Someone not named Lebron James is on Top in the East
NBA Fans: Predict how other NBA fans are going to rank the best players at the break
By Michael Zhou
The 2018 NBA All-Star game will once again take place at Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the two most depressing franchises in the league. According to the early returns of fan voting released in early January, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leading vote-getter, ahead not just of his Eastern conference peers (including LeBron James) but also of the entire NBA. No doubt buoyed by a wave of international support, both in his native Greece and all over the world, Antetokounmpo has nevertheless backed up his popularity with a historic season. He’s averaging a double-double in points and rebounds while acting as the Bucks point guard. He’s shooting a ridiculous 55% while shooting almost 20 shots per game. Oh, and he’s a first-team All-NBA defender with his 7-foot wingspan and guard-like agility.
Even with Giannis’s impressive campaign, it’s still a slight surprise that a name most Americans can’t pronounce leads a household name like LeBron James. Especially when you consider that James is putting together arguably the best season of his career at 33 years of age. He’s improved his three-point marksmanship to elite levels, all while focusing more on his post-game and using his strength to bully defenders into to the paint. Plus, beyond the basketball court, LeBron is an icon. The All-Star vote results so far beg the question: can Giannis hold on to the top spot?
Behind Giannis and Lebron in the voting for the Eastern Conference forward slots are two rising stars: Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis. The former is known for his Twitter presence, the latter for his unicorn status. Both started the season off on a tear before fading a bit in recent weeks. As they’ve struggled, so have the Sixers and Knicks, underscoring the value each franchise cornerstone brings to their respective teams. It’ll likely be a showdown between these two big men for the final starting forward spot in the East. Embiid’s social media trolling and on-court personality endear him to many casual NBA fans, while Porzingis’s Latvian roots may give him the edge in global popularity.
Guard-wise in the Eastern conference, Kyrie Irving’s All-Star vote numbers have been boosted by an active Boston fanbase, as he leads the second place guard (DeMar DeRozan) by almost 4 times the number of votes. Irving’s personal numbers are down this year as he’s acclimated to Brad Stevens’s ball-sharing offense, but the Celtics have been the number one seed in the East for most of the season. Irving’s status as the best player on the best team, combined with his legendary ball-handling skills, would make him a shoo-in for starter regardless of where he played.
The other guard spot, however, will be extremely competitive. Following DeRozan, who has led the Raptors to the 2 seed, is Victor Oladipo, the first-half front-runner for the league’s most improved player. He’s led his Pacers team to a projected playoff spot by putting up 24.5 points per game on almost 50% shooting. Ben Simmons, the other half (with Embiid) of the up-and-coming 76ers dynamic duo, is in 4th, while John Wall has lagged behind in 5th thus far. Wall has struggled through injury this season; even when healthy, he’s shooting just 41% while putting up lower points and assists numbers compared with his last few seasons. Nonetheless, Wall still has the advantage of an established brand and is perhaps the most exciting player to watch of the group. Who will be the next guard after Irving and DeRozan?
Right after Wall are a pair of Cavaliers who most would take issue with them having that many votes. Dwyane Wade is just 10,000 votes behind Wall, but is averaging a career low 11.3 points per game. If he were somehow voted in, it would simply be a lifetime achievement award, similar to how Kobe was voted in his last season while he was putting up similarly dreadful numbers. After Wade is Isaiah Thomas, who has played in a total of 3 games this season. He has the advantage of playing on the same team as Lebron James and thus receiving the votes of Lebron and Cavs fans around the world. Of course, he was spectacular last season, but judging off this season alone, having the 7th most votes out of all the Eastern conference guards is ridiculous. This pair of guards are ahead of more deserving players such as Kyle Lowry, who is spearheading an improved Raptors team, Bradley Beal, who is averaging 23.6 points per game, and Kemba Walker, who is averaging 21.3 points per game.
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