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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Earlier this week, the NBA announced the full rosters for the 2021 All-Star Game set to be played in Atlanta on Sunday, March 7. LeBron James and Kevin Durant will captain their respective conference’s teams.
With the break fast approaching, it’s time to announce our own All-Star rosters — with a fantasy twist, of course. Like the real All-Star Game, these rosters are, in many ways, completely arbitrary. But using the lens of fantasy stats and rankings as a guide, it’s a bit easier to parse through which players belong and which don’t quite make the cut. Overall, more consideration was given to total value rankings (as opposed to per-game), but per-game rankings were also utilized to help standardize for games missed due to COVID-19.
It was particularly difficult to narrow down the rosters for the Eastern Conference, which accounts for dramatically more top-end fantasy players thus far. In terms of total eight-category value — the standard scoring used for this exercise — only 10 of the top 40 overall players hail from the Western Conference. As a result of the imbalance, a handful of deserving players from the East were left off the roster.
Center: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
The no-brainer of all no-brainers, Jokic is the No. 1 overall player in eight- and nine-category leagues in both total and per-game value. He’s averaging career-highs in points (27.0), rebounds (10.9), assists (8.4) and steals (1.7) per game, while also setting career-high marks in all three shooting categories.
Forward: LeBron James, Lakers
James has been in a major shooting slump over the last couple of weeks, but he’s still hitting better than 50 percent of his field goals for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Free-throw shooting remains James’ number one downfall, but he remains a counting-stat monster at age 36. While he’s closer to a late-second-round value on a per-game basis, James’ durability — zero missed games thus far — is what puts him over the top for a starting spot.
Forward: Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
James is the only Western Conference forward ahead of Leonard in total value, but Leonard (26 games played) leapfrogs James (33 games) and ranks eighth overall in per-game value. In terms of counting stats, Leonard is matching last season’s production almost to a tee, and he’s upped his efficiency across all three shooting percentage categories. The mark against him is he’s missed seven games, but the bulk of those were due to legitimate injuries, as Leonard has surprisingly pulled back on his load management plan.
Guard: Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry and Damian Lillard are the clear starting guards out West, with Luka Doncic looming as the only true challenger. Coming off of a lost season, Curry ranks second overall in total value, and he’s lapping the field by a laughable margin in three-point value. The 32-year-old is shooting nearly 42 percent from deep on a career-high 11.9 attempts per game. In the month of February, Curry is hitting a jaw-dropping 5.8 threes per game, while adding 33.8 points, 6.6 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Most importantly, he’s missed only one game and it was due to an illness.
Guard: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
While Lillard isn’t quite as prolific from beyond the arc, he’s the next-closest thing to Curry, and he’s adding more value in assists (8.0 APG) and free throws (7.5 FTA/G, career-high 93.4% FT). Like Curry, Lillard has missed only one game, helping propel him to a top-five overall rank and the No. 7 overall spot in per-game value.
Reserve: Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Doncic (11th in total value) isn’t far behind the Curry/Lillard duo, but there’s a significant gulf between him and the next-highest-ranked guard in the Western Conference (Chris Paul), so if we’re ranking the reserves, he’d get the top spot. The preseason MVP favorite got off to a sluggish start, but he’s been much better since mid-January and is now on track for the best statistical year of his young career. The only drawback is Doncic’s good-not-great free throw shooting (77.2% FT), which is the sole factor keeping him from pushing Curry, and especially Lillard, for a starting spot.
Reserve: Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
On a per-game basis, Ingram settles in around the middle of the third round, but the fact that he hasn’t missed any time pushes him up closer to mid-second-round value. In some ways, it feels like Ingram has stagnated following last year’s breakout, and while it’s true he’s putting up virtually the same production across the board, there hasn’t been much for fantasy managers to complain about.
Reserve: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder
The guard depth in the West is pretty thin, but Gilgeous-Alexander gets the nod over names like DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, and Tyrese Haliburton based on his superior per-game output. Six missed games isn’t ideal, but it wasn’t quite enough for me to hold it against him. In 26 appearances, Gilgeous-Alexander is putting up a career-high 23.5 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting, including 41.9 percent from three (up from 34.7% last season).
Reserve: Jamal Murray, Nuggets
This spot nearly went to Donovan Mitchell, but Murray gets the slight edge for ranking just ahead of Mitchell in per-game value. A major surge over the last two weeks has been key for Murray, who’s averaging 30.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 4.4 made threes (47.7% 3PT) over his last seven games.
Reserve: Paul George, Clippers
George has missed a good chunk of time (10 games), but as the No. 10 overall player in per-game value, he’s still a lock for a reserve spot. George has made tangible leaps in virtually every category, and he’s still shooting just under 49 percent from three on the season, helping push his overall field goal percentage up to a career-best 51.7 percent.
Reserve: Chris Paul, Suns
Paul’s effectiveness at his age is relatively unprecedented for a point guard, and he’s been even better this season than he was in Oklahoma City a year ago. While his scoring is slightly down, Paul is averaging his most assists (8.6 APG) since 2016-17, while holding a 49-40-96 shooting line. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Paul has missed only one game thus far. Dating back to the start of last season, he’s played in 97 of a possible 100 games.
Reserve: Zion Williamson, Pelicans
We’re in need of another big man, so this spot came down to Williamson versus Rudy Gobert. It’s true that Gobert, who hasn’t missed a game yet, has the slight edge in total value, but Williamson has been better on a per-game basis, and he continues to trend upward as the All-Star break approaches. Williamson has been the single most-valuable player in the FG% category, and while his free-throw shooting (71.0%) leaves plenty to be desired, Gobert (64.1%) has actually been the more damaging player at the line.
Center: Joel Embiid, 76ers
The No. 2 overall player in per-game value, Embiid is having easily the best season of his career. He holds career-bests in points (29.8), steals (1.3), made threes (1.2), and made free throws (10.0) per game, while also setting new highs in all three percentage categories. Embiid’s shot-blocking is down (1.3 BPG), but the high-volume free-throw shooting, especially, has more than made up for it.
Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
The elephant in the room, of course, is that Antetokounmpo has been the single most damaging free-throw shooter in the league, but the fact that he’s still a top-10 player speaks to how dominant he’s been in other areas. He’s essentially repeating last year’s MVP campaign while tacking on better defensive numbers and a career-high 6.0 assists per game.
Forward: Nikola Vucevic, Magic
A top-eight player in total value, Vucevic grabs the other frontcourt spot ahead of Kevin Durant, who’s played 13 fewer games. Vucevic has been one of the most dependable players in fantasy basketball for years, but he’s raised his game to new heights this season, including hitting 2.5 threes per game at a 39.7 percent clip — both career bests.
Guard: James Harden, Nets
Despite a tumultuous start to the season, Harden is back on track in Brooklyn and has climbed all the way up to No. 3 overall in per-game value, behind only Jokic and Embiid. After doing most of his damage in points, threes, and free throws the last few years, Harden has taken a small step back as a scorer and instead dominated as a passer (11.2 APG), while still providing elite all-around numbers.
Guard: Zach LaVine, Bulls
LaVine is a lock for the other guard spot, ranking ahead of Harden in total value and just a few spots behind him in per-game production. Through 31 games, LaVine is averaging 28.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.6 threes to go with an ultra-efficient 52-44-87 shooting line. The only true knock on LaVine is his elevated turnover rate, which pushes him out of first-round value in nine-category leagues.
Reserve: Fred VanVleet, Raptors
VanVleet hasn’t missed any games and he ranks inside the top-seven in total value, so his case is pretty airtight. In his fifth NBA season, he’s averaging career-highs in points (20.0), rebounds (4.5), assists (6.7), and made threes (3.3), while leading the league in fantasy value derived from steals.
Reserve: Julius Randle, Knicks
The emergence of Randle as a legitimate, real-life All-Star has been one of the most surprising developments of the season. In fantasy, he’s a top-20 overall player who provides managers with 23.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game with excellent percentages.
Reserve: Bradley Beal, Wizards
There’s not much to say here. Beal is at a disadvantage from a games-played perspective because of the Wizards’ COVID-19 issues, but he’s only missed two contests. The league’s scoring leader is up to 32.7 points per game on better efficiency than last season.
Reserve: Myles Turner, Pacers
For the most part, Turner’s numbers are on par with his career averages, save for a massive leap in blocked shots. Turner leads the league by a mile at 3.4 swats per game — enough to single-handedly carry fantasy managers to first place in the category.
Reserve: Khris Middleton, Bucks
Middleton was snubbed from the real All-Star Game, but he’ll get no such treatment here. Once again, the 29-year-old is putting up excellent counting stats and flirting with a 50-40-90 shooting line. Night-to-night, players like Jayson Tatum or Domantas Sabonis may have a higher ceiling, but Middleton’s consistency and durability are invaluable in fantasy basketball.
Reserve: Bam Adebayo, Heat
A top-20 player in total and per-game value, Adebayo has been Miami’s most consistent player this season. While his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are down slightly, he’s up to 19.6 points and 5.5 assists per game, and his free throw shooting (84.4%) is vastly improved.
Reserve: Trae Young, Hawks
The final spot came down to Young, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Domantas Sabonis, and Tobias Harris. The East is incredibly deep with deserving players, but Young gets the nod thanks to a superior ranking in total value (nine spots ahead of Harris). He’s played seven more games than Irving and is the league’s second-most-valuable source of assists and third-most-valuable free throw shooter (10.2 FTA/G, 87.5% FT).