Monday January 20th at 11:59p EST is the deadline for fans, players, and the media to put in their votes for their All-Star starters. In the spirit of this, we are making our predictions for the pool of starters and reserves for the 2020 NBA All-Star game in Chicago this February.
These selections assume that the latest release of All-Star votes from fans are relatively set, and also factor in the biases from players and coaches that inevitably go into their choices. Where possible, though, our Player Index is a great indicator of who we can expect to don an All-Star uniform in February. Or at least, it should be; what other metric better captures the desired balance between popularity and on-court performance?!
Now before we get into our selections, it’s worth pointing out some of the quirks and constraints that went into this. Despite the NBA making sweeping changes to the All-Star selection process – such as having the leading vote-getter from each conference (most likely to be LeBron and Giannis – the same captains for the 2019 game) serve as the team captains and “draft” their reserve teams – the selection process itself has a few issues that will impact the way voting will unfold:
- Despite efforts to make positions more flexible, the ambiguity between the “frontcourt” and “backcourt” labels makes it difficult to assign a position to some of the versatile wing players who waver between the two. Jimmy Butler, for instance, could be snubbed out of a starting spot because he was labeled as a frontcourt player. Now, he should be a starting guard since Miami has the second best record in the East under his leadership and he has very consistently played the two-guard position with the Heat all year. With Kemba Walker likely to garner votes from the media and players to earn a starting backcourt position, he is likely going to be paired with either Atlanta’s Trae Young, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving or Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons rather than the deserving Jimmy Buckets.
- Injuries: Make no mistake: the NBA has been devastated by long-term injuries to some of its greatest superstars. The game won’t be the same without its usual perennial stars such as the former Warriors superstar trio of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson or other soon-to-be perennial stars such as Victor Oladipo. There are also a handful of great players who missed too many games to be considered viable candidates – such as Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin. To make it simple, we’ve eliminated anyone who’s missed more than 20 games.
Let’s get into our picks:
Backcourt: Kemba Walker + Ben Simmons
Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid
Backcourt Starters Analysis: Although fan votes currently have Kyrie Irving and Trae Young in the starting spots, we are predicting these will be offset by the media and players’ votes. In addition to his shoulder injury causing him to miss 26 of 41 games, Kyrie’s questionable leadership over the last few years and recent comments may have people scratching their heads. Young, on the other hand, has skyrocketed in popularity (ranked 15th overall on our Fansure Index) and has made tremendous strides in his game. However, he may be penalized by his team’s performance as the Hawks are vying for the league’s worst record at 10-34 (the Knicks are 1 game ahead, for context). Also, the media and players tend to be biased toward players who have more years under their belt.
Kemba Walker has the led the Celtics to very respectable 27-14 record in the East, and seems to be highly respected by the media as evidenced by his All-NBA selection last year (over Klay Thompson, who wasn’t too happy about it and was given a slightly less lucrative contract extension as a result). Ben Simmons, despite the heavy scrutiny at his apparent unwillingness to shoot outside jumpers and his team’s underachieving so far, has done just enough to establish the 76ers as contenders in the East – particularly with Joel Embiid missing 13 of 44 games. You can also bet that LeBron, one of the likely captains, will want to pick his buddy Simmons (who he traded for in last year’s draft) when he makes his selections on Thursday, February 6th.
Again, one can’t help but notice that Jimmy Butler should be starting at one of these positions with Miami exceeding everyone’s expectations holding the #2 spot in the East. Maybe they’ll correct his position label next year.
Frontcourt Starters Analysis: No explanation necessary for Giannis, who is making a strong case to defend his title as the NBA’s regular season MVP. Siakam and Embiid, who are Top 10 overall in All-Star voting, are likely to get the nod from media and players as well.
Guards: Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry
Forwards/Center: Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic
Wildcards: Domantas Sabonis, Trae Young
East Reserves Analysis: Coaches, who still have exclusive voting rights to the reserves, generally have two criteria for selecting reserves: 1) your team is winning and 2) you’ve “paid your dues” (i.e. been snubbed in the past enough times). In the East, however, there are slim pickings – making it a bit easier for coaches to go just off the best teams and make sure they are represented by at least one player.
With Butler as an obvious choice, and only 5 teams seen as serious East title contenders, we are predicting that coaches will select a 2nd player to go with each contender. That gives us Lowry (Toronto) to pair with starting Siakam, Middleton to pair with Giannis, and Tatum with Kemba. Some strongly suspect that Bam Adebayo will be seen as a strong candidate to pair with Jimmy Butler, and his numbers back it up (16/10/5), but we’re not entirely sure he will be picked ahead of the other front court prospects. Tobias Harris is a great choice as well, but assuming fellow Sixers Simmons and Embiid are selected, we are predicting that coaches won’t reward Philly’s so-so season with 3 All-Stars.
That leaves us Indiana, who needs someone to represent them as they have quietly overachieved without Oladipo – who is hopeful to make his return on Jan 29th from a gruesome knee injury suffered last season. We have Domantas Sabonis on the roster, but we can see Malcolm Brogdon getting the nod as well. Orlando is also comfortably in the Top 8, thanks to their consistent big man Nikola Vucevic – who will likely get selected for a second straight season.
So who gets the final spot? Brogdon, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine are all possible candidates. Our educated guess goes to Trae Young, who is putting up stellar numbers despite his team’s poor record. Young is also already 15th on our Player Index and is well ahead of everyone else under consideration.
Now on to the more difficult selections…
Backcourt: Luka Doncic + James Harden
Frontcourt: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis
Starters Analysis: Overall, the fan vote matches our predictions for who makes the starting squad. One can argue that Nikola Jokic should get a frontcourt spot, but Denver has had some noticeably flat performances this season and it is hard to argue in favor of omitting one of the LA superstars.
West Reserves Analysis: It has been an annual tradition to snub 2-3 very deserving candidates in the West. Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, CJ McCollum, Rudy Gobert and many others can tell you how hard it is to crack the top 12. Let’s start with the players who we think will *for sure* make it:
With Denver and Utah positioning themselves to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Donovan Mitchell and Nikola Jokic are locks to get voted in by the coaches. Mitchell, who will be a first-time All-Star, has certainly paid his dues in the eyes of coaches and has his Jazz team firing on all cylinders of late – winning 10 of their last 11 games.
The other success story that will almost certainly be rewarded in the form of an All-Star bid is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s surprisingly decent season. This almost guarantees Chris Paul will be selected, as his leadership has been well documented and is a worthy accomplishment that coaches will recognize. Shea Gilgeous-Alexander, who was the key trade chip in the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers, has been a huge part of why the Thunder have played this well – but his time will come later.
This leaves us two frontcourt openings and two wildcards. With the West as loaded as it is, we’re looking at several potential candidates on winning teams: George, Gobert, Porzingis, and Russell Westbrook to name a few. Then there are the great players whose teams are having subpar seasons: Lillard, McCollum, Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, KAT, and Wiggins. Let’s also not forget rookie sensation Ja Morant, who has led the Grizzlies to the 8th seed in the West (!!) and created a level of excitement in Memphis that hasn’t been seen or hoped for since Jason Williams. So how do we narrow this down?
PG13, despite having missed 17 games, is likely going to be voted in by the coaches coming off his All-NBA season last year with the Thunder. He’s also perceived as a star carrying the load for the Clippers through the load managed season of his superstar teammate Kawhi. He remains a key reason why the Clippers are still managing to contend for a Top-2 seed in the West.
Everyone else is anyone’s guess. The remaining frontcourt spot will likely go to Gobert, who has publicly expressed disappointment in years past and might elicit a sympathy vote from coaches. So who gets the two remaining wildcard spots? It’s very hard to see a former MVP and triple-double machine Westbrook be on the outside looking in. Given Houston is still a winning team, and Russ still puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses, it is unlikely for coaches to pass on him.
Lou Williams would give the Clippers a third All-Star, which would not be warranted from the coaches’ perspective unless the Clippers were running away with the league’s best record. The remaining spot, therefore, is bound to go to a player whose team has a losing record. San Antonio, Portland, Phoenix, and Minnesota all have All-Star caliber players, but only one can get selected. Our guess goes to Lillard, who is still in our Top 10 Fansure Player Index rankings and has been snubbed too many times in the past for coaches to do it again. Personally, I would vote for Ja Morant. But it’s a given that coaches generally don’t vote for rookies (even LeBron in 2004) unless they are otherworldly exceptional and their teams have winning records.
Here’s a summary view of our picks this year: