LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the captains of this year’s All-Star Game in Charlotte. The pair were the top fan vote-getters in each conference as announced by the league on Thursday night, and will get to select their team during a TNT-televised draft on February 7. Rounding out the West starters are Steph Curry and James Harden in the backcourt (Curry edged out Harden in the player vote [insert eyes emoji here]) and Paul George and Kevin Durant in the frontcourt. Around Giannis, the East’s additions to the starters pool features Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker in the backcourt, and Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid in the frontcourt.
Though there weren’t any true shockers in the selections, thanks to the voting split this year (50 percent fans, 25 percent players, 25 percent media), there were some interesting questions answered and interesting trends that became clear. Here are five takeaways from the selections:
Missing Games Doesn’t Really Matter
The best ability is availability … unless it isn’t. LeBron James has missed 14 games and counting this season with a groin injury. Stephen Curry missed 11 games earlier this season with a groin injury of his own. And Kawhi Leonard has missed 14 games due to an ambiguous “load management” designation. All three were named starters, and LeBron—the West’s top vote-getter in media, fan, and player voting—will be both a captain and the only starter from a team that is not currently inside the playoff picture.
LeBron has been one of the most durable players in recent history, and his numbers when he has played speak for themselves (27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists per game). His impact on the floor has clearly outweighed the time he’s been off it, as evidenced by how much his absence has affected the team, which has gone 5-9 since Christmas. It’s no different for Curry, last season’s other All-Star captain: His numbers are absurd (29.3 points per game and 49-45-93 shooting splits), and he still establishes a different level of dominance for the Warriors when he’s in the game. Leonard has played like an All-Star when he’s on the court, but given the weak pool of potential All-Stars in the East, his place among the first 10 chosen was practically a given with the way the Raptors have played.
Giannis Is the Captain Now
LeBron retained his captaincy through his westward relocation, which created a vacancy out east. There was no question about who would fill the King’s void: 24-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo received nearly half a million more fan votes than the next player, Kyrie Irving. This year, the league is set to televise the All-Star draft, and after getting a very milquetoast rollout last year when Curry and LeBron were captains, Giannis is bound to add some much-needed fun to the process. Smoothies for everyone?
The juxtaposition of LeBron and Giannis is also as clear a symbol of the current state of the league as it gets; a clash of the old and new generations, one dealing with the latter stages of NBA mortality and the other full of young talent ready to take over. I have a feeling LeBron isn’t ready to pass the torch, though.
Kemba Is Definitely Not Getting Traded Anymore
One of the only spots still up in the air ahead of Thursday’s selections was the second guard position in the East. Kyrie Irving was a lock, but the other spot looked like it could go to anyone, from Ben Simmons to Bradley Beal. In the end it was Walker who got the nod, giving Charlotte, the host city, a hometown representative. Walker got off to a scorching start this season and has since leveled off, but still presents a deserving case, especially in the lackluster East. There have been plenty of trade rumors surrounding Walker (who will be a free agent in the summer), but his All-Star starter status all but ensures he won’t be moved at the trade deadline, less than a week before the All-Star Game.
Nobody Has Love for Nikola Jokic, Apparently
The West frontcourt was loaded with options, so we knew going into the selection that two of LeBron, Paul George, Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant would not make it. This would all be much easier (and arguably fairer) if the league just eliminated conferences altogether when it comes to All-Star selections.
All five players were deserving, but Jokic was fifth among frontcourt players in both media and player voting and nowhere to be found among the top fan votes. Davis, meanwhile, was the third-highest vote-getter in both player and media voting, but fell to fifth in the fan voting, which ultimately pushed George ahead of him. Jokic and Davis are in different situations—the former is the best player on the second-best team in the West, while the latter is one of the five best players in the league and has been putting up ridiculous numbers on a team tumbling all the way down to 12th in the West. On numbers alone, Davis deserved to be a starter, but winning still matters, though in Jokic’s case, it didn’t matter that much to the fans.
The Fans Couldn’t Get Their Faves In
The All-Star Game is ultimately an exhibition, so it makes sense that fan voting is weighted twice as much as media and player voting. And yet, thank goodness that it’s not all determined by fan voting. If it was up to the fans, both Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose would have been named All-Star starters, as well as rookie Luka Doncic. Rose’s season is a noticeable improvement from his past few years, but it’s not All-Star worthy. Wade deserves recognition on his farewell tour, but he has been a shell of his All-Star self in his last few years and it would be more of a pity vote than a real one. And Luka, well, Luka is the next big thing and he already had a built-in fan base from Europe upon entering the league, but he’s only maybe deserving of a roster spot. If Simmons didn’t make it off the merits of his outstanding rookie campaign last season, Luka shouldn’t either.