how far away are we from the first “LeBron back to Cleveland” story?—but James’s play has been astonishing.

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The final spot was agonizing. Karl-Anthony Towns has racked up numbers while showing signs of life on defense. Anthony Davis, save for some abysmal three-point numbers, has been good, but Davis has been out since mid-December. Deandre Ayton has bumped his scoring up and continues to be the anchor of a top-five defense. Twitter roasted me on Monday for even considering Andrew Wiggins, but Wiggins is pushing 20 points per game, connecting on 42% of his threes while ranking in the top 10 in defensive rating, per Stat Muse. Steve Kerr wasn’t just blowing smoke when he called Wiggins an All-Star earlier this month; at 26, Wiggins seems to have finally put his talent together.

Still, my vote goes to Gobert, who, when not appearing on Russell Westbrook highlight reels, is piecing together a monster season. Gobert ranks in the top three in win shares, defensive win shares and offensive rating. He’s second in the NBA in plus/minus, leads the league in screen assists and is tracking to become the only player in NBA history to average 15 points and 15 rebounds while shooting better than 70% from the floor. In the five games Gobert missed while in COVID-19 protocols the Jazz were 1-4 and dead last in defensive rating during that stretch. He’s earned this final spot.

Western Conference Backcourt: Stephen Curry and Devin Booker

Curry has cooled off since the start of the season, which impacts his MVP candidacy more than his All-Star status. He’s still putting up numbers while boasting the best defensive rating since his MVP seasons. He’s the engine driving another championship-driven Warriors team—and an easy pick for this spot.

For the second slot, I whittled a good field (one that included Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Luka Dončić, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) down to two: Devin Booker and Ja Morant. The numbers are really close. They both score around 24 points per game. Morant is the better playmaker (6.7 assists) while Booker is shooting above 40% from three for the first time in his career. Booker was a beast during Phoenix’s 16–0 November. Morant sparked Memphis’s recent 11-game winning streak. I went with Booker, in part because the NBA’s best team deserves a starter. I wouldn’t blame anyone for going the other way.

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