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NBA All-Star reserves: Why Celtics’ Kristaps Porzingis and Lakers’ Anthony Davis deserve a spot

NBA all-star reserves
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Executives can only wish they could fill out their entire roster with All-Star players. Even if there are no concerns about the salary cap or player roles, however, it can still become challenging with determining the All-Star reserves.

So many deserving candidates. Not enough roster spots.

When TNT announces the NBA All-Star reserves on Thursday (7 p.m., ET), it seems inevitable that someone will feel snubbed. Though each reserve pool consists of two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild cards at any position, those seven spots fill out a 12-man roster as opposed to a 15-man regular-season roster. Though it is easy for a player and his fans to feel snubbed about his exclusion, it becomes more difficult to determine whose position that player would replace.

Given those parameters, here are my picks for most deserving to become an All-Star reserve for this year’s game (Feb. 18, Indianapolis).

Eastern Conference backcourt:

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

NBA all-star reserves
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Brunson would have become a starter if the Knicks’ fanbase channeled their usual passion into actually voting. But I digress. Brunson deserves an All-Star nod, regardless, for how he has made the Knicks an Eastern Conference contender through both his play and his leadership.

Brunson has proven worthy of that max contract he signed two seasons ago with his dynamic scoring and playmaking. He also plays the game as if he’s a role player instead of a superstar. He has earned respect within the Knicks organization for his disciplined work ethic, growth-first mindset and understated personality. Though he shows his aggressiveness with his play, Brunson’s competitive spirit does not disrupt his ability to make other teammates feel empowered around him.

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA all-star reserves
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I thought Mitchell deserved an All-Star starting nod for how well he kept the Cavaliers as a viable playoff-caliber team despite long-term injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. Instead, that spot went to Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard, who has been an elite scorer while still sharpening his role and struggling to mitigate Jrue Holiday’s defensive absence. Regardless, Mitchell will surely make the All-Star reserves list for how he has stayed remarkably consistent with his scoring (27.7 points per game) and efficiency (46.1% from the field).

Though he has assumed a heavier role to make up for the Cavaliers’ two key absences, Mitchell has still averaged 6.3 assists per game to ensure some balance with Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Max Strus. With his consistent production and competitiveness,  Mitchell appears to be all-in on embracing his time in Cleveland despite on-going speculation that he will want to play in a bigger market eventually.

Eastern Conference frontcourt:

Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

NBA all-star reserves
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Just like last season, the Heat have become ravaged with injuries in a competitive Eastern Conference. Just like last season, Miami has still stayed afloat partly because of Adebayo. He is on pace to finish with career-highs in scoring (20.7 points per game) and rebounding (10.5 per game). He has also fulfilled his familiar role as one of the NBA’s best defenders, thanks to his positional versatility, athleticism and decision making.

In light of Jimmy Butler’s injuries and Udonis Haslem’s retirement, Adebayo has also assumed a larger leadership role. He has admittedly expressed discomfort with calling out teammates for their mistakes. Nonetheless, they respect Adebayo because of how well he backs up those messages with his play and work ethic.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

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Brown has often shown mixed results with his shot selection, passing and efficiency. Nonetheless, he has continued to grow this season by tempering those impulses to ensure that he still produces consistently, while co-existing with Jayson Tatum (Brown and Tatum have each had 30-point games in five games this season). Another added wrinkle: Brown has adjusted his game so that Kristaps Porzingis can also flourish as a shooter and playmaker during his first season in Boston.

The Celtics have the Eastern Conference’s best record and best starting lineup partly because of how well Brown has accentuated his good qualities while mitigating his poor ones. Brown has taken on a bigger defensive role partly to offset Marcus Smart’s departure. Though he’s not a finished product, Brown has also mostly flourished on and off-the ball despite a reduced scoring and playmaking role.

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

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With his brute strength, fast motor and athleticism, Randle has cemented himself as one of the league’s most dominant and consistent front-court players. Randle, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic are the only three NBA players to post at least 950 points, 350 rebounds and 150 assists through the first 40 games of the 2023-24 season. Randle and Brunson also have tied with Tatum and Brown for third place for most 30-point plus games each in the same game this season (five), which trails Antetokounmpo and Lillard (six) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey (eight).

It remains uncertain when Randle will return after dislocating his right shoulder in last week’s win over Miami. ESPN has reported “there’s optimism that his timeline for a return will be measured in weeks and not months.” That may make Randle unavailable to even play in the All-Star game. Oh well. Let the league figure out an injury replacement only if necessary. NBA coaches should still select Randle for his consistency, how he has meshed with Brunson and how he has tempered his on-court frustrations over calls and missed shots.

Eastern Conference wildcards:

Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA all-star reserves
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The Sixers haven’t missed James Harden one bit, and plenty of that has to do with how well Maxey has filled in as a better alternative. He has offset Harden’s production with his own consistency as a scorer (25.7 points per game) and playmaker (6.6 assists per game), both career-highs. Though Maxey’s assist numbers pale to Harden’s last season (10.7), Maxey has actually topped Harden’s scoring from last season (21.0). More importantly, Maxey co-exists better with Sixers center Joel Embiid with accepting his role, playing at a faster pace and defending more effectively.

In fairness to Harden, he has shown enough promising signs to produce a redemption story with the Los Angeles Clippers. Nonetheless, Maxey deserves an All-Star nod by proving his readiness to become the Sixers’ second star after spending his first three seasons in Philadelphia as a promising complementary player.

Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics

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Porzingis has become a perfect fit in Boston. He has enhanced the Celtics’ offense with consistent scoring, playmaking and floor spacing without disrupting the team’s two other stars in Tatum and Brown. Instead, Porzingis has made life easier for them as an additional offensive option that can also help them draw fewer double teams.

Porzingis will always elicit concerns about his durability after experiencing various significant injuries in New York (2015-2018) and Dallas (2019-2022). After staying mostly injury free in Washington (2021-23), Porzingis has played in 34 out of 48 regular-season games so far.  That should be enough to assuage any concerns about his availability and whether he deserves an All-Star nod.

Western Conference backcourt:

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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If only the Warriors were a serious playoff contender instead of a sub .500 team. Then, Curry surely would have secured his 10th NBA All-Star appearance as a starter (2014-19, 2021-23), a stint he likely would have kept since first appearing in his inaugural MVP season (2014-15). He only missed the 2020 All-Star game because of a left hand injury that limited him for five games that season. Curry appears a shoo-in as a reserve, however, considering he ranks ninth overall in scoring (27.5).

Though most NBA coaches traditionally like to reward players on winning teams, the Warriors (20-24) rank 12th in the Western Conference amid inconsistency with Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins as well as overlapping absences with Draymond Green (suspension) and Chris Paul (fractured left hand). If not for Curry’s strong play and health, the Warriors may be competing for the NBA draft lottery instead of for a final Play-In seed. 

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

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The Suns’ season-long inconsistency have more to do with their overlapping injuries than how their three stars have played and co-existed. Booker has played a significant in role with ensuring that he, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal have thrived during their limited time together.

Booker has assumed his usual role as an aggressive scorer, including s one 60-point game, one 50-point game and two 40-point games. But the Suns have also become impressed with Booker’s increased ball-handling duties (career-high 7.3 assists) and vocal leadership. Not only has Booker give Durant and Beal more open looks, he also has relieved pressure from their two stoic stars to command the locker room.

Western Conference frontcourt:

Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

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Leonard should have made the cut as an All-Star starter, but that nod went to the Lakers’ LeBron James, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Durant. With exception to Jokic, however, Leonard has played a bigger role than James and Durant with helping their respective team win consistently. 

The reasons? After becoming saddled with either injuries or limited workloads, Leonard has played in 41 of the Clippers’ 45 regular-season games. He has averaged 23.8 points on a 52.5% shooting clip along with 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, numbers that nearly mirror his first four seasons in LA. Yet, Leonard has maintained that production while the Clippers have also integrated James Harden into the 2023-24 season. Following a 0-5 start after Harden’s arrival, the Clippers have since rebounded amid strong chemistry and coaching. Nonetheless, Leonard deserves large credit for that turnaround for willingly moving off the ball more while still commanding most of the team’s looks.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA all-star reserves
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Before non-Lakers fans gripe about James and Davis making All-Star bids despite playing on an average team, their inclusions go beyond their respective brands and strong fanbases. Both have stayed mostly consistent with their availability and play. In Davis’ case, he has played in 46 out of a possible 49 games after having extensive injuries during his first 11 NBA seasons. After fielding criticism for having on and off nights throughout his year, Davis has mostly played at a dominant level.

Davis has averaged 24.9 points (slightly behind James’ 25 points per game) on an efficient 55.4% shooting clip while posting a team-best 12.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He has consistently played aggressively in the post and at the basket, has occasionally expanded his range and has thrust himself in the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award conversation. The Lakers struggled because of overlapping injuries and sluggish play with their role players, but Davis has significantly helped the Lakers stay in the playoff mix.

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings

NBA all-star reserves
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After appearing overwhelmed both with Kevon Looney’s rebounding and Green’s physicality in last year’s playoffs, Sabonis has sharpened his game with his refined touch, work on the boards (a league-leading 13.0 rebounds per game) and his passing. Sabonis showcased all of these skills during the Kings’ resurgent season last year before making the playoffs for the first since in 17 years. But Sabonis has played with more force that coach Mike Brown believes will become necessary for a deep playoff push.

Sabonis and Jokic are tied for most double doubles this season (41), a testament on how disciplined Sabonis has been in the paint with both his finishing and work on the glass while also remaining a valuable facilitator. The Kings love how Sabonis plays with passion and joy, two qualities that inspire his teammates to play with more intensity and forge a strong bond with one another.

Western Conference wildcards:

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA all-star reserves
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After making the All-Star game for the first time in his career last season, Edwards should make the cut in a crowded field. Edwards is on pace with finish with career highs in points (25.9) and assists per game (5.3). Though the Timberwolves’ No. 1 seed also has to do with Karl-Anthony Towns’ versatility and Rudy Gobert’s defense, Edwards has taken on a bigger role with his play, energy and occasional leadership. And Edwards has continued to become one of the NBA’s most entertaining players with his highlight reel dunks, infectious enthusiasm and competitive motor.

It’s always hard to argue a potential snub because you then have to explain why a selected All-Star doesn’t deserve his spot. But in Edward’s case, he has checked the usual criteria that coaches consider when selecting their reserves. He has produced consistently. He has also contributed to a winning team.

Also Read: Which Timberwolves Big Man Deserves NBA All-Star Nod More, KAT or Rudy Gobert?

Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

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Just like Leonard, George has avoided any serious injuries and has adjusted his game well upon Harden’s arrival. George immediately proclaimed himself the team’s “glue guy” that could help with various intangibles with defending the team’s best player, setting quality screens and helping the team’s floor spacing. George has also played like a star. Similar to Leonard, George has scored consistently (23 points) albeit with more efficiency from the field (46.3%) and from 3 (41.2%). Those are his best numbers since the 2020-21 season.

That team-first mindset helped set the tone for Russell Westbrook to thrive in a bench role and for Harden to embrace his play-making and defensive responsibilities. Though George has received criticism for past inconsistencies and for shying away from becoming the Clippers’ No. 1 option, George deserves credit for wanting to fit in to make his other teammates more comfortable. Since George has so many two-way skills, he has thrived in any role.

Mark Medina is an NBA insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on XInstagramFacebook and Threads.

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