N.B.A. All-Star Mock Draft: Giving LeBron and Giannis a Hand
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will have their work cut out for them when they make their picks as captains in just the second N.B.A. All-Star draft — and the first to be televised. The task is their prize for receiving the most votes in their conferences — James in the West, and Antetokounmpo in the East — during All-Star balloting from fans, media and players.
To help them out, we stepped in as captains for a mock draft in our bid to build the perfect teams. We have asked Marc Stein, our venerable N.B.A. reporter and columnist, to weigh in on which of us came away with a winner.
The rules are the same as those that will be employed on Thursday:
Each team must first select a starting lineup from the eight other starters as selected by the fans, media and players.
The second round will feature the 14 reserves, and the third round will feature the game’s two veteran ambassadors, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.
Team LeBron (Scott Cacciola) will pick first in the first and third rounds, and Team Giannis (Benjamin Hoffman) will pick first among the reserves.
Round One — Starters
1. James Harden
Cacciola: If I’m channeling my Inner LeBron, I’m rewarding Harden for his ridiculous first half of the season by making him the first pick, and I’m going to expect him to take no fewer than 20 stepback 3s from just inside half-court.
2. Stephen Curry
Hoffman: There are arguments to be made for other players, but once you consider Giannis’s skill set, there is no one more complementary than Curry. With the space created by Curry’s outside shooting — he’s actually gotten more bold with long 3-pointers, if you can believe it — the lane will be wide open for the dunks that will get Giannis named the game’s most valuable player.
3. Kevin Durant
Cacciola: Wait a second, Ben: I didn’t know we were treating this like an actual game with actual strategy. That changes everything. Or does it? Putting aside personal rivalries, with my second pick, I’m taking Kevin Durant because he, too, is really good at basketball. I also want to reunite him with Harden, his former teammate, and let them fight over the ball.
4. Joel Embiid
Hoffman: I’m not loving the size disparity so far — Harden is officially only three inches taller than Curry but is also somehow at least two feet taller than Curry — so I’ll take the biggest guy in the starter pool. But based on my stated goal of designing a team to get Giannis the M.V.P. Award, I would be careful about having these two on the floor together all that much unless we start to fall behind.
5. Kawhi Leonard
Cacciola: I need a defensive stopper. While I acknowledge that a case could be made for Paul George as the league’s top defender this season, is there any question that Leonard will approach this game the same way he does a mid-March clash with the Bucks? The guy does not turn off the intensity — ever. So I’m having him guard all five guys at once, because I already know that no one else will even pretend to play defense.
6. Kyrie Irving
Hoffman: There’s a legitimate argument that you have the best four players on the court so far, and despite my belief that my guys are perfect to play with each other, I’m getting a little nervous. The obvious play here would be to counter the Kawhi pick with George, but I want to avoid the LeBron-Kyrie pairing because I’ve seen how dangerous it can be.
7. Paul George
Cacciola: I’m going with more size and more versatility with my final pick among the starters, and I think you’re in trouble, Ben. A quick aside: George has been incredible for the Thunder this season, and he looks like a man playing with an untroubled conscience — and without the distraction of free agency and looming future decisions. If you take a look at this current batch of All-Stars, that makes George something of a rare breed.
8. Kemba Walker
Hoffman: O.K., so I didn’t actually have a choice to make here, but if there’s going to be one guy left in a gym waiting to be picked, it’s pretty good for it to be a guy who had a 60-point game earlier this season and who happens to be playing in his home arena. My team is small and fast so far, but over all there’s a star-power gap that I’m going to have to make up for in the reserves, which I will do from the start by stealing Anthony Davis (before Actual LeBron steals him from the Actual Pelicans).
Team LeBron: James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
Team Giannis: Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker
Round Two — Reserves
9. Anthony Davis
10. Ben Simmons
11. Nikola Jokic
Hoffman: It’s almost entirely a function of format, but a guy who will most likely finish second to Harden in M.V.P. voting going with the 11th pick is a little weird! Jokic does a lot of things well. He’s a passing savant, he’s a good rebounder, he shoots better than you probably think and he provides some size without sacrificing the fluid ball movement I’ll have to hope can be built through my starters.
12. Blake Griffin
13. Klay Thompson
14. Russell Westbrook
Cacciola: I’m not exactly sure what it means that Westbrook is the 14th overall pick in our mock draft. Maybe it means that the league is so rich with top-tier talent that it’s not even shocking that a former M.V.P. who is (again) averaging a triple-double slipped to the middle of the second round. But here we are.
15. LaMarcus Aldridge
16. Damian Lillard
17. Karl-Anthony Towns
18. D’Angelo Russell
19. Kyle Lowry
20. Nikola Vucevic
21. Khris Middleton
22. Bradley Beal
Round Three — Ambassadors
23. Dwyane Wade
Cacciola: This is the most obvious pick in the entire draft this side of Anthony Davis. Wade and James go way back, well before the Banana Boat days, and Wade has already made it abundantly clear that James better pick him. With retirement around the bend for Wade, the game will be full of nostalgia — not only for Wade, but for the partnership he formed with James (and Chris Bosh) in Miami when superstar conglomerates were still a novel concept.
24. Dirk Nowitzki
Hoffman: One of the greatest scorers in N.B.A. history, Dirk can’t really move around much, and other than getting in the game to launch a jumper or two he’s not a lot of added value on the court. But off the court he’s still one of the funniest players in the league. Taking a look at Team LeBron, my bench may need some moments of levity in what could turn into an ugly game.
Marc Stein’s Pick
Can I mock your picks instead of treating this like an actual game with something as mainstream as a prediction? We are looking for free agency clues in Thursday’s draft — not basketball decisions. I suppose I will go with Team LeBron/Cacciola over Team Giannis/Hoffman if I’m forced to choose, but what we really want to know is: Will LeBron draft Irving? And/or Davis? He always has a down-the-road plan in mind.