The NBA has tweaked the All-Star Game a number of times over the last several years. Perhaps the most intriguing change has been the televised selection of the teams by the two leading vote-getters as captains. It adds a delectable little frisson of excitement and drama to a formerly lifeless event.
The format is a simple playground-style draft. The All-Star starters are drafted first, and then the reserves, but there are no other restrictions.
It’s always fun to see how the captains select their squads. Traditionally, LeBron at least tries to build a reasonable roster based on talent and positional fit. Last year, Durant’s surprising selection of Kyrie (second overall, after LeBron picked Giannis) and Harden (first selected among reserves) proved that he values playing with his friends more than winning a largely meaningless game.
LeBron has always been a captain since the draft was created five years ago, and he has yet to lose a game.
I’m going to get in the heads of these two superstars to predict who they will be drafting. Note that this is my best guess at who they will select, not the order I think the players should be drafted. As always, I expect to be 100% accurate, so feel free to call up your bookies (note: not gambling advice).
1) Team James — Giannis Antetokounmpo
Last year’s first overall pick turned out pretty well for Team LeBron, as Giannis shot a perfect 16-16 (!!!) from the field en route to All-Star MVP honors. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The only unknown here is if LeBron is angling to buddy up to a future free-agent target (he’s always playing the long game), in which case we could see a wild-card.
2) Team Durant — Ja Morant
I’m expecting the surprises to come quickly this year. KD passed on selecting Steph with his first pick last season, and I’d expect him to do so again. This pick is a lot more defensible than the Irving selection, however. Durant waxed poetic about Morant just a month ago, and Ja might very well be the most exciting player in the league. He’s the rare 6’3” guard equally capable of throwing a pinpoint-accurate lob or catching one and windmilling it himself:
3) Team James — Steph Curry
LeBron’s picking the same roster so far as he did last season, and why not? Despite their rivalry, LeBron said he “loved every single second” of his first game ever as teammates with the Chef. A prolonged shooting slump has slowed Curry’s MVP case, but he remains one of the most unique and thrilling players in the league.
Also, he and Giannis really showed some chemistry a few All-Star games ago (please, please watch this):
If that’s not the type of play the All-Star game is designed to showcase, I don’t know what is.
4) Team Durant — DeMar DeRozan
Surprise pick number two! DeMar DeRozan is close friends with James Harden, who theoretically remains close friends with Kevin Durant despite all the drama surrounding the Nets. I think it’s entirely possible that Kevin drafts DeMar and tries to wine-and-dine him to curry favor with Harden.
Durant actually picked Embiid with this selection last year, but they seem to be getting in each others’ faces on a regular basis these days, so Durant turns to possibly the only player whose mid-range artistry rivals his own.
5) Team James — Joel Embiid
LeBron pounces on the opportunity to add Joel, removing the best Giannis-stopper available on the board. Embiid has been demolishing foes as of late, but the All-Star game has never really rewarded centers… until recently.
Embiid was a key player down the stretch in the 2020 All-Star Game, the best ASG ever. LeBron doubtless remembers the havoc Embiid wreaked in a close game against the best players in the world.
6) Team Durant — Nikola Jokic
Desperately needing size, Durant chooses Jokic. Jokic, like Luka Doncic and many other overseas players, hasn’t really gotten buddy-buddy with too many of the American players, most of whom have known each other since their AAU days.
Durant appreciated Jokic’s game just this offseason in an interview with CJ McCollum, and he’ll pick him here in acknowledgment of the reigning MVP’s skill (and because he really, really needs a big).
7) Team James — Trae Young
LeBron has never forgiven Jayson Tatum for the time Tatum disintegrated his body into ash in the 2018 playoffs:
To be clear, I have no idea how LeBron feels, but I know that I wouldn’t forgive someone who briefly dunked me into a different dimension.
No one’s picking Wiggins until they have to, so that leaves Trae Young, who’s having a superb season but really is chosen because he’s not the other two guys.
8) Team Durant — Jayson Tatum
Tatum and Durant have a longstanding relationship. Tatum also is a solid defender who can guard anyone on the court this side of Embiid, giving Team Durant some defensive flexibility.
9) Team Durant — Andrew Wiggins
Durant gets two selections in a row, since he has to replace himself due to his injury, so he gets stuck with Maple Jordan. Wiggins is fine. He’s an All-Star starter, somehow (check out this excellent blog from Nate Schwartz for the gory details), so he’ll get chosen here, ahead of many better players.
Boring sidenote: The reserves are interesting in that they’re all point guards. Commissioner Adam Silver replaced Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two forwards, with LaMelo Ball and Dejounte Murray, two points. Traditionally, injury replacements have been roughly the same position as the injured players. Nobody finds this interesting, I know.
10) Team Durant — James Harden
Durant gets the first pick from the reserves, and he chooses his good buddy Harden. Hard to see this going any other way…unless the Nets trade Harden (the trade deadline is just 3.5 hours earlier than the draft). Durant’s picks shine a light on his feelings towards players, so keep an eye on this one.
11) Team James — Luka Doncic
I think James sees a bit of himself in Doncic as an oversized point guard with genius passing abilities. Doncic was James’ third pick last year, when Doncic was a starter, so there’s clearly some level of admiration for his game.
12) Team Durant — Jimmy Butler
Jimmy is the kind of guy who’s absolutely ready and willing to play defense in the All-Star game. His all-around skillset lets him play with any combination of superstar teammates, and he’ll be hungry to prove that he should’ve been a starter.
13) Team James — Chris Paul
James can’t bear to wait on Chris any longer, and he locks in his buddy. Paul is a highly beloved teammate even in All-Star Games for his unselfishness and willingness to let others shine.
14) Team Durant — Devin Booker
Durant decides he should probably have a player who can make a three-pointer on his team. Booker, in a very symbolic turn of events, is picked directly after his teammate, Chris Paul.
15) Team James — Darius Garland
Garland has quickly become your favorite player’s favorite player for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious to me despite my recent 1,500 words on the man. His vast improvement in his third season has certainly caught the eye of the league’s best players, and James rewards him with a selection here.
16) Team Durant — Karl Anthony-Towns
Durant adds yet another skilled big man with exceptional shooting abilities. There’s a strong possibility we see KAT and Jokic on the floor together for an absurdly talented big man combination.
17) Team James — Zach LaVine
Every team can use a three-level scorer like LaVine, whose hops should be on display given the incredible passing talent in this game. For future All-Star Games, I demand that Silver implement a designated dunker who always plays on offense no matter which team has the ball. We could watch both teams throwing insane oops to LaVine all game, and what could be more All-Star than that?
18) Team Durant — LaMelo Ball
The first-time All-Star and injury replacement makes a surprise appearance at the 18th pick, but he might well be the steal of the draft. His long-range bombing and unparalleled knack for highlight passing will fit into the weekend’s festivities seamlessly.
19) Team James — Donovan Mitchell
A shocker! After shunning Utah last year, when Mitchell and teammate Rudy Gobert were the last two picks in the All-Star game, James feels the need to make amends and drafts the high-flying Mitchell. Donovan is so grateful not to be last that he will go out and drop 25 in the All-Star game to be Team James’ second-leading scorer.
20) Team Durant — Dejounte Murray
In another surprise, Durant opts to go defense-first and pick the Spurs’ point guard. It doesn’t matter, because Murray is going to play approximately eight minutes in the game.
21) Team James — Fred VanVleet
LeBron knows that FVV is the kind of dude who can’t take nights off. He’ll make a big impact in his limited time on the court, even if it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.
22) Team Durant — Khris Middleton
Durant gained a newfound respect for Middleton after last year’s playoffs. He remembers how Middleton — oh who am I kidding he just doesn’t want to draft Gobert. Nobody does, as has been proven time and again.
23) Team James — Rudy Gobert
There’s a slight delay as the TNT crew scrambles to locate James, who has already walked off the production set. After being told he has to take Rudy, no, he can’t just play with one fewer guy, yes, he really does have to, James sighs and selects Gobert.
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