Eastern Leftovers: Predicting the Weaker Conference’s All-Stars
As the great Offseason Diaspora of 2017 comes to a tweet-sparring close, the remaining talent east of the Mississippi must fill the vacuum left by three fleeing forwards—Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap.
Despite the Eastern Conference holding a mere two of 2016-17’s top 10 players in NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), five of the top 20 in win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) and five of the top 20 in player efficiency rating (PER), there are long-term projects who can bring the field back from the repressed memory of the 2014 Atlanta Hawk’s playoff bid.
In sifting through the ruins, let’s take a look at the potential 2017-18 LeBron James Conference All-Star team:
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
The often overlooked superstar of the DMV will be heading a squad coming off its best season since 1978-79. The Kentucky product averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists per contest while finishing third in assist percentage (46.9) and eighth in steal percentage (2.7). Wall has put together four consecutive All-Star seasons while maintaining at least 17 points and eight dimes per game. With Kyle Lowry heading into his age-31 season, the 27-year-old point guard should find his way into the starting five.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving’s starting spot is an amalgamation of the projected fan vote and his style of play. Though the sabermetrically inclined aren’t the biggest Irving supporters, he is coming off a sneaky 25.2 points and 5.8 assists per game, with the former serving as a career high. Duke’s finest also ended the season with a career-high 23.0 PER and a 47.3 percent clip from the field.
LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
See: Last 14 years of the National Basketball Association.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak established himself as a superstar after his Most Improved campaign, tallying a 22.9/8.8/5.4 line that brought the Milwaukee Bucks back into relevancy. The 13th overall pick in 2013 boasted a 26.1 PER and a TPA of 425.68, good for No. 10 and No. 4 in the league, respectively. Point-Giannis will look to make another stride after an All-NBA Second Team season and position himself as a top-three player in the East.
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Even with The Process’ absurd tweet-to-minute-played ratio, the man balled out when actually on the court. Through his 31 appearances in 2016-17, he averaged 20.2 points in 25.4 minutes while sinking 36.7 percent of his treys. Health permitting, Embiid should easily snag the center spot with the help of his many loyal social-media fans.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Boston Celtics
The East’s biggest summer addition will look to shine in a conference that just lost two All-NBA-level forwards in Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Under his former coach Brad Stevens, and with a new supporting cast in Boston, Hayward can improve upon his 21.9 points per contest and 22.2 PER against lighter competition.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
After a monster season and one of the best fourth-quarter averages of all time, Isaiah Thomas will look to notch his third-straight All-Star selection while leading the 53-win Celtics. Since Boston may have to move either Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley, two tenacious defenders who even out thepoint guard’s sub-par defense, Thomas will likely regress a bit from his absurd line of 28.9 points (good for third in the league) and 5.9 assists per game as more players learn to defend him and, with emphasis, make him go to the right. Yet even after factoring in a potential decline from sharing shots with Hayward, his 274.58 TPA and 26.5 PER (seventh in the league), along with the fact he’s in a contract year, play nicely into his All-Star potential.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Stealing Malik Monk at No. 11 in the draft and adding Michael Carter-Williams and Dwight Howard alongside a consistent Nicolas Batum rounds out a core that’ll help Kemba Walker make waves for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The UConn National Champion posted 23.2 points and 5.5 assists last year en route to his first All-Star appearance. Now, Walker should waltz his way into a second selection following his career-high PER (21.3) and true shooting percentage (56.9), especially when factoring in the improvement of the team around him.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
An old-school throwback in the eyes of a sharply three-orientated NBA, Whiteside plays with his back to the basket and has steadily improved the past three seasons. Last year alone he averaged 17.0 points and 14.1 rebounds per contest while finishing fourth in defensive rating (99.9), fifth in block percentage (5.0), third in total rebound percentage (24.0) and first in rebounds per game. A top-20 player by win shares, he will look to revive the late-season heroics from south Florida and support the immortal leader of Waiters Island.
Khris Middleton, SG, Milwaukee Bucks
The underappreciated, injury-riddled third man of the Jason Kidd trio has shown All-Star potential when on the court the past two seasons. Before his hamstring injury last fall, Middleton put together a promising 18.2 points per game with a 39.6 three-point percentage. Though those numbers don’t drop any jaws, the Milwaukee Bucks will improve as a team, and his health is vital to that. The hole left by Jimmy Butler on the All-Star wing should immediately be filled with Middleton’s 57.0 true shooting percentage.
Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks
The Latvian Unicorn made major strides this past season, avoiding a sophomore slump with a cool 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game—strong production that came in spite of the New York Knicks on- and off-court dysfunction. After the basketball gods saved Porzingis from being traded and ousted former president Phil Jackson, the post-Zen era will begin with the 21-year-old holding the keys to the franchise. If head coach Jeff Hornacek can find someone to pair with him up front, he will be poised to actualize his potential and move into All-Star form.
DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors
Age was the deciding factor when choosing between DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan notched 27.3 points per game last year—his fourth straight season with a scoring average of at least 20. He’s not without his flaws, of course, and his three-point woes (26.6 percent last season) have persisted. But in a conference that isn’t ripe with talent, he gets the nod. While Lowry posted a 292.19 TPA and led the Raptors with 22.4 points and 7.0 assists last season, history shows guards start to decline after the age of 30—though more slowly than forwards.
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