Fans, players and media combined to name this year’s NBA All-Star starters for the first time, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Both the Eastern Conference squad (LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan) and Western Conference team (Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis) are constructed of players who absolutely deserved to be featured in this winter’s exhibition, but that leaves open the next part of this process, which is naming the All-Star reserves, which will be announced on Thursday January 26th.
Those are selected by the coaches, who have proven in the past that they live by a different set of rules when choosing the players included in the All-Star Game. There tend to be more legacy votes from coaches, with older, more established players occasionally topping out the more deserving youngsters in the midst of breakout campaigns.
The following is a look at what players are most likely to be considered for those remaining spots. Coaches will vote in two more guards, three more frontcourt players and two wild cards. More likely than not, the remaining All-Stars will be chosen from this pool of talent:
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – Easily one of this season’s biggest stars, Thomas is among the league leaders with over 28 points per game, while adding over six assists per game and several clutch shots late in games this season (including a couple of game-winners). He’s only 5-foot-9, but he’s been a monster this year and arguably deserved to be named a starter. There’s little reason to believe he won’t be named a reserve.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors – After a slow start, Lowry has regained his typical form and, in a lot of ways, is having his best season as a pro. It seems like we say that every year, but Lowry has been especially good this season, and the advanced stats are there to support his success. He’s every bit as deserving of a spot as DeRozan is, and considering the team’s record as one of the East’s top teams, coaches will have no problems putting a second Raptor on the squad. He, too, feels like a shoe-in.
John Wall, Washington Wizards – With Thomas, DeRozan, Lowry and Irving all likely to make the roster as the Eastern Conference’s four guards, the best opportunity for both Wall and Kemba Walker is to latch on as wild card additions. Wall, averaging right around 23 points and 10 assists per night, is having a career year in a season where Eastern Conference guard play has been insane. He’s hard to bet against as at least a wild card, but this is where the conversation starts to get interesting.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets – Walker, too, is having a career year but faces the same problems as Wall. There just aren’t enough rooms in the inn unless coaches use both wild card spots to add guards to the group. His numbers are pretty darn close to what Irving has put up this season, and Walker is doing it as the leader of his team rather than the second fiddle, but the resume absolutely is there for a nod.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – While he’s made more headlines for being in trade rumors than for actually playing basketball, Millsap is having the same quietly great season he always does. The stats (around 19 points and eight rebounds per game) don’t jump off the page, but he’s one of the league’s best two-way players and hardest workers.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s never easy to put three players from a single team onto an All-Star roster, but two were voted starters and this particular team just so happens to be the runaway best squad in the East. Love hasn’t been to the All-Star Game since the trade to Cleveland, but now that he’s a 20/10 guy again and playing his best ball since going to the Cavs, he’s firmly in the discussion for a spot on this year’s team.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers – His team is struggling, but George still is having a great individual season, even if it’s not the best we’ve ever seen from him. He’s a huge name, though, and is doing what he can to steer through the muck this season—at least enough to keep the team in the playoff picture. Millsap and Love seem much more likely to make the team than George, but he may be too good a player to leave off this year.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – Always one of the league’s best rebounders, Drummond (13.6 rebounds per game) would be an electric presence on the All-Star team working on the receiving ends of alley-oops, but coaches don’t concern themselves with what would be entertaining in the game itself. The Pistons haven’t had a great season, and there are stronger arguments for other players on this list than Drummond.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers – He’s the unquestioned Rookie of the Year and easily the game’s most entertaining presence on social media, but he’s not quite on par with some of the other guys up for a nod on this list. He’d be a riot in this game, but doesn’t seem likely to be named as a reserve. He almost certainly will be invited to participate in the Rookie/Sophomore game on All-Star Friday, however.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks – He’s close, and it’s only a matter of time, but this might not be the year for Porzingis to make his first All-Star team. He’s averaging just shy of 20 points per game this year to go along with 7.4 rebounds, but the Knicks are five games under .500 and that seems to matter with coaches. Like Embiid, he’ll be a top option for the Rookie/Sophomore game, which could be as entertaining as it’s been in years with those two guys both playing.
Reserve Guards: Lowry and Thomas
Reserve Frontcourt: Millsap, Love and George
Wild Cards: Walker and Wall
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – The man’s averaging a triple-double. He wasn’t voted as a starter for some reason, but he’ll be the first guy on coaches’ ballots when it comes to voting in the reserves.
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers – Just because he’s hurt doesn’t mean he won’t be voted in. That will mean an immediate injury replacement, but so it goes. Paul has done enough in the first half of the season to justify yet another All-Star team nod, even if he can’t play in the game. The Clippers are what they are because of him, as we’re sure to see over the course of the next six-to-eight weeks.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – It’s rare that a team gets four All-Stars but this year’s Warriors squad seems as likely as any team in league history to do it. Thompson is averaging over 21 points per game and is essentially doing the exact same thing he’s done over the last three unforgettable seasons in Oakland. He’s shooting under 40 percent from three for the first time in his career, but that’s nit-picking. He’s still a great scorer and someone fans absolutely would be thrilled to see play in the All-Star Game.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – This hasn’t been an awesome year for Lillard as a leader, despite the fact that he’s averaging a career-high 26.2 points per game and shooting a career-high 44.4 percent from the field. His team has struggled despite high expectations coming into the season, and teammate C.J. McCollum actually has caught up to him in a lot of ways. Still, Lillard is in the top eight in the league in points and the top 20 in the league in assists, and he’s a name that carries some weight around the league. He’s got a shot, though more as a wild card or injury replacement than as a guard.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Once again a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Green is still a major part of the Warriors’ success even if the arrival of Kevin Durant has pushed his offensive efficiency back a bit. There was an argument for him as a starter, so there’s a good argument for him a reserve, as well.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – The only thing that has changed from last year—when Cousins also found his way to the All-Star Game—is that he’s added a three-point shot and grown even more deadly as arguably the game’s best all-around big man. The Kings still are awful, but that won’t stop Cousins from finding his way onto the team, at the very least as a wild card selection.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – While his stats (19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game) aren’t necessarily elite in the traditional sense, they do look pretty good coming from a center, particularly one that has done so much in helping his team overachieve. Memphis’ defense is really good, and Gasol is a major reason for that. The Grizzlies deserve an All-Star, and Gasol is a pretty easy choice as a guy who deserves that spot.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz – This guy just keeps getting better, as do the Jazz as a team, and that gives him a reasonable shot at making this year’s All-Star team. There aren’t a lot of open spots for first-time All-Stars out West, but Gobert is the best bet, with his 12.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – Of course, if the Jazz get only one All-Star, Hayward might be the more likely guy. His advanced stats are elite, as he’s 15th in Win Shares and 20th in PER, plus he’s the best player and top scorer on a Western Conference playoff team. If the vote comes down to him or Gobert, it could prove incredibly difficult for coaches to decide.
Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers – Griffin’s stats aren’t any different than usual, but he has missed a third of his team’s games this year. That on its own is enough to probably eliminate him from the vote, though he’s been good enough when healthy and has enough of a reputation to at least remain in consideration.
DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – Jordan’s numbers are, more or less, what they always are. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 13.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. That last number is his lowest in four years, though, and he’s still just a tertiary talent for a team that simply is not going to get three All-Stars.
Reserve Guards: Westbrook and Paul
Reserve Frontcourt: Cousins, Green and Gasol
Wild Card: Thompson and Hayward
Injury Replacement: Lillard
There’s still some time before the reserves are announced, but that final roster very likely will be comprised of players from the above list. It’s been an especially good year for individual talents, so making these decisions seem as if they’ll be harder than ever.
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