Analysis | NBA all-star reserves should be a mix of newcomers and old hands (2023)





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Newcomers didn’t stand a chance against the old guard when the NBA unveiled the All-Star Game starting lineups last week.

All 10 selections, voted on by the fans, players and select media members, had previously been named all-stars. In fact, the distinguished group, which was headlined by captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, included the MVP winner from 11 of the past 14 seasons.

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But there should be room for some new blood when the all-star reserves are selected by a coaches’ vote and announced Thursday. Thanks to a pair of major trades and several breakout campaigns, aspiring first-timers will almost certainly make the cut in both conferences.


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Here are The Washington Post’s selections for each conference’s seven all-star reserves, which consider individual statistics, availability and contribution to team success. Each conference’s reserve pool is made up of two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild card players who can play any position. All discrepancies between The Post’s all-star starters and the official selections have been noted below.

Eastern Conference frontcourt

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Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) and Julius Randle (New York Knicks)

How to treat Durant’s knee sprain, which has sidelined him for the past three weeks, was a matter of taste. The official selection process included Durant (29.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game) over Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid in the East’s starting lineup. On this ballot, Embiid’s forceful play over the past two months, including a 47-point explosion against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic on Saturday, earned him the starting nod over Durant.


Either way, Durant was a no-brainer selection after his MVP-caliber play got the Nets back on track after Steve Nash’s departure and Kyrie Irving’s antisemitism saga. If Durant is still sidelined for the All-Star Game on Feb. 19, look for Embiid to step into his starting spot.

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has been campaigning for Adebayo (21.4 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.2 apg), and for good reason. The skilled, two-way center hasn’t made the all-star team since 2020, but he’s averaging a career-high in points and captaining a fifth-ranked defense. Miami has worked its way into the East’s top six seeds after a 7-11 start to the season, and Adebayo has been their most reliable piece, posting team-highs in total minutes, points, rebounds and blocks.

Randle (24.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4 apg) has been riding the roller coaster, following a strong 2020-21 season with a dreadful 2021-22 campaign. New York’s scoring-minded forward is peaking again, posting a career-high in Player Efficiency Rating. Though Randle’s outside shooting numbers are slightly down from two years ago, he’s found a workable balance with new point guard Jalen Brunson and the Knicks are above .500.

Eastern Conference backcourt

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Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers) and James Harden (Philadelphia 76ers)


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The 22-year-old Haliburton (20.2 ppg, 4 rpg, 10.2 apg) is deserving of being the only first-time selection among East players on this ballot because his breakthrough third season has been a revelation for Indiana. Acquired from the Sacramento Kings at last year’s trade deadline, Haliburton has thrived as the conductor of the Pacers’ offense. The Iowa State product is second in the NBA in assists per game, averaging a career-high in scoring and shooting an excellent 39.9 percent on three-pointers despite garnering plenty of attention from opposing defenses. Remarkably, Indiana is 22-18 with Haliburton and just 2-10 when he’s been sidelined.

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While Irving landed a starting spot on the official ballot, the Nets guard was left off this ballot entirely due to his disruptive presence and inexcusable behavior, which culminated in a lengthy team suspension. Instead, Harden (21.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 11.2 apg), Irving’s former teammate, claimed the final guard spot. Still a capable scorer at age 33, Harden has shifted into a distribution-minded role in Philadelphia. That adjustment has been crucial to Philadelphia’s recent success, as it has allowed Embiid to thrive in an offense that ranks fifth leaguewide, up from 11th last season.

Eastern Conference wild cards

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Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors) and Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat)


Siakam (25.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.4 apg) has been a rare bright spot for the Raptors, whose inability to generate efficient offense has sent them tumbling down the standings. While Siakam is one of many Toronto rotation players struggling to shoot the three, he does just about everything else at a high level while leading the NBA in minutes per game for the second straight season. A stubborn scorer, versatile defender and willing passer, Siakam would greatly benefit from another backcourt ballhandler to help set him up.

Since his 2019 arrival in Miami, Butler (21.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.9 apg) has been an on-again, off-again all-star due to injury issues. When healthy, though, the strong-minded forward has been one of the East’s top performers, leading Miami to the 2020 Finals and the 2022 East finals. A proven scorer with a sledgehammer style on offense, Butler secured the final spot on this ballot because he is a higher-impact defender than the other top candidates.

Toughest snubs: DeMar DeRozan, Darius Garland, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young

Western Conference frontcourt

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Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers) and Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)


The official vote handed a starting spot to New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who was snubbed on this ballot in favor of Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis because Williamson has played only 29 games and won’t be returning from a hamstring injury any time soon. Despite a shallow pool of talent in the West’s frontcourt, Williamson was ultimately left off this ballot entirely to help accommodate the many deserving backcourt candidates.

Markkanen (24.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 apg) has proved to be one of the biggest winners from the 2022 offseason, as a trade from Cleveland to Utah installed him as the No. 1 option in a well-spaced and entertaining attack. The Jazz has gradually slipped down the standings after a scorching start, but Markkanen has remained an ultraefficient alpha scorer with impressive shooting splits of 52 percent from the field, 43.3 percent on three-pointers and 87 percent on free throws.

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It’s easy to take George (23.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.3 apg) for granted. His numbers are well off his career-best marks from five years ago, he’s missed a good chunk of time due to injuries and Kawhi Leonard’s spotty availability has kept the Clippers off the radar. Still, the 32-year-old forward deserves his first all-star nod since 2021, as the Clippers have worked their way up to the West’s fourth seed thanks in part to his steady all-around contributions. A so-so year from George is better than most players’ best work.


Including Davis (26.7 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.6 apg) was this year’s toughest decision given the Lakers’ poor record and the fact that he has played only 27 games due to a foot injury. While Davis and Williamson are comparable as scorers, Davis is a much better defender and he grades out more favorably by advanced statistics such as Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus. The final tiebreaker: Davis returned from injury last week while Williamson remains sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Western Conference backcourt

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Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Doncic (33 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 8.4 apg) was named to the West’s starting lineup, though he was bumped to a reserve spot in favor of Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant on this ballot. With MVP-caliber production and with his Dallas team in the thick of the West’s playoff chase, the Slovenian guard was an obvious selection. Indeed, Doncic and Morant were both more deserving starters than Williamson, but there was only one other guard spot behind Stephen Curry due to the ballot’s positional designations.


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Gilgeous-Alexander (30.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.6 apg) isn’t just a deserving first-time all-star, he’s this season’s breakout star. A natural scorer with excellent ballhandling skills and the ability to effortlessly change speeds, Gilgeous-Alexander has turned the rebuilding Thunder into one of the NBA’s biggest overachievers. Even without 2022 No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren or a proven secondary scorer to lighten his load, Gilgeous-Alexander has ranked in the top five in scoring while posting 51/37/91 shooting splits.

Western Conference wild cards

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Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) and Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)

There are a host of deserving guard candidates to fill out the roster, but Lillard (30.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 7.3 apg) shouldn’t be penalized for Portland’s shaky January. Lillard, who missed most of last season with an abdominal injury, reminded everyone that he is still an all-NBA caliber scorer when he poured in 60 points against the Jazz last week. It’s fair to wonder how many more all-star selections are in Lillard’s future given that he’s 32 years old and the Blazers seem to be spinning their wheels. Even so, Dame Time hasn’t run out yet.


This final selection is a tip of the hat to Booker (27.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.6 apg), who was sensational before a groin injury sidelined him in mid-December. While availability typically is a key deciding factor on this ballot, Booker was playing at a higher level than Davis or Williamson when he was healthy and he had clearly supplanted Chris Paul as the Suns’ franchise player. With Booker, Phoenix was 18-11 and cruising near the top of the West standings. Without him, the Suns have gone 8-14 and plunged into the play-in mix.

If Booker isn’t healthy for the All-Star Game, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox or Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon would be worthy replacements. Both have enjoyed strong and consistent seasons for winning teams.

Toughest snubs: De’Aaron Fox, Aaron Gordon, Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson


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