It's All-Star season, and with the starters officially set to be announced Thursday, it's time to take a look at who has earned a spot in the Western Conference. You can find Eastern Conference picks here.
Nikola Jokić, LeBron James and Domantas Sabonis
All of these picks are pretty easy. Jokić is on his way to his third straight MVP. He is an absolute machine. Jokić is shooting 67.4% on two-pointers so far this season. He is incredibly close to averaging a triple double, putting up 25.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists a night. The Nuggets are playing at a 68-win pace with him on the floor, and a 20-win pace with him on the bench, per Cleaning the Glass. Denver has an 125.4 offensive rating with Jokić, which would be far and away the best offense in NBA history. And on top of all of that, every night Joker makes at least one pass that leaves you either scratching your head or chuckling to yourself in a manner befitting a Bond villain.
LeBron James would be getting all kinds of MVP buzz himself if the Lakers weren’t on the outside of the play-in. Despite a failing three-point shot, James is putting up 30.2 points, along with 8.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Bron is carrying all kinds of goofy lineups with Anthony Davis out, and he’s the biggest reason the Lakers are even remotely in striking distance of the postseason. James is one of those players who will always lead the fan voting for All-Star, but it’s important to stress this is far from a legacy pick. LeBron is not the athletic marvel he was 10 or 11 years ago, but he is still one of the most impactful players in the NBA by a large margin.
The last spot goes to the man who has helped us light the beam time and time again, Domantas Sabonis. The Kings big man has been absolutely dominant for a surprise Sacramento team with a humming offense. Sabonis is averaging a slick 18.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists while shooting 60.9% from the field. Don’t let Sabonis’s wiry frame fool you; he is one of the game’s most physical presences in the paint, muscling his way to the hoop time and time again. Sabonis’s two-man game with De’Aaron Fox is elite. He has been nearly impossible to stop working from the elbow or in the pick-and-roll. Per CTG, Sacramento has a 122.3 offensive rating with Sabonis on the floor and is playing at a 58-win pace. Not only has he been fantastic, he’s been the best player on one of the most charming turnarounds in the league.
Stephen Curry and Luka Dončić
The only real intrigue in the West is who starts next to Luka Dončić, who in a non–Nikola Jokić world is probably running away with MVP. Luka is basically posting a cool 34/9/9 every night, and feels like the most inevitable offensive force on the court. He carves up every single coverage thrown his way, and he is carrying a Mavericks team bereft of secondary playmakers. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in the foreseeable future in which he is not one of the backcourt starters.
For the second spot, I would like you to consider these next two statlines:
30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 50.4% FG, 45.4% 3PFG
29.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 48.6% FG, 41.9% 3PFG
The first is Stephen Curry’s unanimous 2016 MVP season; the second is what he’s doing so far this year. When you put those side by side, wouldn’t it feel silly to keep Curry out of the starting five? Ja Morant and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both have great cases. Yet even with the Grizzlies’ team success and SGA’s scoring prowess, it’s hard to deny Curry’s efficiency and impact on everyone else on the floor. Curry isn’t only himself an All-Star, his mere presence on the floor makes many of his teammates look like them, too. Morant and Gilgeous-Alexander obviously affect winning, just not quite in the same, encompassing way as Curry.
Lauri Markkanen, Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis
Markkanen is averaging 25/9/2 and has been the best player on a Jazz team most left for tanking. He also happens to play for the team hosting the game, which is always neat. The other two spots may be mildly controversial. Both Zion and AD have missed considerable time. Williamson will likely be out for another couple of weeks, while Davis is expected to return today. I don’t think either has missed enough time for me to penalize them for what they’ve done while healthy. Zion is everything we were promised when he was coming into the league and is having the most well-rounded season of his career. AD was playing at an MVP level before his injury. I know you can say that about a few guys, but Davis was a wrecking ball on both ends of the floor. He’s a one-man defensive system who this season decided to stop shooting jumpers and start dominating at the rim. The result has been 27.4 points a game on 59.4% shooting.
Ja Morant and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
We don’t really need to go too deep here. Morant and SGA would be starters in most other seasons. They just happen to be stuck behind two ultramegasilly talents in Curry and Dončić. Morant remains one of the most dominant paint players in the NBA, defying his size. SGA is a scoring machine, contorting his way to the free throw line time and time again.
Aaron Gordon and Damian Lillard
O.K., let’s get nutty here. Dame edges out guys like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Devin Booker based on games played, and I’ll say it: fun factor. It’s the All-Star Game! I want to see Dame bomb away! These are supposed to be wild cards, so let’s get wild.
Which brings me to Aaron Gordon. Does he have traditional All-Star stats? No. Did he floor me when he told me he would do the dunk contest if he was in the game? Yes. I also think the Nuggets, the first seed in the West, are deserving of having two All-Stars. Gordon has been their second-most consistent player this season. His numbers belie how solid he’s been on both ends of the floor.