The NBA has announced the starters for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game with Brooklyn Nets' star Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Lakers' star LeBron James selected by the fans as captains.
The starting lineups can be found below.
2021 #NBAAllStar Game starters revealed!- #NBAAllStar (@NBAAllStar) February 19, 2021
Lakers' LeBron James and Nets' Kevin Durant tabbed as team captains for the 70th All-Star Game. https://t.co/O4Wa7Lc7OM pic.twitter.com/0I7bFHf2mc
With the starting lineup selections behind us, that leaves the toughest part - deciding the reserves in each conference.
Picking reserves always strikes a debate as a handful of deserving players are always left out as snubs. Which players will make the cut and which players won't?
All stats are updated as of Feb. 20.
Eastern Conference All-Star reserve candidates
I personally had Nets' star James Harden as a starter, but when his teammate Irving claimed that spot, Harden became a no-brainer selection as a reserve. I would also put Boston Celtics' guard Jaylen Brown in that group as well.
So who is left for backcourt members that deserve consideration for the wild card spots?
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Simmons has been one of the best two-way players in the NBA this season as part of the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. That alone is enough for All-Star consideration but when you add to it that the 76ers have the best record in the Eastern Conference, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave Simmons off the All-Star team. Averaging 15.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game, Simmons should be in line for his third-consecutive All-Star bid, this time as a wild card.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young got off to a slower-than-expected start this season but has since ramped up his level of play to keep the Hawks in the playoff race. His scoring average (26.5 points per game) might be down in the slightest compared to last season (29.6 PPG), but he is still dishing out 9.3 assists per game. Ranking in the top 10 in scoring and top five in assists makes him worthy of one of the wild card spots in the East.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
LaVine is just as deserving as Simmons and Young as the Bulls' star guard is averaging career-highs in points, assists, rebounds, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage and player efficiency rating. How does someone playing that well get left off the All-Star team? The case for LaVine is tricky when he's stacked up against the competition, but if he's named an All-Star, there won't be much complaint.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have bounced back in a big way after a bad start to the season and VanVleet owns a lot of the responsibility for that. The undrafted guard has built a solid All-Star case averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and assists while also leading the league in total steals. Setting Toronto's single-game franchise record with 54 points is just another line on VanVleet's All-Star resume and even if he doesn't earn a bid, his name certainly belongs in this mix.
The frontcourt was much tougher to select because the only lock I had was Celtics' forward Jayson Tatum. That left the big group of deserving players below, and this list even excludes players like Gordon Hayward, Jerami Grant, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, who are all having All-Star calibre seasons.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have been one of the best teams in the East all season and Sabonis has played an integral role in that success. He has quite literally been a walking double-double, achieving the feat in 23 of the 29 games he's played in - second-most in the league - averaging a career-high 21.5 points to go with 11.6 rebounds per game. He is also averaging career-highs in assists, steals and blocks, making Sabonis worthy of his second straight All-Star nod.
Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Randle has helped turn the Knicks into a competitive team this season, averaging 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 40.5% from 3 - all of which are career-highs. He deserves the majority of the credit for having New York in the playoff picture for the first time since 2013 and even in a year where there are plenty of other worthy players that have previously been selected to the All-Star team, Randle has played beyond expectations for his first All-Star bid.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton has been an All-Star in each of the last two seasons and the Bucks' forward has been even better than ever before this season. Averaging 20.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game, Middleton is averaging one of the most balanced stat lines in the league. If that's not impressive enough, he's doing so on 50-40-90 shooting splits, looking like a strong candidate to join that elite club. With Middleton, the question comes down to, "have the Bucks played well enough to deserve two All-Stars?"
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
The Heat have struggled to start the season, but where would they be without Adebayo? For a roster that has delt with a number of absences due to injuries and health and safety protocols, Adebayo has been a mainstay in Miami's lineup with averages of 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. He continues to evolve as a player, becoming much more comfortable knocking down jumpshots while still anchoring the Heat's defence. He was named an All-Star for the first time last season; will he repeat again?
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Vucevic has been amazing this season, averaging a career-high 23.6 points to go with 11.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The Magic's star centre has also extended his range this season, stepping out to the 3-point line much more frequently while converting at a career-best 40.7 percent clip. The one-time All-Star is worthy of consideration, although his team's success may hinder his chances.
Western Conference All-Star reserve candidates
I also had the West starting backcourt incorrect, as I slotted Portland Trail Blazers' guard Damian Lillard next to Stephen Curry instead of Luka Doncic. The West backcourt reserves selections were easy though, as Lillard and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell are undeniably deserving.
But who are the other guards that could be considered for a reserve spot? (Side note: a nod to C.J. McCollum, who was well on his way to the first potential All-Star bid of his career before suffering a foot injury 13 games into the season).
Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Paul and Booker may be fighting with one another to decide who gets an All-Star spot in the West. It's not that both players aren't deserving of an All-Star spot - they very well might fill the two wild card spots - it's just that they're each other's competition if only one is picked. Paul is looking like an ageless wonder as the catalyst to Phoenix's success while Booker is the team's leading scorer averaging 24.3 points per game. With the Suns owning one of the West's best records, one of these players will surely get in. Who will it be?
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs missed the playoffs last season, snapping a league-best streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances. It didn't take long for San Antonio to bounce back into the playoff picture and DeRozan's performance has played a huge role in that, averaging 19.8 points, a career-high 6.9 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game. If the Spurs are rewarded with an All-Star for their team's strong start to the season, DeRozan is the guy.
Mike Conley Jr., Utah Jazz
Conley has somehow never been an All-Star, but that could come to an end this season. With Utah running through the first half of the NBA schedule with ease, there is a case for the team to have three All-Stars. Conley's averages of 16.5 points, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game might not jump off the page, but he's shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 41.0 percent from 3 - both of which are career-highs.
De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Fox is averaging a career-high 22.8 points and 6.9 assists per game, building a solid case for his first-career All-Star bid. Although Sacramento has cooled off from the hot streak that Fox sparked, that doesn't take away from the season the 23-year-old is having. If his first All-Star nod doesn't happen this season, it's coming sooner rather than later.
The West reserves frontcourt didn't present much of a challenge for me personally, rewarding Jazz centre Rudy Gobert, LA Clippers' forward Paul George and Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis for their efforts this season. However, there were a few other names worth consideration for one of the wild card spots.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Williamson has been on a rampage in Year 2, averaging 25.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game while shooting an unheard of 62.0 percent from the field. The ease in which he's scoring has been jaw-dropping and when it comes to Zion, you know there's plenty of highlights he could bring to an All-Star Game. But highlights aside, his production on the floor has been All-Star-worthy and he'll be one of the first players in line for a wild card spot in the West.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Ingram has also been impressive this season, although his All-Star chances are likely overshadowed by Williamson. Averaging 23.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, the 23-year-old has put together a solid case for his second straight All-Star bid, the field may just be a little too crowded this season.
Christian Wood, Houston Rockets
Wood was enjoying a breakout season prior to an ankle injury that has caused him to miss 11 games, which will likely take him out of All-Star consideration. Nonetheless, averaging 22.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 assists per game are All-Star-calibre numbers in his first real opportunity to prove himself in the league, and Wood could've had quite the case to make the team if he remained healthy.
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