The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.
NBA All-Star starters were revealed last night and the inclusion of Andrew Wiggins was really the only surprise. But as each roster gets filled out with reserves (announced Feb. 3) there are going to be some tough decisions and unfortunate snubs.
With so many storylines knotted together in the 14 remaining slots, I tapped in some of the best basketball minds from FanSided’s NBA network to help answer three questions about what’s coming for the East.
1. Four East All-Stars from last season (Ben Simmons, Nikola Vucevic, Kyrie Irving, Julius Randle) definitely won’t make the team this year and Bradley Beal may be a longshot. How fun will it be to see some new faces in this year’s game?
Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: I think that it’s great for the game and is a testament to all that the best league in the world has to offer. The Eastern Conference is stacked this year in general and it’s shaping up to be a fight all of the way to the finish line, so to have new players from the conference on display at the All-Star Game will be a treat. It’s fitting that the game is in Cleveland, given that the Cavaliers just jumped up into the No. 3. spot in the East.
Andrew Miller, Pippen Ain’t Easy: It’s always fun to see new faces in the All-Star Game. The East is much deeper this season so there will be more stakes behind some of the new players in the mix this year, I would presume.
Phillip Barnett, NBA Division Director: It feels like we’re in the midst of a transitional period of the NBA where some of the league’s biggest stars are starting to enter that point in their career where productivity and efficiency start to tail off while some younger guys are beginning to emerge as potential superstars who will carry on the tradition. Some of the NBA’s most ardent fans are familiar with the younger faces, but the All-Star Game is a perfect opportunity to really put guys like LaMelo Ball and Darius Garland on display on a national platform with everyone watching. Melo’s on (and off-court) flair for style is going to have a stranglehold on a whole generation of kids growing up with today’s league while Garland’s Nash-esque feel for the game is perfect for settings where he’s surrounded by talent.
2. If the Celtics only get one spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, should it go to Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown?
Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: As much as I like Jaylen Brown, I think that Jayson Tatum deserves to be an All-Star over him. The Celtics have been a disappointment this season and although Tatum’s had an off-year by his standards, he’s still averaging 26 points per game. He’s also put up career-high numbers in rebounds (8.5) and minutes per game (36.6). The league’s more enjoyable when Boston has a competitive squad and that starts with Tatum, not Brown. And with Kevin Durant out, Tatum has the shot to start for the second year in a row. He deserves that spot.
Andrew Miller, Pippen Ain’t Easy: Jayson Tatum has the better productivity in the last few weeks. He’s starting to turn it on, so I would go with him. But both clearly make a valid case to be All-Stars since they are carrying the Celtics this season.
Phillip Barnett, NBA Division Director: Jaylen Brown has been one of the few constants for the Celtics in what has been an incredibly disappointing season for Boston. He does everything well, battles on the defensive end and can get a bucket when the team needs it. However, even with how great Brown has been, Jayson Tatum has to be the guy. He has one of the smoothest games in the NBA, can be fearless at the rim and has the potential to explode for 50 on any given night. Brown can do all of the little things that help teams win games, but fans are tuning in to potentially see the impossible, and Tatum gives us the best chance at giving us those unforgettable moments.
3. If there’s only room for wild card guard, should it go to Fred VanVleet or Darius Garland?
Jordanna Clark, Nothin’ But Nets: Fred VanVleet. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the biggest surprise in the East this year and Darius Garland is getting the appreciation that he deserves but that shouldn’t overshadow what VanVleet’s done for Toronto. He’s kept the Raptors afloat at the .500 level and has career-highs in points (21.7), assists (7), and rebounds per game (4.7). It’s not an easy job to replace Kyle Lowry, yet VanVleet’s embraced the challenge and has done just that. Let’s not forget that he’s knocked down 160 3-pointers this year and if he reaches 300, his name will be etched into the history books (once again) beside James Harden and Steph Curry’s.
Andrew Miller, Pippen Ain’t Easy: I believe Fred VanFleet is most deserving of the selection this year. Garland is having a breakout season, but VanFleet is at the point of his career where he is a bona fide All-Star. His numbers also stack up better than Garland’s this season.
Phillip Barnett, NBA Division Director: This is the kind of question that will tear families apart. Fred VanVleet, at least right now, is a better basketball player than Darius Garland in his third year — but the gap between the two can be measured with a caliper. VanVleet scores the ball better and is slightly ahead in some of the more advanced metrics while Garland sees the floor better and is a key cog in a Cavaliers team that’s currently third in the Eastern Conference. In a vacuum, one might lean toward VanVleet, but with this year’s game being played in Cleveland, it might make more sense to give the nod to Garland with the Cavs likely making the postseason without LeBron James for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
Other NBA stories:
The Lakers suffered another embarrassing loss, this time at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. But Anthony Davis absolutely beasted Joel Embiid in just his second game back in the lineup — a great sign for a team in desperate need of something to rally around.
Three Philadelphia fans crossed the line in their heckling of Carmelo Anthony and were all ejected from the arena. It’s almost enough to make you pine for the empty arenas of the bubble.
If the Spurs really do have the opportunity to move Derrick White for John Collins, even if they’re giving up a lottery pick, it seems like a no-brainer (to me, at least).
With Cleveland surging and a possible All-Star appearance coming, Darius Garland is having a moment. Dan Devine just unpacked his surprising season for The Ringer and Martin Rickman has a fantastic profile on Garland for Dime.