What’s up, Mafia! I’ve put together a little breakdown of today’s All-Star game. Enjoy!!
Because this is a collection of ridiculously good basketball players all in one game, we have a situation tonight where pretty much any guy has the capacity to do well relative to his salary.
Last year, for instance, it would have been very difficult to predict that it would be Kawhi Leonard dropping 30 points and winning the MVP on a team loaded with LeBron James, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Anthony Davis.
Or that Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul and Rudy Gobert would come off the bench and do big damage and not one of the other 11 incredibly talented bench guys in the game. There’s just a lot of randomness to the All-Star game and it’s best to know that going in.
Overall, I view this as a spot to throw together a lineup or two based on the best information available and to plop down, enjoy the game and get a little sweat. If you’re looking to do any heavy lifting, I’d consider waiting until the regular season fires back up – it won’t be long.
Also, if there ever was a time to listen to that little voice inside your head, to “follow your gut,” this would be it!
For the second year in a row, they will be using the “Elam” ending, which was a huge hit across the board and made the fourth quarter as intense as we’ve ever seen in an event that we typically think of as a bunch of incredible basketball players playing pick-up on vacation.
For those that don’t know, the “Elam” ending means that the game, for all intents and purposes, is played normally through the first three quarters, but at the start of the fourth quarter, the game clock is turned off (the shot clock remains) and a target score is created.
The target score becomes 24 points – in honor of Kobe Bryant (24 was one of his jersey numbers) – added to whichever team has the highest score at the end of the third. Last year, Team Giannis was leading 133-124 at the end of the third, so the target score became 157. And it set up for a thrilling comeback from Team LeBron, who ended up outscoring Team Giannis 33-22 in the fourth and winning 157-155.
We had Kyle Lowry staring down death by attempting to take a charge against a full-speed LeBron and Giannis diving out of bounds after a loose ball a la Dennis Rodman. The greatest players in the world were legit playing playing and not just for 30 seconds or a minute at the very end of the game, they were going at it for an entire quarter. It was pretty awesome.
The one thing to keep in mind is that the death of Kobe Bryant was fresh on everyone’s minds and that may have heightened the atmosphere and intensity last year beyond anything we can expect for this year. But I still think “Elam” is a great fit and as long as the score is reasonably close heading into the fourth, we should expect some competitive ball beyond what we’ve seen in the past.
The NBA and Adam Silver have taken a lot of heat for having an ASG at all during the pandemic, and things have gotten off to a rough start with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being ruled out due to contact tracing.
There is no plan to replace either of them so late in the game, which means both teams will be down to 11 players.
Zion Williamson will start in place of Embiid for Team Durant.
In addition, Paul George was held out of last Thursday’s regular season game with dizziness. This is difficult to evaluate because we don’t know the extent of what he’s dealing with. If it was really bad or even moderately bad, he would already be ruled out of this “meaningless” game. As of now, he’s playing in the game, but we don’t know if he’ll be in any way limited.
Starters: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, Luka Doncic and Nik Jokic
Bench: Damian Lillard, Jaylen Brown, Rudy Gobert, Paul George, Chris Paul, Domantas Sabonis
There is A LOT of star power in that starting lineup. The focus will largely be on the first three guys – LeBron, Giannis and Steph – and there’s really not a lot to say about any of them beyond we know they’re great and any one of them can go off.
LeBron and Giannis in particular are both safe plays, but I have a little bit of a sneaking suspicion that after missing last year’s game, Steph might try to come out and put on a show. He’s obviously got the amazing three-point upside. But, really, that’s just a little gut call and nothing else.
As for Luka and Jokic…Luka started in last year’s game and took a backseat to the insane talent around him. We all know how great he is, but he’s also used to having the ball in his hands a lot and that’s unlikely to happen with this group.
Jokic has a couple ASG appearances under his belt but has never played much beyond 11-12 minutes, though he’s also never been a starter before. We typically hope for rebounding from our big guys but Giannis, LeBron and Luka are really, really strong rebounders so doesn’t seem like a lot of upside in that department for Jokic.
Both Luka and Jokic are ways to get different with your lineups but they are also playing with three guys who shine very bright.
Over the past three ASG’s, every single player who has come off the bench for either team and played 20+ minutes – which is nine different players – has been either a guard or a wing player. No big guy has seen 20+ minutes off the bench.
This year with one fewer player for each team, there’s going to be at least a little extra time to go around. It’s just hard to say how that will be dispersed. That said, I’d still tend to lean towards guards off the bench over big guys, though, as I’ll mention below, I think there’s at least a case to be made for Gobert to pick up a little extra time.
LeBron, Giannis and Steph are pretty much locks to finish a close game, while with Luka it’s kind of up in the air, and with Jokic it’s pretty unlikely.
The best bets off the bench for extended run are probably Paul, who saw 25 minutes last year and finished the game, or Lillard, who is a big-time shot maker and closer. Paul George is a candidate as well, though he had the dizziness spell recently and we don’t quite know where he’s at.
Basically everyone is viable in this situation so Brown and Sabonis are ways to get different. Brown is a first time all star, which tends to work against players. Beyond that, there’s really nothing that stands out about these two. Like everyone else, they are fully capable of putting up a good line, it’s just tough to predict if either of them will get enough run to make it happen.
One final thing is that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were dissed pretty hard in the selection process. They were picked dead last in the schoolyard style of the “Captains pick the teams,” and that had to have stung, especially as the Jazz carry the best record in the NBA into the All-Star break.
Interestingly, Quin Snyder is the coach of the Utah Jazz and also the coach of Team LeBron, and Gobert is on Team LeBron. In the past, it’s been tough for big guys to get playing time off the bench in the ASG, but maybe this is a spot where Snider throws Gobert a bone and gives him some extra time? Who knows, seems possible.
Starters: Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal
Bench: James Harden, Zach LaVine, Donovan Mitchell, Nik Vucevic, Julius Randle, Mike Conley
Embiid has been having an incredible season and has been pushing hard for MVP consideration. I really thought he would have a big game today so it’s disappointing to not see him in the lineup.
Zion will likely be very chalky. As the fill-in starter, he’s very cheap and he makes it easy to pay up for star power, especially on the Team LeBron side where we have LeBron, Giannis and Steph. Zion is pretty much built for the All-Star Game. He can get to the basket at will, is a nightmare in transition and he’s a highlight waiting to happen.
However, he’s also a first time all star – it can be tough for first timers to get playing time – and he’s also sharing the court with four other players who like to have the ball in their hands.
If you wanted to get off the chalk and get a little different, a guy like Julius Randle off the bench could be an interesting pivot, though he too is a first time all star. However, he’s near min price and should have very little ownership. There’s some risk there with the playing time, but he’s got some guard-like skills, is a terrific rebounder and he’s never been shy about looking for his offense.
Kyrie has a strong track record in the ASG and might fly under the radar a little bit. Like Steph, he missed the game a year ago and could have a little extra motivation to show out today. He’s also one of the cheaper starters on DK.
Really though, what do you say about a guy like Kyrie? He’s an insanely talented offensive player who can go nuts at any time. Whether that happens tonight or whether instead it’s similarly talented offensive beasts like James Harden, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, etc, etc, is really difficult to say. There’s just so much randomness here.
Harden is coming off the bench, but is really a kind of de facto starter. I’d expect him to play 20+ minutes here and to be out there in the fourth quarter closing things out. Kyrie and Kawhi are also likely to be out there finishing things, while Beal is the next most likely for me, followed by Tatum and Zion.
Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell both have that quality where they can get buckets in a hurry, especially LaVine. They are certainly in play here and we know that Mitchell might have a little extra chip on his shoulder going in.
Mike Conley is filling in for Devin Booker. He’s a first time all star after 14 years in the league. Pretty fantastic story.
Lastly, Nik Vucevic isn’t what we’d typically think of as a great fit in the all star game. He was stuck on the bench in his other lone appearance and, to me, of all the players in the game, he’s the least likely to go off.
And now that I’ve said that, he’ll probably do just that because that’s the All-Star game for ya!
Enjoy the game, everybody, and best of luck!