Running through the leading All-Star candidates for each East team — yes, even the Sixers
Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford, C
Atlanta has two All-Star-caliber big men in Horford and Paul Millsap. And Kyle Korver will always warrant consideration for the impact he has on the Hawks. But this team belongs to the Boss, who is once again the best center in the league to whom no one pays attention. And it doesn't seem like Horford minds the lack of attention, so long as the wins keep piling up.
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Boston Celtics: Isaiah Thomas, PG
Boston's best player is 5-foot-9 and it doesn't even matter, because Thomas is, somehow, an elite scorer. He efficiently gets it done -- from behind the 3-point line, in the paint, at the free-throw line. Literally everywhere that one can score a basketball, Thomas excels. It's scary to think about what Boston's offense would look like without him.
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Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez, C
There isn't much argument for anyone else here -- other than Thaddeus Young, who has stepped up his defensive play and rebounding this season. Lopez, though, is one of the best low-post scorers in the league. He can destroy the opposition with a bevy of floaters and crafty moves out of the pick-and-roll, too. He's far from flashy, but he walks away from just about every game having posted 20 points. He's having another great season, and this time, he's stayed healthy. He deserves some credit for that, even if you're probably not watching the Nets very often.
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Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum, SF
This season's biggest surprise? The Charlotte Hornets. They have a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense, and Batum is the single biggest reason why. He's a nightly triple-double threat, and he makes Charlotte's entertaining offense go. After a career-worst shooting season last year, he's knocking down 3s and thriving as a first option. Charlotte's extremely lucky to have Batum on board.
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Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler, SG/SF
Butler has taken another step beyond his breakout season last year, which should frighten opponents. His defense has returned to form after fighting through some nagging injuries, and he's taken over as the Bulls' clear first option on the perimeter. Considering the season Derrick Rose is trudging through, Butler, who operates within one of the league's worst offenses, hasn't had much of a choice. So far, he's worn the mantle of No. 1 scorer well. We just hope he can find some scoring help sooner than later.
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Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James, SF
Kevin Love is having a great season. It's true. But if you're on a first-name basis with everyone you meet, like LeBron, you're an All-Star by default. James is having another LeBron-like season, putting up insane scoring, rebound and assist numbers while carrying a team that's been without two of its top players. He's the King. He'll be an All-Star until the day he retires -- and even then, we might try to talk him into one more exhibition just for nostalgia's sake.
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Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond, C
Most probably don't realize exactly how extraordinary Drummond's season has been. The Pistons center is putting up better than 17 points and 16 rebounds per game. Moses Malone in 1978-79 is the last player to accomplish that feat on a nightly basis. So it takes a trip back four decades through time and one of the most talented players in basketball history to put what Drummond's doing in proper context. His 2015-16 season -- to this point, anyway -- isn't just great. It's on pace to be historic.
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Indiana Pacers: Paul George, SF/PF
Remember the Paul George from two years ago, the one before the horrific leg injury? Remember how fantastic that guy was as he pushed LeBron and the Heat to the brink? The current iteration of George is even better. His numbers are up across the board -- all of them. Meanwhile, he's picked up his top-of-the-line defense right where he left off. And this time, he doesn't have the safety net of Roy Hibbert behind him (although Ian Mahinmi's no slouch, either). It's hard to argue George is anything other than a top-10 player at this point, and that's if you're being conservative.
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Miami Heat: Chris Bosh, PF/C
Hassan Whiteside is making a serious case, too, and Dwyane Wade is always an All-Star candidate. But Bosh never gets the respect or credit he deserves. That won't be the case here. He's an excellent defensive player, not because he tallies a ton of blocks -- like Whiteside -- but because he's one of the smartest and most talkative defenders in the NBA. He's also quite possibly the best jump shooting big man in the East, at least off the catch-and-shoot. And to top it all off, he's rebounding at a better rate this season than he has since his Toronto days. Give the guy what he's earned.
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Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF
This might not quite be the breakout season some saw for Antetokounmpo, but this year has seen steady, solid growth from the 21-year-old. He's clearly better than he's ever been, finding ways to post wonderfully efficient numbers despite the lack of a solid jumper. And at such a young age, the Greek Freak is far from his ceiling. That's the best part -- this development feels sustainable. Once Antetokounmpo develops said jumper (and make no mistake, he's working on it every day), he's going to be mighty tough to stop. Until then, he's still the best player this Bucks team has to offer thanks to his two-way nature, ever-stretching arms and supreme athleticism.
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New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C
The All-Star Game is supposed to be fun, and what's more fun than an outrageously exciting 7-foot-3 rookie who dunks on stars, dives for loose balls and can (almost) touch both sides of the court at the same time just by stretching his arms? There's no question Carmelo Anthony is still a better basketball player than Porzingis, especially considering KP has hit a bit of a wall of late. But getting to witness just one putback dunk over Blake Griffin or Anthony Davis would make Porzingis' inclusion worth it. We promise.
Orlando Magic: Evan Fournier, SG/SF
Both Fournier and Nikola Vucevic are in the running here, but we're going with Fournier for two major reasons. First, he doesn't get benched in crunch time because of poor defense (sorry, Vooch). Second, Fournier's emergence as a legitimate scorer has allowed Orlando to shift its lineup, starting Channing Frye and bringing Victor Oladipo off the bench. That extra spacing has turned the Magic into a legitimate playoff contender.
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Philadelphia 76ers: Brett Brown, coach
We don't have to pick a player, right? Like, that's not actually in the rules, is it? ... it is? Fine. If we must, we'll take rookie Jahlil Okafor. But why not just give Brown some dap for having to deal with what's consistently been the worst roster in the NBA over the past few years? Despite the lack of talent, the 76ers coach has actually done a wonderful job -- good enough to earn a two-year extension amid all the noise in the front office. His defensive schemes have propelled the Philly D into the top half of the league two years in a row, if you can believe that. The offense can't actually hit any of its shots, but at least the Sixers are mostly taking efficient looks from the 3-point line and at the rim. Forget the rules. We're officially casting an #NBAVote for Brown.
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Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry, PG
The Raptors didn't manage to knock off the Golden State Warriors in two early meetings with the defending champs, and that hardly matters for our purposes. The lasting image from those games is Lowry going toe-to-toe with Stephen Curry, showing what he can do at the peak of his powers. The Toronto point guard spent the offseason getting into tremendous shape. For most players, "the best shape of my life" is a summer cliche. For Lowry, it's meant the best season of his career so far. To wit, he's outpacing his career high in per-game scoring by nearly 3 points per contest with a minimal drop in assists. DeMar DeRozan has been very good, too. But the Raptors go as Lowry goes.
Washington Wizards: John Wall, PG
Wall hasn't reached the surreal expectations that were heaped upon his shoulders after a solid 2014-15 campaign, but he's still having a damn fine season. Arguably the best defender at his position, it's the other side of the ball that's been a sticking point for Wall and the Wizards. He's trying to make things work in an up-tempo system that's seen the half-court offense fall to the wayside. Wall's a speedy guy, so getting to the rim hasn't been a problem. Setting up his teammates, though, has been a struggle, and he's turning the ball over a bit too often. Still, there aren't two point guards in the East you'd take over Wall.