2017 NBA All-Star voting is underway, and this year's game comes with a slight twist.
In years past, All-Star starters were 100 percent determined by fan voting. In 2017, though, fan votes count for only 50 percent of the "ballot." The remaining half consists of votes from all current NBA players (25 percent) and select members of the media (25 percent). The idea is to make sure that the most deserving players start in the All-Star Game — while still giving fans what they want.
So, as we're getting near the schedule midpoint of the NBA season, here are the 10 players who have earned the right to be All-Star starters in 2017. (Remember, the NBA no longer separates "forwards" and "centers" into discrete categories; fans, players and media wil vote for two backcourt spots and three frontcourt spots, with the reserves consisting of two backcourt spots, three frontcourt spots and two "wild cards.")
WEST: Guard — Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
This is the no-brainer-est of all no-brainers in the history of easy decisions. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a clause in the NBA CBA which states if you average a triple-double headed into January, you're automatically an All-Star starter.
Durant has reclaimed his title as the second-best player in the NBA (at the expense of Curry, but that's a story for another time). He's an absolute lock to start in his eighth consecutive All-Star Game.
Perhaps this is a bit of recency bias — but is that really such a bad thing? Thomas is making his fiercest critics eat crow this year, somehow becoming an even better player than he was in his first All-Star campaign last year. If he keeps this up, he deserves to start in New Orleans.
A month from now, DeRozan probably won't be in this spot. He's cooled off (relatively) since a red-hot start that saw him lead the NBA in scoring through the first month, opening the door for Kyrie Irving to surpass him as a rightful Eastern Conference starting guard.
And let's be honest: Kyrie is going to start in the All-Star Game. It's just a matter of whether he deserves the honor over DeRozan (or Thomas, for that matter).
Friend of the program Dan Carson recently tackled the tough question of what the Greek Freak must do to silence his doubters. Earning a starting spot in the All-Star Game (and the national attention that comes with it) would be a well-earned step in the right direction.
With apologies to Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Paul George and more, Butler is the only reason the Bulls are anything close to a playoff team. His efficiency is off the charts this season despite playing in lineups that can't space the floor to save their lives, and his defense remains top-notch.
Still, we have to give the advantage to the Western Conference, by just a hair. Tell us what we got wrong on Twitter or in the comments.