Lebron James (left) and Steph Curry (right) are the captains for the Eastern and Western Conference (Source: Getty Images)

Excitement for the highly anticipated 2018 NBA All Star Game has never been higher, with the outcome of the All-Star Draft leaving fans and players alike with no shortage of talking points.

The NBA players association, led by President Chris Paul, proposed reforms to the voting system to boost the game as a spectacle and encourage higher levels of competitiveness.

Team captains Lebron James and Stephen Curry, from the Eastern and Western Conference respectively, picked their teammates first from a pool of 8 starters, then a pool of 14 reserve players.

Controversially, the Draft took place behind closed doors, despite stars such as John Wall and Draymond Green voicing their disappointment that the draft wasn’t televised. There are conflicting reports as to why this was the case, with the Player’s Association providing a statement which pointed towards a “absence of a consensus by prospective players likely to be affected” for the reason not to televise the draft live. According to a report by The New York Times’ Mark Stein, the real reasons were a desire not to embarrass the player picked last, and the NBA not wanting to put captains in the awkward position of choosing other players over their teammates.

Whether it was a lack of consensus from the NBPA, or simply a way to protect the feelings of adult multi-millionaires, the Draft took place via a private phone call between Steph and Lebron, and they refused to reveal the order of their selections. This was slightly disappointing for everyone, as the format of the Draft is nostalgic for many fans worldwide who grew up picking teammates amongst their friends on basketball courts. Seeing who was picked first, last, and everything in between, is part of the spectacle and all in good fun.

Lebron James, widely considered to be the best player in the NBA right now and is building a case for the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time), selected what most people consider to be the stronger starting line-up. The 4 other players who will start alongside him are former teammate, Kyrie Irving, dominant New Orleans Pelicans pairing, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins, as well as 2017 NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant.

 

Lebron’s Starters and Reserves (Source: NBA.com)

Steph Curry, 2-time NBA champion and the only unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA, picked a slightly inferior but nonetheless extremely talented squad. He will be joined by Perennial MVP candidate James Harden, the ‘Greek Freek’ Giannis Antetokoumpo, the Toronto Raptors’ guard Demar Derozan, and the league’s most engaging personality in Joel Embiid.

 

Curry’s Starters and Reserves (Source: NBS.com)

Lebron had the most votes of all players and so had the first pick in the draft, leading many to speculate who would have the bragging rights of being chosen first. Of course, nobody knows for certain, but there is a strong suspicion that Kevin Durant was selected first overall. There are some who argue that he has surpassed Lebron as the NBA’s best player, especially since he hit the game winning shot over Lebron in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals, and was the MVP of that series for the Golden State Warriors.

Kevin Durant even fed into this speculation, even thinking it was obvious “we gonna keep this a mystery?”, and NBA insider Rosalyn Gold-Unwude has reported that Durant was indeed Lebron’s first pick. Giannis Antetokoumpo, the athletically gifted 6’11 Small Forward who is averaging 28 points and 10 rebounds a game on 55% shooting from the field, is widely reported to have been Steph’s first pick. Giannis’ career ceiling is off the charts, with Kevin Durant opining that Giannis could be the greatest of all time by the time his career is over.

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant (35) shoots a 3-point basket over Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (23) during the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in 2017. (Source: mercurynews.com)

Another intriguing plot-line is Lebron’s selection of his former teammate Kyrie Irving into his starting line-up. Kyrie hit one of the biggest clutch shots in NBA history to win the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but bitterly left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Boston Celtics, wanting to step away from Lebron’s shadow and prove he could lead his own team to a championship. There are even rumours Kyrie was prepared to have knee surgery in the summer and effectively sabotage the Cavaliers season if he wasn’t traded, which made it surprising to hear Lebron said it was a “no brainer” to include him on the team.

Lebron James and Kyrie Irving hug it out after the All-Star Finals in 2017

There were 14 incredible reserves for Team captains Lebron and Steph to choose from. Since Lebron had first selection of the starters, Steph was afforded the luxury of taking the first dip into the pool of available reserve players. Steph’s bench included Golden State teammates Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Minnesota Timberwolves Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony Towns, and the often-snubbed Damian Lillard.

Lebron managed to snag reigning league MVP Russel Westbrook, Washington Wizard teammates Bradley Beal and John Wall, and first time All-Stars Kristaps Porzingis and Victor Oladipo.

I think everyone would agree that the changes to the voting system have given us fresh talking points, and a new excitement towards the All-Star game. Moving away from the rigid East/West format has given us dream pairings like Kevin Durant and Lebron James playing alongside each other, and the drama of ‘who picked who’ brings the professional sport closer to the realities of the people who play it purely for the love of the game.