Four-Point Play

1. My 2019 NBA All-Star Ballot

After seeing the early returns on fan voting for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game, I thought I should help the fans/media/players with my own list of 10 starters who should represent the East and West before actual teams are announced Thursday.

Furthermore, I also thought it would be a good idea to help the NBA head coaches out when they select the 14 All-Star reserves, which will be announced the following Thursday, January 31.

To help my own self out with a checklist of today’s top players, I ran my efficient Plus-Minus formula—which combines minutes with efficiency and plus-minus metrics—to help me come up with 50 top candidates.

So with that in mind, here are the players who should be 2019 NBA All-Stars.

East Frontline Starters

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks forward (+22.1 ePM, +613): Antetokounmpo is making his teammates better than ever before, which is why Milwaukee is fighting for the No. 1 East seed.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers center (+17.2 ePM, +504): Ben Simmons is getting his shine and Jimmy Butler is trying to steal spotlight, but Sixers World revolves totally around Embiid, the undisputed best center in the East.

Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors forward (+18.1 ePM, +461): After a one-year disappearance, Leonard has picked up where he last left off in San Antonio in 2017 where he was a first-team All-NBA player.

East Guard Starters

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Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics guard (+15.5 ePM, +394): Irving is going through his learning curve as a leader in Boston, but that has not affected his place at the head of the class of all Eastern guards.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors guard (+12.3 ePM, +297): The fans are trying to vote Dwyane Wade to his swan song All-Star Game, but the 10-dime-a-night playmaker Lowry deserves his recognition for keeping Toronto atop the East perch.

West Frontline Starters

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans center (+22.6 ePM, +679): A.D. is playing about as well as a player can play on a sub-.500 team. Davis deserves this spot.

Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors forward (+19.9 ePM, +648): Fans are trying to vote Paul George on the team over KD and AD, which can be justified. But the charge to put 19-year-old rookie Luka Doncic over these two is a bit much. The teen’s ePM score ranks 51stin the NBA in our books, and is the best since LeBron’s teen score in 2003-04 … but come on. Luka is not better than K.D. or A.D. this year.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers forward (+16.4 ePM, +402): LeBron is missing more and more playing time every week with his groin injury, but I am not the one who is going to leave him off my starting team.

West Guard Starters

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James Harden, Houston Rockets guard (+18.4 ePM, +569): Derrick Rose has been second to Harden’s third on the early fan vote, but I don’t expect that to hold in light of Harden’s recent scoring barrage (750 points in his last 18 games).

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors guard (+21.4 ePM, +507): Now healthy, Curry is slowly ascending the charts to his rightful place as the top player in the NBA today. He is not there yet, but he’s getting there.

East Frontline Reserves

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic center (+14.1 ePM, +380): Some thought Vooch was playing his last season in Orlando, with youngsters Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon ready to replace the Summer 2019 free agent. Then a funny thing happened. Vooch became a 2019 All-Star.

Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons forward (+7.2 ePM, +222): The Clippers betrayed him, so Griffin just picked up his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and brought it with him to Detroit.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors forward (+12.8 ePM, +363): If Draymond Green can make three straight All-Star teams out West, then Siakam deserves to begin his All-Star string, starting now in the East.

East Guard Reserves

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Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers guard (+8.3 ePM, +254): For a guy who lacks a shot, Simmons puts up a pretty impressive .595 true shooting percentage (90 percent of his shots come within 10 feet of the hoop, according to Basketball-Reference).

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets guard (+7.8 ePM, +240): The All-Star Game is in Charlotte, Kemba is deserving, so why not send the Hornets point guard to his third straight All-Star?

East Wild Card Reserves

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Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers center (+11.6 ePM, +296): It is not too often that a sixth man gets selected for the All-Star Game, but Sabonis is just as deserving as his Pops was. But if you have a problem with an All-Star sub, Indiana starting center Myles Turner is just as worthy.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics forward (+6.5 ePM, +185): Congrats to the 20-year-old prospect for making All-Star at such a young age. He is a fringe All-Star at this point, but worthy just the same.

Apologies to: Myles Turner, Serge Ibaka, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Jarrett Allen, Andre Drummond, Victor Oladipo, John Collins, Hassan Whiteside and Al Horford.

West Frontline Reserves

Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder forward (+17.8 ePM, +556): If A.D. and K.D. and L.J. weren’t such big stars that we know them by their initials, then PG-13 would deserve to start on the West All-Star team.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets center (+13.7 ePM, +383): The Joker has elevated Denver up a mile high in the standings and it is all due to the water-polo-passing big man in the hole.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder center (+14.4 ePM, +429): Aquaman’s greatest strength is his way to affect game by doing all the little things, while still putting up 15 points and 10 boards every night.

West Guard Reserves

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Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers guard (+13.4 ePM, +444): Dame D.O.L.L.A. is Portland’s perennial pick, but do not be surprised if he is joined on the 2020 All-Star team by Jusuf Nurkic or C.J. McCollum. The Blazers’ day is coming.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder guards (+13.3 ePM, +342): With his shot gone, Westbrook is concentrating on playmaking and defense more. Consequently, he is becoming a better leader and teammate.

West Wild Card Reserves

Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies guards (+6.9 ePM, +208): The day is finally here: Mike Conley is an All-Star! Finally! Never before has Conley’s case been stronger, which is great since the man has deserved All-Star status for so long.

Jrue Holiday, New Orleans guard (+12.4 ePM, +417): Just like last year, Holiday deserves to be an All-Star. Now coaches won’t select him because they do not want to reward a sub-.500 team with two All-Stars in Holiday and Davis. But I say that it is not Holiday’s—or Davis’—fault that Pelicans 4-through-15 are the reason for NOLA’s struggles.

Apologies to: Jusuf Nurkic, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, injured Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, Julius Randle, Lou Williams, Paul Millsap, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tobias Harris, Derrick Favors and Derrick Rose.


2. Brooklyn Next

Nets GM Sean Marks is not going to win 2018-19 Executive of the Year honors, but the former NBA center deserves strong consideration for his three-year rebuilding plan, mainly because he has reloaded without Brooklyn having its own first-round pick the past five seasons.

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Here’s how the Brooklyn general manager got it done, since his hire February 2016 hire:

  1. Hired Kenny Atkinson as head coach in April 2016. Atkinson then guided the 2016-17 Nets to a 20-62 record; the 2017-18 Nets to a 28-54 mark; the 2018-19 to a 23-23 standard thus far for the team’s biggest leap yet.
  2. Traded veteran Thaddeus Young to Indiana for small forward Caris LeVert. This season, LeVert was on the verge of becoming a good starting shooting guard until he suffered a right foot dislocation in early December. He is out indefinitely.
  3. Signed starting shooting guard Joe Harris to a multi-year contract in July 2016. Harris has since gone on to become a quality complementary piece.
  4. Signed combo guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a multi-year contract in December 2016. Dinwiddie has since become a quality role player and signed an even richer deal last summer.
  5. Traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to Washington for two players and the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which became No. 22 selection Jarrett Allen in the 2017 NBA Draft. Since that time, Allen has not only become one of the top NBA prospects today, the 20-year-old center is also a legit candidate to play in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.
  6. Traded Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft for point guard D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s big contract in June 2017. Russell has since transformed from prospect to solid starter with upside still being added to his game on the daily.
  7. Took on forward DeMarre Carroll’s big contract and landed additional first- and second-round picks from Toronto for doing so. Since then, Carroll has been a quality role player, as has forward Rodions Kurucs, who was drafted with the 40th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Kurucs has since become a quality role player who is averaging 21 minutes per game as a rookie. Wing Dzanan Musa, a talented 19-year-old prospect, also was taken with that 29thpick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
  8. Signed backup center Ed Davis to one of the best bang-for-buck deals last summer at one year, $4.5 million in July 2018.

3. What Does Losing Look Like?

The Chicago Bulls have lost nine straight games, which made me ask myself the question: What does that type of losing look like up close?

Everybody knows Chicago is tanking this season away, but still, it’s tough to lose nine games in a row against anyone.

I mean, they have not won a game since December 28 when they beat a dysfunctional Washington Wizards squad, 101-93.

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Since that time, the Bulls have lost three separate games by 28, 37 and 30 points (Thursday at Denver).

One of the nine losses was an overtime defeat, but the closest they got in any other contest was six points.

Their margin of defeat is a negative 14-point average.

In Chicago’s defense, seven of their nine opponents have winning records.

So there’s that.

But if they do not watch themselves, the Bulls are going to eclipse the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season-worst 12-game losing streak that was just snapped a week ago.

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

After trading minutes leader Justin Holiday for seldom-used Wayne Selden and two second-round picks January 3, the Bulls now are starting their youngest lineup yet, with point guard Kris Dunn (24 years old), shooting guard Zach LaVine (23), rookie small forward Chandler Hutchison (22), power forward Lauri Markkanen (21) and rookie center Wendell Carter (19) holding it down.

That is not an NBA team. That is a college squad.

I won’t even name the subs and their ages.

If they buy out 30-year-old reserve center Robin Lopez, their oldest player will be 26-year-old Cristiano Felicio.

This is what losing looks like. Up close. When you are going through a nine-game losing streak during a tanking season.


4. The Great Guard Era

Stephen Curry and James Harden are fighting for both another NBA MVP award, along with the 2019 NBA championship. Chris Paul is trying to get himself healthy so he can help Harden in his quest. Russell Westbrook is vying for his third straight triple-double season. And Dwyane Wade is getting fan love as the voters try to make him an East starter at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

So you may have known all that, but did you know this?

Did you realize that all five of these active guards today rank among the 10 greatest guards of all-time in Player Efficiency Rating?

Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

It is true.

We may have never had a guard era has great as this 2010s decade, and the funny thing is I am just now realizing the gravity of it all.

Curry, Harden and Westbrook are all still at the top of their game. CP3 was at a pretty high level last year, too. And then there is D-Wade who is enjoying his swan song this season.

We cannot forget Kobe Bryant either, who was a 2009 and 2010 Finals MVP as an L.A. Lakers NBA champion earlier this decade.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s six of the 10 greatest guards, all excelling in the same decade.

Incredible.

By the way, do you wanna know who’s No. 11 on this list?

Kyrie Irving.

To be continued next decade?

Career Player Efficiency Rating Leaders for Guards

 Guards  PER  G  MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG  TSP
 Michael Jordan  27.9  1072  38.3  30.1  6.2  5.3  2.3  0.8  .569
 Chris Paul  25.4  918  35.2  18.6  4.5  9.7  2.2  0.1  .581
 James Harden  24.1  728  34.0  23.7  5.1  6.2  1.5  0.5  .609
 Magic Johnson  24.1  906  36.7  19.5  7.2  11.2  1.9  0.4  .610
 Stephen Curry  23.9  659  34.4  23.4  4.5  6.7  1.7  0.2  .624
 Russell Westbrook  23.8  783  34.4  22.9  6.8  8.3  1.8  0.3  .530
 Dwyane Wade  23.7  1015  34.2  22.2  4.7  5.4  1.6  0.9  .555
 Oscar Robertson  23.2  1040  42.2  25.7  7.5  9.5  1.1  0.1  .564
 Kobe Bryant  22.9  1346  36.1  25.0  5.2  4.7  1.4  0.5  .550
 Jerry West  22.9  932  39.2  27.0  5.8  6.7  2.6  0.7  .550
PER Player Effiiciency Rating; G games; MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; RPG rebounds per game; SPG steals per game; BPG blocks per game; TSP true shooting percentage.
SOURCE: Basketball-Reference