This article was originally published at Ninety55.com
Thanks to a much-improved Eastern Conference, injuries in the disappointing Western Conference, and overall parity in the NBA we haven’t seen in years, there’s a crowded field of worthy All-Star caliber players this year.
Like any other season though there are only 24 spots. Hairs have to spilt between the some of the most impressive athletes on the planet to decide who’s had a first half of the season that truly stands above the rest of the league.
I – a completely unqualified fan – don’t have a vote that’s any more meaningful than the millions of others who have voted online for the starters. But this is how I would’ve voted if I had a say on the full roster – feel free to tell me I’m an idiot.
Eastern Conference Starters
Full disclosure: I am a Bulls fan. But if you’re going to call DeMar DeRozan a guard (despite the fact that he’s played more at the 4 this year than any other position) you cannot deny he’s been the best in the East so far.
None of his averages of 26.3 PTS, 5 REB, 4.8 AST or his shooting percentages are career highs, but he’s playing with a level of control over the game that he never had in Toronto with a much better supporting cast than what he had in San Antonio. He’s bought into Chicago’s surprisingly stifling defense, playing better than ever on that half of the court. The Bulls get good shots consistently, especially in the 4th quarter where DeRozan has been absolutely lights out all year, highlighted by hitting back to back gamer winners last month.
The Bulls are one of the top teams in the East, and DeMar DeRozan is the biggest factor behind their massive turnaround.
This might seem like a controversial pick with the way James Harden has been absolutely flamed by the internet this year.
He’s not the offensive supernova he was in Houston. He’s not even quite the dynamic playmaker he was last year. Blame the hammy, blame his weight, blame his conditioning, blame his age, chalk it up to whatever you want – Harden has lost a step.
Even a step slower, James Harden is a couple rebounds shy of averaging a triple double at 22.7 PTS 8 REB 10.1 AST per game. More importantly the Nets are still winning, staying in the Top 3 in the East all year despite the never-ending soap opera in Brooklyn. I think winning matters picking All-Stars, and Harden shouldn’t be overlooked just because he’s not quite what he used to be. He’s still worthy of a starting spot.
Most of the starter picks were no brainers this year. Before he injured his knee Kevin Durant was maybe the easiest of them all.
He’s leading the league in scoring (again) his team is fighting for the top spot in the conference (again) and no one on the planet looks more impressive with a basketball in their hands than Kevin Durant.
On top of that his defensive effort is top notch after seeming to have dissipated as he recovered from his Achilles tear last year.
As the betting favorite for MVP prior to his injury, he won’t miss enough time between now and the All-Star game to justify bumping him from this spot. For my money Kevin Durant is the best basketball player in the world, an obvious pick for All-Star starter.
Despite dealing with injuries & a bit of post-championship fatigue, the Milwaukee Bucks are contenders as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor.
To many he’s the best player in the world. To pretty much anyone who’s watched him play he’s at least top 3, and with Durant’s injury & Stephen Curry’s poor play recently he just might be the new MVP favorite.
Whether he takes home his 3rd MVP at the end of the year or not, Giannis is one of the most impactful basketball players of all time, another easy pick for All-Star starter.
Joel Embiid & the 76ers understandably had a slow start to the season. Philly beat up on bad teams right out of the gate, but 20 or so games into the season the team found themselves hovering around .500, and Embiid was not following up his previous near MVP season with a comparable campaign.
Things change fast in the NBA.
The 76ers have steadily risen up the ranks of the Eastern Conference over the last couple months as Joel Embiid played himself back into the MVP conversation, punctuated by his 50-piece last week. With his injury history you have to wonder how many seasons like this Embiid has left in him, so enjoy the dominant big man at his best while you still can.
Western Conference Starters
Reminiscent of his 2015 & 2016 MVP campaigns, Stephen Curry started the season hot, leading the even better than expected Golden State Warriors back to the top of the Western Conference.
Curry was the presumptive MVP favorite and on the cusp of breaking the NBA record for all-time 3 pointers made.
Things change fast in the NBA…
After jockeying with the Warriors between 1st and 2nd for 35 games, the Phoenix Suns have opened up a comfortable lead in the race for best record in the NBA. You can mostly blame this slide on the worst shooting slump of Curry’s career, as he’s currently shooting just 37% from beyond the arc. That’s pretty good for anyone else, but Steph’s never shot below 41% in any full season he’s played.
Still, a down year for Stephen Curry is a career year for most other point guards. He’s hounded more than any other star in the league every possession, yet still scoring 26 PPG on the team with the 2nd best record in the league. He may not be the MVP favorite anymore but he’s definitely an All-Star starter.
Sitting atop the Eastern Conference not so long ago, I thought my Bulls had ‘most surprising team’ of 2022 sewn-up already.
The Memphis Grizzlies seem to have made an even bigger leap, led by their young cornerstone Ja Morant. Developing a 3-point shot that must at least be respected if not feared has opened Ja’s game up immensely, as he’s averaging a career high 25.3 PPG. It’s also skyrocketed his off-ball value, with teammates like Kyle Anderson & Desmond Bane able to initiate the offense. It may seem small, but it makes the Grizzlies dynamic and harder to defend.
No one ever would’ve dreamed of taking Morant over Zion Williamson in the draft 3 years ago. It’s starting to look like that might not age well…
Talking heads have said LeBron can play/defend all 5 positions his whole career, but the superstar has never truly played Center.
Add yet another accolade to James illustrious career, as he’s started at Center for the Los Angeles Lakers since Anthony Davis went down with yet another injury. He’s averaged over 30 PPG during this stretch and is overall 2nd in the league in scoring.
The Lakers have been easily the most disappointing team in the NBA this year. But that’s despite LeBron James who continues to be a top 3 player in the league.
Maybe the most surprising All-Star starter, Karl-Anthony Towns is leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to their best season since Jimmy Butler was in town. They’re still .500, but hey it’s the Timberwolves, that’s huge for them.
The team’s improvement is the key to his selection, as he’s having a season comparable to his last couple where he was not made an All-Star. Injuries to the likes of Paul George & Kawhi Leonard have also made the frontcourt pool a bit shallower than in years past.
Nevertheless, Towns is a worthy pick averaging 24.3 PTS 9.2 REB 3.7 AST while slightly improving as a defender.
The Denver Nuggets’ mediocre record is dragging down another historic season from Nikola Jokic.
Halfway through the season he’s still on pace to smash the record for single season PER. Don’t trust PER? Fair enough, it’s a flawed metric. He’s averaging 26.1 PTS 13.8 REB 7.6 AST per game while matching career highs in steals and blocks. ‘Good stats. bad team’ you say? Just watch a Nuggets game. Jokic is a highlight factory who so clearly elevates everyone on the team, staying one step ahead of defenses and finally becoming a genuine plus-defender himself.
He’s not the sexiest player in the NBA, but he’s one of the best having another all-time season.
Eastern Conference Reserves
As a Bulls fan I’ve had a troubled relationship with Zach Lavine since he arrived in the Jimmy Butler trade. I was sure he was a ‘good stats. bad team’ player, at least as the number one option.
Well maybe I was right, because as the 1B to DeMar DeRozan’s 1A, he’s been just as good and the Bulls are competing for home court in the Eastern Conference. As one of the best shooters in the league, he’s been a stellar partner to DeMar’s midrange mastery.
This might be a controversial pick, but like I said – I value winning. Garland has steadied the Cavaliers since Colin Sexton’s injury, keeping the team comfortably above the play-in tournament.
Averaging career highs across the board, Garland is expertly orchestrating Cleveland’s offense, somehow making their super big line-ups work in 2022. He deserves his 1st trip to the All-Star game.
With just 29 games played you could make the argument that Jimmy Butler hasn’t played enough to make the All-Star game. But when you consider everyone’s missing games with the Rona, and the fact that the Miami Heat – indisputably Butler’s team – have the best record in the East right now, you can’t leave him off the team.
Averages of 21.4 PTS 6.0 REB 6.1 AST are definitely All-Star worthy, especially since they go along with top-tier perimeter defense. He might skip the game as he has before, but Jimmy G. Buckets should get his 6th All-Star nod.
With all the negativity swirling around the Boston Celtics over the last two years, this pick somehow feels a bit wrong.
Tatum is undoubtedly an All-Star though, with averages of 25.8 PTS 8.6 REB 3.9 AST and Boston hovering around .500. Just like James Harden, just because we’ve seen Tatum at higher peaks doesn’t mean he’s not a high-level NBA star. The lack of team success works against him, but he’s good enough to rise above a mediocre record for this selection.
The internet seems to have decided Khris Middleton is having a bad year. I don’t quite see it. He’s shooting a touch worse than last year, and I don’t think he’s defending at the same level, sure. But he’s a trustworthy 20, 5 & 5 every night on one of the top teams in the east.
There are guards that I’d like to slot in above him, but in the Backcourt, Frontcourt format Middleton is the clear final reserve, although Jarrett Allen deserves some thought as well.
Western Conference Reserves
Despite a dip in 3 point shooting, Donovan Mitchell’s offensive output has been otherwise nearly identical to last year’s. However, the Jazz haven’t had quite the same success, recently dropping to 4th in the West behind Ja Morant’s Grizzlies. This is the hair I split to pick Morant over Mitchell.
Nevertheless, Spida would’ve been a worthy All-Star starter as the fulcrum of the league’s best offense.
It seems obvious that the team with the league’s best record should have their leading scorer in the All-Star game, but the guard position across the league is so deep that I went back and forth putting Booker here. Sharing a back court with Chris Paul, who’s value goes so far beyond a stat. sheet, adds another layer of complexity to Booker’s candidacy.
In the end though Booker has been too impressive this season. He’s finally a dangerous 3-point shooter, and while that hasn’t boosted his individual stats as much, it’s made Phoenix the top team in the Conference. There’s no place on the floor Devin Booker isn’t impactful, including the other half of the court where he’s having his best defensive season of his pro career.
If his play somehow didn’t convince you he’s an All-Star, Draymond Green’s recent absence from the Warriors should. The Warriors were still winning at the start of Curry’s slump – the L’s didn’t start coming until Draymond was out of the line-up.
He had my vote for Defensive Player of the Year last year, and he definitely has it this year. Draymond’s basketball-savant IQ jumps out watching him plug holes & bark out assignments on defense as well as making hyper accurate passes out of the pick & roll. There are plenty of ways to impact the game other than shooting 3’s and scoring – Draymond Green does them all.
This is easily my most begrudging pick. I was off the Stifle Tower bandwagon before last year and after Gobert got exposed by Terrance Mann, I really hoped we as a society were ready to stop fawning over him.
We’re not, and if I’m being objective & rational we shouldn’t be. Rudy Gobert is the Jazz defense, and he’s shooting over 70% from the field while averaging over 15 RPG. That can’t go unrewarded in the regular season, even if he’s simply unplayable in some playoff match-ups.
(I Guess) Andrew Wiggins
Let’s talk about this last frontcourt spot.
Paul George was probably going to start in the spot I gave to Karl-Anthony Towns before his injury. The Clippers – built to revolve around two stars – were holding their own keeping out of the play-in without Kawhil Leonard. George was almost solely responsible. But the team now sits below .500 and he’s only appeared in 26 games.
Andrew Wiggins doesn’t quite have an All-Star resume, despite averaging 18.2 PPG, and playing the best defense of his career. Plus, Golden State’s been good, but have they been 3 All-Stars good?
Phoenix has been 3 All-Stars good. But Deandre Ayton’s played just 28 games, hasn’t made a leap like Devin Booker, and has looked disengaged defensively at times.
I’ll give the nod to Wiggins, as he’s missed just 3 games this year and has been far more consistent than Ayton on both ends of the floor.
Eastern Conference Wild Cards
Isn’t this going to be fun? The Charlotte Hornets are a bit ahead of schedule, 7th in the East and comfortably above .500. The youngest Ball brother is the main orchestrator of that, and if they let him play enough he’s bound to give us some nice highlights in the All-Star game.
Trae Young slipping all the way to the wild card spots will probably not be my most popular ranking, but I stand by it. The Hawks are bad, and even though Young is one of the league’s top scorers & playmakers, he’s maybe the league’s worst defender. He’s more than a ‘good stats. bad team’ player – hence the selection – but I definitely think last year’s playoff run was due to a few strokes of luck rather than Ice Trae’s shooting stroke.
Western Conference Wild Cards
It feels so disrespectful that Chris Paul is a Wild Card pick, but like I said discussing his backcourt mate Devin Booker, the league is so deep at Guard. You could make an argument for him being a reserve, you could even make an argument for him starting. One way or another though, Chris Paul – the engine behind the best team in the league – absolutely has to be in the All-Star game.
Another selection that might ruffle some feathers. Luka the wonder boy was favored to win the MVP for the 2nd year in a row, and for the 2nd year in a row started the year out of shape.
What’s different between this year and last year (when he was an All-Star Starter) is that the team hasn’t been quite as good, and neither has he. Until he starts playing defense I’m never going to be as high on Luka as some people are, but I’m not crazy enough to say he isn’t an All-Star.
There you have it, the 2022 NBA All-Star team (according to me). Honorable mentions for Fred VanVleet, Jarrett Allen, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown & Bam Adebayo out East; I’m sure one of them will be Kevin Durant’s injury replacement.
Feel free to present a well-constructed argument or just tell me I’m an idiot in the comments.