Now that the NBA has named its 26 all-stars, the “picking sides on the playground” intrigue begins.
As the top vote-getters in their respective conferences, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will divvy up the teams as draft captains, first picking four starters each and then proceeding to select seven players apiece from the pool of reserves. Then, in a surprise twist announced Friday, James and Antetokounmpo will select between Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, after NBA commissioner Adam Silver added the two future Hall of Famers as “special roster additions” to accompany the standard 24 selections.
Per all-star roster changes instituted last year, James and Antetokounmpo are free to pick players from either conference as they build their rosters for the Feb. 17 showcase in Charlotte. James gets to select first among the starters by virtue of being the league’s top overall vote-getter with more than 4.62 million votes; Antetokounmpo then gets to select first among the reserves. Finally, James will get to choose between Nowitzki and Wade in a third round. As a refresher, here’s a look at the eligible players.
Starters: Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker
Reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton, Victor Oladipo, Ben Simmons, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Vucevic, Russell Westbrook
Special Roster Additions: Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade
This year’s top snubs include Rudy Gobert, Tobias Harris, Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green, Steven Adams, Pascal Siakam, Jimmy Butler, Al Horford and Eric Bledsoe. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will select one of the East’s snubs to replace the injured Oladipo.
Let’s take a crack at predicting how the all-star draft, which will air on TNT on Feb. 7, will unfold.
LeBron: Kevin Durant
James and Durant relished double-teaming Stephen Curry in crunchtime of last year’s All-Star Game, and they’ve made no secret of their mutual admiration. Plus, the best way for James to get a fourth ring is to somehow convince Durant to leave the Warriors and join the Lakers this summer, so the shameless recruiting should commence immediately.
Giannis: Kawhi Leonard
Antetokounmpo can play all five positions, but even he can’t guard James and Durant by himself. Toronto’s Leonard will help him fight fire with fire.
LeBron: Kyrie Irving
Irving’s recent apology to James has prompted speculation that they might attempt a reunion tour next summer. That might be a pipe dream, but Irving is James’s only former teammate among this year’s all-stars.
Giannis: Stephen Curry
The superstar whose only flaw is his lack of a perimeter jumper should leap at the chance to nab Curry, the greatest shooter of all time.
LeBron: Joel Embiid
If James wants to win, he will snag Embiid, the only traditional center among this year’s starters, to solidify a massive front line that will pose serious matchup problems.
Giannis: James Harden
It’s strange to think that Harden, the leading MVP candidate, might last this long, but his extreme ball dominance isn’t an ideal fit for the showcase’s loose format.
LeBron: Paul George
James can finish off his stacked starting five by extending an olive branch to George, who declined to meet with the Lakers about a possible team-up with James last summer.
Giannis: Kemba Walker
Walker is a very good and very entertaining point guard, and it’s nice that the Hornets star will get to start while playing host for the weekend’s festivities. Still, he should be the last starter picked.
Giannis: Khris Middleton
There are bigger stars and better players on the board, but Antetokounmpo’s loyalty to Milwaukee could easily steer him toward selecting Middleton, his Bucks teammate.
LeBron: Anthony Davis
On to the benches! After more than a week of thirsty recruiting and trade rumors from the Lakers, James had better select Davis as soon as possible.
Giannis: Russell Westbrook
Antetokounmpo and Westbrook are kindred spirits, from their nonstop motors to their rim attacks to their penchant for snarling.
LeBron: Ben Simmons
James and Simmons share Klutch Sports ties, so look for the King to grab the Fresh Prince once he’s taken care of his top priorities.
Giannis: Karl-Anthony Towns
Needing a big man for matchup purposes, Antetokounmpo should turn to Towns, another franchise player trying to build a winner in the Midwestern cold.
LeBron: Klay Thompson
James will have to swallow his pride to take Thompson, who famously said that James “got his feelings hurt” during a back-and-forth at the 2016 Finals.
Giannis: Damian Lillard
A good value play for Antetokounmpo, whose team could run out super-shooting lineups featuring Curry, Walker and Lillard.
LeBron: Nikola Jokic
Basketball dorks everywhere will unite in celebration if James corners the market on playmaking by selecting Jokic, one of the best passing big men in league history.
Giannis: Blake Griffin
This is the “take the best available player” stage of the draft, and Griffin fits the bill after a healthy bounce-back season in Detroit.
LeBron: Bradley Beal
Beal’s flexible game makes him a nice complementary piece in lineups with bigger names, and James’s team could use another backcourt floor-spacer.
Giannis: Kyle Lowry
Lowry’s scoring has fallen this season, but his distribution skills will be useful when there are so many mouths to feed.
LeBron: LaMarcus Aldridge
James can do a favor to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich by making sure Aldridge isn’t the last pick in the all-star draft for the second straight year.
Giannis: Victor Oladipo’s replacement
Both captains will be rooting for Silver to tap Bledsoe as Oladipo’s injury replacement, given that he plays for Milwaukee and is repped by Klutch Sports.
LeBron: Nikola Vucevic
The thrill of making his first All-Star Game should be enough to carry the Magic’s Vucevic through the indignity of being the last man chosen.
LeBron: Dwyane Wade
This will be the fastest decision of them all, with James wasting no time selecting Wade, his longtime friend and former Heatles sidekick. Maybe they can recreate their iconic alley-oop photo during the Sunday showcase?
Giannis: Dirk Nowitzki
Silver’s unexpected move to honor the legends sets up a nice generational baton pass between Nowitzki, the NBA’s highest-scoring international player of all time, and Antetokounmpo, the highest-profile international star of his generation.
Final Verdict: Team LeBron looks like the clear favorite on paper, but Team Giannis has a nice mix of perimeter firepower and high-volume dunkers. As James compiles his Dream Team, he will surely be thinking: If only retooling the Lakers was this easy.
Correction: An earlier version of this mock draft had James selecting first throughout the second round.
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