From left: Bradley Beal (Wizards), LeBron James (Lakers), Luka Doncic (Mavericks) and Kemba Walker (Celtics). USA TODAY Sports: Jasen Vinlove | Noah K. Murray | Tim Heitman | Bob DeChiara

Fabulous or flawed? Debating NBA All-Star Game starters, potential reserves

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week's topic: All-Star Game starters and reserves. 

Heery: The All-Star Game starters were announced Thursday night:

East : Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Kemba Walker (Celtics), Trae Young (Hawks), Pascal Siakam (Raptors) and Joel Embiid (76ers)

West : LeBron James (Lakers), Luka Doncic (Mavericks), Kawhi Leonard (Clippers), James Harden (Rockets) and Anthony Davis (Lakers)

The reserves will be announced January 30, and the captains -- LeBron and Giannis yet again -- will select their squads February 6. There’s not as much recruiting hype surrounding this year’s draft as there was last season with Anthony Davis trade rumors swirling, but as always, there will be puzzling selections, snubs and maybe a few extra chips on the shoulders of some players once the teams are announced. 


Rockets guard James Harden  Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Heery: Did you have any issues with the starters? The Western Conference starters were pretty obvious, but the Eastern Conference starters were a little more divisive. Also, let's select our own All-Star Game reserves and see which players might cause some division among the masses. The floor is yours.

Keane:  I can’t take issue with many of those picks, no matter how many threes James Harden bricks this month. The only change I would make is to push back against Celtics exceptionalism and replace Walker with Bradley Beal. Walker’s stats are good -- 21.7 points and five assists per game and 39% three-point shooting -- but he’s on a team with multiple offensive weapons. Beal is scoring 27.5 per game with a career-high 6.3 assists on a team comprised of young guys, castoffs, and the NBA’s newest stud sharpshooter, Davis Bertrans. Yes, the Wizards are a lot worse than Boston, but Beal shouldn’t be penalized because his old GM traded Kelly Oubre for the husk of Trevor Ariza’s body and John Wall got clumsy while wandering around his house on pain medication.

I’m glad there’s a media panel and player vote to balance out part of the fan vote, because I really didn't want to see Kyrie Irving starting an All-Star Game in a season where he’s thrown his teammates under the bus more times than he’s actually suited up for the Nets. At least this gives him another conspiracy theory to obsess over. I wouldn’t mind seeing Trae Young light it up either, but I can understand if people think the worst team in the NBA didn't deserve a starter.

In the West, that starting five was a no-brainer. Harden is averaging almost 37 points, and while he might hate cutting down on his ISO plays, he belongs. Luka is an MVP candidate and should shine as long as there’s no MJ-style freeze-out of the young star. He’s listed as a guard instead of a forward this season, which works out because the Lakers’ real point guard, LeBron, is listed as a frontcourt player. James and AD have been great, and when Kawhi is actually on the court, he’s been phenomenal. Let’s hope the full week off means he won’t have to load manage the All-Star Game.

Picking reserves is where it gets tricky, so here’s my picks for the backups. The rules are three frontcourt players, two backcourt players, and two wild-card choices. 

WEST

Backcourt:  Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), Chris Paul (Thunder)

Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)

Wild cards: Utah's Donovan Mitchell, Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns. (I know he’s missed a lot of games, but he’s been so good when he plays)

EAST

Backcourt: Bradley Beal (Wizards), Jimmy Butler (Heat)

Frontcourt:  Ben Simmons (76ers), Bam Adebayo (Heat), Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

Wild cards: Khris Middleton (Bucks), Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)


 Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) jacks up a shot. Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Keane: I know I’ve left out some strong candidates, so please tell me who I’ve snubbed and as such, which teams I am hatefully biased against.

Heery: Ah, Bradley Beal. While I understand your argument, I left him off my team entirely. The reason is twofold: First off, he signed a max extension this summer, and is already complaining that he's as fed up as he's ever been with the Wizards' losing culture. Well Brad, you could have Googled the Wizards' roster before you signed the extension and seen that Washington had one of the five worst rosters in the league

And secondly, he signed the extension so late that he is ineligible to be traded this season. This second part is the part that bothers me the most because Beal was the ultimate trade piece for contenders this season, and he had to have known that. But he chose to stay in Washington another season ...  and now he's complaining about it. So, go kick some rocks while you're in Cabo this February, Brad, because you ain't making my All-Star team.

Here are my Eastern Conference reserves:

Backcourt: Jimmy Butler (Heat), Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)

Frontcourt: Ben Simmons (76ers), Bam Adebayo (Heat_, Domantas Sabonis

Wild cards: Khris Middleton (Bucks), SPENCER DINWIDDIE!! (Nets)

Take that, Kyrie! You may have the fan vote on your side, but your backup (who is averaging 21.8 ppg. and 6.4 apg.) is more deserving of an All-Star Game spot than you are. Dinwiddie is probably a reach, but I'm not rewarding Beal for eating three servings of dessert and then complaining that his stomach aches. Kyle Lowry (Raptors) has missed 1/4 of his games. Eric Bledsoe is being propped up by Giannis and the Bucks' system, and Zach LaVine (Bulls) seems to have the same impact on winning as Kyrie Irving.

My Western Conference reserves are the same as yours except I'm going to reward the Suns' Devin Booker (26.5 ppg., 6.3 apg., 51-36-92 shooting splits) over the T-Wolves' Karl-Anthony Towns for playing in more games, having a better team record, and finally having a positive net rating per 100 possessions (plus-2) for the first time in his career.


Suns guard Devin Booker  Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Heery: Next up, how do you see Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis, Part II shaping up roster-wise? It looks like LeBron received more votes, so I presume he'll have the first pick.

Keane: I get your choices, but I just can't reward Devin Booker yet, just because our expectations are so low for him. The Suns getting to 18-26 with a shooting guard hitting 36% of his threes just isn't enough for me to reward Booker. They haven't cratered quite as hard as Minnesota, though. And I am excited to see what an All-Star selection does to the price of DinwiddieCoin or SpenceBucks or whatever his contract is being paid out in. 

I’m glad we’re agreed that the best tribute to Paul George’s season is that he can go ahead and sit this game out too. I also think that if the Thunder has a better record than the Rockets at the All-Star break, Chris Paul should get Harden’s starting slot.

Team LeBron and Team Giannis have less at stake this season, compared to last season when eight of the 22 draftees were going to be free agents at the end of the season, and there were a sizable number of players who were, shall we say, open to trades to better situations. It felt less like a draft for an exhibition game than a televised tampering session, where Team LeBron and Team Klutch Sports were synonymous. This season, these guys are already on their superteams, so no recruitment necessary. I fully expect LeBron to take AD with his first pick, out of loyalty to Klutch Sports the Lakers. And I think Giannis will go with Luka for his first pick; he’s the other foreign superstar, he wasn’t part of the Raptors team that knocked out the Bucks last year, and he won’t yell at everyone like Jimmy Butler.

I think LeBron will once again take Kawhi. I also think Giannis will take Embiid and Siakam if they’re available, giving the game a de facto U.S. vs. the World feel. The last picks? Harden and one of the East guards -– Kemba or Trae Young. And I fully expect Giannis to once again use his first pick among the reserves on a Bucks teammate, be it Middleton or Bledsoe.

I’m basically picking chalk here, as I expect the same two guys picking in the same order to make similar decisions to last season.


Kawhi vs. LeBron. Let's get it on! Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Keane: Am I off base in my armchair mock drafting? Is there any intrigue or tampering factors on this one? And can you believe Dwight Howard is actually competing in the dunk contest in 2020?

Heery: I like the U.S. vs. World idea -- makes me wonder how many years away we are from that actually becoming a possibility. Love that CP3 gets to start over Harden idea as well. Speaking of which, while I do believe Harden could be out of Houston this summer if the Rockets continue to crater, I don’t think Milwaukee or LA have the pieces to acquire him, so I’m not seeing a ton of recruiting opportunities for either team captain. 

I really hope LeBron doesn’t draft Kawhi because I’d like to see him start going at Kawhi like he used to go at Kevin Durant. The guy beat LeBron in the Finals and manipulated him and the Lakers this past summer only to sign with their tenant -- at what point does LeBron stop playing nice and punch back? 

Finally, Howard being in the Dunk Contest in 2020 might be the biggest upset in NBA history. And if he somehow gets Kobe to participate in his dunks, like he said he wants him to, I’m heading to Adam Morrison’s apocalypse bunker because the end will be near. 

Any of the other ASG Weekend activities intrigue you this year? (Crossing my fingers that Kevin Hart is not involved in any way, shape or form.)

Keane: My biggest All-Star challenge this year will be explaining to my significant other why I need to spend Valentine's Day watching the Rising Stars Challenge and the Celebrity All-Star Game. I may end up the anti-Lou Williams -- no girlfriends at all.

I always love the Three-Point Contest because it’s so pure: get buckets, make moneyballs, win. And with both Splash Brothers presumably out of the running, the field is wide open. Will Joe Harris repeat and remind Kyrie irving that he’s also on the Nets? Could we get an all-Latvia final with Davis Bertans and Kristaps Porzingis? And will they invite a member of the Houston Rockets to participate, knowing they might miss a dozen threes in a row? The game is in Chicago, so they should really give a wild-card spot to Bulls three-point legend Craig Hodges, who wasn’t in the NBA when he did his last All-Star Weekend either. So what if he’s 59!

The Skills Challenge is always the strangest event to me, since it’s essentially players trying to do ball-handing drills quickly. I want to see a broader range of skills represented: Shooters should have to fake contact enough to get an and-one on their three-point shot, and follow it up with a customized celebration. Also, they shouldn’t be allowed to start the competition until their pregame fit gets over a thousand likes on Instagram. On a serious note, if they’re going to stick with the big men-versus-guards format, they need to have actual big men, and not tweener forwards like Kyle Kuzma and Jayson Tatum masquerading as centers. No smallball in the Skills Challenge!

Pat Heery began his sports writing career in 2016 for The Has Been Sports Blog. He practices real estate law during the day and runs pick & rolls at night. Follow him on Twitter: @pheery12

Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.


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