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Surprises, Snubs, and Monstars: Three NBA All-Star Reserve Takeaways

Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis are in. Jimmy Butler is out (for now). And the bigs shall inherit the court. Here are our thoughts on Thursday’s reveal.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NBA’s tectonic plates are starting to shift, creating tremors that have already started to alter the league’s landscape prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline. But enough about how my phone won’t stop vibrating from all the breaking-news updates. It’s All-Star reserves time, baby! Joining the talent pool from the West are: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Karl-Anthony Towns; the reserves out East will consist of Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Blake Griffin, Nikola Vucevic, Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, and Bradley Beal.

Here are a few takeaways from Thursday night’s announcement:

Who is ready for some Monstars lineups?

Surprisingly, there is no publicly available lineup data for All-Star teams. So while I can’t say with any certainty that this year’s festivities will feature the tallest lineups in league history, I feel comfortable putting that out there. All those days of NBA Live has prepared me for this moment. And I cannot wait.

There are 11 eligible All-Stars who are listed at either 6-foot-10 and above or have logged a sizable amount of minutes at center before (like LeBron James, who is 6-foot-8). That means there is enough of a talent pool within those parameters to field an entire game of players whose average height is more than a foot taller than the average American male. Given the precarity of Anthony Davis’s situation and the human body, there is the possibility that said giants will be replaced with smaller backcourt stars. But should they all be healthy and ready by February 17, there are more than enough capable primary ball handlers and facilitators for these teams to actually work.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and LeBron James are all flesh-bound bullet trains; Nikola Jokic is averaging more assists at the center position than any player in modern NBA history; Davis and Blake Griffin have both been empowered over the past two seasons to become bigger threats from the perimeter with the ball in their hands; Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Vucevic are two eerily consistent 3-point marksmen for their size. Going full Monstars wouldn’t just be a gimmick—it’d be a way to make sure as many complementary talents are on the floor at once.

There are a few notable snubs ...

1. Jimmy Butler is in the midst of his most efficient season as a star-level player, but it apparently wasn’t enough. Given that the reserves are determined by the league’s 30 coaching staffs, it’s fair to wonder whether Butler’s team-breaking antics in Minnesota and his public antagonism as a Sixer were the deciding factor in leaving him out of the draft pool. Butler will be a strong candidate to replace the injured Oladipo, so this may be a nonstarter, but file this one under Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

2. Where are the Jazzmen? The Jazz are 11-4 in 2019, finally past their grueling early-season schedule, and now have some breathing room in the playoff race. Donovan Mitchell has come on strong of late, averaging nearly 28 points per game in the past 15 games, but it’s Rudy Gobert who has been the steadiest presence on the team as they’ve figured out how to reestablish themselves on the fly. The Frenchman has been a plus-minus darling as per usual, and he’s managed to maintain his otherworldly defensive presence this season while expanding his purview. Both Utah’s system and the league’s standards as a whole have forced him to hone his abilities defending out on the perimeter, and it’s looked better than ever before. Gobert is a rare defensive superstar who is still learning what he is capable of. The West may be jam-packed with futuristic bigs, but Gobert deserves some shine.

3. Sorry, Dwyane. Guess you won’t be getting a hero’s farewell at the All-Star Game.

4. Luka Doncic has exceeded just about every possible expectation, from the most ardent naysayers to the most hyperbolic boosters. Had he made the cut, he would’ve been the first rookie selection since Blake Griffin—and Blake was throwing down Vince Carter–esque dunks on the entire league. Doncic mesmerizes in a decidedly different way. He is an icon for thicc lads all across the globe, dazzling crowds with Baby Harden stepbacks, whirling behind-the-back dribbles, and Barnum & Bailey–approved circus shots. He is a bonafide star with the stats to match, but his snub makes one thing clear: The kid still needs to pay his dues.

5. What about D’Angelo Russell, though?

… and a couple selections that probably could have gone either way.

1. After a troubling start to the season, Klay Thompson has righted his shooting stroke, shooting 41.1 percent from 3 since the start of December after shooting below 35 percent in the 23 games prior. Still, with so many deserving potential All-Stars out West, it’s strange to see Thompson rewarded for what has been a fairly middling season by Thompson’s standards.

2. The last time the Spurs didn’t have an All-Star selection was 1997, months before Tim Duncan was drafted first overall out of Wake Forest. I was 5 at the time. LaMarcus has earned the seventh selection of his career, but the spot could have just as easily gone to DeMar DeRozan, who has transformed himself into a true lead facilitator this season with San Antonio’s dearth of playmaking options in the backcourt. Aldridge certainly has the edge in gaudy performances, though: his 56-point masterpiece in a nationally televised double-overtime win over the Thunder earlier in January.

OK, back to the bunker. Can’t wait until Anthony Davis is actually traded the second he’s fake-drafted by Giannis.