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The List: My early NBA All-Star picks

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NBA All-Star Game voting begins Dec. 21. Here is an early look at the players on track to earn spots in 2018.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

NBA All-Star Game voting starts this week and this feels like an appropriate time to make some early selections. As was the case last year, fans account for 50 percent of the voting, while media and players each count 25 percent. After the starters are selected, the coaches will pick the reserves.

Unlike last year, we’ll have two teams drawn up between the 24 players selected and chosen by two captains. There will still be a dozen players representing each conference, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given the new format. Also the captains’ choices may be made in secret, which is completely absurd.

Whatever. It’s an all-star game. Please note that a few of these picks can and probably will change between now and January when final selections are due.

Let’s start in the East with the backcourt.

Kyrie Irving: Despite an uptick in his shooting percentages, Kyrie’s offensive numbers look an awful lot like his numbers last season with the Cavaliers. So, why does this feel like a breakthrough season? Perhaps it’s because many of us weren’t sure he’d be able to do this as the featured star. Fewer still believed he’d be able to lead the Celtics to the best record in the conference without Gordon Hayward. Kyrie’s been the goods offensively, especially late in games, but it’s his noticeably improved defense that puts him ahead of his contemporaries in this discussion. It’s Kyrie’s world; a big, beautiful, round world.

Victor Oladipo: When I started this exercise I assumed I’d have Kyle Lowry in this spot. I’m going with Oladipo because he’s carried more of a load for the Pacers than Lowry has for the Raps. He’s also been more efficient than Bradley Beal and Demar DeRozan. All of them are deserving, but Oladipo’s been just a little bit better.

Other guards: The Eastern Conference backcourt is crowded with a half-dozen other players warranting serious consideration. Lowry remains as impactful as ever and DeRozan is having another DeRozan-esque season. He’s a three-time all-star and that will carry weight with coaches. Beal is close to his first nod and so is Ben Simmons, who is the only rookie with a legit shot of being selected. We’ll need to make room for John Wall once he gets a few more games under his belt and Kemba Walker is trying mightily to keep the sinking Hornets afloat. Good players will be left home.

LeBron James: This will be James’ 14th all-star selection, tying him with Jerry West, Karl Malone, and Michael Jordan. On the grand list of James’ accomplishments, this is merely a footnote.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Not much more needs to be said about the Freak. This is his spot for the next decade.

Al Horford: This was the toughest call in the East. I’m giving Horford the edge because of his defense and the Celtics’ place in the standings. You can’t grasp Horford’s impact by looking at the stat sheet and even the defensive metrics don’t quite accurately capture his importance. He’s not just the glue defensively, he’s taken on some of the best scorers in the game and held them in check. Horford was better in November, like everyone else on the Celtics, but those games still count. I doubt he’ll wind up with this spot when the voting is done, but he deserves the trip.

Other frontcourt: If Andre Drummond had Horford’s savvy he’d be an all-star lock. He’s still a deserving choice. Joel Embiid needs to be on this team. If he can shake off his injuries, Kristaps Porzingis will also get strong consideration. Just make sure to leave room for Kevin Love, who is having an excellent season. The player who will probably get left out is Nikola Vucevic. He’s the Mike Conley of the East.

Kevin Love is looking more like the player he was in Minnesota

And now the obscenely loaded West. If this went on straight merit instead of conference affiliation, we’d have 14-16 players from this conference. Some day ...

James Harden: The MVP of the first third of the season, this is the most obvious pick on the board. Harden leads the league in scoring and is third in assists. We don’t need to make this complicated. This is Peak Harden. The only question is who joins him.

Steph Curry: If Curry’s out much longer with his ankle injury, this spot will go to someone else. As of this date, Steph is still a fairly obvious choice. Please make him and LeBron the co-captains.

Other guards: I thought long and hard about putting Jimmy Butler in that other guard spot and I may wind up doing it before the real vote is taken in January. He’ll get squeezed because that’s the way of the universe, but Damian Lillard should absolutely be in Los Angeles. We’ve gone this far and haven’t mentioned Russell Westbrook. OKC has had its struggles, but it would be shocking if he’s not included. Klay Thompson, who we all vowed to not underrate during the Finals, is being underrated again. Chris Paul hasn’t played enough games yet, but he’ll have a better argument in January. Not all of them will go and it will get contentious.

Kevin Durant: The Warriors might be unfair, but that doesn’t diminish his impact. KD is averaging 26-7-5, while offering outstanding rim protection. In four games without Curry, he’s put up 135 points, 41 rebounds, 27 assists, and 11 blocks. Those are all MVP numbers. He’s a lock.

Anthony Davis: It’s a little strange that he’s gone back under the radar after taking a minor step back a few years ago. During that time, AD has become a complete player. He’s a more competent 3-point shooter, and he knows where to find his offense around the rim. He’s also become a reliable defender. AD is averaging 25 and 10 and he makes it look easy. While DeMarcus Cousins is putting up even bigger box score numbers, it’s Davis who makes the biggest impact on the Pels’ bottom line.

LaMarcus Aldridge: There is no way he’s going to be elected as a starter, but Aldridge gets the nod for keeping the Spurs in the upper echelon while Kawhi Leonard was on the injury list. Good for him. Not many people thought he still had it in him. LMA’s numbers will probably suffer a bit when Kawhi gets back up to speed, but Aldridge’s play in his absence has gone a long way toward rehabbing his standing.

Others: Boogie’s numbers are really, truly insane. He’ll be in Los Angeles. Nikola Jokic is healthy again and will get back into the conversation. He deserves the scrutiny, but Karl Anthony-Towns is still a factor. Then there’s Paul George and Draymond Green, who both merit consideration for their two-way play. My guess is the coaches will put both of them on the team and some of the bigs will get squeezed. Poor DeAndre Jordan is a longshot with this group. Marc Gasol will have a hell of a time convincing coaches to vote for him. This is going to be really tough.