With the NBA’s all-star game on the horizon, there’s still plenty of debate over who deserves to participate in the annual showcase.
This year’s rosters are difficult to predict. There a handful of locks, but the relative lack of star power in the East makes for some tough decisions to round out the roster, while some regressing play on the part of typical all-star inclusions has opened up conversations we didn’t expect to be having.
Take, for instance, the case of Kyle Lowry. Is he a lock to be named an all-star? The argument isn’t as cut and dry as you might think.
Lowry’s 2018-19 season has been fairly confounding for a player serving an crucial role on the NBA’s top team heading into the all-star break, following a sharp decline and see-saw production in recent months.
For the first 20 games of the season, Lowry was playing the best ball of his career – not an insignificant statement to make about a four-time all-star. He was averaging 15.4 points and 10.5 assists, pacing the league in the latter category, as the Toronto Raptors carved out a 16-4 record.
Since then, parts of his game have taken a hit. He’s currently averaging 13.9 points on the season, the fewest since his first year in Toronto when he was still splitting point guard duties with Jose Calderon.
For whatever it’s worth – Lowry’s clout as an all-star has taken a hit among the fans, who with one day remaining now for fan balloting sits just sixth among East guards.
Of course, you can attribute some of Lowry’s scoring drop to the depth on this version of the Raptors, who don’t need to lean on their veteran point guard to produce in the same ways as in the past. And whereas he had been able to carve out a reliable secondary scoring role alongside DeMar DeRozan in recent years, Lowry is still trying to find his place in that capacity sharing the floor with Kawhi Leonard.
More recently, you can’t help but wonder how much the back injury that cost Lowry 10 games has affected him of late. Since returning from the injury earlier this month, he’s been averaging just 11.7 points per game while shooting a wretched 33 per cent from the floor and 25.5 per cent from deep. He’s also averaging over two steals per game in that span, and continues to contribute large to the Raptors’ first-place record.
But even before he was sidelined, Lowry’s scoring numbers had already cratered following his hot start — from early November until he started missing games in mid-December, he averaged under 12 points a game while shooting just 28 per cent from deep. Finding a way to regain his offensive consistency and scoring potency will be an important point of emphasis for the Raptors as the playoffs approach.
While his scoring has suffered, he remains a top-tier playmaker — currently second in the NBA at 9.4 assists per game — and perhaps that’s where he is most valuable on this current Raptors roster.
But there are a handful of guards picking up steam for all-star consideration, like Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe or Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie. Suddenly, there’s far more competition for a roster spot than expected.
While points aren’t everything when it comes to all-star contention, Lowry’s scoring averages would be easily the lowest of any contending guard. All-star locks like Bradley Beal (24.9 points per game), Ben Simmons (16.6) and Victor Oladipo (19.2) have Lowry beat. Ditto those competing for all-star consideration like Bledsoe (15.7), Dinwiddie (17.1), Jimmy Butler (19.6) and D’Angelo Russell (19).
Of course, if you find other ways to contribute to a winning team, there’s still a spot for you. Last year’s all-star roster featured two players who scored fewer than Lowry’s 13.9 points per in Draymond Green and Al Horford.
Lowry remains likely to make the team. His passing numbers bundled with all of the less quantifiable yet impactful things he does on both ends of the floor — and, of course, his starring role on the team with the best record in the NBA — all make Lowry a worthy all-star. But his play of late has most definitely bumped him out of a starting spot.
So who cracks the roster? Keeping in mind you need two guards and three forwards in the starting lineup and off the bench (along with two “wild cards”), here’s who we would name to the all-star teams as of right now (starters in italics).
Kyrie Irving: Undisputedly the East’s best point guard.
Kemba Walker: Has a 60-point game and three 40-plus point games already.
Kawhi Leonard: Best two-way player in the East, career-best 27.6 points per game (5th in NBA).
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Neck and neck with James Harden for MVP thus far.
Joel Embiid: Durability a nice surprise while leading East with 38 double-doubles.
Bradley Beal: Averaging 30 points per game since John Wall injury, 25/5/5 on season.
Ben Simmons: 16.6/9.5/8.2 per game averages can’t be ignored.
Blake Griffin: Quietly having a career year while keeping Pistons in playoff race.
Nik Vucevic: Stock fast-rising while putting up monster numbers for Orlando.
Pascal Siakam Narrowly edges out the field of forward options.
Victor Oladipo: Best player for a sneaky-good Indiana Pacers squad.
Kyle Lowry: See above.
Other candidates: Spencer Dinwiddie, Eric Bledsoe, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis.
Steph Curry: Potent as ever as his Warriors are picking up steam.
James Harden: Historically dominant while turning the Rockets season around.
Kevin Durant: Posting highest scoring average since he was in OKC, currently fourth in NBA.
Anthony Davis: Can’t deny Davis’s total dominance on both ends.
Nikola Jokic: Star of first-place Nuggets, posting best passing season of any big man ever.
Damian Lillard: The NBA’s forgotten superstar, tearing it up as usual for Portland.
Russell Westbrook: Horrid shooting season but assist-leader finding ways to contribute big.
Paul George: Playing the best ball of his career, worthy of starting spot.
LeBron James: Typically amazing this season, but has missed nearly a month now to injury.
Rudy Gobert: Premier-level big man below the basket.
Klay Thompson: After a cold shooting start, over 46 per cent from deep in January.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Over two blocks per game, nearly 27 points and 15 rebounds since Christmas.
Other candidates: Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tobias Harris, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Luka Doncic.
All-star teams will be determined via a live, televised playground-style draft on Feb. 7.