Choosing the West All-Star starters is a hot topic

Choosing the starting backcourt players for the West is interesting because there are so many good players.

Choosing the West All-Star starters is a hot topic
Choosing the West All-Star starters is a hot topic

Every week, the writers at NBA.com will give their thoughts on some of the most important issues in the league. 


Who are your Western Conference All-Star starters? 


Editor's Note: On Thursday night, TNT will officially announce the All-Star starters and captains (7 ET). 


STEVE ASCHBURNER: 


Backcourt 


  • Luka Doncic
  • Curry, Stephen 


Frontcourt 

  • Nikola Jokic
  • Domantas Sabonis
  • LeBron James 


I think that since this is an annual popularity contest and game, W-L records shouldn't matter as much as they do when deciding on all-league or MVP. Good thing, too, because James wouldn't have been invited if everyone used the ".500 or better" rule that many coaches use to sort their reserve picks. James has been great, and there's no need to add "at age 38" to that. In the 20 years before he made the All-Star team, he averaged 26.9 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game. Now look at his numbers for just this season.



Jokic is always good, and he has won the Kia MVP award twice. In the spring, he might even win it a third time. The only thing that might take away from his best skill, which is great passing, is that the first three and a half quarters and a half of the All-Star Game will be a lot of one-on-one play and not much defense. When the Joker is up against serious competition, all of his skills and worth become clear. 


Sabonis beat out Lauri Markkanen for my third frontcourt spot because of his all-around play, his impact on the Kings' culture, and his longtime low-wattage appreciation. Popular fan picks like Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis have been in street clothes for too long for this honor to go to them instead of the other two. 


The West backcourt was a little tricky because it had three guards competing for two starting spots. Curry and Doncic? Both, yes. But Memphis's Ja Morant, who is arguably the NBA's most exciting player and the key to the Grizzlies' recent 11-game winning streak and overall success, is just as deserving and made for All-Star entertainment. Unless he gets hurt, he'll be in Salt Lake City and show us even more of this than he did in his first All-Star game last February.



BRIAN MARTIN: 


Backcourt 


  • Luka Doncic
  • Ja Morant Frontcourt 
  • Nikola Jokic
  • Domantas Sabonis
  • LeBron James


How much should missed time and team success matter when deciding who starts for the All-Star Game? This was the question I kept asking myself as I agonized over choosing between Ja Morant and Stephen Curry to join Luka Doncic as the second guard for the Western Conference. The Mavs star was a sure thing for me because of his 33.6 points per game on 37.2% usage and 10 triple-doubles, including a record-setting 60-20-10 game, which made him the offensive center of the fifth-ranked Mavericks (25-23). 



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


But Morant has a big edge in games played (Curry has missed 15 games while Morant has only missed 8), and the Grizzlies are second in the West while the Warriors are 10th (23-24). Curry is 16-16 in games played, while Morant is 15 games above.500 (27-12). Curry has been great when he has been on the court, but he has missed a lot of time and his team hasn't done as well as Morant's, so it's hard to start Curry over Ja. 


Jokic has made a strong case for starting in the All-Star Game and winning the Kia MVP for the third year in a row. He is putting up crazy numbers every night, and the Nuggets (33-14) are in first place in the West because of him. Here are those crazy numbers again: 25.1 points per game (16th), 11.0 rebounds per game (6th), 9.9 assists per game (2nd), 14 triple-doubles (1st), and 62.6 field goal percentage (7th), while taking at least 250 more shots than any other player in the top 15. 


Jokic is one of two players who average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. The other is Sabonis, who has had 23 straight double-doubles, the longest streak in the NBA this season. Sabonis has been the key to the league's highest-scoring offense (120.3 ppg) because he creates more points with his assists (19.5 ppg) than he scores himself (18.7 ppg on a career-high 60.9% shooting). 


The last spot in the frontcourt goes to LeBron James, who never seems to get old. In his 20th NBA season, he is putting up numbers that have never been seen before: 29.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.9 apg, and 50.8 FG%. Assuming he stays healthy, LeBron will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and go into the All-Star break as the NBA's all-time leading scorer and the fourth-leading playmaker (passing Mark Jackson and Steve Nash in career assists).



MARK MEDINA: 


Backcourt 


  • Luka Doncic
  • Curry, Stephen 



Frontcourt 


  • Nikola Jokic
  • LeBron James
  • Lauri Markkanen 


It became both easy and hard to choose the starting backcourt for the All-Stars from the Western Conference. The simple? Doncic is a shoe-in, since the Mavericks are the No. 5 seed right now mostly because of how good he is. He's on track to have 10 triple-doubles and average career highs in points per game (33.6), shooting percentage (49.6%), and minutes played (37.5). (second in the NBA).


What's hard? How to choose between Curry and Ja Morant, a guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. Some may like Morant because the Grizzlies are much better than the Warriors (31-15, second in the West) (23-24, 10th in West). Or that Curry was hurt in his left shoulder and missed 11 games. Still, Curry has beaten 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%). Morant deserves credit for the Grizzlies' 27-12 record when he is playing, but the Warriors' 16-16 record when Curry is playing is mostly due to things that have nothing to do with him. 


What about the front court of the Western Conference? Since Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers have missed too many games because of injuries, it became easier to figure out who would be the first two picks. But the reason has more to do with how well Jokic and James have played. Jokic has played just as well as he did during his two Kia MVP seasons. He has the most triple-doubles in the league, with 14. 


The Nuggets are closer to the top of the Western Conference than they were during Jokic's first two MVP years. Even though the Lakers aren't always good, James, who is 38, has become the team's only bright spot with his steady play and mostly good health in his 20th season. James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA's all-time scoring list within the next month, unless he gets hurt badly. 


It got harder to choose the last spot in the front court, though. Domantas Sabonis, the center for the third-best team in the Western Conference, the Sacramento Kings, may be considered for an All-Star starting spot because he averages 18.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game (26-19). Still, Markkanen is ahead. 


The Jazz might already be in the process of rebuilding if Markkanen hadn't been averaging a career-high 24.8 points while shooting 52.1% of the time. Markkanen is the early favorite to win the NBA's Most Improved Player award. This is because he had a tough four-year run in Chicago (2017–2021) and a good year in Cleveland (2021-22).




SHAUN POWELL: 


Backcourt 


  • Luka Doncic
  • Curry, Stephen 


Frontcourt 


  • Zion Williamson
  • Nikola Jokic
  • LeBron James 


How can Curry's resume and the fact that he's having another great season make me hesitate to put him in the starting lineup? When Ja Morant is the other choice. Yes, Morant has been that good. He has improved his game, given as many thrills as Curry, if not more, and kept the Grizzlies close to the top of the West. 


So, Curry just barely made it here, while Luka, who was a strong candidate for MVP and a no-brainer, was a shoe-in. LeBron was the obvious choice for the frontcourt at any age. Is it true that in his 20th season, he's averaging about 30 points per game? Jokic is on track to win his third MVP in a row, so again, it was an easy choice. 


Now, about Zion... Once again, he's in street clothes, but when I chose the All-NBA teams, I put more weight on games played. For All-Star? Go with the player that the fans want to see. And Zion was pretty great before his injuries, so it's not a problem that he doesn't qualify. 



JOHN SCHUHMANN: 


Backcourt 


  • Luka Doncic
  • Ja Morant 


Frontcourt 


  • LeBron James
  • Nikola Jokic
  • Domantas Sabonis 


Doncic, Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Stephen Curry were all strong candidates for the back court. And it seems strange to leave out Curry, who is the key to the Warriors' success. But this season, the Warriors just haven't done very well. Doncic had played in nine more wins (25) than Curry (16), and Morant's Grizzlies were 31-14 when ballots were due. Gilgeous-Alexander has been great, and it's clear that all four of these guys will make the All-Star team.


The frontcourt came down to the three guys above and Lauri Markkanen. Sorry to Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson, who haven't played 1,000 minutes yet. From the beginning, it was clear that Jokic would be the MVP favorite. Sabonis was picked as the second player because he played a lot of minutes, did a lot of things, and scored well for one of the best teams in the West. 


Then it came down to James or Markkanen, and it came down to the fact that James makes a few more plays for his team 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 in their last 11 games before ballots were due), Markkanen probably would have been the pick.





WRIGHT, MICHAEL C.: 


Backcourt 


  • Ja Morant
  • Stephen Curry 


Frontcourt 


  • LeBron James
  • Domantas Sabonis
  • Nikola Jokic 


Full disclosure: On the official ballot that was sent in last week, Anthony Davis got the vote. But after really thinking about that choice and realizing that the Lakers, who are in 12th place, don't deserve to have two All-Star starters, the voters changed their minds. 


The above ballot shows how they felt now. When Davis was healthy, he was one of the best players in the NBA. He averaged 27.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. When the big man's latest injury setback happened, the Lakers lost four of their next five games, which shows how well he had been playing. Still, Sabonis is chosen over Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who hasn't played since Jan. 2 because of a strained hamstring. Sabonis averages 18.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. 


The Kings are currently third in the West. In their last 10 games, they have won seven of them, and Sabonis leads the team in both rebounds and assists. Jokic, who averages 25.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 9.9 assists per game, is on track to win his third consecutive Kia MVP. He has had the best and most consistent season of any player in the league in 2022–23. He basically averages a triple-double for the West's top team. 


So he's the clear choice among the group. Maybe James is too, since he has the most fan votes in the whole league and is going to his 19th straight All-Star Game at age 38. Amazing. He deserves it, as he has averaged more points in the last two seasons (30.3, 29.8) than in the previous 13 seasons combined. 


The guard situation was harder because Ja Morant deserves one of the starting spots because he leads Memphis in scoring (27.2 ppg) and assists (7.9 apg). Memphis is currently No. 2 in the Western Conference standings. Curry has been an All-Star eight times, and he just won the Finals MVP award and the title. 


So, he should get it. But in the end, you can be sure that Doncic will get the nod over Morant because of his amazing highlights and big numbers (33.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 8.7 apg). The Mavericks are in fifth place and have lost seven of their last 10 games. Wins should be important. But maybe not everyone agrees with that when it comes to picking All-Star starters.

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