Kristaps Porzingis came to the Dallas Mavericks with a reputation for unmatched talent and a cool nickname. Despite both of those things, Porzingis had only one All-Star appearance while in New York. He has not been to the All-Star Game while a Maverick, but that could change this year.
The Western Conference has been the much tougher conference to earn an All-Star birth in over the last two decades. The reason that teams in the West were better is because the players in the West were better. That is no longer true. While Lebron James has moved from the East to the West, luminaries such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Joel Embiid all reside in the East.
Porzingis has recovered much if not all of the mobility and athleticism that made him so special. Unfortunately, he has lost the long range jumper that was the other part of what made him special. He is shooting a career low 29.0 percent from three point range. The same is not true of his midrange jumper which is fueling career best efficiency from the post. He also has 50 dunks in 30 games this season after having 59 in 43 games all of last season. His career high of 78 dunks is in serious danger if he remains healthy.
There are still many big names in the West, but several are having down seasons. This is important because the All-Star Team has limits. Simply having a good season does not qualify a player for an all star team. In order to show that someone deserves to be an All-Star, one must also show whom they should replace.
This is going to be merit based, so I’m going to ignore the fan voting. Andrew Wiggins should not be an All-Star starter. Lets start with the obvious choices. Nikola Jokic, Lebron James, Stephen Curry and Ja Morant are clear cut All-Star. That leaves eight remaining spots.
The Phoenix Suns deserve two spots for absolutely dominating the conference in route to a 35 and 9 record thus far. Chris Paul and Devin Booker take those two spots which leaves us with six remaining spots. Donovan Mitchell and the Mavericks own Luka Doncic are also about as close to locks as is possible without actually being locks. That leaves four remaining spots. Of the spots currently taken, six are guards and two are front court.
The Clippers likely deserve an All-Star for managing to remain in the top eight without Kawhi Leonard but Paul George got hurt. While his getting hurt is terrible for him and the Clippers it actually helps with the selection process. He can be selected to give the Clippers a representative ensuring that all of the top eight teams have an All-Star. But a replacement will have to be named leaving four available spots.
Given these selections each of the top 8 teams has one All-Star representative with the first place Suns having two. The Golden State Warriors also deserve a second All-Star, it just shouldn’t be Wiggins. Draymond Green is an incredibly unique player throughout history who’s contributions aren’t always shown statistically. He is the best defender in the world and an incredibly important part of their offense as a passer and facilitator. Steph Curry has even managed to weaponize Green’s lack of shooting by utilizing the space provided when Green’s defender sags off of him as Green screens. It is a validation of both his unique greatness and the Warriors renewed success to put him in the All-Star Game. Putting him in the All-Star game leaves three openings.
The Grizzlies don’t really have a viable second All-Star candidate. Second leading scorer Dillon Brooks has only played 21 games. Desmond Bane is only averaging 17.7 points 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists without providing elite defense and Jaren Jackson Jr is only averaging 16.5 points 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists.
The Jazz is where things get really interesting. Rudy Gobert is considered for being the entirety of the Jazz’ defense and a big part of their offense through his screen setting. Additionally Gobert is third in the Western Conference in player efficiency rating which given his volume of minutes and his importance to the Jazz virtually requires his inclusion. Putting Gobert in leaves only two openings.
If Gobert has to be in, so does Porzingis. The Mavericks’ defense is actually better than the Jazz’. Additionally over the last quarter of the season, despite time missed in health and safety protocols, Porzingis has been statistically the best rim protector in the NBA. Dallas has moved up to the fifth seed and is virtually equidistant from the play-in and homecourt advantage. They are good enough to warrant two All-Star players and Porzingis has been good enough to be the second guy. Porzingis is seventh in the Western Conference in player efficiency rating with vastly improved defense. Putting Porzingis in leaves one opening.
Perennial All-Star players like Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis have not been good enough to be selections this season. Neither Lillard nor Davis will play again before the All-Star game nor would they be able to play in the All-Star Game. Karl Anthony-Towns deserves a spot despite the Timberwolves not being in the top eight in the conference. He is averaging an incredibly efficient 24.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while remaining one of the most well rounded scoring big men in NBA history.
Overall, this is likely one of the worst Western Conference All-Star teams in the last two decades. But Porzingis really does deserve consideration and the only people not considered who might deserve a spot over him are Deandre Ayton, Dejounte Murray and Andrew Wiggins. Both Ayton and Wiggins are the third options on their own team rather than the second. Ayton has played even fewer games than Porzingis while averaging fewer points, assists and blocks and the same amount of steals. Ayton over Porzingis would not be a travesty to the sport but it would also be a mistake.
Murray is probably deserving of an All-Star spot but team success should be rewarded. Further, selecting him gives the team seven guards and only five front court players which seems to be a mistake given the two guards, three frontcourt players alignment. Murray is also incredibly inefficient with a 50.8 true shooting percentage. Even with the decline in his three point shooting, Porzingis has a 57.0 true shooting percentage and a better player efficiency rating.
In addition to being a poor three point shooter, Murray virtually never gets to the free throw line with a .138 free throw attempt rate. Porzingis has made it a point to get to the foul line more this season which has resulted in a .346 free throw attempt rate. That aggression has been rewarded with increased efficiency that could very well result in a trip to the All-Star Game.
Wiggins may very well get in on the fan vote. And if he does it should be at the expense of Green, not Porzingis. There is no justification for the Warriors having three players selected to the All-Star Game if Suns only get two. Especially since one of the Warriors All-Star is considered the leading MVP candidate by some. Porzingis may or may not make the All-Star team, but the fact that he has done enough to have a case is a sign of how much better he has been and how much worse the Western Conference has been this season.