Beard: Picking NBA All-Stars is no slam dunk

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Celtics' Kyrie Irving is a natural choice for the NBA East backcourt.

It’s the equivalent of selecting a pickup team on the playground, only with the best NBA players in the world. The starters for the NBA All-Star Game are chosen by weighting the fan vote (50 percent), media votes (25 percent) and active players (25 percent).

As one of the voting media members, I had a hard time trying to narrow down my selections this year, with some close calls and some snubs that just were tough to make. The rules are pretty simple: three frontcourt players and two guards from each conference. Though there were some easy choices, the last couple weren’t so simple.

It’s not a simple statistical choice; each media member chooses based on his or her own criteria and it’s almost like favorite desserts: people have a reason that they like what they like.

Here are my selections — and unofficial picks for the reserves — for the East and West for the All-Star Game on Feb. 17 in Charlotte:

East backcourt

Kyrie Irving (Celtics) and Ben Simmons (Sixers)

This one wasn’t easy, because Simmons is categorized as a guard instead of a forward.

The problem is that Simmons isn’t actually a guard; he’s as much of a guard as the Pistons’ Blake Griffin is. They’re both 6-foot-10 and both initiate the offense in different ways. Simmons probably would be an All-Star as a frontcourt selection, but because he’s here, it may take a spot away from a more deserving guard.

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Irving has stepped to the forefront as the vocal leader of the Celtics, who have been something of a disappointment in fifth in the East. He belongs in any All-Star game, as long as he’s healthy. Dwyane Wade is second in the fan voting as a sentimental choice in his swan-song season.

Other choices: Victor Oladipo (Pacers), Kemba Walker (Hornets), Bradley Beal (Wizards) and Kyle Lowry (Raptors).

East frontcourt

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Kawhi Leonard (Raptors), Joel Embiid (Sixers)

This was the most difficult group to figure out, but it became easy because each is the best at his position. With the resurgent season that Griffin is having for the Pistons, he’s deserving of a starting spot, but their sub-.500 record will keep him off many voters’ ballots. He’ll make it as a reserve, for his sixth All-Star selection.

Given the fact Antetokounmpo is the frontrunner for league MVP and Leonard has lifted the Raptors toward the top of the conference, it’s hard to leave them off. Embiid is having another good year, and it just seems weird not to have a true center in the All-Star Game. They could finish as the top three teams when the regular season is done.

Other choices: Griffin (Pistons), Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Jimmy Butler (Sixers).

West backcourt

Steph Curry (Warriors) and James Harden (Rockets)

This was the easiest of the position groups. Harden is having one of the best scoring stretches in league history and Curry is a magician whose show is tailor-made for the All-Star stage. They’re a step above the other choices, but it shows how much depth there is in the West that former MVP Russell Westbrook isn’t even legitimately in the conversation to be in the starting lineup.

Other choices: Westbrook (Thunder), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Damian Lillard (Blazers) and DeMar DeRozan (Spurs).

West frontcourt

LeBron James (Lakers), Paul George (Thunder) and Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Controversy! Finally, there’s a group that has some dissension and argument for all three of the spots — well, sort of. There are arguments for six players to fit into the three slots — and they’re all plausible.

Injuries always play a part in the choices, like James’ groin issue that’s kept him out since Christmas Day. Should James be penalized for missing so many games and not be a starter? Let’s be real here: James is going to be a starter. He just is. He’s made the Lakers relevant again and without him, it’s clear to see how bereft of talent they are.

The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is second in the fan voting and although he’s brought electricity, he’s nowhere near the likes of George — one of the best two-way players in the league — and Davis, another elite two-way player.

The choice came down to Kevin Durant versus George and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic against Davis. George has done more to help the Thunder get to the No. 3 spot in the West and although Jokic has been stellar for the Nuggets, who held the top spot for most of the first half, the nod goes to Davis, who is the better head-to-head player.

Other choices: Durant, Jokic, Doncic.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons at Wizards

Tip-off: 2 p.m. Monday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: After their last-second loss to the Kings on Saturday, the Pistons (20-25) are just a game ahead of the Wizards (19-26) for ninth place in the East. John Wall (foot) is out for the season, but Bradley Beal has posted 29.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists in the 10 games since.