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My NBA All-Star starter picks

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Let’s break down my official All-Star ballot — and then start debating.

It’s NBA All-Star selection time and once again I’ve been asked to cast an official vote that will be reflected in the media portion of the formula used to select the starters from each conference. Like the fans and players, the media has been tasked with picking five players from each conference with two backcourt and three frontcourt slots.

Having an indirect influence over league business is not a comfortable position to be in, but it’s a responsibility I take seriously. In addition to hours spent watching basketball every night, I’ve pored over stats and talked to trusted league sources when making my picks.

Most of these picks were relatively easy. A few were painfully hard. I’d gladly trade one of the backcourt spots in the East for another frontcourt opening in the West, but that’s how it goes.

As a reminder, the fan vote counts for 50 percent with the media and player vote accounting for 25 percent each of the final tally. Once the starters are chosen, the coaches will pick the reserves.

Here are the actual All-Star starter picks:

Below is my ballot:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

KYRIE IRVING: While everyone scratches their third eye over Irving’s postgame messaging, don’t forget that in the Celtics’ biggest regular-season victory of the season, Kyrie dropped 27 points and 18 assists on the Raptors. To watch Kyrie operate is to witness a player existing in another realm. He is Dr. Strange, the NBA’s Sorcerer Supreme.

(Irving was named an All-Star starter.)

KEMBA WALKER: I went back and forth on this one numerous times, but ultimately decided to roll with Kemba, who’s carried the Hornets all season. It seems like forever ago when some were trying elevate Walker in the Best Point Guard in the League discussion thanks to his torrid start. Kemba has cooled off some, but there’s no denying his impact.

Note: You can make a case for Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons, or Bradley Beal and you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s not that all these players aren’t deserving of All-Star recognition, it’s that none of them have truly stood out to make an unimpeachable decision.

(Walker was named an All-Star starter, beating out Simmons and Dwyane Wade).

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: Giannis was my first-half MVP pick and I won’t belabor the obvious. At 26 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists a night on 58 percent shooting from the floor, the Freak has become a singular talent. Fun question for the second half of the season: assuming Giannis grabs one of the two All-NBA forward spots, who gets the other?

(Antetokounmpo was named an All-Star starter and a captain).

KAWHI LEONARD: Thanks to his seamless transition with Toronto, it’s been easy to forget about Kawhi. To review: He’s averaging career highs in points (27) and rebounds (7.9) along with a .613 True Shooting Percentage and all-Defense caliber work for one of the best teams in the league. There is an open question in Toronto as to whether the Raptors are relying too much on Leonard, but that’s something to smooth out in the second half of the season.

(Leonard was named an All-Star starter.)

JOEL EMBIID: Where does Embiid rank among the league’s top centers? He’s no worse than top three (along with Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic) and probably top two when you consider defense (along with AD). There’s no debate about the best center in the East, however. The Sixers are weird, but Embiid remains their anchor on both ends of the floor.

(Embiid was named an All-Star starter.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

JAMES HARDEN: The defending Most Valuable Player has been even better this season; racking up an efficient 35.7 points to go with 8.5 assists and a Usage Rate over 40. Harden’s blitzkrieg is the singular reason why the Rockets have been able to recover from the slow start and secure solid postseason positioning. He’s going to need some help if the Rockets are able to make another playoff run, but there’s no stopping him right now.

(Harden was named an All-Star starter.)

STEPH CURRY: Is it possible for a two-time MVP with three championship rings to be underrated? Steph may never approach his twin MVP seasons again, but he’s still the league’s top shotmaker and most dangerous outside shooter. Put it another way: If you had your pick of any guard in the league, are you really passing on Curry?

Note: Apologies to Damian Lillard, who has reached a level of consistent excellence that still gets taken for granted.

(Curry was named an All-Star starter.)

ANTHONY DAVIS: The NBA’s best big man is averaging 29-and-13 with almost double his previous career high in assists at 4.4 per game. AD’s defensive impact is a little tougher to quantify. Defense is what’s holding New Orleans back in the standings, but when AD is on the court, the Pels defend at about a league average rate. That won’t help him win Defensive Player of the Year, but there’s no doubt he’s an All-Star starter

(Paul George, and not Davis, was named an All-Star starter. The two finished in a tie, but George had more fan votes, earning him the tiebreaker.)

KEVIN DURANT: Now this gets hard. There are simply too many frontcourt players having monster seasons in the West. There’s a couple of different ways this can go, but I’m going to maintain an uneasy status quo. Consider KD, who has done nothing to lose his All-Star spot. He’s averaging 28-7-6 and is creeping up on a 90-50-40 season. If he’s not the best player in the world, then he’s no worse than second.

(Durant was named an All-Star starter.)

LeBRON JAMES: And if KD isn’t the best player in the game, it’s still this guy. The difficult part is that LeBron has missed 13 games and counting with a groin injury. It’s the most he’s missed at any point in his career and I came very close to replacing him with either Nikola Jokic or Paul George. Both the Joker and PG are deserving of All-Star starter status. I simply can’t get past NOT voting for LeBron, especially given his work in the 34 games he did play before the injury.

(James was named an All-Star starter and a captain).