Dec 13, 2019

The NBA's first-quarter All-Stars

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With the NBA season roughly a quarter of the way through, I've put together my Western Conference and Eastern Conference All-Star teams.

The intrigue: With 2019 All-Stars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Victor Oladipo sidelined and Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin and Nikola Vucevic missing significant time, the door is open wider than usual for first-time selections.

West
  • James Harden (HOU): He's averaging 38.7 points per game, which is absurd. But this might be even crazier: Harden has missed more three-pointers (228) than all but three players have attempted.
  • Luka Dončić (DAL): It's difficult to describe what this kid has done so far (more on his performance last night below). At just 20 years old, he's averaging a near triple-double and leading the NBA in touches (96 per game), a testament to his rare playmaking ability.
  • LeBron James (LAL): 17 years ago yesterday, the world was officially introduced to LeBron James when he made his national TV debut as a member of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Now, at age 34, he's averaging a career-best 10.8 assists and has the Lakers looking like title favorites.
  • Kawhi Leonard (LAC): The reigning Finals MVP has morphed into an elite passer (his 5.3 assists per game are more than double his career average), which is not fair. Catch him tonight against the Timberwolves (9:30pm ET, ESPN).
  • Anthony Davis (LAL): "The Brow" looks like a virtual lock to win Defensive Player of the Year, and his instant chemistry with LeBron in year one can't be overstated. So impressive what they're already able to do to defenses together.

Reserves: Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN), Devin Booker (PHX), Damian Lillard (POR), Donovan Mitchell (UTAH), Paul George (LAC), Nikola Jokić (DEN), Brandon Ingram (NOP)

On the bubble: Andrew Wiggins (MIN), Rudy Gobert (UTAH), C.J. McCollum (POR), Montrezl Harrell (LAC), Russell Westbrook (HOU)

East
  • Kemba Walker (BOS): I almost gave this spot to second-year Hawks sensation Trae Young (they have almost the same exact Player Efficiency Rating), but Walker gets the nod for leading a better team and playing better defense. "I just told the team ... 'If you want to be special, then model after Kemba,'" Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently.
  • Bradley Beal (WSH): With John Wall sidelined, Beal ranks fifth in the league in scoring (27.4 ppg) and 12th in dime-dropping (7.0 apg), all while directing a top-five offense whose second-best player is ... Rui Hachimura.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL): The coolest thing about Giannis is that he's humble, and the craziest thing about Giannis is that he just keeps getting better. "Sky's the limit" is the ultimate cliche, but it might not apply to any other athlete more than it applies to him.
  • Pascal Siakam (TOR): No player has ever won the Most Improved Player Award twice, let alone in back-to-back seasons. Yet Siakam, last year's winner, is making a strong case. I'd put him in third, right behind Dončić and Hornets breakout star Devonte' Graham.
  • Joel Embiid (PHI): Two days after Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal criticized him for not playing hard enough, Joel Embiid responded with a spectacular performance in Boston (38-13-6). Some nights, he's unguardable.

Reserves: Jimmy Butler (MIA), Trae Young (ATL), Andre Drummond (DET), Malcolm Brogdon (IND), Ben Simmons (PHI), Jayson Tatum (BOS), Domantas Sabonis (IND)

On the bubble: Bam Adebayo (MIA), Spencer Dinwiddie (BKN), Zach LaVine (CHI), Khris Middleton, Graham (CHA)

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