We’ve made it, folks.
We’ve made it to every NBA fan’s favourite time of the year: the time when we all amicably debate why our most beloved players deserve to be an All-Star without any vitriol or nastiness involved.
That peaceful discourse is exactly why I’ve decided to take on the arduous task of selecting All-Star teams for both the West and East.
Before we get started, three disclaimers need to be made. First, this is not a list of who I think will make it, but rather who I believe deserves to. Most of the time, those overlap, but ultimately, the voting system is still very much a popularity contest (somewhere, Zaza just randomly started nodding).
Second, I’ll be taking a player’s EPM, RPM, and RAPTOR (three of the best all-in-one rate stats today) into consideration when things are too close to call. Basically, those stats are my version of Zach Lowe’s “Vorps and Schnorps,” and they’re measured on a per-minute basis, meaning that missed time won’t impact the numbers. They won’t be the end-all-be-all, but they’ll give us a more objective approach to evaluating players.
Speaking of missed time, injuries will be taken into consideration, but that doesn’t mean certain players will be absent strictly because of it. For example, Anthony Davis is going to be one of the players selected, but the only question is whether his injury will impact his chance of being a starter or not. There won’t be a strict minutes/games played cutoff when factoring in missed time, but I will consider a player’s total WAR (wins above replacement), which is a counting stat that is accumulated through playing time and estimates how much a player contributed to his team’s total wins.
So, with that out of the way, let’s all raise our pitchforks and dive in.
Luka Doncic: Luka needs no introduction. The man is currently averaging 34/9/9 on 50% shooting — numbers that would make Wilt blush. He’s the only reason the Mavs aren’t in the lottery and is a lock to make All-NBA First Team again.
Steph Curry: With Luka as a lock, the tougher decision came down to Shai vs Steph for the second guard spot. If Steph had been healthy the entire year, this wouldn’t have been up for debate. But with Shai playing over 400 more minutes than him, I hesitated ever so slightly before looking at the advanced stats: Steph rates much higher in all of EPM, RPM, and RAPTOR, and the most impressive part is that he leads Shai in WAR as well, despite missing a lot more time.
Fancy numbers aside, simple on/off data also paint Steph as the more valuable player. Without Shai, the Thunder’s net rating is shockingly only slightly below average at -1.1, but the Warriors without Steph sit at a much ugly -5.8.
Add in the fact that Steph is a better playmaker and defender with unmatched efficiency, and there shouldn’t be any doubt that he deserves to be an All-Star starter this year.
Nikola Jokic: Similar to Luka, Jokic is a shoo-in. He’s averaging a 25-point triple-double as a center and should be the leading candidate to win a third consecutive MVP.
LeBron James & Lauri Markkanen: The other two spots are where it gets dicey. Four players were heavily considered: LeBron, AD, Domantas Sabonis, and Lauri Markkanen. If we went by who played the best at their absolute peak this season, it would be AD without question. The numbers back that up too, as he’s at the top of almost every advanced metric.
Even with him potentially returning in early February, though, AD’s just missed too much time for him to be voted in as a starter. Unsurprisingly, he lags far behind the other three names in total WAR, and it doesn’t seem right to list someone who’s only appeared in just over half the season as a starter.
The other three players are basically neck and neck in the advanced stats, but I ultimately went with LeBron and Markkanen.
Make no mistake: LeBron is not a legacy pick. Since turning 38, he’s averaged 36 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.6 assists while shooting over 50% from the field. More importantly, the Lakers are actually .500 since AD went down, and LeBron is undoubtedly the biggest (and perhaps only) reason for that.
Markkanen vs Sabonis was essentially a coin toss. Their on/off stats are similar (+13.1 for Markkanen, +13.9 for Sabonis) and both are having great offensive seasons, but it’s the defense that set Markkanen apart. He’s holding opponents to just 51.6% shooting around the rim, which is miles better than Sabonis’ 60.1%.
I do think that Walker Kessler has much more to do with those elite rim protection numbers than Markkanen, but even if that’s the case, Sabonis’ subpar defense is much more detrimental simply due to him playing a more important position defensively.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Shai shouldn’t just be an All-Star — he has a very good chance of making one of the All-NBA teams. The season’s halfway through and Shai’s still averaging 30.5 points on 50% shooting. A sample size that large indicates that this is his true talent level, and there’s no doubt that Shai’s now one of the very best players in the league.
Domantas Sabonis: Sabonis has been the biggest reason why the Kings are the fourth seed in the West. Averaging 19 points and 12.6 rebounds is impressive, but it’s the 7.1 assists that stand out most: he’s become a legitimately great offensive hub and is one of the more underappreciated playmakers in the league.
Jokic has gotten a lot of shine for his passing (and rightfully so), but it shouldn't overshadow the fact that Sabonis has also established himself as a great passing big man (averaging 7.1 assists) and offensive hub in his own right pic.twitter.com/PWTqTdeQyi— Bill Huan (@bill_huan) January 20, 2023
Anthony Davis: Before his injury, AD was playing at an MVP level and was probably the second-best player in the Western Conference behind only Jokic. His .662% true shooting percentage is .50% ahead of his previous career-high, and it truly looked like “New Orleans AD” was back. Let’s hope he keeps it up once he returns to the court.
Ja Morant: What more needs to be said about Ja? He’s arguably the most electric player in the league and is the undisputed number-one option on a legitimate championship contender. Ja’s third league-wide in drives per game at 20.7 and is shooting an above-average 62% around the rim, which is awfully impressive for a slight 6’3” guard. But hey, when you have hops like his, anything is possible.
EVERY ANGLE OF JA MORANT'S UNBELIEVABLE DUNK OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE ️ pic.twitter.com/8u1j6ZNH3F— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2023
Damian Lillard: After an injury-riddled season, Dame is back to his old ways. He’s averaging 29.3 points on the best true shooting of his career (.628%), and the Blazers’ 120.8 offensive rating with him on the court would be the best in the league. Dame Time has officially returned.
Final two picks
Zion Williamson & Devin Booker: Selecting Zion and Booker as the final two All-Stars was surprisingly difficult given the season that Paul George is having. In terms of advanced metrics, PG is actually ahead of both in all three stats, and he’s played the most minutes too.
Even so, I felt like Booker deserves the nod more given how Phoenix has looked since he’s been out. The Suns have gone 2-10 without him, and their -9.6 net rating during that span is second-last in the league. Phoenix’s offensive rating is a meager 107.9 (dead last) over that time but with Booker playing, it skyrockets to 122, which would be first league-wide.
Zion’s case is a lot harder to make. He has by far the best supporting cast considering New Orleans is almost break-even without him playing (-0.5 net rating), which is all the more impressive considering Brandon Ingram’s extended absence.
If you strictly go by the numbers, PG is much more deserving of the spot than Zion. However, I just can’t discount the eye test, and no one in the league pops more than a healthy Zion. His physical profile is literally unmatched in NBA history, and I just can’t be objective when a close to 300-pound monster is able to make 360 windmill dunks.
Zion Williamson threw down a windmill dunk in the closing seconds of the Pelicans' win over the Suns.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) December 10, 2022
Things got heated after that
If anyone makes a case for PG, I’ve got no complaints. But I’m making an executive decision here and going with Zion.
Paul George, De’Aaron Fox, Aaron Gordon, Desmond Bane, Anthony Edwards.
Tyrese Haliburton: Even with him being sidelined for the past week, no other guard in the East deserves to start over Haliburton. At the ripe age of 22, he leads the entire league in total assists, and yet his turnover rate of 11.5% is still above league average.
Donovan Mitchell: Not only is DMitch scoring the most points of his career (28.4ppg), but he’s also setting career bests in efficiency too. He’s currently shooting 48.4% from the field when he’s never been above 45%, and his 62.3% true shooting is also .50% higher than his previous high. Did I mention that he’s also become a solid defender again after being a turnstile in Utah last season?
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Giannis is, well, Giannis. He’s whom most fans would consider to be the best player in the world, and is putting up his usual freakish numbers of 31/12/5. Interestingly, his efficiency is way down this year (especially his two-point percentage), but that’s likely due to extended absences for both Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Defensively, Giannis has been as good as ever: he’s the only player who’s holding opponents shooting around the basket under 50%.
Joel Embiid: Coming off back-to-back second-place finishes in MVP voting, Embiid has somehow gotten even better. Averaging 35.5 points per 75 possessions is historically great, and the Sixers’ defensive rating of 109.3 with him playing would also be tied for the league best.
Jayson Tatum: Picking Tatum over KD might be controversial, but this is where injuries come into play. If KD had stayed healthy, he would’ve been the selection here, but given that he’s slated to miss at least a month, I’m comfortable slotting in Tatum.
KD is rated slightly higher in both RAPTOR and EPM, but Tatum has a gigantic lead in RPM (he’s actually first league-wide). Their WARs are close enough to the point where Tatum will pass KD within a few games, let alone the span of weeks. Given KD’s injury history, it’s entirely possible that the Nets could just shut him down until after the All-Star break anyway, which would make this debate moot considering he’d miss the game.
Is Tatum better than KD on either end of the court? Probably not — KD’s a more efficient scorer, and his rim protection provides more defensive value than Tatum’s elite on-ball defense. With that said, the difference between them is close enough that an extended absence for KD should rightfully give Tatum the starting nod as an All-Star.
Kevin Durant: Somehow, KD’s season still feels underappreciated. He’s setting career highs in true shooting (67.3%), field goal percentage (55.9%), and free throw percentage (93.4%), the latter of which leads the league.
But that’s not all.
The man’s shooting 62% on twos even though he hardly gets to the rim (only 15% of his shots are around the basket, which ranks in the two percentile) and a ludicrous 57% on long mid-rangers. This is truly akin to creating a player on 2K and giving him 99 for every stat.
The best of @KDTrey5 this season in under 2 minutes— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 13, 2023
Pres. by @CarMax pic.twitter.com/bRAZVZ8O3J
Jaylen Brown: Like many players on this list, Brown is posting career highs in a number of categories: points (27.2), rebounds (7.1), field goal percentage (49.8%), and true shooting (59.5%). More impressive is the fact that the Celtics have a +6.6 net rating when Brown plays without Tatum. Simply put, he’s good enough to be the first option on most teams in the league and should be in the running for one of the All-NBA teams.
DeMar DeRozan: There are three constants in life: death, taxes, and DeMar shooting almost 50% from mid-range (48%, to be exact). DeMar’s basically repeating what he did last year, a season in which he garnered some early MVP buzz. He’s averaging 26 points on over 50% shooting and remains one of the best closers in the league — DeMar leads the league in clutch scoring at 5.2 points per game, with no other player averaging over 5.
Pascal Siakam: Somehow, Siakam has only been an All-Star once, and yet has made two All-NBA teams. He deserves both distinctions once again, as he’s in the midst of a career season. Consider this: the Raptors’ 117.6 offensive rating with Siakam playing would rank 5th league-wide, but their 109.4 rating without him would be dead last. Siakam’s playmaking has taken another jump too, as his 27.5% assist percentage is ranked in the 97th percentile among all bigs.
Jimmy Butler: Jimmy Buckets is a big game player, but he isn’t shabby in the regular season either. For the first time in his career, Jimmy’s shooting over 50% from the field and he’s also averaging 1.27 points per shot attempt (including free throws) — good for the 90th percentile among all forwards. He’s making 46% of his mid-rangers too, and Jimmy’s 62.1% true shooting is a career-high as well.
Final two picks
James Harden & Jrue Holiday: The final two spots in the East came down between two guards (Harden and Jrue) and two bigs (Porzingis and Randle). Ultimately, I decided to go with the guards simply because they’re better players who impact winning more.
In terms of the advanced metrics, all four are quite similar: Harden and Jrue are rated higher by RAPTOR and EPM, while Randle is beloved by RPM and actually leads all four in total WAR. Even so, I think that Jalen Brunson has played a bigger role in the Knicks’ success this year than Randle has, despite what the numbers say. Brunson has given the team a calming presence that isn’t quantifiable, and his decision-making has resulted in Randle playing a more measured game too.
Porzingis, another ex-Mav (boy, wouldn’t they want the two of them alongside Luka), is also enjoying a nice bounce-back season. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game on 59.8% true shooting (second-best of his career) while being an elite rim protector: opponents are shooting just 51.8% around the rim when Porzingis contests their shot, which is the sixth lowest rate in the league and a whopping 12.2% lower than their usual field goal rate. More importantly, Porzingis has stayed healthy for most of the year, as he’s only missed four games up to this point.
While Randle and Porzingis are playing great, Jrue and Harden have simply been better. Jrue’s defensive chops are well-known, but his offensive game is still underrated. This season, the Bucks have a +7.5 net rating and a 118.2 offensive rating (which would be fourth league-wide) when Jrue plays without Giannis, but those numbers plummet to -1.9 and 107.3 (which would be the worst offense in the league) with Giannis on and Jrue off.
That doesn’t mean Milwaukee is better off without Giannis, but it does show that Jrue is more than capable of running a very successful offense on his own. Pair that with his elite defense, and you get one of the most well-rounded players in the league.
Harden’s inclusion might be more controversial, but it shouldn’t be. Many people seem to have discounted him due to an early season injury, but Harden’s 1072 minutes played is only 20 fewer than Jimmy, and it’s more than almost half of my Western Conference selections (of course, he’s not competing against those players, but it’s still a useful point of reference).
He’s also been criticized for not being “Houston Harden” anymore, but this version of him is still an All-NBA caliber player. Even though his scoring is down, The Beard is having an ultra-efficient season by shooting over 38% from three (the best percentage since he was in OKC) along with a true shooting of 61%, which is right in line with his Houston days. Add in the fact that he’s been arguably the best playmaker in the league and is first in assists per game (11.1) and you still have one of the 20 best players in the world.
It’s also not a coincidence that Embiid is having his best scoring season to date, as Harden has made it a lot easier for the big man to score.
Though they haven't been as efficient as last season, the Embiid-Harden two-man game is still a sight to behold pic.twitter.com/7zvSpju0mP— Bill Huan (@bill_huan) January 13, 2023
When Harden plays without Embiid, the Sixers have a +2.7 net rating with a very good 116.7 offensive rating, proving that The Beard can still be an elite heliocentric player when needed.
No matter how you slice it, Harden absolutely deserves to be an All-Star, and his playmaking chops have been exactly what Philly needed.
Kristaps Porzingis, Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo, Jalen Brunson.
This week, please check out JeffreyGrantHunt’s article on the origins of basketball! It’s definitely an interesting and well-written piece on the inception of the game.
Also, don’t forget that All-Star voting ends on Saturday — make sure to get your tallies in on NBA.com.
Whatever you do, just make sure not to vote for Zaza again.
Thanks for reading!
All stats courtesy of Cleaning the Glass, NBA Stats, EPM, RPM, and RAPTOR.