Featured

Eastern Conference All-Star Selections One Month In

on

Just before the start of the season, the NBA announced a change to the traditional format of East v West for this years All-Star game in Los Angeles. No longer will the two conferences be separated, instead the old school yard method of two captains drafting players to your team one by one will occur. LeBron and Durant could team up, Curry and the Greek Freak, all sorts of tantalizing player combinations never seen before could arise in what is an interesting attempt at spicing up what has become a rather mundane mid season spectacle.

Despite the East and West no longer competing against each other, the two conferences will still have equal representation, 12 players from each conference to be precise. In light of this, at the one month mark of the season, or just a couple days over, it seems a good time to assess the field and see who is staking an early claim for an All-Star birth.

Part one of this piece is going to direct its attention towards the Eastern Conference, a surprisingly tight start to the season has ensured there are plenty of early candidates to choose from. Despite the new format I will still select five ‘theoretical’ starters and seven reserves.

Here are my picks, first up, my five starting quality all-star selections:

LeBron James, Cleveland, Forward, 14th (!) All-Star Appearance:

LeBron James remarkably hasn’t missed the all-star game since his rookie season, and arguably should’ve made it that season as well. But, despite being in the midst of his 15th NBA campaign and with the extraordinary amount of miles he’s endured by going to the finals seven straight years, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down too much. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been under fire in the media; holding the worst defense and the oldest roster in the league have many questioning whether LeBron’s run of consecutive NBA Finals’ appearances is in doubt.

LeBron personally is out to prove he is far from beginning the decline, carrying the Cavs to five straight wins and on the season ranking 3rd in points per game (28.3), 4th in assists (8.5) and second in PER (33.0). The Wizards and John Wall made the mistake of suggesting the Cavs avoided them in last years playoffs. LeBron’s response was complete annihilation to the tune of 57 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Give him his jersey now.

(Image from sportingnews.com)

Kristaps Porzingis, New York, Forward, All-Star Debut:

The New York Knicks finally moved on from the Carmelo Anthony era in the off-season, paving the way for their franchise unicorn to fully take the reigns at Madison Square Garden and boy has he delivered. The previously injury prone ‘Zinga’ has managed to get on the floor in 13 out of 14 contests so far, with damaging results. Porzingis is averaging 27.6 points a night, good for 4th in the league and has scored over 30 points on 8 separate occasions, dropping a season-high 40 against the Pacers on November 5th.

Standing at an absolutely insane 7’3″, Porzingis is jacking up 4.9 attempts from deep a game and knocking down a stellar 41% of those tries. If anyone out there has any ideas on how you stop this guy from getting his shot off then please let the rest of the league know.  It’s not all offense however with Kristaps leading the league in blocks per game with 2.3.

He is a lock at this point, and oh yeah, he’s only 22.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, Forward, 2nd All-Star Appearance:

The Greek Freak isn’t one to hide his goals from the world, in the pre-season publicly declaring his aim was to win the MVP. Well, an absolutely blistering start to the season has his name amongst the early candidates. Giannis started the season off with a bang, dropping 37 points and grabbing 13 boards in the Bucks opening win on the road in Boston. Aussie Aaron Baynes learned first hand it’s not always smart to try and take on Giannis in mid flight, becoming the first poster victim of Giannis’, not once, but twice. With a home loss to the Wizards on Monday night, Giannis dropped under the 30 point per game mark for the first time this season but still ranks second behind James Harden with 29.7 PPG.

Giannis leads the league in PER in the early going, at 33.5, just nudging LeBron James in that category while also ranking 4th in blocked shots and 11th in rebounds.

Highlight reel dunks, high flying swats and graceful euro-steps are all in a nights work for the Giannis as he has single handedly lifted his team to a .500 record, far better then their play would suggest it should be. Last year was Giannis’ first all-star appearance, as a starter no less, and you can book in his spot this year at this rate.

(Image from complex.com)

Kyrie Irving, Boston, Guard, 5th All-Star Appearance:

One of several superstar players moving teams in the off-season, Irving’s switch was possibly the most controversial. Desperate to step out of LeBron’s shadow and forge his own legacy, Kyrie found his way to conference rival Boston. 6 minutes into the season, fellow newly-minted Celtic Gordon Hayward went down with a sickening leg injury, his season done, and many assumed the Celtics season was also over. Instead they have gone on to win 16 straight games to tear away with the East’s number one seed in the early going.

Irving exploded on Monday night for 47 points (season-high), lifting the Celtics to their 16th win in a row, in OT against Dallas. Where Kyrie is delivering in spades is in tight games. NBA.com defines clutch minutes as the games final five minutes when the margin is 5 points or less. Irving is simply insane in those moments, playing 38 total clutch minutes for 65 points on 24-39 from the field, drawing 11 fouls, making 13-16 free throw attempts to go with 10 assists and 0 turnovers. Irving still draws a lot of criticism for the way he plays but the guy is as clutch as they come, and Boston are loving it.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, Guard, 4th All-Star Appearance:

There were a number of options to take the second guard spot in the east. I’ve gone with all-star regular, DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors have quietly jumped out to an 11-5 start, good for second in the east and it is largely on the back of DeRozan’s efforts. DeRozan has scored 20+ points in 14 of his 16 appearances so far and ranks 8th in the league all up with 25.2 points per game, the only Raptor averaging over 15.

The Raptors have seen a significant drop in fellow all-star Kyle Lowry’s production, resulting in DeRozan taking on a higher load offensively, and to this point we haven’t seen a drop in efficiency with his shooting percentages going up across the board from last year. Though debatable whether DeRozan will be a starter at this point there is no doubt he is playing at an all-star level through the first month.

(Image from thestar.com)

Ok, my starters have been selected and we have seven spots left on the Eastern Conference roster and we’re going to start with the Washington guard mentioned above:

Bradley Beal, Washington, Guard, All-Star Debut:

Beal was on the fringes of selection last year and was openly unhappy and confused to not have got a birth. For the second year straight Beal is topping 23 points a game and remains a threat from the outside, knocking down 37% from deep on high volume, six attempts a contest. The Wizards again remain an Eastern Conference home court playoff contender and Beal continuing to play at an all-star level is exactly what will be required if it is to be the case.

A three game stretch between November 1-5 where Beal averaged 38 points a night is enough evidence to suggest this guy is one of the elite scoring guards in the competition. There is no chance Beal will be a hard luck story this February if his play continues in the same vein.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, Center, All-Star Debut:

Another debutant in the east, ‘the process’ himself, Joel Embiid will be making his first appearance in the all-star game if he remains healthy. If he does stay on the court come February i expect he will have a very strong case for removing either Giannis or Porzingas in the top five for that matter.

After sitting out his first two seasons through injury, Embiid finally hit the court for 31 injury interrupted but stellar performances last year. He was so good that there were some out there that considered him a major snub from this game last year. Joel has managed to play 14 of the first 16 games this year and his minutes are regularly topping the 30 mark, a significant milestone for the young superstar.

Averaging a 22-point, 11-rebound double-double, Embiid is already an absolute force. Its not just his sweet post moves and ability to knock down the jumpshot, he has a deft passing touch for a big man and on the other end creates havoc protecting the rim and altering shots. Already boasting 4 games of 4+ assists and 7 games with multiple blocks, Embiid is an all-round terror. Just ask the Lakers, who he rendered absolutely helpless at the Staples Center when he went off for 46/15/7/7 on national TV. The process may have already arrived, and that’s a scary thought for the league.

Andre Drummond, Detroit, Center, 2nd All-Star Appearance:

The Pistons have been one of the hottest teams out the gate in the East and a lot of that has to do with the play of the man in the middle, Andre Drummond. In the offseason it was noted that Drummond dropped 25-30 pounds and turned up to training camp in the best condition he’d been in for years and the Pistons are reaping the benefits. Always a beast on the glass, Drummond leads the NBA with 15.3 boards a game and has already racked up two games with 20+.

Drummond is back to his best defensively but the most impressive change this season is his free throw shooting. A career 38% free throw shooter, Drummond has clearly been working on his stroke. So far this season he is knocking down 61% and had a 14-16 night at the line against Milwaukee. This has allowed Stan Van Gundy to leave him in late in tight games, deterring opposition from going to the hack-a-Drummond tactic, and the Pistons are benefiting greatly.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana, Guard, All-Star Debut:

Oladipo, part of the Paul George deal that the Pacers supposedly got robbed in, is apparently hell bent on proving that theory wrong. Averaging career highs in points, rebounds, 3 point percentage, field goal percentage, steals and blocks, its fair to say Oladipo is on a tear. Once thought of as simply a highlight reel dunker Oladipo is changing opinions on where his ceiling lies. Not to mention he has lead the Pacers to a 10-8 record that not many would have predicted, he was an easy selection for a reserve birth and may just be the early front runner for the leagues most improved.

(Image from givemesport.com)

Al Horford, Boston, Forward, 5th All-Star Appearance:

Im going to go out on a limb and suggest that not many people would’ve predicted that Al Horford would make the all-star game after a somewhat lacklustre first season in green. Like Irving, when Hayward went down, the load fell on everyone else to step up and as a previous four time all-star Horford was going to be one of the keys. A savvy veteran and one of the smartest defensive big men in the league, ranking 9th in defensive rating in the NBA, Horford anchors Brad Stevens defense and continually puts himself in the right spots for the leagues stingiest club on that end.

Whilst not an absolute scoring force, Horford has turned himself it a very good if not elite three point shooter, certainly for his size. Shooting a sizzling 43% from three, Horford allows Irving, Tatum, Brown and co to get into the paint while he stretches the floor. It’s not all in the box score with big Al but he is arguably their most important player right now, and with Boston running away with the East, they will get another all-star if this continues.

Kevin Love, Cleveland, Forward, 4th All-Star Appearance:

In what would be his second all-star game as a Cav, Kevin Love gets the nod. The positions are tight down the bottom end of the roster but a guy who gets you a nightly double-double on a likely top seed in the East gets the vote. The Cavs have had a rough start to the season but as long as Love stays healthy to help LeBron they will be ok. Averaging 18 points and 10 boards a game, Love, at a younger then you’d think 29 years of age is still playing at a very high level.

A threat from the outside and in the paint, he remains one of the smartest scorers in the game and when required can carry the offense, registering four games with 25+ points already. Love has started the season playing at an all-star level and with the Cavs aging roster he will need to keep it rolling.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia, Guard, All-Star Debut:

The final spot in the East’s all-star roster goes to the clear early leader in the rookie of the year race. As I mentioned earlier, the process may have already arrived and the second piece of the puzzle is the 6’10”, 21-year-old Aussie point guard with dazzling handles and passing for his size.

The Sixers have become must watch TV with Simmons, nightly highlight real dunks, passes and spin moves bringing the rabid Philadelphia crowd to their feet. After sitting out his first year with various ailments, the LSU product has hit the ground running averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists, elite numbers for anyone, no less for a rookie. With two triple doubles already in the bank, Simmons is making the game look easy despite lacking an outside jumper. Whether or not that ever develops i think we can get used to Simmons suiting up in all-star games for years to come.

(Image from smh.com.au)

Well, that’s my Eastern Conference All-Star roster after one month. There were four or five other guys I would’ve liked to slot in but there just wasn’t enough spots. The talent in the East is better then it has been for quite some time, a plethora of young budding stars making their mark. Five of the twelve all-stars I have chosen would be first time nods and I think that would be extremely exciting to see.

Of course this type of thing is always subjective and thats what makes it so fun to discuss and debate. I already look forward to bringing you my Western Conference selections in the coming days and hope you enjoyed part one.

Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus

 

 

 

About Kane Pitman

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by themekiller.com