The NBA will announce its All-Star starters on Jan. 27, but we’re going to go one step further today and pick the whole dang team for the Western Conference. As a quick reminder, the starters are required to comprise three frontcourt players and two backcourt players, with no further positional restrictions than that. The reserves need to be made up of two more backcourt players, three more frontcourts and two wild cards—how fun! All stats are through Jan. 24. Here we go …
Backcourt starters: Stephen Curry, Ja Morant
Even with his recent shooting struggles, you simply can’t leave Curry off this team. If anything, this season is an indicator of how the threat of Curry’s shooting is at times nearly as—or more—important than how many shots go in. The Warriors star’s counting stats are perfectly fine (26.0 PPG/5.3RPG/6.2 APG), but he’s shooting a pedestrian (for the greatest shooter ever) 37.6% from three. And despite what would be the worst three-point percentage of Steph’s career, Golden State still has a 114.4 offensive rating with him on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass—equivalent to the second-best offense in the NBA. Also, it’s Curry. Do I really need to sell you on him?
Morant deserves to make the first of what will likely be many All-Star starts. Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul and Luka Dončić all have good cases, but for what it’s worth, Mitchell and Dončić are both currently looking up at Morant in the standings. (Injuries have played a role, to be fair.) Morant gets the edge for me because he seems to have helped mold the Grizzlies in his image, and he’s been the biggest driver of their success. He’s also been more efficient than Dončić and Mitchell so far this season, and he’s carrying a much heavier scoring burden than Paul.
Frontcourt starters: LeBron James, Nikola Jokić, Rudy Gobert
James and Jokić are absolute, stone-cold locks as starters. James is averaging 29 points a night, which would be his best mark since 2010. 2010! When was the last time a player went 12 years between their highest scoring averages, while still averaging at least 25.0 points per game every season in between? Has that ever happened? James is launching threes at a career-high rate, is hitting a good-but-not-great number of them and is still shooting over 50% from the field. Of the many frustrating things about this Lakers season, perhaps the biggest is how the roster construction—while maybe forcing this offensive barrage from James—is wasting a massive effort from one of the game’s greats. (Who was responsible for that said roster construction notwithstanding.)
Jokić was my midseason MVP. He is in the 100th percentile in on-court/off-court splits, per Cleaning the Glass. That means no player in the NBA makes a bigger difference for his team when he plays compared to when he sits. The Nuggets play like one of the best teams in the league with Jokić on the floor and play like one of the worst teams of the century when he sits. Jokić is averaging 26.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists a game while shooting 57.3% from three. He’s insane.
The last frontcourt spot is perhaps mildly up for debate. Gobert’s inclusion means starting two centers. Karl-Anthony Towns has a good argument to be included, but Gobert is too vital to the success of one of the best teams in the NBA to be left off. Utah is elite on both ends of the floor when Gobert plays, a testament to his screen setting and rim protection. The Stifle Tower is never going to wow you with his counting stats, though tossing up a 16 and 15 with a couple of blocks a night is nothing to scoff at. Utah’s struggles without Rudy this season only bolster his case.
Backcourt reserves: Chris Paul, Devin Booker
At age 36, Paul is averaging the seventh-best assist-to-turnover ratio and the best assist ratio of his career. CP3’s stats don’t overwhelm (even if he leads the league in assists), but he is the guiding force of what’s been the best team in the NBA. Meanwhile, Devin Booker is averaging a tidy 25/5/4 while having his best shooting season from three, both in terms of volume and efficiency. Team success shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all in All-Star debates, but the Suns do have a healthy cushion in the league-wide standings. They deserve two All-Stars.
Frontcourt reserves: Luka Dončić, Karl-Anthony Towns, Draymond Green
The Mavericks are 21–11 when Dončić plays, the equivalent of a 53-win season. And after a sluggish start, Dallas is now coming on strong. The team’s defense has improved while Luka has continued to pile up numbers. Dončić is averaging 25.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists a game. He’s currently the only member of the 25/8.5/8.5 club this season. (I’m also probably cheating a bit using Luka as a forward. I don’t care. Let the NBA fight me. I don’t think Paul George or Anthony Davis should make the game on a positional technicality when they’ve missed so many games. I think when push comes to shove, the coaches will vote in Luka as a forward.)
Towns (24.3/9.2/3.7) has an argument to start. He is shooting 40.4% from three. (Yes, he is currently shooting better from long distance than Curry.) And the Wolves have been good! Don’t be fooled by their 23–23 record. Minnesota’s best lineup has played in only 18 of its first 46 games and is creeping up on Denver to get out of the play-in and into the playoffs.
Draymond Green is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the NBA, and he is arguably the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. You can stuff his box score stats into a shoebox, put them under your bed and forget about them forever. Draymond plays a massive role on both ends of the floor for the team with the second-best net rating in the NBA. There is no world in which someone like him should not be an All-Star.
Wild Card reserves: Donovan Mitchell, Dejounte Murray
Mitchell (25.5/4.0/5.2) is the leading scorer and best offensive player on the best offense in the NBA. That feels important! Of all players who run at least six pick-and-rolls as the ball handler a game, Mitchell leads everyone in points per possession at 1.05. He also has the third-best effective field goal percentage in that group, a testament to the deadliness of his pull-up three.
My last spot is going to Dejounte Murray. He’s the only player in the NBA averaging at least 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists a game, and he’s adding two steals to boot. The Spurs have not been very good, but with injuries hampering Paul George’s case, and Andrew Wiggins not carrying anywhere near as large a burden, Murray is more than worthy of his first selection.
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