This weekend, the NBA’s elite head north of the border to Toronto, for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game. Last year, the All-Star Game was captured by the Western Conference, by a score of 163-158. High-scoring, exciting basketball is abundant, and this season has a good mixture of newcomers and fan-favorites.
Let’s break down the teams. First, the Eastern Conference:
|G||Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors|
|G||Dwyane Wade||Miami Heat|
|F||Carmelo Anthony||New York Knicks|
|F||Paul George||Indiana Pacers|
|F||LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers|
This season we see a shake-up of the starters. Wade, who was a reserve last season, moves back into the starting lineup. Expect George, who spent last season recovering from injury, to be a mainstay in the starting lineup for years to come. As for James, Anthony, and Lowry, they reprise their roles from last season.
Don’t expect Wade, James, or Anthony to play heavy minutes. Since this is the 12th selection for Wade and James, and the 9th for Anthony, they likely are looking forward to the rest more than the actual game. Lowry and George are both younger, and should get plenty of playing time.
The fans voted the starters in and did an exceptional job. James, George, and Lowry have all had excellent seasons, with James and George expecting to contend for the MVP award. Wade and Anthony, meanwhile, have played up to their usual standards, but their teams have not been as successful as the others.
|G||DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors|
|G||Isaiah Thomas||Boston Celtics|
|G||John Wall||Washington Wizards|
|F||Paul Millsap||Atlanta Hawks|
|F/C||Chris Bosh||Miami Heat|
|F/C||Pau Gasol||Chicago Bulls|
|C||Andre Drummond||Detroit Pistons|
Bosh and Gasol are long-time All-Star veterans, having been selected 11 and 6 times respectively. Gasol is replacing his injured teammate, Jimmy Butler. Butler has been the best shooting-guard in the East this season, but is expected to miss up to a month with a knee injury. Gasol’s spot is well-deserved though.
Both Wall and Millsap are making their third appearance each, though both the Wizards and the Hawks are not enjoying the success they had last season. Three other Hawks, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver, are absent from the All-Star team this season, as Millsap is the only Hawk who has replicated his performance from last season.
DeRozan is making his second appearance, which is fitting since the game is being played in his home arena. Both Drummond and Thomas are first-time picks, after helping their teams to challenge for a playoff spot. Expect DeRozan to be especially locked in to satiate the Raptors fans, who campaigned heavily to get DeRozan in the game.
Now, over to the Western Conference:
|G||Steph Curry||Golden State Warriors|
|G||Russell Westbrook||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|F||Kobe Bryant||Los Angeles Lakers|
|F||Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|F||Kawhi Leonard||San Antonio Spurs|
Last season’s MVP, Curry, is the standout of this group. On his way to perhaps another MVP, Curry has been the best player in the league this season, by almost every metric. Westbrook and Durant of the Thunder also return, having a combined 12 appearances between them.
Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP in 2014, is playing in his debut All-Star Game. After improving his offensive repertoire, Leonard has turned himself into an MVP candidate. His Spurs are in contention for the #1 seed in the West, even after the Warriors’ historic start.
Finally there’s Bryant, who is the odd-man-out. Kobe’s career has been something to marvel at, and he is undeniably one of the all-time great players in this league. Still though, he hasn’t played at an All-Star level for a few years now. But, the fans voted the starters, and the fans wanted Kobe Bryant in the game. So enjoy it, because Bryant has said this is his last season. Let the man have this one.
|G||James Harden||Houston Rockets|
|G||Chris Paul||Los Angeles Clippers|
|G||Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors|
|F||Draymond Green||Golden State Warriors|
|F/C||LaMarcus Aldridge||San Antonio Spurs|
|F/C||Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans|
|C||DeMarcus Cousins||Sacramento Kings|
Green is making his debut. Even though his traditional statistics aren’t eye-popping, it doesn’t take away anything from him as a player. Watch any Warriors game and you’ll instantly notice how important Green is to their success. Speaking of Warriors, along with Green and Curry, Thompson returns as well, meaning both “Splash Brothers” will play.
Paul and Harden are mainstays at the guard position, with both helping their teams to playoff spots. Paul’s Clippers have had to deal with the loss of Blake Griffin, but Paul has still kept the team in the top-four in the West. Harden’s Rockets struggled to begin the season, but since then Harden has brought them back to the eighth-seed.
For the “bigs,” Davis and Cousins are no-brainers. Both are widely considered to be top-players at their positions, and in fact I’ve written about both earlier in the season. Aldridge, in his first season on the Spurs, has kept the same elite-level of play that he was known for in Portland.
The ASG isn’t until Sunday night. NBA All-Star Weekend covers 3 days, from February 12-14, all leading up to the main event. (All times EST)
Friday, February 12th –
7 p.m. – Celebrity Game on ESPN
9 p.m. – Rising Stars Challenge on TNT
Saturday, February 13th –
8 p.m. – All-Star Saturday Night (Skills Challenge, 3-point shootout, and Dunk Contest) on TNT
Sunday, February 14th –
8:30 p.m. – NBA All-Star Game on TNT
Statistics provided by: NBA.com and ESPN.com
Images thanks to: NBA.com, SB Nation, NY Post, LA Times, sportsglory.com, and USA Today