It’s a tough life for star caliber players in the Western Conference. Not only do you have virtually no chance of seeing the NBA Finals due to the unrelenting dominance of the Golden State Warriors, you also have to grapple with an absurd amount of competition to earn one of the NBA’s highest honors, a selection to the All-Star team.
Last year, Rudy Gobert, Chris Paul, and Damian Lillard were just a few of the elite players left off of the honorary squad, and, as crazy as it seems, it’s hard to argue any of them should have made it over the 12 guys who got chosen.
Unfortunately, this summer has been more bad news for the West’s All-Star hopefuls, with four Eastern Conference All-Stars switching sides. Only Gordon Hayward’s spot opened up, meaning the West’s All-Star team could be looking at a major shakeup come February.
None of the 11 remaining All-Stars show any signs of slowing down, and perennial snubs like Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Mike Conley will be hungry to make some noise. Plus, young guys like Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns are both set to join the conversation.
All of this means one thing; some seriously good players are going to have a weekend off in February for the first time in a long time. These are the guys most likely to be left high and dry by the insane Western Conference All-Star race.
Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is one of the league’s elite bigs. He is the most impactful defender in the sport, a brilliant passer, and a top ten player. He is an All-Star, full-stop.
Buy, he will likely be the first Warrior to fall. We’re now looking at the fourth consecutive year of Warriors dominance, which means voter fatigue is bound to set in. They have two guaranteed All-Stars in Curry and Kevin Durant, and a shooting guard in Klay Thompson whose game is much more All-Star-friendly.
Unless the Warriors are once again playing at a 73-win pace, it is just hard to imagine them sending four All-Stars for the second year in a row.
Carmelo Anthony, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
Former New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony has made eight consecutive All-Star games. He hasn’t been left out since 2009. But Anthony is now, for the first time in his career, the third best player on his own squad. It’s time for his reign to come to an end.
Anthony hasn’t really been a deserving All-Star for a few years now anyway. But a combination of the talent-lacking Eastern Conference and the good old New York Bump has kept him comfortably in the conversation. But if the Thunder are going to maximize their star-studded roster, they need Anthony to take a backseat to small forward Paul George and reigning MVP Westbrook — two guaranteed All-Stars.
If Anthony welcomes that backseat, he simply won’t have the gaudy numbers required to make the team in the West. If he doesn’t welcome it, the team won’t perform well enough to send three All-Stars.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis has deservedly gotten a pass for the struggles his teams have faced throughout the first five years of his career. As great as his Pelicans running mate Jrue Holiday is, those two guys are not enough to drag a team to contention on their own.
The New Orleans front office has simply not provided Davis with enough complementary talent to realistically expect the team to consistently make the playoffs. That’s what has led Davis to four straight All-Star appearances — plus an All-Star game MVP — compared to only one brief playoff appearance in 2015.
All of that comes to an end this year. The Pels’ superstar big is now surrounded by not one but two stars due to last year’s trade deadline acquisition of controversial center DeMarcus Cousins. Beyond that, there’s a sneaky good supporting cast who, while not being nearly good enough to make the Pelicans elite, are plenty talented enough to warrant a playoff berth.
If things go poorly, we could see Davis’ stock start to really fall for the first time in his career. Surely, Cousins will take the brunt of the criticism — as he always does — if the Pelicans fail to cash in on their potential. But eventually some of that has to trickle down to the Pels’ undisputed franchise cornerstone.
And while it seems crazy that one of the league’s top ten players would be left off of the All-Star team, it may not be all that unrealistic. In order to hold onto his spot, Davis will have to outperform guys much more likely to be on great teams, like Wolves forward Jimmy Butler, or Thunder forward Paul George. He will also have to contend with upward trending bigs like Towns and Jokic, and perennial All-Star vets like Paul Millsap and Marc Gasol.
Things could go very well for the Pels in 2017-18 — as well as 47 wins, and a five seed in the conference. But they could go very poorly as well. And if they do, last year’s All-Star Game MVP could end up watching the game from his couch.