The NBA has revealed its 2023 All-Star reserves, voted by all head coaches around the league. With All-Star weekend taking place Feb. 17-19 in Salt Lake City, the 12-man rosters for both the Eastern and Western Conference are finally set.
Last week, the starters were announced for both sides, as LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were named All-Star captains. They will get to draft their teams prior to tip-off, beginning with the pool of starters. Those names include Stephen Curry, Luka Dončić, Zion Williamson, Nikola Jokić, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and Kevin Durant.
The All-Star beneficiaries were also announced on Thursday. Team LeBron will compete for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, while Team Giannis will play for Raise the Future, a non-profit organization that has become a leader in best practice for children in foster care. The winning team will donate the prize money to their selected charity or organization.
According to the NBA, the All-Star game will raise more than $750,000 for the Utah community.
Looking at who was picked to represent each conference, it’s time to dive into the players and their arguments for being 2023 All-Stars. A few players, such as Jaylen Brown, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, and Jrue Holiday received All-Star bonuses due to contract incentives.
Collectively, did the reserve choices make sense? Let’s get into it and discuss all 14. We’ll begin with the West picks.
Ja Morant — Memphis Grizzlies, 2nd career selection
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Oklahoma City Thunder, 1st career selection
Damian Lillard — Portland Trail Blazers, 7th career selection
Paul George – LA Clippers, 8th career selection
Lauri Markkanen – Utah Jazz, 1st career selection
Domantas Sabonis — Sacramento Kings, 3rd career selection
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Memphis Grizzlies, 1st career selection
In the backcourt, Ja Morant was a lock – the All-Star game should always be home to the human highlight reel that consistently makes you think he’s from a different planet. When he leaps off the screen, whether it’s jamming on an innocent big man rotating over to contest a dunk, or chasing down individuals to squash their fastbreak attempt, Morant leaves an impression on the viewer. Along with Zion Williamson, he’s probably the most gifted athlete in the league. Here’s to hoping both are healthy and have an opportunity to share the floor at various points on Feb. 19.
Although Morant’s paint efficiency has dipped from last season and his outside touch still needs work, he’s becoming a more well-rounded player. His assist rate of 41.9% is a career-high and almost eight percentage points above last year, all while keeping his turnover rate the same. Morant and the Grizzlies are valuing possessions more, and they are still on pace for 52 wins despite a rough stretch caused by … Shannon Sharpe?
Damian Lillard adds another All-Star recognition to his impressive career resume. He’s now been voted in seven times out of 11 years, and is currently enjoying the best scoring run he’s ever had. Over the last 30 days of action, he’s dropped 40-plus points six different times, including a 50-point game (in a loss) and the most efficient 60-point game in NBA history, lighting up the Jazz for 60 points on 89.8% true shooting.
Dating back to Jan. 2, Lillard has averaged 34.9 points and 7.8 assists as he attempts to salvage the Blazers’ season and playoff hopes. Although Portland is riding the fence of mediocrity and need to search the trade market to enhance their 25th-rank defense, it’s just a beautiful sight when Lillard is on the floor and not sidelined with injuries. For him to be available for 39 out of 51 games this year is a huge positive for not only the organization he’s loyal to, but the league and its fans who love dynamic ball-handlers and shot creators.
Joining them is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who makes his All-Star debut during his fifth NBA season. He may have been a part of this class even sooner if injuries didn’t hold him back the last couple years. There was actually a legitimate argument for him to be a West starter when you factor in his availability this season (11 more games than Steph Curry) and how much responsibility he has to lead OKC’s young core. The Thunder currently sit two games behind Golden State in a jumbled Western Conference, and that’s largely due to Shai’s excellence and clutch performances.
OKC’s franchise star is shooting 58.1% within five feet, which is slightly behind Morant, but also converting 45% of his mid-range looks and 37.5% of his above-the-break threes. His 30.8 points per game would be the third-highest mark in franchise history, behind only Russell Westbrook’s 31.6 in 2017 and Kevin Durant’s 32.0 in 2014. That’s not bad company considering both players won the MVP award.
For the West frontcourt reserves, Lauri Markkanen will represent the city hosting the event. The Utah Jazz landing an All-Star seemed improbable once Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were traded in separate packages. But then again, something nobody had on their bingo card was Utah sitting one game over .500 after nearly 65% of the schedule.
Markkanen’s production is a bit unbelievable based on where his career arc was trending. What he’s doing now – north of 24 points per game and 66% true shooting – has only been achieved by five other players in NBA history. That’s while serving as the go-to option, being the focal point of every defensive strategy, and facing numerous traps every night. If he maintains this, he’ll join Nikola Jokić, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, rian Dantley, and Charles Barkley as the only players to have a season with that volume and efficiency combination.
Although the Jazz have cooled off, going just 8-10 since Christmas, they are still the fourth-ranked offense during that stretch. They are plus-5.7 per 100 possessions with Markkanen on the floor this season, compared to minus-5.8 when he sits. He was a no-brainer and, for a decent stretch, was looking like a West starter.
Domantas Sabonis is appearing in his third All-Star event and first since being traded to the Kings. This triggers a $1.3 million bonus in Sabonis’s contract since he met the All-Star criteria on his current deal. It’s about time Sacramento gets another All-Star, with the last one being DeMarcus Cousins in 2017. Before Boogie, it was Brad Miller and Peja Stojaković in 2004.
Even with De’Aaron Fox leading the league in clutch-time scoring and saving them on many occasions, the Kings’ best player, full-stop, has been Sabonis. Not only does he lead the team in the significant impact metrics such as EPM and RAPTOR, but Sabonis is shooting career-highs in two-point percentage (64.3%) and three-point percentage (36.8%), minimum 50 threes attempted.
Along with showing off more of the high-post passing brilliance we knew he had (career-high in assist rate), Sabonis is tied for the fifth-most 20-point, 10-rebound games this season.
A strong argument can be made the Kings deserved two All-Stars, with Fox potentially making it over Paul George or Jaren Jackson Jr. One of those guys was certainly slotted into a wild-card spot, considering the two backcourt selections were Morant and one of Lillard or Gilgeous-Alexander. Markkanen and Sabonis likely took the first two frontcourt spots, meaning George or Jackson had to be a wild card pick.
If that was the case, voting Jackson over Fox is difficult to accept simply because of availability. As it stands now, Fox has played 639 more minutes than Jackson. Fox has missed three total games, while Jackson has missed 16 total, including the first 14 of the season rehabbing his foot injury.
On the other hand, the coaches shouldn’t totally be ridiculed for choosing Jackson because the impact is evident when he’s on the floor. Most old-school coaches also tend to lean on defensive principles and standout performances on that end. So, part of it makes sense.
On a per-minute basis, Jackson has been the NBA’s best defender this season. He’s rated as the number one center in Defensive EPM, ahead of Jarrett Allen, Nic Claxton, and Draymond Green. Jackson is also on pace to tie the all-time record for block percentage in a single season. Before this year, the only player to reject more than 10.5% of opponents’ shot attempts during their minutes on the court was Manute Bol. Jackson is now at 10.8%, which would tie Bol’s mark.
Paul George’s candidacy was strong, considering he’s been more available than teammate Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers find themselves fourth in the West despite a slew of injuries and George has logged over 1,200 minutes. With him getting back to his typical efficiency and being a competent playmaker in some of the Clippers’ wing-heavy lineups, I don’t understand the outrage for him getting the nod.
Toughest cuts: De’Aaron Fox, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Aaron Gordon
Anthony Davis suffered the same fate as Kawhi Leonard. Both had played just 28 games entering Thursday, although they are currently active and healthy at the time of the announcement. Davis was actually just 49 minutes ahead of Leonard for the season total.
Devin Booker falls into that category, too. He’s at 29 games played (just over 1,000 minutes) with a return looming.
If anything, those three superstar forces not getting selected should highlight just how insanely deep the talent pool is, especially in the West.
There’s really not much to say about Davis, Leonard, and Booker being left off — availability matters and it wouldn’t feel right to push some of the younger guys off the All-Star team. Nobody should be an exception, whether it’s due to freak injuries or rest games causing the discrepancy.
In terms of missed games, or how many total minutes an All-Star should log before voting ends, we don’t know what the threshold is for each individual coach. Since there isn’t a clearly defined rule or cutoff, the coaches are invited to use their own subjective criteria. Most of the time — as we’ll see in the Eastern Conference — they will lean toward their personal favorites more than anything.
Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics, 2nd career selection
Jrue Holiday – Milwaukee Bucks, 2nd career selection
Tyrese Haliburton — Indiana Pacers, 1st career selection
DeMar DeRozan – Chicago Bulls, 6th career selection
Julius Randle – New York Knicks, 2nd career selection
Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers, 6th career selection
Bam ebayo — Miami Heat, 2nd career selection
It’s still somewhat comical to see Joel Embiid listed as a reserve due to positional constraints. If there was ever a year to illustrate the problem with going by positions in modern basketball, it’s this one. It’s an antiquated system that needs to be adjusted — players aren’t boxed into a certain position on the floor anymore, coaches no longer care about it, and front office members are focused on building the best rosters regardless of positions.
Embiid is up to 35.4 points per 75 possessions this season on the best paint efficiency of his career. To still have the stamina to be one of the world’s best defensive forces is remarkable, and he’s the catalyst behind Philadelphia’s recent surge. He should be starting, along with Tatum, Giannis, and KD. One of the guards, Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, should have been a reserve.
Jaylen Brown and Bam ebayo were the other stone cold locks.
Brown’s production, as the co-star for a team nearing a 60-win pace, is absurd. The raw numbers of 27-7-3 jump off the page compared to what we’re used to for secondary stars. Then you look at his mid-range scoring (a career-high 51.7% on long two-point jumpers) and it’s clear why Boston is the championship favorite. They have answers to every type of defense in the playoffs.
Jimmy Butler might still be the Miami Heat’s best player on a per-minute basis, but ebayo was the one keeping them steady to avoid falling deeper in the standings. Bam has played in 10 more games than Butler and continues to increase his usage when it matters.
Looking at some of the other backcourt selections, it gets interesting. If you were to tell someone in October that Indiana would have an All-Star, you’d be met with a look of confusion. Not because Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner aren’t high-quality players, but mostly due to the Pacers not having a strong enough record to warrant a selection – especially in a deeper Eastern Conference than we’ve seen in two decades.
Before injuries to his knee and elbow on Jan. 11, Haliburton was having a dynamic season as the Pacers’ offensive engine. His dual-threat attack as a primary scorer and playmaker out of the pick-and-roll is a sight to behold. He’s still leading the league in assists per game while inching closer to modern 50-40-90 splits (2PT-3PT-FT). When Haliburton returned on Thursday versus the Lakers, he picked up right where he left off, which is always great to see after being sidelined three weeks.
Toughest cuts: James Harden and Pascal Siakam
The biggest shocker of the East All-Star group had to be the inclusion of Jrue Holiday. It didn’t look as if Milwaukee would get two All-Stars, especially considering Giannis Antetokounmpo has been putting the Bucks on his back with league-leading usage and 50-point dominance — it seriously feels like he drops 50 and 10 on a weekly basis this season.
Contrary to the reaction we saw online, Holiday isn’t a bad selection here. His assist rate is the highest its been since 2016-17 in New Orleans, and he’s a three-level scorer that mitigates the blow of having Khris Middleton sidelined for most of the year. It’s also pretty cool that Holiday just went nine seasons between All-Star selections, only making it one other time in 2013 as a Sixer. That’s the longest gap between All-Star nods in any career.
Even if “second best player on a top-tier championship contender” wasn’t enough for him to get the recognition, we also know he’s a favorite among the coaches who have to prepare for his agonizing defense every night. Considering most coaches don’t have the time to sit down and think about All-Star selections, it makes sense why Holiday was chosen. Some of it may have been reputation. In years past, he ran into availability issues that kept him from getting votes.
At the same time, it’s difficult to argue Holiday over James Harden, the biggest All-Star snub among guards. The gap in games played is only seven, favoring Holiday. But since returning from injury in early December, Harden has looked just like his early Brooklyn days — carving up defenses in the pick-and-roll and being the best playmaker in the East.
In the 25 games since Dec. 5, Harden has created 29.5 points per game off his assists, giving him an average of 50.7 points generated through his scoring and direct passing. It feels wrong to keep someone of that caliber off the All-Star roster, particularly from a team sitting third in the conference and on pace for 54 wins.
Where it really gets indefensible is putting DeMar DeRozan on the team over Harden. Whether it was a backcourt slot or wild card pick, there is no legitimate argument for the top-scorer of a 24-27 Chicago team being selected at the expense of the Beard.
DeRozan has largely had a fine year and is still getting to his mid-range spots with ease. But in a season where Chicago has tailed off and is now among the three worst teams in clutch-time situations – compared to the fourth-best last year — he didn’t have those late-game heroics as a feather in his cap this time. Harden is 14th overall in RAPTOR, where DeRozan comes in at 45th. In EPM, Harden is 9th among all guards, where DeRozan is 14th.
The most egregious omission on the All-Star reserves, though, is Pascal Siakam. There have only been nine (!) other players in NBA history to average at least 24.5 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in a season. Siakam would be the 10th if he finishes this year with his current numbers, and somehow he’s left off the All-Star team.
If the coaches voted for Julius Randle over Siakam, it’s one the craziest errors we’ve seen. That might sound hyberbolic, but seriously, in no universe would anyone outside of the Knicks fanbase rather have Randle as an offensive hub or defensive talent. It’s not to make Randle seem insignificant for the Knicks, especially since he’s one of six players this season to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. But in terms of responsibility on the floor, playmaking, versatility, and switchability, Siakam is more than just an All-Star. He’s an All-NBA level player that’s being left off.
To be fair to some of the coaches, it’s reasonable to look at the Toronto Raptors’ season and not feel passionate about giving them an All-Star. After all, they are 23-30 overall and only 8-18 on the road. So, maybe they figured New York deserved at least one of Randle or Jalen Brunson, and the backcourt was too congested to fit another guard. Randle also hasn’t missed a single game.
No matter how you slice it, though, Siakam is the only thing holding Toronto together on most nights. Excluding him on the list is all the evidence we need to expand the All-Star rosters from 12 to 15 players, giving us three more spots in each conference (while also making it positionless). With the NBA’s talent pool being deeper than any previous era, it’s the only way to go.