LeBron James has been breaking records left and right since he was first drafted in 2003 and continues to do so in his 21st year in the NBA.
James and the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled in the wake of winning the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament last December and are currently ninth in the Western Conference with a 23-23 record, but that did not stop him from being named an NBA All-Star Game starter for the 20th time in his career. He now owns the most NBA All-Star selections in league history as he has surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar whose count stands at 19.
The 39-year-old’s scoring average this season is on track to be his lowest since his rookie season back in ‘03-’04, yet it remains impressive given his age. James’ averages are at 24.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.3 steals through the first 40 games of this campaign and it could be argued that if any other player put up these numbers, they would be right in the middle of the NBA Most Valuable Player Race.
Once again, James emerged as the leading voter in the Western Conference and he will be joined in the frontcourt by reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and veteran Kevin Durant. The trio of James, Jokic, and Durant were the consensus top three among the three voter groups–fans, media, and players–and it comes as no surprise that they did so.
The West’s backcourt selections were not as unanimous on the other hand. Luka Doncic emerged as the top vote-getter among fans, but was only second among his fellow players and the media behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Oklahoma City Thunder guard was not as popular with the fans though as he was only third in this category behind Doncic and Stephen Curry.
Despite the fan vote accounting for 50% of the scoring weight, Curry’s third place rank among players and fourth place spot in the eyes of media members were enough to pull down his score. This awarded Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander the two West starting backcourt spots which is a well-deserved recognition for these two superstar guards.
These five Western Conference starters will be teaming up once again this year as the NBA has decided to bring back the classic East versus West format. The league experimented with team captains choosing their teams from 2017 to 2023, but has decided to bring back the traditional format to return the focus of the event to the actual basketball game on the court.
Using the same reasoning, this year’s NBA All-Star game will also be played over four 12-minute quarters once more. The NBA is doing away with the novel Elam Ending that was introduced in 2020 as a means to make the match more entertaining.
James and company will be facing off against an Eastern Conference starting group that is just as talented as they are. Giannis Antetokounmpo emerged as the top overall vote-getter this year and is going to be joined by his new Milwaukee Bucks teammate and multiple-time Western Conference All-Star Damian Lillard.
Lillard actually faced stiff competition in securing the second East backcourt spot as he was actually tied with Jalen Brunson in terms of weighted score and barely ahead of Trae Young and Donovan Mitchell. Lillard made it through over Brunson due to his higher ranking (3rd versus 5th) in the fan voting which made up for his results with players (4th) and the media (5th).
These voting results are reflective of reality as it is obvious that Lillard was buoyed by the reputation that he has built over his 12-year career rather than his performance this season. Brunson, who garnered the second most media votes among East guards, and Tyrese Maxey, the second-placer in the player vote, seem to be more deserving of this spot at the moment.
While all of the aforementioned players are definitely All-Star caliber talents in their own right, they all pale in comparison in the context of this season when compared with Tyrese Haliburton. The Indiana Pacers’ lead guard was named an NBA All-Star Game starter for the first time in his career and was, unsurprisingly, the top backcourt choice among fans, players, and the media.
Rounding up the East starters are reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum whose teams are once again among the top seeds in the conference.
This year’s NBA All-Star Game is shaping up to be a potential classic with the shift back to the traditional format and what looks like an even match-up between the starters on both sides. James’ historic selection looms large over the festivities as well and practically guarantees that this will be a weekend to remember.
Much work has been done over the past few months to bring back the competitive fire to the NBA All-Star Game and it will be interesting to see what the league has in store for its fans come next month.