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Five Takeaways From the NBA All-Star Reserves

Devin Booker just missed, ceding his spot to Russell Westbrook—but there’s still plenty to look forward to

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I can’t remember a time I have ever been so excited for the All-Star reserves list to be released—it’s just silly and mostly inconsequential. As it turns out, that’s exactly what this week needed. I find real joy in Bam Adebayo hitting milestones, and I find pleasant distraction in Jaylen Brown being snubbed. The reserves in the East are Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, and Domantas Sabonis. In the West, we have Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul.

The NBA is experimenting with the format again

In light of Kobe Bryant passing away Sunday, the NBA has announced a new game format in his honor.

It’s a little weird, but there’s no fault in trying something new. The All-Star game is already broken, and added incentives will hopefully translate to added effort.

The three biggest snubs

Jaylen Brown makes me wish there was one extra spot. We could call it the wildest card. It could apply only to the East, and we could do it just this one time. I don’t care. This is pretty Jaylen-specific. There’s no single reserve I feel comfortable knocking off to make room for Jaylen, yet I know with complete certainty that he’s had an All Star–caliber season. Boston already has two representatives in the game with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, but there’s no true totem pole for the Celtics’ Big Three. It rotates game by game. Jaylen is often the one who takes over, though his stats fall just short of those of his teammates.

Meanwhile, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal is a classic case of “on the one hand, on the other hand …” The case for him is:

  1. He’s ninth in scoring! In the entire league!
  2. He’s averaging career highs in points (28.6) and assists (6.3)!
  3. He deserves to be on a team with some other talent, for once!

The argument against Beal is:

  1. Of course he’s scoring a bunch in Washington; there aren’t many other options there!
  2. He’s averaging career highs in points and assists, but he’s also averaging a career low in 3-point shooting (31.8 percent) and a career high in turnovers (3.3)!
  3. Don’t pity him for not playing with talent when he has Rui Hachimura!

The most shocking snub is Devin Booker, who likely wasn’t selected in favor of Russell Westbrook, though this one might feel like a snub either way, as both are putting up similar averages (27.1 points for Booker; 26.3 points for Westbrook). And while Booker is a drastically more efficient shooter, Westbrook’s contributions are more well-rounded. And Booker could still make it—Luka Doncic is undergoing an MRI on Friday for an ankle injury he suffered at practice. If he’s out and everyone moves up a spot, Booker will surely be the first in.

The “don’t overthink it” no-brainer additions

At this point, the lobbying against Kyle Lowry has become predictable. He gets the same lack of recognition that Damian Lillard does in the West, except Lowry doesn’t rap about it. Maybe it’s not related to the regular season: Lowry, now an NBA champion, has often been called out for choking in the playoffs. Maybe he’s been overshadowed by his teammates. He played with DeMar DeRozan for many years, then Kawhi Leonard, and now Pascal Siakam. Maybe it’s that he’s only 6 feet tall. I mean, that’s really short. Height bias exists. That’s the minimum height most people put on dating profiles, and Lowry plays professional basketball for a living. But don’t overthink Lowry’s All-Star selection. He holds the Raptors together so they can push ahead; if this were a movie, he’d be the one staying behind to save his group from a crowd of bad guys, screaming at Siakam and Fred VanVleet to Go! Run!! Save yourselves/the world (depending on what kind of movie this is)!!! He’s the glue and gumption, but he’s also a star—those aren’t mutually exclusive.

Then there’s Ben Simmons. I am just as frustrated with the whole half-baked unicorn thing as you are. I want him to shoot 3s. The Sixers want him to shoot 3s. Maybe the Sixers even need him to shoot 3s. Where we get lost, though, is that the Sixers also need him as he is. We need him as he is. He’s one of the best point guards in years, and he’s still improving. The advanced analytics all love him — he has high marks in VORP, BPM and ICouldMakeTheseUpAndYouWouldn’tKnow — and it’s about time we love him for who he is, too.

The most fun pairing

The Netflix original Cheer—a show about the Navarro College cheerleading team—introduced me to the term “mat talk.” It means cheering for the people on the mat even though you’re on the sideline. While Cheer may have given a name to the concept, Jimmy Butler has long lived it (… though he’s not always cheering in a positive way, but in his own way). Watching Butler run the floor with Bam Adebayo this season, cheer him on, hype him up, joke and dominate alongside him, has been more fun than Paul George and Kawhi Leonard’s team-up. That might be because they never play at the same time, but let’s not take Bam and Jimmy’s moment away from them.

The guys who deserved to make it but we wouldn’t have expected to be here a year ago

Both Bam Adebayo and Brandon Ingram showed potential in 2018-19, but both were somewhat stifled. The Heat had a Hassan Whiteside problem last season on their roster, and Erik Spoelstra couldn’t fully unleash Bam like he has this season. Ingram, meanwhile, just needed a change of scenery. He was the first of the young Pelicans to wow people, a role that was supposed to be Zion Williamson’s. New Orleans was still terrible in Zion’s absence (they’re 2-2 with him back), but Ingram has proved he can be more than a very lanky, very spotty shooter, making the wait bearable. Ish.

Other players who could’ve made it, but ultimately didn’t deserve it, but let’s say something nice about them here

Zach LaVine is fourth in total scoring with 1,257 points. I’m so happy for him, but he’s in the same situation as Beal, but with less pizazz. Eric Bledsoe is having one of the most underrated defensive seasons of all guards. Also happy for him, but he’d be taking Khris Middleton’s wild-card spot to get in, and Middleton deserves the nod for keeping the Bucks intact while Giannis sits. Malcolm Brogdon has already become a key piece for Indiana during Victor Oladipo’s injury absence, assuming many of the gaps left behind. Especially happy for him, but he’s missed 14 games.