The new year is well underway and for NBA fans that means their attention turns to one thing. February’s NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Although the games of the past few years have lacked the intensity of previous outings, especially in defence, the debate over who deserves to showcase their skills in this prestigious contest rages on. And with a new format that sees the East vs. West setup replaced by two teams selected by captains (the players who gain the most votes in each conference), 2018 has the potential to freshen up the fixture. So, who should make the cut for the All-Star teams?
Firstly, there are the players who are all but guaranteed their place in the All-Star Game. In the frontcourt, LeBron James will be looking ahead to his fourteenth appearance in the contest as he continues to take his game to new heights at Cleveland, whilst the man who is increasingly becoming his great rival, Kevin Durant, looks certain to make the game on the back of an impressive start to the season marked out by some outstanding play in defence. Meanwhile the emerging star of the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo, may only have made his All-Star debut last season, but his rise to stardom on the back of his spectacular performances for the Milwaukee Bucks, becoming the first player in NBA history to finish in the top twenty of all five major stats, means he is now part of the fabric of the fixture. Also, although their New Orleans Pelicans team has underwhelmed at times, the gigantic figures of last years’ All-Star MVP Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins look likely to have prominent roles to play in the game.
In the backcourt, some of the biggest stars in the game can be confident of featuring in this years’ encounter. The league’s leading scorer, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, will be in line for a prime role in the game, providing he is able to recover from his current hamstring injury in time. At the same time, Stephen Curry’s return from injury and red-hot form means the Golden State Warrior means he can look forward to his fifth outing in the All-Star Game, along with Kyrie Irving, whose skillful start with the Celtics means he can bring his box of tricks to L.A. Finally, a player who always takes this fixture seriously, two-time All-Star Game MVP Russell Westbrook, will look to continue his spectacular run going in his hometown, having scored forty-one points twice in past three years.
Elsewhere, other returners can expect to make an appearance in the game. Harden’s partner in crime in Houston, Chris Paul, looks set to make his return to the All-Star Game having missed out due to injury in 2017 following an impressive start to life with the Rockets that has seen him average nine assists per game. Warriors teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green also seem deserving of making an appearance this year, with Thompson enjoying one of his most consistent starts to the season and Green continually excelling on both ends of the floor, becoming his sides’ all time leader in Triple-Doubles during a recent win over Houston. Successful adaptations to new surroundings for Jimmy Butler in Minnesota and Paul George in Oklahoma City should see them make the cut for a cameo in the game, whilst DeMar DeRozan certainly deserves the recognition after leading the under the radar Toronto Raptors to a 26-10 start to the season.
One aspect of this year’s All-Star Game that makes it particularly interesting is the potential for several new all-stars to emerge. Leading the pack is Philadelphia’s charismatic Cameroonian centre Joel Embiid, who has become a pivotal player on the young Sixers team and will surely shine on the huge stage that the All-Star Game provides. Moreover, Kristaps Porzingis’ development into the leader of the New York Knicks following Carmelo Anthony’s departure puts him in prime position to make his debut in the fixture, whilst the massive improvement in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ standing should be enough for Karl-Anthony Towns to continue his development into an All-Star. Also, one of the most surprising revelations of the season, Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers, has surely done enough to make his bow in the All-Star Game following his remarkable emergence into one of the top Guards in the NBA, whilst fellow guard Devin Booker could be in line for an appearance after helping to drag the Phoenix Suns of the basement of the Western Conference.
If you’re looking for an outside bet, some other impressive young talents would fit the bill. Ben Simmons’ admirable transformation into a Point Guard in his rookie season at the Sixers puts him in contention for the game, whilst Jaylen Brown’s development after slipping into Gordon Hayward’s shoes at Boston after the latter’s horrific injury gives him hope of a debut along with Kyle Kuzma, who’s emergence from second-round draft pick into the Lakers’ top scorer means he has a chance of capping a remarkable season with a role in the All-Star Game. However, for these players the 2018 edition may come a little too soon, although they look set to become fixtures of future editions. On the other end of the scale, sentimentalists can hope for a final bow from the grand old man of the league, Manu Ginobili, who at 40 looks to be nearing the end of his career.