NBA

NBA All-Star Power Rankings (11/8/21)

(📸 ClevelandSports.org)

As the dust of the early season starts to settle, albeit to a degree that leaves lots to be desired, it’s around the time we begin to think about how the upcoming All-Star teams will take shape. With twelve spots to fill in each conference, the following excerpts will detail my current selections for the teams based on how these players are providing material, observable impact that helps teams win basketball games.

Similar to my previous All-Star post for last season, players will be sorted into tiers based on my evaluations of their degree of impact, with “better” players being more likely to make the final ballot while some players may be on the fringe, fighting with similarly valuable players for the final spots.

“Absolutely”

The tier of “absolutely” consists of players for whom I have minimal doubt are playing at an All-Star level or better. Namely, if they either sustain strongly resemble their current level of play, they will continue to make my succeeding ballots.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (East)
  • Jimmy Butler (East)
  • Stephen Curry (West)
  • Luka Doncic (West)
  • Kevin Durant (East)
  • Joel Embiid (East)
  • Paul George (West)
  • Rudy Gobert (West)
  • Nikola Jokic (West)
  • Donovan Mitchell (West)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (West)
  • Trae Young (East)

I pegged all of these players as All-Stars or better last year, meaning there are no newcomers so far. Compared to last year’s All-Star post (about a month into the season), this tier is thinned out, which is consistent with staying wary of the early season; the target of this exercise is to recognize tangible value that players provide to basketball teams, and each of these players provides established All-Star value.

“Probably”

The “probably” tier is interesting. I’ve described many of these players as All-Star level or better in the past before, and will also likely remain All-Star-type players or better in my evaluations at the end of the season. However, there’s something to be missed in their performance so far, whether it’s aging, slumps, or uncertainties about their impact.

  • Bam Adebayo (East)
  • Devin Booker (West)
  • Mike Conley (West)
  • Anthony Davis (West)
  • James Harden (East)
  • LeBron James (West)
  • Zach LaVine (East)
  • Damian Lillard (West)
  • Ja Morant (West)
  • Chris Paul (West)
  • Jayson Tatum (East)

The sore spot of this tier is clearly LeBron James. After nearly two decades of MVP-level play, we’re very likely partway through the beginning of the end of his reign of terror. Aging isn’t on his side, and thus he’s not pressuring the rim or attacking defenses through his passing in the same manner he would during his annual Playoff ascensions.

A few of these names are mostly obvious All-Star performers, such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. Whether it be rustiness due to injury or unlucky shooting, there’s that small degree of uncertainty that loosens their cases for the 2022 season. The remainder of the tier consists of either lower-level All-Star players or strong fringe members, such as Zach LaVine and Ja Morant.

“Maybe”

While some of these players are of comparable value to those in the tier above, most of these players are closer to injury replacements than legitimate All-Star contributors.

  • LaMelo Ball (East)
  • Bradley Beal (East)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (West)
  • Montrezl Harrell (East)
  • Tobias Harris (East)
  • Jrue Holiday (East)
  • Kyle Lowry (East)
  • Khris Middleton (East)
  • Domantas Sabonis (East)

A name I feel the need to address here is Montrezl Harrell. With the benefit of hindsight that will come in the following months, I heavily doubt he will stay in this tier, but there are intriguing signals. He’s not overly dependent on perimeter creation as a finisher, and he’s had a significant spike in free-throw rate, drawing fouls and providing hyper-efficient scoring. It also doesn’t hurt that the impact metrics absolutely adore him.

LaMelo Ball is a player I felt quite comfortable placing in this tier. I don’t think his outside shooting is sustainable, but his passing is off the charts and his shot creation has steadily improved from last season. As he continues to add value in the big-two skill sets of scoring and playmaking, he’ll develop into a viable offensive engine who can quarterback strong efforts in the Playoffs.

“Not quite there”

As the name suggests, this tier recognizes players that are more of honorable mentions that serious All-Star candidates. Namely, these are the players who I felt the need to consider in the process of creating my ballot; but after further research, decided they were more appropriately pegged closer to sub-All-Star level.

  • Miles Bridges (East)
  • Jaylen Brown (East)
  • John Collins (East)
  • DeMar DeRozan (East)
  • Draymond Green (West)
  • Brandon Ingram (West)
  • Dejounte Murray (West)
  • Julius Randle (East)
  • Russell Westbrook (West)

Draymond Green is a player I’ve praised in the past for his heroic defensive efforts, snappy decision-making, and crafty transition passing, but I struggle to the see the confirmation that his impact is surely All-Star level. I suspect it’s probable he’s bumped up as the season goes on (even so far, his scoring has been somewhat adequate), but for now I’ll rank him as a very strong sub-All-Star-type player.

Dejounte Murray was a player I was encouraged to stack up against Ja Morant in recent games, and while I see evidence that his passing and manipulation of the defense has grown, he doesn’t have the scoring punch and resulting threat to generate lots of offense for his teammates. I’ve also grown less fond of his defensive rotations and overarching off-ball defense. Regardless, Murray is a surefire candidate for a sub-All-Star team.

Final Ballot

Here’s the tricky part: condensing all of these tiers into the structure of an All-Star ballot. As stated earlier, there will be twelve players in each conference: five starters (two frontcourt and three backcourt players), five reserves (two frontcourt and three backcourt players), and two wildcards.

East

Starters

  • G: James Harden
  • G: Trae Young
  • F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F: Kevin Durant
  • C: Joel Embiid

Reserves

  • G: LaMelo Ball
  • G: Zach LaVine
  • F: Jimmy Butler
  • F: Jayson Tatum
  • C: Bam Adebayo

Wildcards

  • W: Kyle Lowry
  • W: Khris Middleton

The hardest cut for me to make was the last guard slot on the reserves, which I gave to LaMelo Ball. The obvious candidates in his place were Bradley Beal and Kyle Lowry, the latter of which I gave a wildcard spot. I don’t think it’s impossible for Bradley Beal to rise on this ballot, but I’m concerned by his continuously declining outside shooting and lack of playmaking prowess next to players like Ball and Lowry.

West

Starters

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Luka Doncic
  • F: Paul George
  • C: Rudy Gobert
  • C: Nikola Jokic

Reserves

  • G: Damian Lillard
  • G: Donovan Mitchell
  • F: Anthony Davis
  • F: LeBron James
  • C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Wildcards

  • W: Ja Morant
  • W: Chris Paul

Leaving Devin Booker and Mike Conley off my final ballot was a tough choice to make; the guard position in the West is simply too stacked for enough room to be made available. (And like I said, Booker and Conley are probably All-Star guys.) Aside from this debacle, I was pleased with my selections for the West. Gobert and Jokic as centers in the starting lineup felt slightly awkward, but a player like Gobert has way too much regular-season defensive value to leave off this type of ballot.

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