Picking the All-Star starters


The NBA is testing out a new All-Star Game routine this year. The two leading vote getters among All-Star starters – in this case LeBron James and Stephen Curry – will now act as captains, choosing their teams with alternating picks. They don’t have to consider vote tallies or even stick to their respective conferences. The only rule is that they have to fill out their starting lineups from the pool of eight additional voted in starters before they start picking reserves.

Whether or not it will inject much life into the All Starg game itself remains to be seen, but it’s a creative idea that, if nothing else, is fun for fans to speculate about. So without further ado, let’s do just that. These are my musings and predictions about each starting lineup pick.

(Available Players: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving)

Pick #1 (LeBron James)

We read into every syllable LeBron utters, so naturally this pick (assuming we learn what it is) will set off some shockwaves. Because he’s been silent about committing to Cleveland long-term while the entire NBA community speculates about an imminent move to Los Angeles or elsewhere, LeBron has set up a situation whereby this pick will be viewed, one way or the other, as a statement about his future. If he picks Kyrie Irving (which he might do just to get in Irving’s head), he’ll be said to be sending a signal to the Cavaliers that they messed up trading Irving away. If he takes Kevin Durant, you’d better believe someone will write the “Could LeBron Actually Join The Warriors?” piece. If he takes Harden, he’s going to Houston. If he takes Embiid, Philly’s on the short list. It’s going to be dramatic no matter what.

Prediction: Anthony Davis. I actually think there’s a chance Adam Silver steps in here and asks LeBron to take Durant (or asks Curry not to) so that Warriors fatigue doesn’t extend to the All-Star Game. Barring that possibility though, I think James takes Anthony Davis. He’ll be under at least a little bit of pressure to take someone from the West to take advantage of the new format. Meanwhile, the New Orleans big man is playing like an MVP and is unlike anyone James has ever played with, Team USA notwithstanding. It’s a winning pick that would set off less speculation than many others, and he and Davis have no beef.

Pick #2 (Stephen Curry)

Curry’s under a lot less pressure than James with this first pick. It’s not the first overall, and we can’t concoct any ramifications regarding player movement, because Curry isn’t going anywhere. Really the only semi-dramatic thing he can do is to pick someone other than his teammate Kevin Durant. Again, there’s at least some possibility that Silver steps in and stops the two starting Warriors from ending up on the same team. There’s also a chance Curry picks someone else just to have a little fun with Durant.

Prediction: Kevin Durant. I think a lot of guys are in play here, actually. Curry could go for an elite big man, particularly to counter James picking Davis. He could get Giannis Antetokounmpo, the closest thing there is to an Eastern Conference Durant, just to mess with his teammate. But Curry is a pretty boring superstar in terms of off-court drama or shenanigans, so I think he plays this one straight if he’s allowed to. Plus Durant isn’t a bad counter to Davis himself.

Pick #3 (LeBron James) 

(Team: James, Davis)

If the first two picks go as described above, James is actually in a tricky spot. There are only two point guards on the board, one is his opposing captain, and he’ll start to realize right about here that he might have to pick Irving at some point. If the NBA were televising this and James had a chance to take a super public high road, I think he’d do it right here by making that pick. But that’s not the case, so I think he’ll put it off a little longer to see if Curry embraces small-ball and takes Irving himself.

Prediction: James Harden. Let’s face it: there’s no way James can make five picks without setting off at least one free agency rumor thread, so he may as well take Harden and let the Bron-to-Houston murmurings that are already out there intensify. The argument can be made (though I wouldn’t make it) that Harden is a more effective offensive player than any teammate James has ever had, which could make him appealing. Plus, James won’t want Curry, Durant, and Harden on one team. That’s just too much shooting.

Pick #4 (Stephen Curry)

(Team: Curry, Durant)

At this point the Eastern Conference needs a little love, and Curry will supply it. The question is how. He could bite the Kyrie bait and go small. He could, as suggested previously, embrace the unicorn way and take Antetokounmpo to play alongside Durant (which would maybe kinda sorta be the most fun option). Or he could continue to fill out a balanced squad and go for a big man – maybe doing some long-term Golden State recruiting in the process (not that I’m planting rumor seeds).

Prediction: Joel Embiid. Curry’s smart enough to realize that Embiid cares as much about the spotlight as anyone else in the league. If he plays – and frankly, if Philly is going to sit him every fourth game, they should probably make him rest over All-Star Weekend – Embiid is going to want to pulverize everyone. It just seems like an All-Star MVP would mean the world to this guy, which means he’s actually going to try. Plus, Curry needs the best defensive big on the board to deal with Davis and keep James and Harden from getting to the rim too easily.

Pick #5 (LeBron James)

(Team: James, Davis, Harden)

James will have some interesting options at this point. He can make the Kyrie pick, he can seize the upper hand in the unicorn battle, he can double up on perimeter scorers or he can double up on post players. The beauty of the talent at the top of the league right now is that every single remaining option helps to round out James’s starting lineup in a fairly effective manner, basketball-wise.

Prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo. James is going full freak. Antetokounmpo is probably the biggest wildcard on these starting rosters. He’s a clear future MVP contender (“future” possibly meaning this summer), but none of these guys have ever played with him, even in college or international ball. It’s easy to imagine him being about the most desirable pick on the board, but also something of an outsider. At this point though I don’t think James will be able to resist. We should all be rooting for this one, because watching these two together will be as cool as anything within the confines of horrendously boring game can be.

Pick #6 (Stephen Curry)

(Team: Curry, Durant, Embiid)

With only three players left, Curry has two options: get himself some backcourt help, or double down with the second of two centers available. The thought of pairing DeMarcus Cousins with Embiid might be tempting as a nice All-Star game stunt. And, if the game devolves into a full-court, layup line-paced alley-oop and three-point festival, having a couple of big guys in position for put-back dunks is a good way to win. However, I think Curry’s going to go for the backcourt.

Prediction: Kyrie Irving. I genuinely have no idea how Curry and Irving feel about each other. Irving has given him as much trouble as anyone in the playoffs, and in some pretty tense situations at that. It’s easy to imagine they’re not the best of friends. But by this point Curry will see that James just isn’t doing it, and he’ll make the pick.

Pick #7 (LeBron James)

(Team: James, Davis, Harden, Antetokounmpo)

James actually doesn’t have a great choice here. If he takes DeRozan, he’s allowing the Embiid/Cousins frontcourt to materialize on the other side. If he takes Cousins, he’s leaving his own starting backcourt pretty thin and giving Curry’s team three of the four elite guard scorers voted into the starting lineups.

Prediction: DeMar DeRozan. James won’t mind giving Curry a gigantic frontcourt, and the DeRozan pick actually makes plenty of sense. Harden and James can be the primary ballhandlers, and DeRozan can thrive off-ball with either Curry or Irving guarding him. Also, as a more general point in case anyone isn’t paying attention, DeMar DeRozan is having a terrific season. His isn’t always the sexiest name among All-Stars, but he’s averaging 25 points per game and shooting 48 percent from the field, and he’s upped his 3-point percentage from 29 to almost 35 percent, adding a whole new dimension to his game.

Pick #8 (Stephen Curry)

(Team: Curry, Durant, Embiid, Irving)

Well, there’s only one player left, so….

Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins. It’s probably fair that Cousins and DeRozan be the last two guys off the board, and it actually sets up a pretty interesting team. Curry and Irving will have a lot of fun throwing up lobs to Embiid and Cousins while the starters are on the floor.

Final Starters

If things play out as detailed above, we’ll have the following teams:

Team James: Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden

Team Curry: Joel Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving

Not bad, really – and definitely a lot more interesting than East vs. West. No matter how this shakes out, this new format might have been a brilliant idea.