As the fan and media voting ended last weekend, it is time for us to share with you the AfroBallers All-Star nominees!
In spite of the fact that we still put a lot of value in winning, we give more leniency in that for All-Star teams. Being selected to the All-Star Game is less legacy defining than All NBA selections and it is a mid-season celebration for the fans, rather than an end of the season valuation of the players’ performances.
With no further ado, we present to you the 2021-2022 All-Star Starters!
The West has exactly the opposite scenario to what happened in the East – where the backcourt was loaded and the frontcourt was a very straight-forward selection.
There are 5 forwards/centers that have built a compelling case for themselves as starters – Draymond Green, LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. There are only 3 starting spots. In deciding who should start, I weighed less than usual their teams’ winning % to value a bit more the individual stats and overall showmanship of each player.
Backcourt: Ja Morant
Whichever way you look at Ja’s season, he is a starter.
If team success is your thing, he is the star of a squad that is currently third in the Western Conference. That in itself is already enough, but it gets elevated to yet a higher status. When you add that this performance is way beyond the Playoffs Play-In scenario most predicted for them before the season started, you fully understand how successful they have been!
In case you are a fan of stats, the young guard piles them up like no other. In traditional numbers, he is currently Top 15 in the NBA in both points and assists per game. When we move into advanced metrics, he is Top 10 in BPM, as well as Top 15 in PER, VORP, PIE, LEBRON, and Ast %.
Finally, when showmanship is analyzed, Morant’s season highlights (video below) are more impressive than career highlights for the vast majority of players. Explosive, creative, unselfish, skilled and lightening fast. Since MVP Derrick Rose we have not seen anyone combine those skills at the level the Grizzlies guard can. This alone should get him to the starting lineup, add it to the team and individual success and we are done.
Backcourt: Steph Curry
This has been an intense and emotional season for Curry. He officially became the greatest long-distance shooter of all times, by surpassing Ray Allen in career made 3-pointers. He is also in the most appalling slump of his career. Of the worst 15 games in his career by FG% – with at least 10 shots attempted – 5 of those are from the 2021-22 Season.
Nevertheless, a slump for Steph is a career year for regular stars. He has managed to stay in the Top 10 in points per game, while also submitting by far his best defensive season. Both eye-test and stats prove that, as he is currently in the Top 15 in Defensive Rating. Talking about advanced stats, the Chef is Top 5 in EPM, VORP, WPA, RAPTOR, and LEBRON, as well as TOP 10 in BPM and Simple Rating.
Much like his starting All-Star backcourt teammate, Curry is the star of the team with the second best record in the entire NBA, which is also vastly overachieving in face of pre-season expectations. In a different style, he is capable of spectacular plays and is a fan favorite, therefore his starting slot in more than justified.
Frontcourt: LeBron James
If this was an All-NBA Selection, team success (or the lack of, considering the lakers currently being below .500 in Win %) would definitely take James out of the First Team.
Individual stats, on the other hand, support his case tremendously. For traditional numbers, he is second in points per game, trailing only KD, and third in minutes per contest. On the advanced metrics front, he is in the Top 5 in PER, BPM, VORP, EPM, WPA and in the Top 10 in PIE, LEBRON, RAPTOR.
As far as fan support and showmanship are concerned, the Ohio native makes a lot of sense – most of it considering this is a Cleveland hosted All-Star Weekend and that with many miles on that body, LeBron is unlikely to have many more All-Star Games left.
Frontcourt: Rudy Gobert
Regular season winning has not been a problem for a Jazz team that has its defensive anchor in Gobert. They have consistently performed at the top of the NBA in the past few regular seasons and currently hold the fourth spot in the West.
When we move to individual numbers, he is a stat producing machine! He is currently in the Top 10 in a jaw dropping 12 traditional and advanced categories combined:
- Leads the NBA in Rebounding, Defensive LEBRON, Defensive Win Shares;
- Top 5 in PIE, LEBRON, RAPTOR, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes;
- Top 10 in EPM, Defensive EPM, PER, VORP;
- Top 15 in BPM.
While team success and individual stats already make him a great choice, truth be told, he is not a fan favorite – nor particularly popular among the players for that matter. His style of play lacks the offensive brilliance and flair that are commonly associated with stars. In spite of that, The Stifle Tower has a strong plea overall for a starting spot.
Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic
Completing our Twin-Towers front-court, we present you the man considered by many as the frontrunner in the MVP race. In my view, the Joker has a similar case to frontcourt starting teammate, LeBron. At .533 Win%, his team is marginally better than the Lakers this season.
When we go for the stats, the story changes dramatically. In rebounds per game, Jokic trails only Gobert this season. In points per game he currently is the seventh best in the NBA and he leads all Centers in assists per game, good enough for ninth among all players in that category. Advanced stats simply love the Serbian. He leads the league in astonishing 9 of the most used metrics: Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes, Simple Rating, PER, VORP, BPM, RAPTOR, LEBRON and EPM. He is also Top 5 in RAPM.
As far as the plasticity of his game, you either love or hate his style. He is one of the best passing Centers (if not the most skilled ever) and plays the game with mastery. His teammates are better for that, as it unlocks their offensive potential – ask Aaron Gordon. He is not explosive or quick enough to create the standard highlight reel, but his basketball IQ never ceases to produce spectacular offensive plays.