Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
The 2021 NBA All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, March 7, in Atlanta. For the fourth straight year, the two leading vote-getters will be named opposing captains and choose their respective 12-person teams during a draft.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant were the top two in the vote, and they will select their respective All-Star teams from a pool of eight starters and 14 reserves during a draft that will be aired Thursday, March 4 on TNT at 8 p.m. ET.
The starters, as revealed Thursday during TNT’s NBA Tip-Off, include Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.
NBA coaches must now decide the 14 reserves who will fill out the All-Star Game pool.
The group will encompass seven players each from the Eastern and Western Conferences. Both the East and West will feature a pair of guards and a trio of frontcourt players. The remaining two players from each conference can come from any position.
Here’s a prediction of whom NBA coaches will choose to represent the league in the All-Star Game.
Eastern Conference Reserve Predictions
Brooklyn Nets G James Harden
Chicago Bulls G Zach LaVine
Boston Celtics F Jayson Tatum
Indiana Pacers C Domantas Sabonis
Miami Heat C Bam Adebayo
Boston Celtics G Jaylen Brown
Milwaukee Bucks F Khris Middleton
Western Conference Reserve Predictions
Portland Trail Blazers G Damian Lillard
Utah Jazz G Donovan Mitchell
Los Angeles Clippers F Paul George
New Orleans Pelicans F Zion Williamson
Utah Jazz C Rudy Gobert
Phoenix Suns G Devin Booker
Phoenix Suns G Chris Paul
The Western Conference reserve prediction list assumes that Lakers big man Anthony Davis will be unavailable due to multiple right leg injuries that are supposed to keep him out through the All-Star break, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Eastern Conference Prediction Breakdowns
The Eastern Conference frontcourt has some excellent candidates this year, but some snubs are inevitable because of the surplus of All-Star-caliber players.
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, Charlotte Hornets forward Gordon Hayward and Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic are the three most obvious frontcourt players not on the above list.
The guess here is that NBA coaches decide to stick with the script from last season and roll with Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, all of whom played in the 2020 All-Star Game.
Vucevic did as well, but he draws the short straw here on account of his team being 11-18. Adebayo’s Heat aren’t much better at 11-17, but they’ve been short-handed all season because of injuries and the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Adebayo is also 11th in win shares, per Basketball Reference.
The backcourt situation is more cut-and-dry. It’s near-impossible to ignore Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who is averaging 28.5 points on 52.0 percent shooting. Then again, sharpshooter and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal was a notable snub last year, so perhaps NBA coaches toss out a wild card.
The C’s may be having a down year, but they’re still top five in the East largely because of Jaylen Brown, who is averaging a career-high 25.9 points on 50.6 percent shooting.
Nets guard James Harden has played just 16 games in Brooklyn, but he’s been phenomenal, averaging 24.3 points and 11.8 assists per contest. NBA coaches can’t pass him up here, especially when considering that he plays for the second-best team in the East.
The most notable guard omission is the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, who started in last year’s All-Star Game. He’s ultimately been less efficient than other guard choices (42.9 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from three-point range) and plays for a struggling Hawks team that sits 10th in the East. Young’s 26.5 points per game could land him a spot, but the guess is he’s the first guard off the list.
Western Conference Breakdown
The Western Conference, on paper, appears far easier to predict.
The 24-5 Utah Jazz, who have won 20 of 21 games and are second to no one in the NBA, will get at least two representatives in guard Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert, both of whom made last year’s All-Star team.
Mitchell is averaging a career-high 24.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. Gobert is tied for third with 4.3 win shares, according to Basketball Reference.
After the Jazz, one can pretty much go down the list of the West’s top teams and take the best player or two.
James already represents the second-place Lakers, and Davis would have too if not for injury.
Clippers forward Paul George, a six-time All-Star, is averaging 24.4 points on a career-best 50.8 percent shooting for the third-place team in the West. He’ll join teammate Kawhi Leonard in the game.
The Phoenix Suns have gone from finishing 10th in last year’s Western Conference to firmly holding a top-five spot for now thanks largely to the new backcourt partnership of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
Booker is averaging a team-high 24.4 points on a career-high 49.2 percent shooting. Paul leads the Suns with 8.2 assists per game and has also knocked down an NBA-best 97.2 percent of his free throws.
Lillard, who very well could have found himself in the starting lineup, is a lock for a reserve spot. His 29.8 points per game ranks third in the NBA, and he’s guided the Blazers to fourth in the West despite missing backcourt mate CJ McCollum, who’s been out with a broken foot for a month.
Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans may not be in the playoff picture, but the superstar has dominated the paint all year, averaging 25.0 points on 61.8 percent shooting. Per Basketball Reference, Williamson has made 68.0 percent of his shots at the rim this year.
As far as omissions go, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant likely has the best All-Star case.
The 12-12 Grizzlies have stayed alive despite being short-handed due to injuries and league health and safety protocols, and Morant has helped that effort with 18.8 points and 8.3 assists per game. Ultimately, other players have greater stats on better teams.
The Pels’ Brandon Ingram is the biggest reserve snub on the frontcourt side. His 23.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds certainly make him a great candidate, but the guess here is that there isn’t enough room to have a pair of players from a 12-16 team with Williamson a near-lock.