All-Star Game will be LeBron vs. Giannis again with no Bulls starters
It's debatable whether the new "captains" format for the NBA All-Star Game works better than the traditional "East vs. West."
In the East-West games, at least the home fans had a built-in rooting interest. Maybe it won't matter too much when the game is played at the United Center next month, because LeBron James has never been super popular with Bulls fans.
The two players with the most fan votes in each conference are named team captains and will pick among the 24 players selected for the All-Star Game. For the second-straight year, the captains are James and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last year in Charlotte, Team LeBron beat Team Giannis 178-164.
The 10 starters were announced on Thursday night. The reserves will be revealed next Thursday, seven from each conference.
If the league wanted to really commit to the captains format, they'd line up the players on the sideline and pick teams gym-class style five minutes before tip-off. Instead, James and Antetokounmpo will choose sides on Feb. 6, dividing the other eight starters first, then moving on to the reserves.
The starters from the East are Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, Toronto's Pascal Siakam, Boston's Kemba Walker and Atlanta's Trae Young. The fan vote is now worth 50% when determining starters, with players and a media panel making up the other 50%.
A couple of things stand out here. Ex-Bull Jimmy Butler was not named a starter. The league decided he was a frontcourt player and he finished fourth in the voting.
Should Butler have been a starter? Yeah, probably. He's led Miami to the second-best record in the East as of Thursday, ahead of Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia. It's hard to argue with Siakam, since the Raptors won the title last season, but as a guard, Butler could easily be ranked ahead of Walker and Young.
The other notable thing here is there will be an East starter from a losing team. Atlanta (11-34) has the worst record in the East and second-worst in the league behind Golden State. Young does rank third in the league in scoring with 29.2 points per game.
Zach LaVine is hoping to make his all-star debut in Chicago but figures to be hampered by the Bulls' losing record. The inclusion of Young provides some hope but also takes up an available slot. LaVine finished sixth in the East guard voting, behind Young, Walker, Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving, Detroit's Derrick Rose and Toronto's Kyle Lowry.
The reserve spots will fill up fast. Butler, Lowry, Milwaukee's Khris Middleton, Philadelphia's Ben Simmons, Boston's Jayson Tatum, Indiana's Domantas Sabonis, either Irving or Spencer Dinwiddie from Brooklyn, Orlando's Nikola Vucevic, Detroit's Andre Drummond and Washington's Bradley Beal are all strong candidates, and that's more than seven already. LaVine will probably need some injury scratches to get a slot.
The West starters are James, Houston's James Harden, Dallas' Luka Doncic, the Lakers' Anthony Davis, and Clippers' Kawhi Leonard.
For reserves, Denver's Nikola Jokic, Portland's Damien Lillard, the Clippers' Paul George, Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Houston's Russell Westbrook should be locks, with New Orleans' Brandon Ingram, Phoenix's Devin Booker, Minnesota Karl-Anthony Towns, and Utah's Rudy Gobert likely the top contenders for the final two spots.
The All-Star Game at the United Center will take place on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., with the contests the previous night.