Before the NBA announces its 2021 All-Star starters on Thursday night on TNT, we want to get your thoughts on which players deserve to make the All-Star teams this season. After focusing on the Western Conference on Wednesday, we’re turning our attention to the Eastern Conference today.
There likely won’t be much debate over the Eastern frontcourt starters, as Sixers center Joel Embiid, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nets forward Kevin Durant are all playing like legitimate MVP candidates. Durant has been limited to just 19 games due to various health issues and COVID-19 protocols, but I think that’s enough — he has played big minutes (35.7 MPG) in those contests.
The Eastern backcourt starters are harder to nail down. You could make a legitimate argument for Nets guards James Harden and Kyrie Irving, Wizards guard Bradley Beal, and Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown. Beal is the NBA’s leading scorer and Irving isn’t far behind, but I actually favor Brown and Harden for the starting spots here.
Brown is the best defender of the group, and his scoring numbers (25.9 PPG on .506/.409/.768 shooting and a 31.4% usage rate) have been terrific. Harden, meanwhile, has been arguably the league’s best play-maker so far this season, averaging an eye-popping 11.8 assists per game to go along with his 24.3 PPG since arriving in Brooklyn.
All four guards belong in the game, so that leaves three frontcourt spots and two wild card slots to fill out the bench. I’d start with Tatum, a two-way star who is averaging career highs in PPG (25.8), RPG (7.0), and APG (4.7) to go along with his stout defense for the Celtics.
From here though, thinks get awfully tricky. Hawks guard Trae Young and Bulls guard Zach LaVine aren’t good defenders, but they’re enjoying elite offensive seasons. Young (26.5 PPG, 9.3 APG) has been the better play-maker, while LaVine has scored a little more, and has done so far more efficiently (28.5 PPG on .520/.437/.847 shooting). Both are strong candidates.
The fourth-seeded Pacers probably deserve to have a player in the game, and you could make a legitimate case for either Domantas Sabonis (21.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 5.7 APG) or Malcolm Brogdon (21.6 PPG and 6.6 APG).
Big men Bam Adebayo, Nikola Vucevic, and Julius Randle have been the most valuable players so far this season for the Heat, Magic, and Knicks, respectively. Adebayo anchors his team’s defense in a way the other two don’t, though his offensive numbers (19.9 PPG, 5.3 APG) don’t quite match Vucevic’s (23.4 PPG on .476/.414/.816 shooting) or Randle’s (23.2 PPG and 5.5 APG with a .407 3PT%).
And while they probably won’t make the 12-man squad, Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, Sixers forward Tobias Harris, Hawks big man Clint Capela, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, Heat forward Jimmy Butler, and Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton each at least warrant a look and an honorable mention.
For now, my choices to fill out the Eastern squad would be LaVine, Young, Adebayo, and Middleton. LaVine is the East’s second-leading scorer; Young isn’t far behind him and his on/off-court numbers make a compelling case; Adebayo is one of the conference’s best interior defenders; and Middleton has been one of the NBA’s best shooters (.510/.442/.902).
Still, there are at least four or five other players whom I could comfortably sub into one of those spots and feel good about it. Leaving out guys like Randle, Grant, Simmons, and especially Sabonis (my last man out) is tough.
What do you think? Which 12 players would you pick for your Eastern Conference All-Star team? Which players would be the most difficult to omit?
Head to the comment section below to share your choices and your reasoning!