There’s a definite changing of the guard happening in the NBA and that should be reflected in the All Stars teams with the likes of Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball and Jarrett Allen getting their first call-ups.
As is always the case with these exhibition games, the result is of little interest but the prestige of having an All Star nod on a player’s resume is the main source of contention.
From last year’s squads you can already put a line through injured LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and Pelicans tyro Zion Williamson, who each haven’t played a game this season and their return dates are still up in the air.
Portland guard Damian Lillard’s abdominal surgery and subsequent 4-6 weeks on the sidelines also means he won’t be suiting up and, of course, Ben Simmons won’t be returning to the All Star stage as he continues his standoff with Philadelphia.
Kyrie Irving is in a category all on his own, which is not unusual. He has recently returned to playing away games only for the Nets due to this anti-vaccination stance and is technically available for selection but despite immense fan popularity, will be unlikely to figure in the final make-up of the rosters.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis is doubtful for All Star selection after missing several weeks with a knee injury while Clippers swingman Paul George is in a similar situation due to his lingering elbow injury.
The likes of Julius Randle, Jayson Tatum, Domantas Saboni, Mike Conley, Jaylen Brown and Nikola Vucevic are far from guaranteed to be selected again as their form has dipped somewhat this season.
All Star weekend is due to be held in Cleveland on February 18-20. Selection for the starting sides will be based on the usual mish-mash of 50% from fan votes with the rest split between the media and players with the coaches choosing the pool of 14 players that will be reserves.
The two highest votegetters will then be appointed team captains to pick from the squads and for the first time since the system was adopted, it looks like LeBron James won’t be picking a team with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant leading the voting in the first round of returns released last week.
The starting five for the Eastern Conference looks straightforward – Durant should be locked in alongside Philadeliphia centre Joel Embiid, Milwaukee’s “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo in the front court, with Atlanta sharpshooter Trae Young and Chicago veteran DeMar DeRozan the likely guards.
DeRozan’s Bulls teammate Zach LaVine is a chance to force his way into a starting spot but will be a shoo-in for a reserve berth alongside Brooklyn’s James Harden.
The other five spots in the East are uncertain – Wizards guard Bradley Beal should get another All Star nod with his team exceeding expectations, Brown and Tatum are in the mix but Boston are underachieving at 21-21 while Miami’s leader Jimmy Butler has been sidelined for lengthy periods.
Among the new faces in with a chance are Cleveland centre Jarrett Allen, Toronto duo Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, Hornets playmaker LaMelo Ball and his much-improved dunking machine teammate Miles Bridges.
After winning Rookie of the Year honours, LaMelo has improved across the board in his second season, averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds with his previously problematic three-point shooting up to 37.9% to have him nudging elite territory in that category.
LAMELO BALL CLUTCH.
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 11, 2022
VanVleet is the most deserving of the fringe candidates as he has been balling for the Raptors in their recent surge up the standings to eighth but could miss out on a wildcard spot to Butler or Bucks defensive specialist Jrue Holiday, who is in line to make his first All Star appearance since his only game in 2013.
Likely East squad: Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Trae Young, DeMar DeRozan. Reserves: Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Jarrett Allen, LaMelo Ball, Fred VanVleet, Jrue Holiday/Jimmy Butler.
The Western Conference starting five has three spots which you can ink in but one guard and one frontcourt spot will go down to the wire. Curry will probably be joined by Suns veteran Chris Paul or Mavericks maestro Luka Doncic in the backcourt with the three bigs set to be LeBron and Denver’s MVP Nikola Jokic with Utah centre Rudy Gobert the most likely third option ahead of Golden State veteran Draymond Green.
Those seven players will make the squad along with Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Phoenix sharpshooter Devin Booker, leaving three open slots.
Grizzlies young gun Ja Morant simply has to be selected for his first All Star game. What he’s done with Memphis this season to drag them up the standings to fourth in the West has been phenomenal and did you see his chasedown block against the Lakers?
That athleticism. The hops. The ball was pinned halfway up the backboard at the top of the square. He’s only 1.9m tall. Jaw-dropping talent.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 10, 2022
Davis and George would probably be walk-up starters for the last two spots if healthy but with their prospects clouded, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Suns centre DeAndre Ayton and even Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins could get a nod.
Wiggins was considered a bust during his time at the Timberwolves but since being traded to the Warriors two years ago, the former No.1 pick has rehabbed his image by adding defensive reliability to his undoubted scoring chops.
Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram and San Antonio guard Dejounte Murray are also outside chances but the poor records of their respective teams will count against them.
Likely West squad: Steph Curry, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert. Reserves: Chris Paul, Draymond Green, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Ja Morant, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis.
Aussies In the Big Show
Boomers behemoth Jock Landale is a big softie. The San Antonio centre proposed to his girlfriend, India Maddern, amid the snow of New York’s Central Park earlier this week. And she said yes.
They posted images to social media, which drew plenty of messages of congratulations from Aussie teammates like Matthew Dellavedova, Matisse Thybulle, Josh Green and coach Brian Goorjian.
And then this from Joe Ingles: “Don’t know why she said yes but congrats guys”.
Saturday – Warriors @ Bulls, 11.30am AEDT.
After slipping to second in the West behind Phoenix last week, Golden State now have Klay Thompson easing his way back into the line-up after a two-year injury absence while Chicago are first in the East at 27-11 and humming along nicely.
Sunday – Lakers @ Nuggets, 1pm AEDT.
Both teams have underperformed despite having injury dramas – LA are 21-20 and Denver are 20-19. LeBron is doing everything except driving the team bus in La-La Land while Jokic is doing likewise for the Nuggets, more than proving last season’s MVP trophy was no fluke.