Brace yourself. There’s going to be some angry people in the NBA on Thursday night.
With good reason.
The votes from the coaches are now in, and on Thursday, the NBA will reveal the 14 players — seven from the Eastern Conference, seven more from the Western Conference — who got picked to be reserves for the All-Star Game.
They’ll join the pool of 10 starters: the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Brooklyn teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson.
And then the cries of snubbery will begin.
Let’s start dissecting this mess with the East. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is going to be an All-Star reserve, based on both common sense and the fact that NBA coaches wouldn’t dare anger one of the league’s most hard-to-guard players by not voting for him. Boston’s Jaylen Brown, New York’s Julius Randle and Miami’s Bam Adebayo all absolutely should be All-Stars.
That’s nine from the East. That leaves no more than three slots left for this group — Atlanta’s Trae Young, Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, New York’s Jalen Brunson, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton and Cleveland’s Darius Garland. And all eight of those guys, plus some others, are all worthy candidates.
“Tyrese Haliburton is an artist,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said earlier this season. “And you know, some people that have unconventional ways to be successful in this game, you have to just leave them alone and allow them to do what they do. His artistry is the way he gets the ball in the basket, the way he sees the game, the way he connects teammates and the special person that he is.”
Sounds like an All-Star. A lot of coaches can make similar arguments for their guys, and not be lying when they make them.
You can see how messy this is going to get.
It might be even worse out West. Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Utah’s Lauri Markkanen, Memphis’ Ja Morant and Portland’s Damian Lillard should be locks for reserve nods. The only question on the Lakers’ Anthony Davis is if missing a bunch of games with injury will weigh on the minds of coaches; his numbers are more than good enough, except for that pesky games-played column.
If Davis and those five other players make it, that leaves one spot on the West roster. ONE.
Phoenix’s Devin Booker is averaging about 27 points a game. Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards is averaging about 25 points a game. Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox is averaging about 24. Odds are, at least one of those guys will miss out on being picked Thursday night.
Maybe two. Maybe even all three.
Denver leads the Western Conference and should have more than one All-Star, so that suggests Aaron Gordon — who has been fantastic this season — will get a long look. An All-Star Game without Los Angeles Clippers teammates Paul George and Kawhi Leonard would make no sense, given how they’re playing this season. But that could happen. New Orleans’ CJ McCollum has averaged nearly 20 points per game in his career, is averaging a tick above that this season, and still hasn’t been an All-Star. Coaches had to have considered Phoenix’s Chris Paul for their ballots as well.
All we know for certain is there will be some very, very good players who didn’t make the cut.
There were 56 players who entered this week averaging at least 20 points per game; not all were officially qualified for the NBA scoring-leader list because they hadn’t played enough games to be eligible.
Simple math tells us this much: 56 players averaging 20 per game, and 24 spots on the All-Star rosters, means at least 32 of those guys are going to be on the outside looking in when the rest of the teams are revealed.
Put it this way: There will be enough “snubbed” guys out there that, if they were so inclined, they could all get together and play their own All-Star Game. And even then there would be a few players who wouldn’t make a squad
Coaches had a tough job to do, narrowing all the worthy candidates for All-Star reserve nods down to seven players from their conferences. A few guys who are left out Thursday will still probably find their way to the game; if anyone who was selected can’t play because of injury — Williamson, for example, is currently out with a hamstring problem — then Commissioner Adam Silver will choose replacements.
It’ll be an interesting ballot reveal, for certain.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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