Teams that are really good
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Kyrie Irving
Averaging a career-high 23.9 points per game and a career-high .584 true shooting percentage, Kyrie may be having his best year yet. He’s also chipping in 6 assists per game(his best figure in the Big Three era) while keeping his turnovers down to just 2.5 per game. Shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and once again proving to be among the best mid-range scorers in the game, there may not be another player in the league better equipped to take one shot to win a game. He proved this once again in the biggest regular season game of the year, taking down the Golden State Warriors on Christmas day:
My verdict: Vote him in as a starter (but if not then vote for Kemba).
- LeBron James
In case you hadn’t noticed, LeBron is pretty good at basketball. Also, he did this:
Many Golden State fans believe he should’ve been assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim so long, but it would’ve been dangerous to let go while the floor was wet with Steph Curry’s tears.
My verdict: Obviously should be on every ballot.
- Kevin Love
After spending two years in the shadow of LeBron and Kyrie, this season Love has re-emerged as a superstar. He’s putting up a very efficient 21.8 PPG to go along with 10.9 RPG. He’s tallied 21 double-doubles on the year, and scored at least 12 points in every game. He scored 34 points in one quarter against Portland after never scoring more than 34 in a game his first two years in Cleveland. Even his much-maligned defense has shown improvement. He’s clearly deserving to return to the All-Star game, and maybe even to be voted in as a starter.
My verdict: Tough call, but I’d have to say he’s the fourth-best front court player in the East, so not quite a starter my ballot.
2. Toronto Raptors
- Kyle Lowry
My choice to start alongside Kyrie Irving. The Raptors are 0-4 against Cleveland and Golden State, but 23-6 against everyone else they’ve played. DeMar DeRozan may be scoring more points, but on/off numbers show that Lowry is the driving force behind that impressive record:
Lowry, DeRozan ON: 117.4 ORtg, 108.5 DRtg, 8.9 Net (1,666 possessions)
Lowry ON, DeRozan OFF: 124.4 ORtg, 107.5 DRtg, 16.9 Net (668 possessions)
Lowry OFF, DeRozan ON: 110 ORtg, 118.6 DRtg, -8.6 Net (601 possessions)
This isn’t to say that DeRozan has been bad. He’s a deserving All-Star in his own right, but the starting nod should go to Lowry.
My verdict: Top guard in the Eastern Conference (sorry Kyrie). Vote him in as a starter.
- DeMar DeRozan
While I don’t believe he should start, 28 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 4.1 APG are very impressive numbers. While he struggles to carry the team without Lowry, the 1,666 possessions they’ve played together matter more than the 601 possessions that DeRozan has played without Lowry. A career-best .554 true shooting percentage is a significant contributing factor in Toronto’s No. 1 offense. An efficient usage-sponge, he allows the role players around them to stick to what they do best.
My verdict: Deserving of a bench spot, but it’s closer than it looks at first glance.
Teams that are solid
3. Boston Celtics
- Isaiah Thomas
Thomas has grown into one of the better offensive weapons in the NBA. Averaging 27.7 PPG (his career-high by a mile) while scoring more efficiently than ever before, he’s a one-man dynamo for an offense otherwise lacking in playmakers. Toss in 6 APG with just 2.3 turnovers, and he’s clearly an All-Star.
My verdict: Has an argument for a starting spot, but ultimately falls short among a very strong group of point guards.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
This man is a force attacking the rim. He’s averaging more made 2-pointers than LeBron this season, en route to a monster 23.8 PPG, 9 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.9 BPG stat-line. He’s the reason Milwaukee is in the postseason picture despite losing Khris Middleton until at least March.
My verdict: The most automatic choice this side of LeBron. Should be on every ballot.
5. Charlotte Hornets
- Kemba Walker
One of the best ball-handlers in the league, Kemba has managed a career-best 23 PPG this season along with a career-best .587 true shooting percentage. He’s made 2.8 3-pointers per game at a 42 percent clip despite more than half of them coming off the bounce. His assist numbers are moderate for a point guard (5.4 APG) but his turnover are extremely low (2.1 per game) for such a high usage player. A solid defender to boot, there are no longer any holes in Kemba’s game. He’s a candidate for Most Improved Player Award, and has a legitimate case for starting the All-Star game.
My verdict: Probably my favorite player outside of Cleveland, I really want to put him in the starting lineup. But it’s between him and Kyrie, and I have to give the edge to the latter. Okay, okay: I voted them both in as starters while leaving Lowry off, but I felt guilty about it because Lowry definitely deserves to start.
Teams that are okay
6. Atlanta Hawks
- Paul Millsap
Maybe next year.
7. Washington Wizards
- John Wall
Wall is averaging 23.4 PPG (career-best) and 10.1 APG while carrying a Washington team with no bench. The Wizards appeared to be lottery-bound early in the year, but his efforts have pulled them into the thick of the playoff race. His .554 true shooting percentage is the best of his career, and though his turnovers are also up (4.5 per game) he’s leading the league in steals (2.3 per game) which helps get some of those possessions back.
My verdict: his season would be starter-worthy most years, but this season I think he belongs on the bench. I can’t remember the last time the Eastern Conference had this many top-notch point guards.
- Bradley Beal
He’s having a nice year, but the point guard crop is just too strong. My top choice as an injury replacement for a guard.
8. Chicago Bulls
- Dwyane Wade
Solid year, but I don’t give out legacy votes.
- Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets is getting to the line an absurd amount this year (.565 FTr, career-best) and draining his shots from the charity stripe better than ever before (.882 FT%). He’s scoring an very efficient 25.3 PPG, along with 6.8 RPG and 4.4 APG.
My verdict: Vote him in as a starter. He deserves it.
9. Detroit Pistons
- Andre Drummond
Nah. But probably next year.
10. Indiana Pacers
- Paul George
Followed up a rough month of November with a great month in December, which puts him solidly in the All-Star game. That said, he’s not even in the same ball park as the starters and has a ton of ground to make up for a chance at an All-NBA team at year’s end.
My verdict: Deserves a bench spot, but nothing more. Can safely be left off your ballot.
Teams that are not very good
11. Orlando Magic
/Glances at roster.
12. New York Knicks
- Carmelo Anthony
Sorry Melo, not this year.
- Kristaps Porzingis
After an impressive rookie campaign, Porzingis has yet again exceeded my expectations. He’s boosted his scoring above the 20 PPG mark while shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. His turnovers are exceptionally low (1.7 per game) and his defense has been solid.
My verdict: Quite deserving of a bench spot.
Teams that are really bad
13. Miami Heat
- Hassan Whiteside
It’s close, but I’m leaning towards no at the moment. Probably my top choice as an injury replacement for a front court player, however.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
- Joel Embiid
Front-runner for ROTY, but not quite enough to be an All-Star in my opinion. He’s missed 10 games already this season. Could very well make the team next year if he can stay healthy.
15. Brooklyn Nets
- Brook Lopez
Not quite. An efficient 20.5 PPG isn’t enough to push him past Porzingis. Possible injury substitute along with Whiteside.