Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
It’s officially debate season in the NBA. Who will get traded before the deadline? Who’s leading the MVP race? Which team is the favorite to win the title? And, of particular importance right now, who should make the All-Star team?
On Thursday, roughly a month-and-a-half prior to the 2022 All-Star break, The Athletic and Stadium’s Shams Charania tweeted out the first batch of fan votes. And, as is annual tradition at this point, plenty of players looked a little out of place.
With the possible exception of DeMar DeRozan leading the way for Eastern Conference guards, the first couple of names in each section were probably fairly predictable. And even in DeMar’s case, fringe MVP candidacy in Chicago was bound to generate plenty of votes.
But beyond the highest vote-getters, a number of names seem either too high or too low. So that’s the very game we’ll play with each. And for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll endeavor to compare each player’s rank on the list above to where they should within on a more objective process for selecting All-Stars (not where we think they should rank based on popularity or the number of votes we thought they’d receive).
To do this, we’ll appeal to a number of catch-all metrics from around the internet that hope to capture all (or most of) a player’s on-court contributions in a single statistic. I won’t pretend that this is the only (or even the best) method for narrowing the field down to 24 All-Stars, but if you sort everyone in the league with 300-plus minutes by the average of their ranks in five popular catch-alls (as well as the cumulative versions of each), you get a pretty reliable idea of who this season’s best players have been.
Andy Bailey @AndrewDBailey
If you sort every NBA player w/ 300+ MIN on January 3 by the AVERAGE OF THEIR RANKS in 10 catch-alls (Box Plus/Minus, RAPTOR, Estimated Plus-Minus, LEBRON and Game Score per 36 minutes, as well as the cumulative versions of each), this is the top 30… https://t.co/ZVpJTtUwvb
Again, this isn’t definitive. For example, it might be difficult to make a sincere argument that Kevin Love should be in All-Star consideration this season, even though the above pegs him as the East’s 15th-best player so far. But it can still provide ranges and act as a decent guide, which is how we’ll use it today.
So, with that serving as the backdrop, let’s take a look at what the fans are getting right, as well as where they’re way off, in the first batch of votes.
Western Conference Frontcourt
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
1. LeBron James: Too High (but probably in the right range)
LeBron James has been absurd of late. Since November 24 (19 games), he’s averaging 31.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 3.1 threes, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks.
But to consider him the best frontcourt player in the Western Conference to this point, you have to ignore everything prior to November 24, when LeBron missed 11 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 19 games and wasn’t playing at anywhere near the level he is now.
2. Nikola Jokic: Too Low
Statistically speaking, no one else really has an argument for best player in the league right now.
Beyond posting a seemingly impossible 29.3 points, 16.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per 75 possessions, Nikola Jokic is on pace to break the single-season record for box plus/minus.
And if that catch-all doesn’t tickle your fancy, he’s also the runaway leader in Dunks and Threes’ estimated plus-minus, Basketball Index’s LEBRON, FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR and NBA.com’s player impact estimate.
3. Paul George: Too High
Paul George deserves some credit for carrying the Los Angeles Clippers in the absence of Kawhi Leonard—but not this much.
Take off the numbers from his ridiculously hot start in L.A.’s first seven games, and PG is averaging 23.1 points while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from three.
And now that he’s out with an elbow injury for the next several weeks, his stock is only going to drop more.
4. Andrew Wiggins: Too High (but knocking on the top 10’s door)
Andrew Wiggins is clearly getting a Golden State Warriors boost here. Playing on a formerly dynastic team with one of the most popular players of all time clearly has its benefits.
It’s not that Wiggins’ stats are bad or undeserving of All-Star consideration. In fact, his points per game and effective field-goal percentage put him in pretty serious company. And his defense has been a key for the Warriors all season.
There just aren’t enough ancillary contributions, particularly as a playmaker and rebounder, to warrant consideration as the West’s fourth-best frontcourt player.
5. Draymond Green: Too High (but probably in the right range)
This is one where we can really get into a bit of a disagreement with the criteria. According to the catch-all exercise detailed above, Draymond is eighth among Western Conference frontcourt players, just behind Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Jonas Valanciunas.
Thing is, two of those players are on sub-.500 teams. AD has already missed 12 games (and counting). And so much of what Draymond does as the quarterback of the Warriors on both offense and defense is difficult for any stat to measure.
By letter of the law, we’ll declare him a bit too high. When accounting for his intangibles and the fact that he’s behind George and Wiggins, though, he might actually be too low.
6. Anthony Davis: About Right (though he’s dropping)
Right now, the catch-all metrics put AD right at No. 6, which is where he is in the voting. And if he were playing, he’d have a chance to solidify that spot or move up.
Unfortunately, we’re likely still several games away from his return from an MCL injury. And the more time he misses, the stronger the cases of those around him will become.
7. Karl-Anthony Towns: Too Low (but probably in the right range)
The metrics have Karl-Anthony Towns pegged as the West’s fifth-best frontcourt player. And his offensive numbers are, as usual, absurd.
This season, he’s averaging 24.2 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 threes while shooting 42.2 percent from three.
And while the Minnesota Timberwolves do have a losing record, it’s hard to fault KAT for it. When he’s on the floor with the rest of Minnesota’s starters (Jarred Vanderbilt, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley), the Wolves are a staggering plus-53.5 points per 100 possessions.
8. Carmelo Anthony: Too High
Come on, now. Averaging 13.3 points and shooting 39.0 percent from three is notable for anyone in an age-37 season, but Carmelo Anthony simply can’t be in an objective conversation regarding the West’s top 10 frontcourt players.
In the catch-all exercise, he ranks 146th overall, regardless of position or conference. Again, great for a 37-year-old, but he’s not All-Star-worthy.
9. Rudy Gobert: Too Low
Fans are never going to grasp the impact Rudy Gobert has on the Utah Jazz. Right now, the only players in the league ahead of him in the metrics are Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry.
That doesn’t mean he’s the fourth-best basketball player in the world, but it’s decent evidence of a top-five impact this season.
He’s averaging a whopping 17.6 points, 17.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 75 possessions, with a 72.6 true shooting percentage. The Jazz are plus-13.9 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, a point differential roughly equivalent to that of a 70-win team.
10. Deandre Ayton: About Right
Ayton is 11th in our exercise, but this gets back to the Love example deployed earlier. The player ahead of Ayton is Isaiah Hartenstein, who plays 16.4 minutes per game and has spent much of his playing time against reserves.
Lack of total minutes is accounted for by including cumulative versions of the numbers, but it’s harder to quantify how much more responsibility Ayton has on a Western Conference juggernaut.
Western Conference Guards
LM Otero/Associated Press
1. Stephen Curry: About Right
Stephen Curry maintaining a spot in the top three of the catch-alls exercise speaks to how important the mere threat of his shooting is.
Over his last 16 appearances, Curry is shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three. But even during this drought, Golden State is plus-8.0 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor and minus-6.7 with him off.
2. Luka Doncic: Too High (but he could be on his way there)
Luka Doncic’s basic numbers (25.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.0 rebounds) are at their typically absurd levels, but he earns the “too high” distinction for a few reasons.
First, he’s below the league average in both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Second, the Dallas Mavericks have been significantly better with Luka off the floor this season. And third, the next guy on the list has almost certainly been better to this point of the season.
3. Ja Morant: Too Low (but probably in the right range)
Desmond Bane’s suggestion that “we should be debating whether [Ja Morant is] the best point guard in the league” may sound a little First Take-y, but he’s actually not too far off the mark.
Right now, Curry is the only 1 in the league who tops Morant’s box plus/minus, and that gap has narrowed quite a bit over the last couple of weeks.
Over his last five games, Morant is averaging 33.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.8 threes.
4. Klay Thompson: Too High (though you have to respect the Warriors fans)
Klay Thompson hasn’t played in an NBA basketball game in two-plus seasons.
5. Devin Booker: Too High (but probably in the right range)
A seven-game absence due to a hamstring injury hurt Devin Booker a bit in the cumulative numbers, but he’s also below average in effective field-goal percentage and not on the same level of some of the others here as a playmaker.
Still, 23.9 points, 4.5 assists, 2.7 threes and a 42.0 three-point percentage for one of the West’s premier teams is nothing to sneeze at.
6. Chris Paul: Too Low
Chris Paul is the best and most important player on the 29-8 Suns. He leads the league in assists per game, remains one of the game’s most feared mid-range scorers and drives up an already strong net rating by 3.4 points.
Curry is an obvious choice for the first starting guard in the West, but CP3 should be in the conversation for the next spot (with the next guy on this list).
7. Donovan Mitchell: Too Low
These voting results are a pretty striking example of the power of market size in the NBA. Donovan Mitchell is the subject of a national ad campaign from Adidas, just won Western Conference Player of the Month for December and still can’t crack the top five of his position group in fan voting.
After averaging 30.2 points and 5.0 assists in December, Mitchell is at 25.5 and 5.1 on the season. He’s tied for fifth in the league in threes per game, and his team has a comfortable lead over every other in the league in both net and offensive rating.
8. Damian Lillard: About Right (though he’s dropping)
Like Curry, Damian Lillard is posting shooting percentages far below his career norms, but he’s still averaging 24.0, and the Portland Trail Blazers are scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.
He has two big problems that could keep him out of the All-Star Game for the first time since 2017, though. First, the Blazers are 14-23 and dropping like a rock down the standings. Second, Lillard is out for multiple games for the second time this season with an abdominal injury.
If the losses keep piling up, Portland might have to think about shutting him down for an extended period.
9. Russell Westbrook: Too High
Russell Westbrook is around the same range in the overall rankings as Melo. In fact, he’s a few spots below him.
His raw numbers will likely always be intoxicating (this season, he’s at 19.5 points, 8.1 boards and 8.1 assists), but this is his fifth straight season with abysmal scoring efficiency. And when a zero-turnover game warrants the kind of celebration Westbrook received earlier this month, you know he has a problem there.
Russ is in the middle of his 12th season with at least 500 minutes and 5.0-plus turnovers per 100 possessions. That is, unsurprisingly, a record.
10. Anthony Edwards: Too High
Scoring inefficiency and a lack of contributions beyond points probably mean it’s a little too early to include Anthony Edwards in All-Star conversations, but it’s fair to think he’ll get there within the next couple of years.
He currently has the ninth-highest career scoring average for a player through his age-20 season.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
1. Kevin Durant: Too High (but that’s nitpicky)
If you want to declare Kevin Durant the best frontcourt player in the Eastern Conference, go for it. There’s still a decent argument he’s the best overall player in the world.
At 30.0 points per game, he leads the league in scoring. And he’s doing so with well-above-average efficiency for a good team.
A strictly statistical ranking would almost certainly have him below the next guy on the list, though.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo: Too Low
Jokic is on the verge of running away with the numbers-based argument for best player in the world, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is still within striking distance.
Because he’s played at an MVP level for nearly half a decade now, we may be starting to take his ridiculous production for granted.
For almost every single player in history outside of Giannis, averages of 31.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals per 75 possessions are far from normal.
3. Joel Embiid: About Right
If Joel Embiid keeps playing at the level he’s been at lately, he may crash the MVP conversation by the end of the season.
Since his return from his last extended absence (17 games), Embiid is putting up 29.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.3 threes while shooting 39.3 percent from three.
4. Jayson Tatum: Too High
Jayson Tatum’s raw numbers (25.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.7 threes) certainly look like those of an All-Star. And you won’t see many complaints if he makes it.
But his scoring efficiency has been borderline disastrous in multiple games this season. Among the 48 players taking 15-plus shots per game, Tatum’s well-below-average effective field-goal percentage ranks 42nd.
5. Jimmy Butler: About Right
Jimmy Butler’s lack of availability is what has him teetering on the edge of the numbers’ top five. He’s missed 16 of the Miami Heat’s games, but he’s been his typically dominant self when he plays.
Butler is averaging 23.2 points, 5.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game. And while much of the league has struggled to adjust to rule adjustments this season, Butler’s old-school foul-drawing game has remained a weapon.
He’s averaging 8.1 free-throw attempts because he’s been drawing real contact (as opposed to trying to trick the refs) for years.
6. Jarrett Allen: Too Low (but probably in the right range)
Jarrett Allen is putting up Gobert-esque numbers for the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers, and that means his impact may be harder to wrap your head around than that of someone like Tatum.
Allen is putting up 17.1 points in 32.8 minutes while shooting a league-leading 71.5 percent from two. But it’s on the other end where his impact is truly felt.
The Cavs are allowing 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Allen on the floor, and his opponents’ field-goal percentage is 6.5 points lower when he’s the primary defender.
7. Bam Adebayo: Too High
If Bam Adebayo had played in more than 18 games, it’d be a lot easier to justify his inclusion in the top 10. Averages of 18.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists are impressive.
But even in the limited time he played, there were some indicators that Adebayo was headed for a possible regression. His assist rate, block rate and true shooting percentage are all way down from where they were last the couple of seasons.
8. Miles Bridges: Too High
Miles Bridges’ top-10 appearance feels like the result of a few intangible factors. For one, he plays alongside LaMelo Ball and for the League Pass darling Charlotte Hornets. They play one of the NBA’s most exciting brands of basketball, and Bridges’ highlight dunks are a big part of that.
Bridges also had an absurdly hot start, in which he averaged 26.2 points and shot 39.5 percent from three over his first five games. His numbers ever since then (18.5 points with a 30.2 three-point percentage) are nowhere near as impressive.
9. LaMarcus Aldridge: Too High
Put this one in the Melo category. LaMarcus Aldridge is on a big-market team and having a heck of a season for a player of his age (36).
But 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds from a reserve isn’t the description of an All-Star.
10. Nikola Vucevic: Too High
This feels like the All-Star candidacies of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine rubbing off on their starting center.
Nikola Vucevic was a worthy multi-time All-Star and one of the games’ more underrated players from 2018-19 to 2020-21, but almost all of his numbers have fallen off a cliff in 2021-22.
His 0.7 box plus/minus is the lowest mark he’s posted since 2013-14.
Eastern Conference Guards
Nick Wass/Associated Press
1. DeMar DeRozan: Too High (but that’s nitpicky)
The DeMar DeRozan coronation has been one of this season’s best and most entertaining stories. Leading all Eastern Conference guards in this first batch of voting feels perfectly in line with that. And he deserves loads of credit for returning Chicago to the top of the standings.
He still just doesn’t check quite as many boxes (or, fill them in as fully) as a couple of the guards behind him here.
2. James Harden: About Right
After all the early-season fuss about James Harden possibly struggling with the league’s new foul rules, his free-throw-attempt rate is now as high as it’s been since 2016-17.
And though his gaudy numbers with the Houston Rockets may have spoiled us, Harden’s 22.5 points, 9.8 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 threes are still impressive.
Combine that with his being on the East’s No. 2 team, and it’s not hard to make the argument for him to start.
3. Trae Young: Too Low
Statistically, Trae Young might have the strongest argument for the top spot in this section.
He’s averaging 28.4 points, 9.5 assists and 2.8 threes. He’s top 20 in the league in box plus/minus and first among Eastern Conference guards.
Of course, it’s easy to pooh-pooh his candidacy based on the fact that the Atlanta Hawks are below .500. When you dig into their point differential, though, it’s tough to hold that against Young. The Hawks are plus-3.3 points per 100 possessions with Young on the floor and minus-6.7 with him off.
4. Zach LaVine: Too High (but probably in the right range)
Zach LaVine deserves loads of credit for his selflessness in incorporating Vucevic and DeRozan into the Bulls over the last season and change.
He was the obvious, undisputed alpha on one of basketball’s most storied franchises, but he’s conceded plenty of recognition in this bounce-back season for the team.
DeRozan has understandably garnered most of the headlines, but LaVine has been special too. He’s averaging 26.3 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 threes while shooting 42.0 percent from three.
5. LaMelo Ball: About Right
This became clear a few games into his rookie season, but LaMelo Ball is way ahead of schedule.
The concern on him heading into the draft was whether he’d ever be able to shoot at an average level from the outside. In just his second season, he’s top-20 in threes per game while posting an above-average three-point percentage.
That, in connection with his size and playmaking, has made him one of the game’s most intriguing young guards and a bona fide cornerstone talent.
6. Kyrie Irving: Too High
It was a heck of a performance, but Kyrie Irving has played only one game this season. Let’s tap the brakes.
7. Derrick Rose: Too High
Derrick Rose probably has a better argument than Melo or Aldridge, but this is another big-market inclusion.
Rose is a reserve who plays 24.5 minutes per game for a sub-.500 team. He also hasn’t played since Dec. 16 because of an ankle surgery that could hold him out beyond the All-Star break.
8. Tyler Herro: Too High
Like Bridges, Tyler Herro may have established his position here in the first few weeks of the season.
Through the end of November, Herro averaged 21.8 points and 2.9 threes while shooting 39.8 percent from three. In games since then, those numbers are down to 18.5, 2.4 and 36.0.
And throughout the season, lack of high-end contributions on defense or in other columns on the stat sheet have stifled his overall impact a bit.
9. Darius Garland: Too Low
Allen might have the best All-Star case among Cavaliers, but Darius Garland deserves more love too. He’s the pilot for a team that’s currently fourth in the league in net rating, with averages of 19.7 points, 7.4 assists and 2.6 threes.
His scoring efficiency is also well above average, and Cleveland is worlds better when he plays. On the season, the Cavs are plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions when he plays and minus-3.9 when he sits.
10. Fred VanVleet: Way Too Low
In the catch-alls, Fred VanVleet trails only Young among Eastern Conference guards.
He’s putting up 21.3 points, 6.7 assists and 3.7 threes (a mark that trails only that of Curry) while shooting 40.8 percent from deep.
And his net-rating swing is up near Curry’s, too. The Toronto Raptors are plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions with VanVleet on the floor and minus-13.0 with him off, giving him an 18.8-point swing that ranks sixth among players with at least 300 minutes.