Selecting 24 All-Stars in a season that has close to 40 deserving All-Stars is a cruel task. Several awesome players will be left off. Only a few names are unimpeachable. Long debates are necessary, as the NBA abandons its draft format and mercifully returns to the East-vs.-West format.
I have no hard and fast rules with these selections. It’s a general blend of statistical analysis and eye-test evaluation, topped off with a spritz of gut feel and personal preference. (Every team is subjective, to a point.) Winning matters, but isn’t the end-all, be-all. We’re judging individual achievement, and sometimes it makes no sense to punish an exceptional player who’s doing all he can to lift a flawed roster. At the same time, positive contributions that can’t be quantified merit recognition when made in a competitive setting. So far as total minutes go, the number of games missed by any player is used more as a tiebreaker between two résumés that are too close to call.
With those criteria out of the way, and the NBA set to reveal the All-Star Game’s starters on Thursday, here’s who I think most warrants a trip to Indianapolis next month, including the 10 starters who appeared on my official ballot.
Backcourt Starter: Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
It’s hard to find any precedent for Haliburton’s exhilarating season. The 23-year-old is responsible for conducting a hydraulic-powered offense unlike any the NBA has ever seen. Behind his 23.6 points and league-high 12.6 assists per game, Indiana’s offensive rating is 125.3 when Haliburton is on the court. No other player who’s appeared in at least 20 games sits above that number.
Unsurprisingly, Haliburton ranks first in offensive estimated plus-minus and, in a hypothetical world in which Nikola Jokic doesn’t exist, would be the easy answer to “Who most allows his teammates to be the best version of themselves?”
Haliburton’s in-season tournament run endeared him to anyone who wasn’t paying attention to the Pacers. He probably cemented a spot in the All-Star Game’s starting lineup once he carried Indy to the final. Then he had a couple of 20-point, 20-assist performances a few weeks later and the word “probably” removed itself from the last sentence. The playmaking is effervescent. But even if he didn’t lead the NBA in assist rate by a significant margin, his shooting is enough to ensure All-Star consideration. Put in context, Haliburton launches more off-the-dribble 3-pointers per game than Steph Curry and makes 39.1 percent of them (which is also more than Steph Curry). Try to take those stepbacks away, and he’s blowing by you, cashing a floater. A near-perfect point guard.
Backcourt Starter: Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
The other starting backcourt spot is incredibly difficult to decide. Respectable cases can be made for Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Tyrese Maxey, or Trae Young. All are having comparably productive seasons in very different situations. I went with Brunson, who’s spent the first few months of this season further establishing himself as an efficient, shifty, and consistent first option on an offense that functions at a top-five level when he’s on the floor.
Brunson’s responsibilities are enormous. His on-ball percentage (a.k.a. the percentage of time he has the ball in his hands when on the court) is 43.2 percent, trailing only Haliburton, Young, and Luka Doncic.
He runs a ton of pick-and-rolls, rarely turns it over, stays engaged off the ball, and is launching a career-high 6.7 3s per game while making a career-high 42.7 percent of them. Defense is not his calling card, but Brunson willingly puts himself in harm’s way as much as anyone, drawing a league-high 23 charges.
Brunson was already doing a lot of this last season, but the highs just feel higher this year. He’s already scored at least 30 points in 15 games, compared to 17 all of last season. The degree of difficulty, against teams that are now entirely focused on slowing Brunson down, seems higher, too. With a perfect mix of patience and acceleration, he has answers for everything. Look at this play against Jaden McDaniels and Rudy Gobert, a disruptive defensive duo that lives to vacuum seal any and every pick-and-roll:
Brunson plays the two defenders perfectly. After McDaniels cuts off the initial dribble handoff, the Wolves try to ice Brunson to the sideline and funnel him toward Gobert. Brunson refuses to partake by using Isaiah Hartenstein’s pick and, ever so slightly, pushing McDaniels back to create enough separation for a rescreen that removes the All-Defensive team candidate from the play. From there, coming downhill with his dominant hand and unleashing a slick in-and-out dribble that nearly knocks Gobert over, Minnesota “forces” a shot it’s thrilled with 99 times out of 100. Brunson is the exception, though.
These subtle battles within the game are what make New York’s best player so special. All that work just to take—and make—an extremely difficult floater over the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. It’s gorgeous. Altogether, Brunson’s career year does more than just justify the contract New York gave him two years ago. It makes him the best bargain in the NBA.
Frontcourt Starter: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Frontcourt Starter: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Frontcourt Starter: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
There’s not a lot that needs to be written about this trio, so let’s just lump them together. They’re all multiple-time All-NBA superstars who’ve done a fantastic job of adapting to major changes within their own organizations. Embiid no longer has James Harden yet is even better than he was when last season’s assist leader fed him open shots. Giannis is developing offensive chemistry with Lillard while trying to make up for the loss of Jrue Holiday’s defense. Tatum had to cut his shots and usage on a revamped roster that demands sacrifice. All are MVP candidates. All shine on both ends. All are on the short list of names who can headline a title team.
Backcourt Reserve: Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
Whether he’s driving a closeout, floating in transition, rejecting a screen, or curling off a wide pindown, the court is char underneath Maxey’s feet. The word “unguardable” can be used to describe almost everyone in this article. It’s more than apt with Maxey, in so many different ways. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, and his constant movement combines with Philly’s spacing to put never-ending pressure on all five defenders—a huge reason Sixers head coach Nick Nurse plays him a league-high 37.6 minutes per game
His throw-and-chase game tends to crack a defense that suddenly feels one step slow:
Even though his 3-point percentage has dipped from last season, defenses remain frazzled about Maxey’s outside shot. It’s too chaotic to neutralize, whether Embiid is on the court or not. When bigs step out to squeeze Maxey on the perimeter, it’s like watching someone chase a butterfly with chopsticks. Drop coverage isn’t a viable workaround, either. Maxey was very good before this season started. Now, on his way to what will almost definitely be a Most Improved Player win, he’s a full-blown star.
Backcourt Reserve: Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mitchell is an obvious choice, too, producing a carbon copy of what he did last year, except without Darius Garland and Evan Mobley for half the season. Only seven players are averaging more points or have a higher usage rate. He’s second in steals and 11th in PER. And, in a lot of ways, as trade rumors swirl, he has helped rescue the Cavaliers from what could’ve been a cataclysmic season.
Frontcourt Reserve: Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
An offensive leap is undeniable. After averaging 15 points in his first two seasons, Barnes is up to 20 this season, with a refined and confident 3-point shot, in a system that takes advantage of his unteachable intuition. His true usage percentage is up nearly 5 percentage points, which is one of the biggest increases in the league. If Barnes ever becomes a top-10 player, he’ll be one of the selfless variety, content with touch passing his teammates into advantages that benefit the whole:
Watch this play below, in which Scottie sprints to the opposite block after a free throw, establishes deep post position, then discombobulates Sacramento’s defense before they know what hit them:
That stuff is wonderful to see. But Barnes’s defense is why he’s an All-Star. How many players can be credibly asked to check more positions? (Barnes ranks first in BBall-Index’s positional versatility metric.) How many can bother more electric scorers in crunch time? Every ingredient to crack an All-Defensive team is there: He’s big, long, strong, quick, and communicative. He’ll let his man get to the rim and then violently spike their layup off the backboard. He’ll randomly spring a double-team on someone who isn’t expecting it and force a turnover.
There’s a method behind the madness. Barnes is instinctive and tireless, a vital combination. Effort is never an issue. He stunts to cut off drives and then, recovering back to his man, sprints into closeouts. Anthony Davis is the only other player with 50 blocks and 50 steals this season, and according to Synergy, opponents are shooting only 47.5 percent at the rim when Barnes is involved (the league average is 66 percent):
By trading away OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors declared that they’ve seen enough. The 22-year-old Barnes, who leads the NBA in fourth-quarter minutes, is their future. Every decision that’s made must now be in his best interest, which makes sense. He’s a two-way phenom.
Frontcourt Reserve: Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
After a bumpy start adjusting to new teammates with All-Star chops, Brown has settled into a tapered role. He’s averaging 22.8 points, with about the same true shooting percentage as last year, when he was second-team All-NBA. Despite taking several shots that are a hair too bold every game, Brown is fourth in points per touch out of 100 players who average at least 50 per game, right in front of stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul George, Kevin Durant, and Antetokounmpo.
Much of this is due to Brown’s live-wire effect in the open floor, where he’s tied for a league-high 7.9 points per game in transition. He rarely takes his foot off the gas, with enough touch, muscle, and athleticism to justify his aggression on a great offense that’s even more effective at a higher tempo:
As the second-leading scorer on a team that’s held the Eastern Conference’s best record since November 14, Brown belongs here. He’s a plus defender, increasingly reliable pick-and-roll playmaker, and explosive three-level finisher. Boston wouldn’t be the same without him.
Frontcourt Reserve: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Bam’s defense is the personification of versatility, grit, and resilience. He may go his entire career without ever winning Defensive Player of the Year—a basketball tragedy if it happens—but should be remembered as someone who helped define what was valuable in the generation in which he thrived. This season, in depleted lineups that ask so much of him, Adebayo functions in whatever form Erik Spoelstra needs him to. He anchors the Heat’s zone. He switches on the perimeter. He drops to protect the paint and prevent mismatches elsewhere. The Heat allow a stifling 110.2 points per 100 possessions when Adebayo is on the court, which is a mark bested only by the Timberwolves this season.
It’s comedic whenever someone tries to take Adebayo one-on-one, especially as a last resort. Watch Nic Claxton desperately look around for someone to come up for a dribble handoff as the shot clock winds down. When he realizes that isn’t happening, his body collides with Bam’s and all progress comes to a screeching halt. Miami wins the possession:
What’s most impressive about Adebayo this season is how he continues to evolve on offense without losing a step on the other end. Necessity is the mother of invention. Thanks to a slew of injuries to Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, and several others, Adebayo has often found himself thrust into an expanded scoring role, forced to develop his individual attack. As a shotmaker, he’s money from the floater zone (non-restricted area of the paint), where only Jokic averages more than Bam’s 3.4 made buckets per game. The range is a bit longer this year, though. His 4.0 midrange attempts more than double last season’s 1.8 per game.
He’s more of a hub now, too. This season, 32.9 percent of Adebayo’s offensive possessions end with him shooting, passing, drawing a foul, or committing a turnover out of a post-up. That’s a huge jump from last year’s 19.2 percent. Everyone knows Bam loves to go middle and get to that soft jumper near the dotted line. The thing is, Bam also knows everyone knows he loves to go middle and get to his soft jumper near the dotted line:
You can make an argument for someone else here. Adebayo’s efficiency is down, and his on/off numbers are gunk. The Heat function as a 36-win team when he’s on the court; he’s -108 in the fourth quarter, which ranks 528th out of 530 total players. But it’s easy to ignore all of that when you just watch him play. The 22 points, 11 boards, and four assists he averages barely capture the myriad contributions consistently made on a team that refuses to fade so long as he’s everywhere, doing everything.
Wild Card: Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s still a little strange watching Lillard on a team that doesn’t belong to him. Dame’s duties have been rearranged in Milwaukee. Among players who’ve logged at least 1,000 minutes this season, only Jrue Holiday (lol) has seen a greater drop in their true usage rate from last season. It’s not a bad thing. Sacrifice was predictable. But it is magnified on a franchise that wakes up every day with much higher stakes than the one he just left.
Lillard’s averaging 25.5 points and 6.9 assists per game. That’s nice on its own but fails to fully capture his nerve-racking range or timely shotmaking. Lillard is an escape hatch for an offense that desperately needed someone to pull it out of the mud in tight spots. His 98 points in crunch time trails only Steph Curry, and his 43 free throws trail nobody. Lillard is also a crunch-time-best plus-64.
His defense is a trainwreck, and the Bucks have just an average offense when he’s on the court without Antetokounmpo, but Lillard is still one of the top five guards in the East, without question.
Wild Card: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
I’m not indifferent to Young’s various flaws. His discouraging defensive impact, inane turnovers, and placid off-ball approach handicap a team that, for the first time, is better when he’s on the bench. Atlanta stinks bad enough to make the calls for a breakup louder than ever.
All of that is true. But so is this: Young is one of the three best passers in the NBA, a pick-and-roll maestro whose 61.4 true usage percentage ranks second only behind Doncic. Young leads the league in total assists. He has 98 of them in the fourth quarter—nobody else has more than 75; only Giannis has tallied more points. Even if his true shooting percentage is slightly below league average, I just can’t ignore the true wizardry that’s repeatedly on display when Atlanta plays. Every week, he makes half a dozen passes that should have their clips auctioned off at Sotheby’s. Call me a sucker—which, fair!—but Trae is very good.
Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Pascal Siakam, Indiana Pacers
Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
Derrick White, Boston Celtics
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets
Backcourt Starter: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Backcourt Starter: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
It’s hard to make an original statement about SGA or Luka. If you know who they are, then you know they are obvious All-Star starters. Gilgeous-Alexander now owns the most deceptive pump-fake in the NBA, a distinction previously held by DeMar DeRozan. Doncic is a crackerjack offensive threat who’s now also trying on the other end. Both score at will and are able to create wide-open shots for their teammates whenever opponents put two on the ball. Both have total command of the action, manipulating time, angles, and every pick-and-roll coverage that currently exists.
Doncic is averaging 33.6 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.3 rebounds, making 37.6 percent of his 10.4 3-point attempts per game. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.1 points, 6.3 assists, and a league-leading 2.2 steals per game. He’s driven the ball over 200 more times than any other player (yes, it’s true). Here’s a short list of things that are easier than staying in front of SGA when he has a live dribble: trigonometry, pinky push-ups, and explaining the Curse finale to someone who’s never seen the show.
For these two guard spots, no debates are necessary right now. Gilgeous-Alexander is 25. Doncic will turn 25 in February. There’s a good chance we haven’t seen the best either has to offer. Heaven help us.
Frontcourt Starter: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
With all due respect to LeBron James, Davis has been the primary concern when you go against L.A. since the bubble. He leads the scouting report, forcing constant adjustments and questions few teams are prepared to answer. How can we keep him off the glass and limit second-chance opportunities and easy putbacks? Do we utilize bigger lineups that aren’t part of our normal rotation? Only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson average more points in the paint. When they toss it to AD in the post, will we double on the catch, wait for him to put it on the deck, or let him attack single coverage? He’s generating 1.13 points per possession on post-ups that include a pass, which, out of 28 players who’ve logged at least 100 plays, trails only Jokic, Embiid, and Kristaps Porzingis.
On defense: Where is he? How will we not let those long arms disrupt our sets? Can we afford to use a non-shooter who lets Davis protect the rim, even if said non-shooter is needed for paint battles on the other end?
Most teams that answer that last question with a “no” tend to suffer for it.
Davis is a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate despite misleading on/off statistics that are skewed by some terrible 3-point luck and a cast of one-way teammates who ball watch, get burned off the dribble, make him slide out of position to put out a fire they started (and then not box out), and jog back in transition without purpose. (Look how good the Lakers defense is when Davis is on the court without Austin Reaves.) AD is dominant. Hopefully the Lakers don’t take it for granted.
Frontcourt Starter: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jokic is the best player alive and, in my opinion, the clear MVP. Every pass he makes is like an investment in his teammates’ emotional well-being. Everyone around him is happy in whatever role they have because they know they’re always one cut or screen away from Jokic leading them into an open shot. Fun!
Frontcourt Starter: Kawhi Leonard, L.A. Clippers
Is Kawhi once again the most complete and imposing forward in the world? Tatum and Butler have a case, but there are many nights when the answer is a yes. His shotmaking is uncanny. His decisions are careful. Leonard’s true shooting percentage is currently a career high, and his turnover rate is a career low. Of the 100 players who average at least 50 touches per game, the two-time Finals MVP trails only Embiid and Lauri Markkanen in points per touch.
If not for “only” making 87.7 percent of his free throws, Leonard would crack the elusive 50/40/90 club this season. Even more impressive? Since December 1, he’s shooting 81 percent at the rim, 52 percent from the midrange, and 49 percent behind the arc. It’s like watching a machine reach the final stages of trial and error as it’s tuned to perfection. A precise mix of comfort, restraint, and confidence is on display every night. The game is easy. When Leonard gets to his spot—which he’s strong and fast enough to do pretty much whenever he wants—all a defender can do is pray.
This all helps explain why, whenever Leonard is in a position to go one-on-one, panic sets in for opponents. He’s generating 1.21 points per possession on isolation plays that include a pass, per Synergy, the most among the 53 players who’ve logged at least 75 such plays.
In a recent win over the Thunder, the Clippers were intentional about getting Leonard the ball in spots that made the defense sweat. Each time, he responded to OKC’s reaction by making the right pass, single-handedly creating scoring chances that Paul George benefited from the most:
Defensively, Leonard’s hands are still a Venus flytrap. His shoulders make David Byrne blush. His proximity deters hope. And he can guard anyone from Zion to Gilgeous-Alexander to Durant. There are no weaknesses here.
Backcourt Reserve: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
I went into detail about Fox’s remarkable season a couple of weeks back. He’s evolved offensively and brings it on the other end. Sacramento’s recent woes—it’s lost four straight games and has three more wins this season than its negative point differential suggests it should—are not on him.
Backcourt Reserve: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
It’s not that it doesn’t matter how crappy Curry’s team has been or that the Warriors are more effective when he’s on the bench for the first time ever. But for the process of selecting a dozen deserving players in the Western Conference, not including Curry would be incorrect. He’s one of the 15 greatest players ever, still averaging a flammable 26.7 points per game, making 39.7 percent of the 11.4 3s he jacks up every night, and operating with a true shooting percentage and usage rate that are on par with his career average.
It’s not Curry’s fault that Golden State’s defense is wretched or that Draymond Green was suspended multiple times for fighting other players or that Andrew Wiggins’s PER is below 10. The team is old, inconsistent, slow, and injured, and it would completely fall apart without him. His gravity is still second to none. Coming off a screen or dribble handoff, he’s still the most dangerous player alive. He’s still top 10 in offensive estimated plus-minus. And even if you wanted to craft an argument for including him, not that he needs it, that essentially boiled down to “Come on, it’s Steph Curry,” that would be perfectly acceptable.
Frontcourt Reserve: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Frontcourt Reserve: Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns
Much like Curry, LeBron and KD will almost definitely be All-Stars until they retire. Both have been good enough to start. Both are age-defying, highly efficient icons fighting to lift deeply flawed and injured supporting casts from mediocrity. James and Durant are still incredible, whether you’re comparing them to their physical primes or every other player in the 2023-24 season.
Frontcourt Reserve: Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
Gobert is the spinal cord of this season’s top defense, anchoring a tortured franchise that’s had the best record in the West for two straight months.
There are 127 players who’ve defended at least 100 shots at the rim this season, and the 50.5 shooting percentage Gobert allows is fifth lowest among them. As a deterrent, his on/off impact with regard to how frequently opponents get a shot off at the rim ranks in the 99th percentile. When it comes to accuracy, he’s in the 90th percentile. It’s a game-changing smog and a franchise-altering impact.
Gobert hasn’t become any more polished on offense, but on those special occasions when Minnesota doesn’t ignore him in the post and feeds him the ball, Rudy produces. The guy is strong, with a competent drop step and the ability to bully his way to a bucket. But the Timberwolves don’t need some grand evolution from their starting center. They’re content with Gobert setting a ton of screens (the flares for Karl-Anthony Towns are money), catching a bunch of lobs, back-tapping missed shots, drawing fouls, and making free throws. Everything else is gravy.
Wild Card: Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
There aren’t many stars more malleable than Markkanen, a 7-footer who launches a near-league-high 7.5 catch-and-shoot 3s per game and drills over 40 percent of them. His skill set is a firm handshake with just about any lineup, running just about any system. Few players have had a more positive impact on their team this season, and the only All-Stars who rank above Markkanen in net point differential are Antetokounmpo and Jokic. Since he was traded to the Cavaliers, Lauri has ensured a 50-win trajectory when on the court. He’s sixth in offensive estimated plus-minus, and the top five players are all MVP candidates.
The Jazz do a fantastic job of maximizing Markkanen’s strengths. The only players who finish more of their team’s possessions coming off a screen are Curry and Klay Thompson. Again, we’re talking about a 7-footer who warps any defense in a variety of ways, be it off flares, wide pindowns, or stagger aways. His release is quick and high enough to make most contests irrelevant. Things get unfair when he shows off his power and agility in the paint against just about any rim protector:
Gravity is priceless. Stars who can positively affect the game without the ball in their hands are invaluable. Even though Markkanen doesn’t have a ton of assists, defenses are drawn wherever he goes. Whether he’s setting a back pick, cutting from the slot, or slip-screening behind the 3-point line, he’s the priority, opening up the floor for everyone else to take advantage:
Utah isn’t contending for a title with Markkanen as its best player, but I’m increasingly convinced he’s already the perfect second fiddle, a jewel that shines while taking nothing off the table. Markkanen doesn’t turn it over or record scratch possessions by hogging the ball. His presence is priceless, ever accentuating. Leaving him off the All-Star team just doesn’t sit right, even if a terrific case could be made for some other amazing players on the outside looking in.
Wild Card: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
We can talk about Edwards’s incomparable ability to turn the paint into a runway and body that’s seemingly resistant to gravity. We can talk about how he excels in the fourth quarter, boasting the second-highest usage rate among all players who’ve appeared in at least 20 fourth quarters this season—and a 62.7 true shooting percentage! We can talk about his incremental progress as a passer, knowing noticeable strides in this area can lead to legitimate MVP contention.
We can talk about the early stages of an intriguing post game that will someday bring every other guard in the NBA to their knees. We can also zoom out and make a basic statement that sums up his ascent: Edwards is the best player on a no. 1 seed.
What I would like to talk about instead is Edwards’s defense. There are still some brain farts and reckless gambles. But the highs are high. They’re also more frequent, and, despite not being one of the two best defenders in his own team’s starting lineup, Edwards is a huge reason Minnesota’s defense is a stone wall.
All the physical traits are there for Edwards to be a perennial lock for an All-Defensive team. Solid base, strong hands, fast feet, and a competitive edge that welcomes all challengers. What he does to Kawhi on this play is a small miracle:
If you’re bringing the ball up the court, Edwards isn’t interested in meeting you at the 3-point line. Those pickup points set a tone. There’s no fear of a blow-by. Watch him humble Kyrie Irving on this play:
There are still plenty of areas where Edwards needs to improve. His shot selection can be sharper, and his turnovers—on a team that ranks 28th in turnover rate—are, on occasion, Minnesota’s Achilles’ heel. But Edwards’s peak, on both ends, is as high as almost anyone’s.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Honorable mentions (deep breath):
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs