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The 24 Players Who Deserve to Make the 2023 NBA All-Star Game

Breaking down my official starters ballot for Salt Lake City and my bench selections for the East and West

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

It’s time to pick our 2023 NBA All-Star teams! The starters in each conference are the players I voted for with my official ballot. The reserves get here by way of being awesome, owning impressive advanced and basic numbers, and contributing nightly to winning. Without further ado, here are all 24 of my picks, starting with the East.

Eastern Conference Frontcourt Starters

Joel Embiid
Jayson Tatum
Kevin Durant

There’s no better word to describe the idea of Tatum, Embiid, Durant, or Giannis Antetokounmpo coming off the bench in the All-Star Game than “stupid.” Maybe “asinine.” Or “idiotic.” But these are the positional constraints the NBA handed down, forcing its voters to make the toughest call in recent All-Star memory.

After staring at myriad statistical comparisons; weighing their values and team successes; and considering responsibilities, efficiency, defensive impact, production, and other tiebreakers that gauge who truly has been the best through 40-something games, by the slimmest possible margin, Antetokounmpo missed the cut.

Here’s how advanced catchall metrics shake them out:

Real plus-minus

  • Tatum: 1st
  • Embiid: 5th
  • Antetokounmpo: 17th
  • Durant: 28th

Estimated plus-minus

  • Embiid: 2nd
  • Durant: 6th
  • Tatum: 8th
  • Antetokounmpo: 19th

RAPTOR wins above replacement

  • Durant: 3rd
  • Embiid: 3rd
  • Tatum: 3rd
  • Antetokounmpo: 26th

Antetokounmpo doesn’t sniff the top of any of those lists despite having the highest usage rate in the league and, presumably, an on-off advantage over the other three thanks to Khris Middleton’s never-ending absence (a loss that’s shifted everything Antetokounmpo still can’t do from the perimeter to the foreground).

You could make an argument that Giannis is having the best season of the four if you consider how weak his supporting cast has been compared to Durant’s, Tatum’s, and Embiid’s. There’s a Grand Canyon–like drop in shot creation after Jrue Holiday, who has also missed 11 games. But it’s not great for Antetokounmpo that when he plays without Holiday, the Bucks have a negative net rating and an offense that ranks the worst in the NBA.

He’s the least efficient of the four, trailing in effective and true shooting percentage, fourth in VORP and win shares per 48 minutes, and flat-out bad in small-sample-size crunch time. He has played about as many minutes as Embiid and is far below Tatum and Durant.

Meanwhile, Tatum is the best player on the best team, averaging 31.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and only 2.7 turnovers per game. He also rarely misses games, which is why Boston is the best team. That durability gives him a meaningful minutes advantage and impacts total counting numbers. He’s launched more 3s than Durant, Embiid, and Giannis combined and has about 250 more points than Giannis and Embiid. His ability to meld into a talented lineup without smothering it speaks to his maturity. In addition to having pretty much any shot in his bag, Tatum can break out a UTEP two-step whenever he wants. What more could you ask for?

Durant would probably be on the outside looking in if it weren’t for the absurd stats and success he banked before spraining his knee. There’s more info on just how historic he’s been right here. Glancing at his shot splits makes you feel like a hallucinogen has seeped into your prefrontal cortex. Durant’s highlight reel belongs in a David Lynch movie. Nothing about him should ever be normalized.

He remains the most inevitable scorer alive: someone who can thread a needle anywhere on the floor, whether double-teamed or (foolishly) covered by just one man. He takes and makes shots that might be daring. Or like he’s bored and needs to challenge himself by intentionally upping the difficulty.

Embiid is not quite good enough to be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, but his impact as a deterrent remains undeniable. Philly has the best defense in the NBA when he’s on the court without James Harden. Embiid also might lead the league in scoring for the second straight season (while being on track to become the 19th player in NBA history to average over 30 points per game more than once).

East Backcourt Starters

Donovan Mitchell
Tyrese Haliburton

The guy who dropped 71 points in a single game while averaging 28 on a team that’s currently third in net rating? That guy is starting in the All-Star Game (in Salt Lake City of all places!). Mitchell has found an absolutely ideal situation in Cleveland, supported by a pair of long, mobile bigs who deserve All-Defensive considerations and a “secondary” ball handler who makes logo 3s look routine, with pick-and-roll wizardry that diversifies what might otherwise be a predictable offense.

But the Cavs wouldn’t be where they are without Mitchell’s career year. He’s become one of the NBA’s most dangerous pull-up threats, topped in accuracy only by Steph Curry and Kevin Huerter among all players who’ve taken at least 100 3s off the bounce. His stepback is artful deception and a huge reason why he’s also elite at attacking out of pick-and-rolls. There are 67 players who’ve initiated at least 500 this season; Mitchell generates the fourth-most points per direct play.

Some of that is thanks to his vision on downhill drives. Some of it’s because taking Mitchell’s outside shot away exposes defenses to his ferocious combination of strength, athleticism, and will in attacking the basket. Mitchell is shooting nearly 70 percent at the rim, converting a ridiculous 56.4 percent of his floaters (one of the highest marks in the league). The man makes plays that overshadow numerical evaluation too. Just look at what he does to Giannis on this switch as one of basketball’s premier paint protectors flies across the lane to try to block Mitchell’s shot. How many guards can make this play?

Haliburton is a less obvious pick, but equally deserving. He leads the NBA in assist rate, with a usage percentage that doesn’t even rank in the top 60—admirable in a league full of lead playmakers who dominate the ball. Haliburton’s selfless tendencies and precise outside shooting mean he can thrive in any environment, next to any type of player. Some of the passes he’s thrown—whether they’re improvisations from a sideline out-of-bounds play or quick finds going full speed in the open floor—are divine.

Haliburton is also incredibly slippery one-on-one when defenses force him to attack on an island. According to Second Spectrum, he’s the NBA’s most efficient player on direct plays among those who’ve isolated at least 150 times.

East Frontcourt Reserves

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Bam Adebayo
Pascal Siakam

Giannis is self-explanatory. Many believe he’s the best player alive. Even in a down year, he’ll still be on a whole bunch of MVP ballots. His Bucks are a contender pretty much only because he’s on the team. But as mentioned earlier, he didn’t crack the starting five because Embiid, Tatum, and Durant have been microscopically superior.

Adebayo is awesome and always adding to his repertoire. He takes more jumpers in the paint than any other player in the NBA. It’s such a rare shot. He’s taking about 2.5 of them per game, which is more than double his volume from last season. It’s a fairly trustworthy look, too: Adebayo converts about 45 percent of them. (Nobody hates these shots more than Brook Lopez.)

On defense, Second Spectrum’s tracking data says the Heat haven’t had nearly as much success this year when Adebayo switches ball screens, but don’t put too much stock in those numbers (Tyler Herro being more involved and P.J. Tucker not being involved have something to do with them). Adebayo ranks seventh in defensive real plus-minus, and he’s still a live bear trap out on the perimeter, the last big man any guard wants to see in space.

Siakam leads the NBA in minutes per game for the second straight season and is on his sixth straight season playing for a Raptors team that falls apart when he’s on the bench. Siakam’s efficiency is way down, and he doesn’t get to the rim as much as he used to. But he’s still averaging over 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists per game (benchmarks reached by only nine other players in NBA history) with one of the most delightfully evasive post games.

East Backcourt Reserves

Trae Young
Jaylen Brown

The backlash against Young is understandable. He doesn’t seem like the most amenable coworker. His indifference on the defensive end makes life way harder than it needs to be for everyone around him. His usage ranks near the top of the league despite posting effective and true shooting percentages that are below the league average. And he’s obstinate in a way that, frankly, franchise cornerstones shouldn’t be.

Elite players squeeze the most from their talent while maintaining a modicum of self-awareness. They understand what makes them great, where they need to improve, what points of criticism are valid, and which can be ignored. Young is probably closer to realizing all this than he was a few years ago, but there’s still some way to go.

At the same time, Young’s talent (particularly as a playmaker) is rivaled by few. It’s not his fault that Atlanta’s ownership decided to trade Kevin Huerter for tax reasons, cutting off a chunk of accurate 3-point shots from a team that relies on space. (There’s at least one help defender present on 85.3 percent of Young’s drives, which ranks fourth among all players who drive at least 10 times per game.)

The Hawks had the second-best offense in basketball last season. This year, they’ve plummeted to 17th, but they’re top five with Young on the court. He’s averaging 27.1 points and 9.8 assists per game as someone who can make every pass and can regularly slay giants with a lethal floater that often doubles as a perfect lob to Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, or John Collins.

Young’s talent, and the attention it attracts, opens doors for everyone else. Just look at his teammates’ field goal percentages at the rim when he’s on the floor versus off it.

There’s a difference between being persona non grata and being detrimental to your team. Regardless of how you feel about Young, he’s still an exceptional offensive force who shouldn’t be the scapegoat for the disappointing, injury-filled Hawks season.

Young’s backcourt partner here is someone who represents a polar opposite. Jaylen Brown is large, cut, and increasingly enthralled by defensive assignments. During a recent win over the Mavericks, he made a point to tell his teammates before the game that he wanted to guard Luka Doncic.

There was one play in another recent win against the Clippers when Jaylen threw down a dunk in transition and then picked up Paul George 70 feet from his own basket. He claps his hands, darts around screens, and cedes little space when guarding the ball. You can’t really attach a number to someone who brings it like that.

Brown has his lapses and faults like anyone else, but he’s been one of the most unstoppable pure scorers, with turbo thrusters in the open floor that give Boston’s offense a critical boost when its outside shots aren’t falling. The only player who’s attempted more shots in transition this season is Giannis.

Playmaking responsibilities come and go for Brown, who’s more inclined to leverage his Dunk Contest–worthy athleticism and unstoppable pull-up jumper. He’s a great finisher and makes over 50 percent of his midrange shots. This is a tippity-top-tier scorer who may crack his first All-NBA team when the season ends. With up-and-down 3-point shooting that should eventually stabilize, his best may be yet to come.

East Wild Cards

Julius Randle
Jimmy Butler

If the last two years had never happened—both the highs of being an All-NBA jewel and the lows of his catastrophic follow-up—Julius Randle would be one of this season’s biggest stories. With zero missed games, the 28-year-old is averaging 24.4 points and 10.7 rebounds. All his advanced numbers are at or near a career-high level, and the Knicks can’t score when he’s off the floor. (Here’s every player who ranks above Randle in real plus-minus wins: Tatum, Luka, Jokic, and LeBron.)

Jalen Brunson is also having an awesome year, and it’s hard to know which Knick deserves more credit for their stability. Tom Thibodeau pretty much stopped staggering their minutes in the middle of December, and lineups that feature only one have been very good. But Randle, broken jump shot and all, distinguishes himself by a hair. The sheer force, interior physicality, and mindful decision to take half the long 2s he launched over the past couple seasons and move them behind the 3-point line give Randle the slightest edge.

Butler has missed 14 games but might be quietly having the best season of his career. His true shooting is 62.1 percent, and he ranks ninth in estimated plus-minus. A two-way nightmare and steady hand in close games, Butler would have an entirely blemish-free skill set if not for his infamous disinclination to take 3s. Otherwise, Butler just does whatever Erik Spoelstra needs him to. He gets to the line, deflects passes, guards everybody, and consistently makes simple, correct plays over the course of every game.

Apologies to James Harden, Jalen Brunson, DeMar DeRozan, Darius Garland, Kyle Kuzma, Jrue Holiday, and Kyrie Irving.

Western Conference Frontcourt Starters

Nikola Jokic
LeBron James
Domantas Sabonis

Pablo Picasso once said, “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” Nikola Jokic should have this quote tattooed across his back. His passes defy convention and rational thought. His creativity and general audacity make him an unparalleled playmaker, while his combination of touch, balance, and power makes him an unstoppable scorer. Jokic recently had a 36-point triple-double, wherein the only field goal he missed was a turnaround corner 3 with five seconds on the shot clock. This is the best player in the NBA, in the middle of his best season, frequently making passes that show an almost implausible understanding of gravity’s relationship with velocity.

Sabonis plays a similar game: a brute center who can back his man down into oblivion anytime he wants but would rather survey the floor like a point guard, exchanging his own shots for better opportunities that keep everyone involved. The Kings’ offensive rating is 13.1 points per 100 possessions higher with Sabonis on the court. He leads the league in rebounding and is averaging more assists than every center in NBA history that isn’t named Jokic or Chamberlain. He’s a starter.

Any NBA star, past or present, would kill for LeBron’s season. It’s remarkable irrespective of age. It’s also a spectacle—a palm tree covered in snow or an ocean wave crashing toward the horizon. James is 38 years old and registering 29.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and seven assists per game. Only Zion Williamson and Giannis take more shots in the restricted area, and LeBron’s field goal percentage there is higher than both of theirs (and pretty much everyone else).

In 2013—his Château Cheval Blanc campaign—LeBron averaged 14.5 2-point shots and made 60.2 percent of them. Right now, he’s averaging 15.9 2-point shots and making 59.8 percent of them. During his first season with the Heat, when he was 26 years old, 6.9 percent of all his shots were dunks. Twelve years later, it’s … 6.9 percent. Incomprehensible stuff.

West Backcourt Starters

Luka Doncic
Steph Curry

There are several West guards having unbelievable seasons. And then there’s Luka, whose name should be chiseled into every voter’s All-Star ballot through 2030, at the very least. He barely qualifies as human right now, dragging a depleted roster full of castoffs and one-dimensional role players to a winning record with indelible statistical outings that are virtually unprecedented.

He makes basketball feel theatrical. Every pick-and-roll is seemingly choreographed to result in a Mavericks shot that has a pretty good chance of going in. Every post up or isolation is a visceral experience. He’s either making a ridiculous shot look easy, drawing a foul, or whipping the ball to an open teammate with enough time and space to keep Dallas’s offense humming. Incredible player. Staggering season.

And then there’s everybody else. I went with Curry over Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Ja Morant for a few reasons, one being it felt dumb to punish an MVP candidate—who still can’t be counted out to win a third time—for missing 15 out of 46 games when the 31 he’s suited up for have featured him playing with the peak (or extremely close to it) preposterous dominance we’ve grown accustomed to.

Curry is still a work of science fiction, and his team still rises to a championship level when he’s on the court. The gravity, movement, and uncanny shotmaking are all still there. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game while making 58.7 percent of his 2-point shots and 41.7 percent behind the arc. (Curry is taking 6.4 pull-up 3s per game and drilling 46.9 percent, which might be the most ludicrous individual statistic in professional sports right now.)

There are very few All-Star candidates who can overcome a notable minute disadvantage and grab a starting spot over other works of genius. Curry sits atop that list though. If you’ve seen him play this season, you understand why.

West Frontcourt Reserves

Zion Williamson
Lauri Markkanen
Jaren Jackson Jr.

A hamstring injury has sidelined Zion for all but one game in January, limiting him to 956 minutes on the season. His defense remains a work in progress. He still gets beaten off the dribble on switches, and he’s still a step slow rotating over to help teammates who get beaten at the point of attack.

But for the purpose of selecting an All-Star team, the good greatly outweighs any concerns. As the franchise player on the team that’s hung around the top of the Western Conference all season, he has to be in. Every drawback in his game feels inconsequential when you watch what he does well. Williamson is a nimble cement truck, dexterous, dynamic, and dangerous. Truly great players can beat a flawless defense. They can spot the faintest crack on a door pane and barge right through it. This is Zion, who regularly pulverizes the most solid strategies.

Here he is staring down two of the best defenders in the league. Dillon Brooks forces Zion to his right as Jaren Jackson Jr. rotates over to protect the basket, fully vertical without fouling. It doesn’t matter. Zion still gets the ball back to his left hand in midair and finishes through the contact.

It came in a loss, but one of my favorite performances so far this season was Lauri Markkanen’s first game back in Chicago wearing a Jazz jersey. His numbers were good: an efficient 28 points, four boards, three assists, and three steals. What stood out, though, were the dunks. Lauri crammed it home eight times in 36 minutes. In the last 10 seasons, only seven players have ever finished with more in a single game. Up against the organization that drafted him and then let him walk for nothing, he became an exclamation point.

For the Bulls, it’s hard to know what hurts more: that they missed out on his All-Star rise or, due to their own internal warts, that they would never be able to foster an environment where this version of Markkanen could exist.

His fit in Utah is perfect. Lauri is a 3-point shooting giant who can create his own shot, fly off screens, and hold down several positions at the other end. The level of athleticism and skill in a body that massive is generational. His season has been a revelation for Utah, along with the very idea that it’s OK to be patient with outlandishly talented players who don’t solve various NBA puzzles right away.

Jackson Jr. is the most controversial selection here. He’s played fewer total minutes than Anthony Davis, only averaging 26.4 per game and missing the first month of the season. The case against him is straightforward. But after studying the other frontcourt options, so is the argument for including someone who’s been excellent on both ends and has several catchall metrics screaming as loud as they can to give this guy some love.

This is the most intimidating and influential defender in the NBA right now; his team is 21-8 when he starts, he ranks seventh in real plus-minus and 10th in estimated plus-minus, and he is having the most efficient season of his career by a significant margin. (His career PER coming into this season was 16.7. Right now, it’s 23.)

He gets the nod over AD because there’s no sign Jackson Jr. won’t continue to produce at this level for the foreseeable future. By the time All-Star Weekend rolls around, it may look silly to not have him there, particularly if he’s played a dozen more games than Zion. It also seems wrong to punish a championship contender’s second most important player. That last sentence can apply to someone like Aaron Gordon too. But Jackson Jr.’s presence has been transformative. He doesn’t need Ja Morant or Desmond Bane to renegotiate the rhythm of a game. That’s exactly what All-Stars do.

West Backcourt Reserves

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Ja Morant

Forgive the lack of detail here, but these two have had dazzling seasons so reverberant as to make a lengthy explanation redundant. They both average nearly 15 points per game in the paint, which leads all guards, and are relentless slaloms toward the rim that routinely push defenses to a breaking point they don’t come back from.

Morant’s singularity speaks for itself. His efficiency is down from last year (partly because his usage is up and his two most talented teammates have missed significant time). But even as someone launching 30.9 shots per 100 possessions this season—which is one of the 25 highest marks in NBA history—Morant’s imprint on the game transcends buckets or simple percentages. He’s in the conversation for the most riveting, unpredictable athlete of my lifetime, a nightly extravaganza full of viral dunks, whistling passes, and a general buzz that discourages anyone from blinking.

Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t dominate with the same bursts of athleticism. He’s slippery and agile, a threat with both hands in any direction, whether at full speed or a snail’s pace. SGA is averaging more than 30 points and 10 free throw attempts per game, making over half his shots from the field. The only guard in NBA history who hit those marks for an entire season was … Michael Jordan.

West Wild Cards

Damian Lillard
De’Aaron Fox

Dame is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career, a major bounce back from the abdominal injury that limited him to just 29 games last season. Along with a career-high usage, 3-point, and free throw rate, plus a near record true shooting percentage, Lillard’s 2-point field goal percentage has never been higher. He’s finishing at the rim and drilling the few midrange pull-ups he decides to launch every now and again. Last week he scored 170 points in a four-game stretch. What?!

Fox’s crunch-time numbers are old news, but that doesn’t make them any less astounding. He’s scored 108 points in 83 minutes. The only player who’s scored more is DeMar DeRozan. Meanwhile, 41 (!) players have logged more clutch minutes.

The knock on Fox has long been his faulty 3-point shot. He’s curbed that by cutting back on tricky pull-up attempts and instead dominating with a sly in-between game, finally blessed with enough space and intelligence to accentuate his speed and touch. There’s no stopping Fox one-on-one. His effective field goal percentage in isolation is 60.1, second only to Haliburton among all players with over 100 possessions. And among all players who’ve attempted at least 100 driving layups, nobody is more accurate.

It’s hard to ignore the context of where these numbers are coming from, finally helping turn the tide on a historically putrid team. Fox deserves some type of coronation, and there’s no good reason why the Kings don’t deserve more than one player suited up in Salt Lake City.

Apologies to Devin Booker, Paul George, Anthony Edwards, Jerami Grant, Aaron Gordon, Anthony Davis, @LakersFan82434, and Draymond Green.

Stats are current through Saturday’s games.