Russell Westbrook might be the most dynamic player in the NBA this season, scoring a league-best 30.6 points and averaging a triple-double through his first 44 games. But unless an injury occurs, Westbrook will not be a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.
The starting lineups were revealed Thursday for the 66th NBA All-Star Game, which will be played Sunday, Feb. 19, in New Orleans at the Smoothie King Center. And apparently Westbrook’s first-half performance wasn’t impressive enough to crack the Western Conference’s top five.
Then again, the West’s starting guards each have a pretty good case for inclusion. Golden State’s reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry will make his fourth All-Star appearance. Alongside Curry will be Houston’s James Harden, who is second in the NBA in points (28.9) and first in assists (11.6) in his role as point guard for the Rockets.
Westbrook’s former Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant, who left over the summer for the Golden State Warriors, will headline the Western Conference frontcourt. Durant, a seven-time All-Star, is averaging 26.2 points and a career-high 8.6 rebounds for the 36-6 Warriors. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard will make his second consecutive All-Star start. Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging a career-best 24.8 points for the Spurs, who are 32-9 thus far.
Starting up front alongside Durant and Leonard will be New Orleans’ big man, Anthony Davis. Davis made his All-Star debut in New Orleans in 2014 as a reserve, and this year will mark his first time in the starting lineup. Through his first 40 games, Davis is averaging 28.8 points and 12.1 rebounds, the only player in the top 10 in both categories, although the Pelicans are just 17-26 this season.
For the Eastern Conference All-Star team, LeBron James is the lone returning starter. James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a comeback win from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals, is averaging 25.6, and will be making his 14th All-Star appearance in his 15th NBA season.
With James in the East frontcourt will be two players making their debuts as All-Star starters. Chicago’s Jimmy Butler was selected as a reserve for the last two All-Star Games, and this season is averaging a career-best 24.8, which includes a recent 52-point outburst against Charlotte. Playing with Butler will be Milwaukee’s dynamic 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. In just his fourth NBA season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.8 steals per game and 2.1 blocks per game, leading the Bucks in every category.
After Toronto guard Kyle Lowry made a late push into the starting lineup the last two seasons thanks to the fan vote, this year his teammate DeMar DeRozan will make his starting debut. DeRozan, who was an All-Star reserve in 2014 and 2016, is having a career year for the Raptors, averaging 28.2, fifth in the NBA. Alongside DeRozan will be Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, a three-time former All-Star who missed last season’s game recovering from knee surgery. After hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Irving has averaged a career-best 23.6 points this season. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star Game in 2014, the last time it was played in New Orleans.
Besides Westbrook, there are several players in each conference who can build a pretty good case for why they should be in the starting lineup. In the Western Conference, Golden State center Zaza Pachulia was in second place among frontcourt players in the most recent fan voting update. While the journeyman Pachulia’s populist campaign seemed to resonate with fans, his 5.5 points and 6.0 rebounds apparently didn’t move the needle in voting among players and media members. Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins has a strong statistical case for inclusion, averaging 28 points and 10.1 rebounds, which are just short of Davis’s numbers.
In the Eastern Conference, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas is fourth in the NBA in points per game (28.7) for the surging Celtics. Thomas, who scored 52 points in a game against Miami earlier this season, leads the entire NBA in averaging 10.1 points in the fourth quarter of games. After missing two entire seasons due to injuries, Philadelphia center Joel Embiid has been terrific in this, his rookie campaign. In 29 games, playing with a minutes restriction as his recovery continues, Embidd is averaging 19.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. As the Sixers have won seven of their last nine games, Philly has been +91 in 218 minutes with Embiid on the floor.