NBA

LeBron’s decision, dream pairings and big All-Star starter questions

The starters are set for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Now comes the fun part.

And while LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo — both are reprising their roles as team captains — won’t be making their draft selections until Feb. 6, our panel of NBA experts is already answering the biggest questions surrounding the All-Star starter selections.

Who should be the No. 1 overall pick? Which players are our panel most excited to see team up inside the United Center? How should the league tweak the selection process?

Let’s dive in.

MORE: Everything to know for NBA All-Star 2020

1. LeBron is on the clock. Who should be his first pick in the All-Star draft?

Bobby Marks: The No. 1 choice is all about Luka Doncic. While the Dallas Mavericks guard missed out on being selected as captain, falling short by just more than 160,000 votes, Doncic should be the clear choice by captain LeBron James when the teams are selected on Feb. 6. If he isn’t, the only logical choice would be to pick his teammate Anthony Davis.

Kevin Pelton: With depth at every position, there’s no obvious need to fill immediately. I might be inclined to take Kawhi Leonard, the best perimeter defender of this group, but I don’t think LeBron will hurt his team at all if he feels compelled to take Lakers teammate Anthony Davis with the No. 1 pick.

Jorge Sedano: This one is easy: Luka Doncic should be the first pick in the draft. He’s an MVP candidate and is averaging 29.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists for the Dallas Mavericks this season. Doncic has 10 30-point triple-doubles, already as many as LeBron James (5), Oscar Robertson (3) and Magic Johnson (2) combined before turning 22 years old.

Eric Woodyard: Anthony Davis should be the No. 1 pick. He’s coming home to Chicago, so I’m sure that’ll be some extra motivation to show out for family and friends. Also, don’t forget that AD still holds the All-Star record for most points in a game with 52 as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans inside Smoothie King Center, where he won MVP. He’s more than capable of going off again.

Royce Young: It’s pretty easy to guess that Anthony Davis will be pick No. 1. But both Luka Doncic and Trae Young could be fantastic All-Star Game players. Doncic is a matchup nightmare, an isolation monster and a solid shooter. Young is a magician passer with range to 40 feet. And remember, defense doesn’t matter in the All-Star Game.

2. Who is the most controversial starter choice?

Pelton: Pascal Siakam. This doesn’t always happen, but I agree with Charles Barkley: Jimmy Butler deserved to start. Among East players, only Antetokounmpo has been more valuable by my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric. Same with FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR ratings. To me, Butler was an easy choice, and Siakam got his spot.

Young: Pascal Siakam. It certainly feels wrong that Jimmy Butler isn’t a starter after the first half the Miami Heat have had. Siakam is well-deserving, but he’s also missed a couple weeks due to injury. Flipping Butler for him makes some sense.

Woodyard: Trae Young. This is no knock to Trae because I love his game, but I could see how Atlanta’s 11-34 record could raise concern. I have no problem seeing “Ice Trae” represent the Eastern Conference as a starter where, outside of the top teams, there are a bunch that really aren’t very good. Why not bring some excitement?

Sedano: Trae Young. I’m OK with him being an All-Star. He’s as exciting a player to watch as there is in the game. However, the Hawks are the worst team in the Eastern Conference. I get this is a glorified pick-up game, but winning has to matter a little. I take exception with Jimmy Butler being labeled a frontcourt player — he deserves to be a starter. He’s the most important player on a Miami Heat team that’s the biggest surprise in the East.

Marks: Kawhi Leonard. Despite All-NBA credentials for when he is on the court, Leonard is my pick. The reason? The popular term load management (or injury prevention) that hovers around him for each game. Leonard has missed 11 games this season and is on pace to appear in only 60 for the year.

3. Which player combo do you most want to see as teammates in the game?

Pelton: Luka Doncic and Trae Young have been compared since they were traded for each other on draft night in 2018, so it would be nice to see them on the same side of things for once.

Young: Luka and Trae together would be really fun. That’s a storyline that’s always going to be interesting, but we’ve seen them against each other before. How about on the same side? Or LeBron picking Trae and Luka, assembling an All-World passing and ball-handling team that would just be non-stop nutmegs and no-looks.

Woodyard: I’m looking forward to the potential of Trae Young and LeBron James joining forces as the perfect mix of old and new. Plus they’re two of the best passers in the league, so I could see some great dimes being thrown. It’s always fun to watch the new evolution of stars and how they’re able to arrive on that All-Star stage. I’m sure LeBron would welcome Trae with open arms.

Marks: As a tribute to the recent passing of David Stern, who turned the NBA into the global behemoth it is today, let’s see the All-World frontcourt of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid. The pool of players might not be big enough yet to go the full USA vs. the World route, but putting those three together would show how much this game has grown internationally.

Sedano: Due to all the drama the two L.A. teams have caused at the beginning of the season, I would love to see the All-L.A. quartet of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Considering how much those two fanbases dislike each other, it would be a pretty funny sight. And maybe even an unstoppable one.

4. What would you change about the All-Star voting process?

Young: Doing the draft right before the game, playground style, would be pretty awesome. It would take some adjusting in terms of logistics, but it could easily be done. Picture LeBron and Giannis at midcourt, picking players one-by-one, until one is standing there all by himself as the last choice. It would be fantastic.

Pelton: Stop using conferences and pick the best players regardless of where they play, as we’ve seen the WNBA do since moving to drafted teams for their All-Star Game. That’s not as big of an issue this year, with the gulf between the West and the East narrowing, but I still don’t understand the point of choosing by conference if they are no longer playing each other.

Woodyard: If you glance at where basketball is headed, it would be a no-brainer to make the All-Star Game positionless — why not? Without limiting the selections to frontcourt or backcourt, it would put the most exciting players in the league at center stage. Currently, I have no issue with the voting and selection process, but this move would shake things up. I’m all for it.

Sedano: We play in an era of positionless basketball. Why are we even still using frontcourt and backcourt designations? Give me the best five on each side.

Marks: Nothing. Yes, the optics don’t look great when Tacko Fall and Alex Caruso are in the top 10 in fan voting, but remember this game is just an exhibition. Though neither were selected when you combine the media and player voting, let the fans be part of the process.

5. Who is the next player to be a first-time All-Star starter?

Pelton: Zion Williamson. I don’t know who exactly he’s going to displace in a loaded West frontcourt, but the examples of Doncic and Young show how quickly a thrilling young player can become one of the leading fan vote-getters. If Zion takes a step forward next season, it’s realistic for him to join them as a starter … or even as captain.

Young: Zion Williamson. It’s tough to imagine this could be anyone other than Zion. With the fan vote still holding a 50% presence, and the expectation only being furthered by his debut that Williamson is headed for something great, he’s pretty much the perfect All-Star starter.

Marks: Devin Booker. We still don’t know if Booker will even be selected as a reserve, but the Phoenix Suns shooting guard has played this season like he deserves a starting role in Chicago, averaging 26.5 points on 50% shooting with 6.3 rebounds. The challenge comes with how Booker can overcome these two road blocks: a stacked guard field in the Western Conference (don’t forget about Stephen Curry next season), and a Suns team that has made a home in the lottery.

Sedano: Bam Adebayo. He’s exactly what the modern day center should be. He is as versatile a defender as there is in the NBA and he’s become a far better offensive player than most projected. He’s got the ability to be a far more athletic version of Draymond Green — which is pretty scary — and he’s arguably become the focal point of Miami’s dribble handoff attack. He’s a pretty good mid-range shooter and will continue develop his shot further from the basket. The sky is the limit for Bam.

Woodyard: Donovan Mitchell. Not only has he reached the playoffs in both of his first two seasons, the Utah Jazz star is currently averaging nearly 25 points per game with his squad currently in second place in the Western Conference standings. Mitchell recently hit the 4,500-point mark in 199 games, joining Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Mitch Richmond and Michael Jordan — yes, MJ — as the six most recent guards to reach that mark within their first 200 games. The kid is special and he’ll only get better. Watch out.

MORE: Everything to know for NBA All-Star 2020

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