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Trending Topics: Picking West All-Star starters

Channing Frye and Greg Anthony share their All-Star predictions for the Western Conference.

Each week, NBA.com’s writers will weigh in on some of the most important topics around the league.


Who are your All-Star starters from the Western Conference?

Editor’s Note: The All-Star starters and captains will officially be announced on Thursday night on TNT (7 ET).


STEVE ASCHBURNER:

Backcourt

• Luka Doncic
• Stephen Curry

Frontcourt

• Nikola Jokic
• LeBron James
Domantas Sabonis

This is an annual popularity contest and game, in my view, so WL records should matter less than in all-league or MVP assessments. Good thing, too, because James wouldn’t be invited if everyone stuck to a .500-or-better standard that many coaches deploy as a way of filtering their reserve picks. Of course, James has been outstanding — no “at age 38” qualifier necessary. These are his career pre-All-Star stats across 20 seasons: 26.9 ppg, 7.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Now look at his stats just for this season.

Jokic is automatic, a repeat Kia MVP who might just make it a three-peat come spring. The only thing that might detract from his No. 1 talent, that marvelous passing, will be the iso-heavy play and lack of defense that pervades the All-Star Game for the first three-plus quarters. Serious competition is when the Joker’s array of skills and value go on full display.

Sabonis has earned the third frontcourt spot from me in a close call over home-market darling Lauri Markkanen with his all-around play, his effect on the Kings’ culture, and his longtime low-wattage appreciation. Popular fan picks such as Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis simply have spent too much time in street clothes to snag this honor over the other two.

Three guards for two starting spots made the West backcourt a little tricky. Doncic and Curry? Yes and yes. But Memphis’ Ja Morant — arguably the NBA’s most exciting player and the engine of the Grizzlies’ recent 11-game winning streak and overall success — is just as deserving and built for All-Star entertainment. Barring injury, he’ll be in SLC and give us even more of this than in his All-Star debut last February.

Luka Doncic drops 29 points against the Clippers.


BRIAN MARTIN:

Backcourt


• Luka Doncic

• Ja Morant

Frontcourt

• Nikola Jokic
• LeBron James
Domantas Sabonis

How much should missed time and team success come into play when selecting All-Star starters? That was the question that I repeated in my head as I agonized over the decision between Ja Morant and Stephen Curry for the second Western Conference guard spot alongside Luka Doncic. The Mavs star was a lock for me behind his 33.6 ppg on 37.2% usage and 10 triple-doubles (including a historic 60-20-10 game) as the offensive fulcrum for the fifth-ranked Mavericks (25-23).

Curry has the edge in some key numbers: he averages more points (+2.0 ppg), shoots a higher percentage from the field (+2.2 FG%) and from deep (+10.1 3P%), while Morant leads in rebounds (+0.8). rpg) and assists (+1.6 apg).

But Morant has significant advantages in games played (eight missed games to Curry’s 15), and the Grizzlies (31-16) rank second in the West, while the Warriors rank 10th (23-24). In their games played, Curry is .500 (16-16), while Morant is 15 games over .500 (27-12). Curry has been fantastic when he’s been on the court, but his missed time and lack of team success compared to Morant make it difficult to start him over Ja.

Jokic has made a strong case for a starting All-Star nod and a third consecutive Kia MVP as he is posting ridiculous numbers on a nightly basis and has the Nuggets (33-14) sitting in first place in the West. Here are those ridiculous numbers: 25.1 ppg (16th), 11.0 rpg (6th), 9.9 apg (2nd), 14 triple-doubles (1st) and 62.6 FG% (7th), while putting up at least 250 more shots than any other. player ranked in the top 15.

Jokic is one of two players averaging at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists; The other is Sabonis, who has posted 23 consecutive double-doubles, the longest streak in the NBA this season. Sabonis has been the catalyst behind the league’s top-scoring offense (120.3 ppg) as he creates more points with his assists (19.5 ppg) than he scores himself (18.7 ppg on a career-best 60.9% shooting).

The final frontcourt spot goes to the ageless wonder that is LeBron James, who is posting stats – 29.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.9 apg, 50.8 FG% — that have never been seen before by a player in their 20th NBA season. Assuming good health, LeBron will enter the All-Star break as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and fourth-leading playmaker (passing Mark Jackson and Steve Nash in career assists).


MARK MEDINA:

Backcourt

• Luka Doncic
• Stephen Curry

Frontcourt

• Nikola Jokic
• LeBron James
• Lauri Markkanen

It became equally easy and difficult to select the starting backcourt for the Western Conference All-Stars. The easy? Doncic is a shoo-in considering the Mavericks are currently a No. 5 seeds mostly because of his brilliance. He’s on pace to average career highs in points per game (33.6), shooting percentage (49.6%) and minutes played (37.5), while posting 10 triple-doubles (second in the NBA). The difficult? How to choose between Curry and Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. Some may favor Morant because the Grizzlies (31-15, second in the West) rank significantly higher than the Warriors (23-24, 10th in the West). Or that Curry missed 11 games with a left shoulder injury. Still, Curry topped Morant in points per game (29.3 to 27.2), field-goal percentage (48.6% to 46.3%) and 3-point shooting (41.9% to 31.7%). Though Morant deserves kudos for the Grizzlies’ 27-12 record with him in the lineup, the Warriors’ 16-16 record with Curry has largely to do with issues unrelated to him.

As for the Western Conference frontcourt? Figuring out the two first picks became somewhat easier since New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis have missed too many games with injuries. But the reason has more to do with Jokic and James playing at an exceptional level. Jokic has played just as effectively as during his past two Kia MVP seasons with a league-leading 14 triple-doubles. Unlike during Jokic’s two previous MVP seasons, the Nuggets have climbed toward the top of the Western Conference. Despite the Lakers’ inconsistency, the 38-year-old James has become the team’s lone bright spot with his consistent play and mostly stellar health during his 20th season. Barring a serious injury, James will eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA’s all-time scoring list within the next month.

It became more arduous to choose the final frontcourt spot, though. Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis may receive consideration as an All-Star starter for his production (18.8 points, 12.6 rebounds per game) on the Western Conference’s third-best team (26-19). Yet, Markkanen has the edge. The Jazz arguably would already be in rebuilding mode if not for Markkanen averaging a career-high 24.8 points on 52.1% shooting. Following a challenging four-year stint in Chicago (2017-2021) and a bounce-back season in Cleveland (2021-22), Markkanen has become an early favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Lauri Markkanen’s career-high 49 points helps Utah drop Houston.


SHAUN POWELL:

Backcourt

• Luka Doncic
• Stephen Curry

Frontcourt

• LeBron James
• Nikola Jokic
Zion Williamson

How can Curry, with his credentials, with him having another tremendous season, make me think twice before ultimately putting him in the starting lineup? When the other option is Ja Morant. Yes, Morant has been that special, elevating his game, providing just as many thrills if not more than Curry, and keeping the Grizzlies near the top of the heap in the West. That’s why Curry barely squeezed in here, unlike Luka, a strong MVP candidate who was a no-brainer. As for the frontcourt, LeBron was an easy choice at any age. Is he really averaging roughly 30 points per game in his 20th season? Jokic seems on pace to capture a third straight MVP, so again, easy choice. Now for Zion… once again he’s in street clothes, but I put more emphasis on games played when choosing the All-NBA teams. For All-Star? Go with the player the fans want to see. And Zion was pretty special before the injuries hit, so his qualifications aren’t an issue.

Before his injury, Zion Williamson was putting up big games, like this 36-point breakout against the 76ers.


JOHN SCHUMANN:

Backcourt

• Luka Doncic
• Ja Morant

Frontcourt

• LeBron James
• Nikola Jokic
Domantas Sabonis

There were four strong candidates for the backcourt: Doncic, Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Stephen Curry. And it’s weird not to include Curry, who’s the driver of the Warriors’ success. But the Warriors just haven’t been very successful this season. When ballots were due, Doncic had played in nine more wins (25) than Curry (16), while Morant’s Grizzlies were 31-14. Gilgeous-Alexander has obviously been terrific, and all four of these guys will obviously be All-Stars.

The frontcourt came down to the three guys above and Lauri Markkanen, with apologies to Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson, who haven’t cracked the 1,000-minute mark. Jokic was written in ink from the start, likely the MVP frontrunner. Sabonis was selection No. 2, logging a lot of minutes, doing a lot of things, and scoring efficiently for one of the best teams in the West. Then it was either James or Markkanen, and it came down to James doing a little more for his team (in regard to playmaking) than Markkanen does for his. But if the Lakers don’t make a little bit of a run (7-4 with James averaging 34.9 points on good efficiency over their last 11 games before ballots were due), Markkanen probably would have been the pick.


MICHAEL C. WRIGHT:

Backcourt

• Stephen Curry
• Ja Morant

Frontcourt

• LeBron James
Domantas Sabonis
• Nikola Jokic

Full disclosure: Anthony Davis received the nod on the official ballot sent last week. But after really pondering that selection, not to mention the fact the 12th-place Lakers don’t deserve to have two All-Star starters, the ballot you see above reflects the change in thinking. When healthy, Davis (27.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.6 apg) stood strong as one of the NBA’s top performers and a legitimate Kia MVP candidate. As soon as the big man suffered his latest setback injury, the Lakers lost four of their next five games, which gives you an indication of how well he had been playing. Still, Sabonis (18.7 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 7.4 apg) receives the nod here, even over Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who hasn’t played since Jan. 2 due to a strained hamstring. The Kings currently sit at third in the West, having won seven of their last 10 outings, with Sabonis leading the team in rebounding and assists. Jokic (25.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 9.9 apg), meanwhile, is on track to win his third consecutive Kia MVP, as he’s produced the strongest and most consistent 2022-23 campaign of any player in the league. The man averages essentially a triple-double for the top seed in the West. So, he’s the no-brainer pick of the group. Perhaps James is, too, because at 38 he’s the leading vote-getter of the entire league among the fans and is headed to his 19th straight All-Star Game. amazing. He’s certainly earned it, having averaged more points these last two seasons (30.3 and 29.8) than the previous 13.

The guard situation was tougher because Ja Morant deserves one of the starting spots as the leader in scoring (27.2 ppg) and assists (7.9 apg) for a Memphis squad that currently ranks No. 1 in Memphis. 2 in the Western Conference standings. An eight-time All-Star, Curry is coming off a Finals MVP and championship. So, he’s deserving. But ultimately You can count on Doncic receiving the official nod over Morant simply because of his incredible highlights and gaudy numbers (33.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 8.7 apg). Doncic leads a fifth-place Mavericks team that has lost seven of their last 10 games. Winning should matter. But maybe that’s just not the case for everyone when it comes to determining All-Star starters.

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