Last year, the NBA took the bold step of doing away with the East vs. West style of play in the NBA All-Star Game. Instead, the call was made to task the top voter recipients from each conference against each other in what ultimately amounts to the most star-studded of pick-up possible. The only problem was….they didn’t televise the picks for some ridiculous, likely ego shielding reason.
Well after widespread complaint, the league has done the right thing and pulled the curtain back on the process, as LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will make their selections live on TNT this evening.
But here at TSFJ, we decided to pit two of our editors against each other to sort things out early. Playing the role of LeBron James and selecting for ‘Team King’, Matt Whitener, while Johnathan Tillman will step in for Giannis Antetokounmpo for the aptly named ‘Team Freak’.
The only rules are that each side must stick to the elected starters and pick a pair of forwards and a pair of guards, as well as one of each of the legacy selections for the year. Besides that, it’s a free-for-all battle of wits….with a few surprise twists along the way.
Team King, Pick 1: Kevin Durant
Regardless of what KD may say about the experience of playing with LeBron, there is no other option close to in play here. Having the top two players in the world together on the same roster for the night is rare joy. And one that makes the top pick an easy call.
Team Freak, Pick 2: Stephen Curry
My team will be named Team Freak instead of Team Giannis. The Freaks select Steph Curry with our first pick, because the most electrifying shooter ever will be a crowd pleaser.
Team King, Pick 3: Kawhi Leonard
Let the diversity continue! Grabbing Kawhi here gives Team King the three most well-rounded forwards in the game – including Team Freak’s captain. *Shrug*
Team Freak, Pick 4: Paul George
In taking a possible android seemingly devoid of emotion, you left me with Paul George, who has found yet another level of play to reach this year. Kawhi has probably been better overall, but I like my two-way wings to have a soul.
Team King, Pick 5: Kyrie Irving
Full disclosure: I forgot about Kyrie and sent another name in first (one James Harden). But a quick reverse course before the next pick hit let me still get him on a squad that needs him. Now whether he's joining a teammate of the past (LeBron), or maybe one in the future (KD), he gets the best of both worlds tonight, mercifully.
Team Freak, Pick 6: Joel Embiid
I should make you hold that Harden pick, just so I can have Kyrie and Steph on the same team. No matter. I'll take Joel Embiid because if there are going to be 49 seven footers available, I'll make sure to have the one who's most entertaining.
Team LeBron, Pick 7: James Harden
Well, if I'm going to get two shots at The Beard, I'm not passing again. Considering how he’s torn the league apart over the last month, it seems crazy that the defending MVP and current destroyer of worlds, one iso at a time, is still on the board.
Team Freak, Pick 8: Kemba Walker
So you taking James Harden leaves me with Kemba, who still haunts the parts of my soul loyal to the University of Pittsburgh.
To mix it up, we are going to swap order from the starter round for the bench picks, with Till and Team Freak taking the first pick from the reserve pool.
Team Freak, Pick 9: Russell Westbrook
My first pick among reserves is Russell Westbrook. Somehow, he's made taking this game seriously entertaining. It’s a safe bet that he is going to play as if children’s lives and the NBA title are on the line, so that’s a plus.
Team LeBron, Pick 10: Anthony Davis
Following that shocker of Russ coming off the board first, it feels criminal to not take the Brow as soon as possible. Getting a top five player — and former All-Star Game MVP — with the 10th pick is blessing from above. It also keeps the goal of the LeBron Voltron squad coming together in play.
Team Freak, Pick 11: Blake Griffin
I'm going for pure excitement. Something tells me that this revived version of Blake Griffin will be amazing next Sunday, so I'll take him.
Team LeBron, Pick 12: Damian Lillard
Yo, the idea of Harden, Kyrie and Dame D.O.L.L.A. running dribbling circles around any and everybody together is a Harlem Globetrotter-worthy scenario. Pull you need that pure confidence pull up shooter in these types of games and Lillard is not shy about letting the chopper ring out.
Team Freak, Pick 13: Bradley Beal
For the first time this draft, you took a player I wanted. Lillard is a sinister competitor out there. I also wish Victor Oladipo was available, because second-year guys tend to show out after those first-year jitters. I'm taking Bradley Beal. He seems to have something to prove without John Wall.
Team LeBron, Pick 14: Klay Thompson
I'm not sure what exactly you're saying about my team if we're 14 picks in and you just now envy a selection of mine, but I'll take it. Also, that Beal pick took my next pick right out of my hands, as this squad needs a pure outside shooter badly. In that vein, enter Klay, who if nothing else gives the ultra-rare chance of Steph and him trading off bombs back and forth.
Team Freak, Pick 15: Ben Simmons
You know, there are some really good basketball players amongst those available. Most of them are efficiently boring. Know who's not boring? Ben Simmons. I'll take him to orchestrate everything as the athletic playmaker.
Team LeBron, Pick 16: Karl Anthony-Towns
KAT has the type of big man that plays well in the ASG, as he can pull up on the break and board where need. Plus, he's the closest player on the board that can offer some type of matchup for Embiid, in theory.
Team Freak, Pick 17: D’Angelo Russell
The All-Star Game is about running and tempo. No one wants to see shades of 2004 Jamaal Magloire as the ultimate try-hard. Give me D'Angelo Russell. I like where his head is now in Brooklyn. Seems like there should be patience around young players.
Team LeBron, Pick 18: Nikola Jokic
Setting the tempo comes in a variety of ways: either burning up and down the court... or throwing god-level passes to the all-world weapons around the court. Adding The Joker to this cast was just too potentially beautiful of a basketball addition not to make.
Team Freak, Pick 19: Khris Middleton
LeBron and Jokic makes so much basketball sense I kinda want it to happen in real life. Meanwhile, I'm gonna put Giannis's real teammate on the roster. Khris Middleton might be selected near the bottom of this draft, but he is one hell of a player.
Team LeBron, Pick 20: Dwayne Wade
Of course, he wasn’t going to leave the big homie out there forever, something that Wade already put his bid in for. In the Then, Now and Forever edition of the LeBron Stars, Wade must be a part of it in his last hurrah appointment All-Star appointment.
Team Freak, Pick 21: Dirk Nowitzki
What's left are three seven footers and Kyle Lowry. It's legacy time, so I'll take Dirk. Love Lowry, but this atmosphere ain't for bulldogs like him.
Team King, Pick 22: Kyle Lowry
Well, after that how can I not give Lowry a shot? On the bright side, at least he’s up a slot from a year ago in his fifth ASG.
Team Freak, Pick 23: Nikola Vucevic
So for my last pick, it's between LaMarcus Aldridge and his right shoulder turnaround jumpers, or someone known as Vucci Mane. I'm going with Vucevic because he is so fantastic for such an awful team.
Team King, Pick 24: LaMarcus Aldridge
The winner of this year’s “Yeah, come on over here with us”, last guy off the wall ‘selection’ is Aldridge. He’s a bit redundant for a team that already has four guys over 6’10 on it, but he’ll fit in fine. After all, its not too bad to get a seven-time All-Star with the last pick off the board, right?
Oh you thought we were done? There’s always more than a few guys that miss the game that you wish you could see in somehow. Well since we are making the rules, were going to each pick one player that came up short of making this year's event....and add him to our teams anyway. (Hell, Adam Silver did it with D. Wade and Dirk, so we can too.)
Team King, Pick 25: Luka Doncic
He became the fifth teenager to ever score 1,000 points in a season already and has just been one of the great joys to watch on a nightly basis. Luka is going to make a lot of these in his career and if I had it my way, he’d be joining up alongside his idol already this year.
Team Freak, Pick 26: Zach LaVine
That's a really good pick, even though I think he was rightfully left off the team. I actually think all the selections were valid. But if I had to pick anyone who I'd want to see that also garnered some votes, it'd be Zach LaVine. If the game devolved into an impromptu dunk contest, he'd send the Charlotte fans home very, very happy.
The Bulls are awful, but LaVine has figured it out, maybe even more so than Andrew Wiggins.
So that's that. The real rosters are coming soon, but who won TSFJ's early All-Star showdown?
I'm a firm believer that the closest I've gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I'll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and 'Live From The Cheap Seats'.