Saturday, July 20, 2024

The most entertaining 2022 NBA All-Star Game: Picking reserves for Eastern and Western Conference

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It’s everyone’s favorite time of the year!

That’s right, the opportunity to debate to earth’s end and lose sleep over drawing a line between the 12th and 13th-best player in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Reserves for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game are being announced tonight at 7 p.m. ET on TNT before tip-off between the Suns and Hawks. Seven players from each conference as voted on by the league’s coaches – two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild cards – will join the 10 starters that were announced last week later this month in Cleveland.

MORE: One defining stat for each starter in the All-Star Game

It wouldn’t feel like February without dipping our toes into the raging All-Star debate… with a catch.

I’m a firm believer that All-Star weekend has little to do with real basketball. It’s a celebration of the game – a highlight tour de force solely for fans and not to be taken too seriously. When was the last time you saw a crisp defensive rotation, crucial defensive stop or the shot clock reach single digits in an All-Star game? That’s what I thought.

All-Star teams should reflect the best on-court product – a reasonable blend of statistical prowess and maximum entertainment value. If we’re celebrating the best the game has to offer in an event built on over-the-top pageantry and supernova showmanship, then the rosters should reflect that.

The following All-Star picks are not predictions, nor are they the most deserving in the traditional sense. They are instead a reflection of the players who would deliver the most entertaining and exhilarating exhibition possible… which should be the goal of every All-Star game.

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Eastern Conference


Backcourt: James Harden, LaMelo Ball

Frontcourt: Zach LaVine, Jayson Tatum, Miles Bridges

Wild Card: Darius Garland, Jimmy Butler

OK, so a few things.

Zach LaVine… frontcourt? YES.

So what if he’s been a guard his entire career? The fact remains that he’s logged 82% of his minutes at forward on a pint-sized Bulls team. He’s a lock regardless of position, but slotting him as a frontcourt player opens up another guard spot. And let’s be real… the more guards in All-Star games, the better.

If this were strictly about merit factoring in team performance, I wouldn’t bat an eye on excluding Tatum who despite being a top 10 talent, has turned in an uninspiring and inefficient season on an underwhelming team. But the All-Star game is simply better with Boston’s 23-year-old walking bucket in it.

MORE: Why Siakam – not VanVleet – should be Toronto’s All-Star

Miles Bridges might be the NBA’s most entertaining player. If you could handpick any player in the entire league built for All-Star weekend, it’s Bridges. Nobody induces more business decisions by hapless defenders petrified of living on as a permanent punchline in an NBA TopShot.

Unlike Bridges, who likely won’t actually make it despite a Most Improved Player type of campaign, his teammate LaMelo Ball might actually make it.

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets)

The alley to Bridge’s oop, Ball is a fan favorite (5th in fan voting among East backcourt players) with a legitimate statistical All-Star case on a team flirting with a coveted top-six position. Outside of Chris Paul, Ball is the best bet to finish an All-Star game with 20 assists and has the audacity to throw no-look behind the back lobs from any spot on the floor. 

Even for all the complaining about rule changes and hand-wringing over Brooklyn’s disappointing season, Harden’s still a bankable 23-10-8 who at times carries a Nets team without Kevin Durant (injured) and Kyrie Irving (sitting out every Nets home game). Harden is an All-Star who simply belongs there. That’s all there is to it.

With two spots left, we still have no Miami or Cleveland representation. Given both teams could enter the All-Star break atop the East, that feels wrong. 

Give me Darius Garand’s spellbinding creation skills over Jarrett Allen’s pick setting, rim running and shot blocking. Ditto for Jimmy “I went toe to toe with LeBron in the NBA Finals” Butler over Bam Adebayo who has missed significant time (even more so than Butler).

Send flowers to: Allen, Adebayo, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Jaylen Brown

Western Conference

Devin Booker, Chris Paul

Backcourt: Luka Doncic, Chris Paul

Frontcourt: Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Mikal Bridges

Wild Card: Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell

Mikal Bridges over Draymond Green? Mikal Bridges over Draymond Green!

Let me be perfectly clear: I thought Green should have been a starter and I still think he’ll ultimately win Defensive Player of the Year despite the extended absence. But the second Andrew Wiggins received the starting nod, it threw a wrench into everything. 

If there is one team that deserves three All-Stars, it’s the one in first place atop the West. And if we’re going by our “give me the most entertaining All-Star game possible” format, then yeah, give me Bridges as the third Sun over a player built for defensive intensity in June than February highlight factories. The 2022 All-Star Game is more fun with Bridges than it is with Green. That doesn’t mean he’s better (he’s not). But it’s a reality that also rewards Phoenix.

Speaking of Phoenix, Paul and Booker are locks. 

The real tragedy behind the death of the pass-first pure point guard is the lack of floor generals capable of bringing out the best in high-flying showstoppers at the All-Star Game. Enter Paul, who for entertainment purposes, I would advocate for All-Star inclusion beyond his retirement.

And then a conversation for another day – I also subscribe to the notion that Booker, not Paul, is Phoenix’s MVP candidate. CP3 is no doubt incredible and his impact on every other player up and down Phoenix’s roster is incontrovertible. But Booker has gone up a level this season with a maturing game that’s starting to fill in the holes not seen by box score stats. He’s also absolutely capable of catching fire and turning in a memorable scorched-earth All-Star performance. 

Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)

Doncic falls into that same camp as Harden. Despite what’s been a relatively pedestrian season for him – again, laughable given he’s still tossing up 25-9-9 for a surging Mavericks’ squad – there’s zero question that Doncic belongs in this game. Every transcendent player has their All-Star moment and if you don’t think Doncic is motivated by his NBA75 snub, you haven’t been paying attention. During a weekend celebrating the greatest 75 players ever, Doncic could easily send a message with the type of performance we’ll look back on decades from now with equal parts reverence and incredulity that he was ever left off.

Karl-Anthony Towns has been through more over the last two years than perhaps any other player. Leading a resurgent Timberwolves team back into playoff contention, Towns deserves his All-Star moment. It’s difficult to call All-Star weekend a feel-good moment in the midst of enduring unthinkable personal tragedy, but it does provide the backdrop for an opportunity to heap praise upon Minnesota’s franchise player who continues to show up every single day.

Also, let’s have a Utah Jazz conversation. By all accounts, Mitchell and Gobert are locks. 

For our purposes, Mitchell checks every box we’re looking for in building out the most entertaining All-Star game possible. He packs a serious punch with a loud game suited for the bright lights of All-Star weekend.

Gobert is an undeniable two-way force. The most dominant defensive player in the league who is a system unto itself, Gobert doesn’t get much credit for his work on the OTHER end of the floor (cue every Jazz fan nodding in agreement and blogging about screen assists).

But c’mon… you’re kidding yourself if you think Gobert makes for a better All-Star participant than Anthony Edwards, who would walk into Cleveland as the least deserving and probably worst player, yet would be absolutely convinced that he’s the best player in the building. No player in the league is built for All-Star Media Day moreso than Edwards, who is the NBA’s best quote.

And yet… Gobert is simply too good to be discarded even for the sake of our thankless mission to give the people what they want. Edwards will be an All-Star in 2023, book it.

A final word: fans would LOSE IT for Klay Thompson. The people’s champ, a Klay cameo at All-Star weekend would elicit Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble vibes.

Send flowers to: Edwards, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr.

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