On Wednesday, the NBA finally announced that voting for the 2021 All Star Game would start on Thursday and now that voting has begun there’s still one question that needs to be answered. Is the NBA even going to hold an All Star Game this year? Well the simple answer is that we just don’t know yet. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA and NBPA have been in discussions to schedule an All Star Game in March. In that report, he noted that the NBA’s current plan for holding an All Star Game would be to hold it in Atlanta, and prioritize benefits and funding for HBCUs and COVID-19 relief.
Early in this NBA season we have seen just how detrimental COVID-19 can be, with postponements becoming much more frequent than the league would’ve hoped. With how much the NBA has struggled with postponements so far, it doesn’t seem like the smartest idea to group all these players and coaches together from different teams for a game that doesn’t ultimately matter or benefit the players playing in it. The idea of prioritizing funding for HBCUs and COVID-19 relief is a good one, but I feel like those goals can still be accomplished without going through all the trouble and risk of holding an event like the All Star Game during these times. Ultimately Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA will have to make that decision, but regardless of whether or not they hold an official game, the voting will still go on. The selections will still be important for players making bonuses or trying to get a new contract. So with that said, I’d like to briefly go over my picks for who should be the starters in each conference, as well as review some borderline guys and rank them from most likely to least likely to get voted in.
Here are my picks for the starters in the East and West. Not many hot takes here, but I’m sure people might tell me that Kyrie or Harden deserves to be one of the starting guards in the East, but it’s hard to put Kyrie in with the games he’s missed, and I think Jaylen Brown is having a more impressive season than Harden is. Kyrie is averaging almost 28 points a game, so he’ll definitely be voted in, but I don’t think he deserves a starting spot over Jaylen Brown or Bradley Beal who is the league’s leading scorer, averaging 35.4 PPG. At the end of the day, fans account for 50% of the vote for who are the starters, so a player like Kyrie or Harden might get the nod over Brown which is understandable. But there’s no doubt that Jaylen Brown is an All Star, and in my opinion a top candidate for MIP.
Other than that, I don’t see many holes in these starters. Damian Lillard hasn’t slowed down from his bubble run, posting a 28.7 PPG 7 AST and 4.8 RPG stat line. There definitely is a an argument for Dame to be a starter, but it’s hard for me to put him in over Luka or Steph who are both putting up nearly identical numbers, and in Luka’s case, he’s averaging almost 3 more assists and 5 more rebounds a game. Now that we have that settled, I’d like to dive in to some borderline all stars and rank them based on how likely it is that they will get voted into the All Star Game.
Borderline Guys That Get In
The 3 borderline guys that I came up with that I think are the most likely to get in are as follows: Christian Wood, Collin Sexton, and Jerami Grant. I’d like to start off with Christian Wood and the leap he has made this year on the Rockets. He’s jumped from averaging 13 points last year, to almost 24 this year, while also averaging a career high in rebounds, blocks, and 3 point makes. A lot of his production has come from increased playing time, and almost 11 more shots per game than he averaged last year. Nevertheless, Christian Wood is also making a strong case for Most Improved Player and could be looking at his first All Star Game bid if he continues producing at the rate he is now.
Next is Collin Sexton. Sexton has improved every year he’s been in the league, and is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves. He’s averaging a career high 25.2 PPG while shooting a near 50% from outside taking four threes a game. His tenacious and aggressive play style on both ends of the court is paying off big for Sexton this year. His breakout moment came on January 21st in a game against the Brooklyn Nets where he singlehandedly beat the Nets big 3 in a 2 OT thriller where he scored a career high 42, including 15 points in the second overtime. Sexton displayed his raw shot making ability in crunch time, and showed everyone why he deserves to be talked about as one of the top guards in the league. The only reason why I consider Sexton a borderline candidate is because of how loaded the Eastern Conference guard spot is. Some of the names include: Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Trae Young, Zach Lavine, James Harden, Malcom Brogdon…. All of those guys are playing well too so it’ll definitely be a close contest, but I think his breakout is extremely impressive, coupled with the fact that he is leading a surprisingly competitive Cavaliers team to a playoff spot so far this season.
Finally, Jerami Grant. Earlier in the offseason when Jerami Grant declined a deal from the Nuggets, and made it clear he wanted his own team; there was a lot of mocking and doubt from NBA fans. Well, it’s pretty obvious that Grant is much more than a role player on a good team like he was with the Nuggets. While the Pistons are pretty much the consensus worst team in the league, there’s no denying the talent and improvement that he’s made. He’s doubled his PPG from 12 to 24, and is playing the best basketball of his career. A lot of that production has come from increased playing time and opportunity which shouldn’t be used against him. This is exactly what he wanted, his own team where he’d be able to play 35+ minutes a game, and be the leading shot taker. Since he’s on a bad team his growth will be overlooked, but as of right now I’d vote him in over guys like Khris Middleton and and Domantas Sabonis.
Borderline Guys That Miss The Cut
First up is Tobias Harris. Harris has been reunited with Doc Rivers who has unlocked his potential in the same way he did in Los Angeles. Harris is averaging 20 PPG 6.7 RPG, while shooting a career high 46% from three. Tobias is getting back to what he was before he arrived in Philadelphia, and doing it in a more efficient matter. He has become the perfect scoring forward for what the league is, and is making winning plays on a nightly basis for the best team in the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday night, he sealed an impressive win over the Los Angeles Lakers who were 10-0 on the road entering the game. With the 76ers down 1, he got the ball, got to his spot, and rose up over Alex Caruso for a game winning shot. His confidence to take that shot in that moment is impressive, and his improvement has been crucial for the Sixers. Nevertheless, I don’t think he’ll be able to get more votes than guys like Bam Adebayo, Gordon Hayward, or Nikola Vucevic who are all hovering around 20 PPG as well.
Julius Randle is another guy who has taken big strides this year. Randle is averaging 22.5 PPG 11.3 RPG, and a surprising 6 AST per game. His playmaking ability has added yet another dimension his game that can’t go unnoticed. He has gotten the opportunity to shine, averaging almost 37 minutes per game under Tom Thibodeau who is known for letting his guys play. Randle is unfortunately in a similar situation as Tobias Harris, on a worse team. The Knicks have been better than anyone could’ve imagined, but I still don’t think it’ll be enough to get him in. The front court for the East is pretty crowded, and I don’t think his name holds up with guys I’ve already mentioned like Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Bam Adebayo, etc. At the end of the day, popularity and name recognition plays a big role in these selections so I’d be pleasantly surprised if Randle gets the nod.
Finally, Shai Gilgeous Alexander is a player that I’ve loved since he was drafted by the Clippers in 2018. He’s gotten better every year, and is now averaging a career high 21.8 PPG. SGA has been stuck on two strange OKC teams that exceeded expectations in both cases. Last year, him and Chris Paul led an underdog Thunder team to the playoffs where they took the Rockets to 7 games in the first round. As if that wasn’t impressive enough for a team that had just lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are currently 8-9 this season after losing Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, AND Danilo Gallinari. He’s the clear leader of this team, and has been chosen as the centerpiece for the Thunder to rebuild around. But as for his All Star candidacy, once again it’s a case of his field being crowded with talented players everywhere. The Western All Star team can only have so many guards, and Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant, Devin Booker, and De’Aaron Fox are all playing at a high level as well. There’s still a chance, but my bet would be that he just misses the cut.
All in all, this year’s All Star Game experience will be different than anything we’ve ever experienced. Heck, there might not even be a game to play. But, All Star selections are something that I still think matters to players, and trying to figure out who will get in and who won’t is still just as interesting as it’s always been. I think this year is especially fun because of how many guys have taken a leap to be in that conversation. You have the best guys in the league still doing what they do like Lebron, KD, Curry, Embiid, etc. With stars being stars, it’s easy to overlook improving players like Jerami Grant and Christian Wood.
This will be a unique opportunity for some of the borderline/ underrated guys I mentioned to get the recognition they deserve. While I was initially against the idea of holding a game, if the NBA can do it safely, I’d love to watch all of these guys on the same court. Especially after how entertaining the 2020 All Star Game was. If the NBA does end up putting together an All Star Game in Atlanta, I would hope they would implement the same format they did in 2020. But as always, we will just have to wait and see what the NBA decides to do.