After years of noncompetitive All-Star Games -- and a talent imbalance that has put the majority of the league's best players in the Western Conference -- the NBA announced Tuesday that the 2018 All-Star Game would have a new format. Gone is the East versus West of years past, replaced with a schoolyard-style pickup draft to fill out the rosters.
The league hasn't announced full details of how the draft will work (Will it be alternating pick or snake? Will there be any positional restrictions on the rosters?), but here's the current info we have:
The player pool itself will be chosen in the same way as before. Fans, media and players will vote to select five starters from each conference, then coaches will select the seven reserves from the East and West. This means there will still likely be some deserving stars from the West who get left off, while less accomplished players from the East make the roster.
The top vote-getter from each conference will serve as a captain for his team, and draft his 11 teammates from the selected player pool.
The captains will select their starters from the voted-in starters with the first four picks each, then will move on to the reserve pool. This ensures that the players the fans (and media and players) choose as the starters will start the game.
To show what the first NBA All-Star playground-style player draft might look like, Kevin Pelton supplied the projected 12-man All-Star rosters for each conference, and will serve as captain "Stephen Curry" for this draft, with Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight.com/ESPN.com playing the role of LeBron James and making the first overall pick.
On to the draft!
Drafting the starters
1. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Russell Westbrook
2. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kevin Durant
Chris Herring: Kevin Durant is seemingly the no-brainer pick here, but part of me thinks LeBron enjoys playing against Durant and would choose that over playing with him -- even in an exhibition setting. What better player to pick than the guy who plays (and shoots) like there's no tomorrow, even in games that don't count.
Kevin Pelton: There's a good debate to be had between Durant and Kawhi Leonard as the best matchup for LeBron James, but not for Durant's teammate. Curry will look past the Under Armour swipes and focus on Durant being the best player on the court against James in last season's NBA Finals.
3. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Draymond Green
4. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kawhi Leonard
Herring: Green is James' friend, and is one of the few All-Stars who figures to actually play some defense. Some of his edge will be taken away by the exhibition element of it all, but he's an unselfish player whose teammates will enjoy playing with him.
Pelton: The Warriors' big three has been broken up, but the good news is after choosing between Durant and Leonard, our team gets both as interchangeable forwards who will give us plenty of flexibility defensively and both outside shooting and shot creation on offense.
5. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Giannis Antetokounmpo
6. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kevin Love
Herring: If the game becomes a track meet -- something that would probably benefit a club with this sort of athleticism -- Giannis, who led the NBA in fast-break points, figures to be Carl Lewis.
Pelton: Finally, we'll get a look at what it might have been like had Love and Curry teamed up in Golden State. With Draymond off the board, we had to grab the other true big man available to start, and Love can start at center and slide to power forward.
7. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: John Wall
8. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kyrie Irving
Herring: LeBron's team didn't need another point guard here, but you figure he'd take Wall without a second thought, if only to avoid having Kyrie Irving on his team.
Pelton: Yeah, you should have seen this coming. No way LeBron was drafting his former teammate after Irving requested a trade. He isn't an ideal fit alongside Curry defensively, but he gives us five excellent 3-point shooters in the starting five to LeBron's none.
Drafting the reserves
9. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Chris Paul
10. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Klay Thompson
Herring: I think Paul would be the first or second player taken by James if the rules allowed a reserve to be picked before a starter. In addition to their close friendship, CP3 is a premier lob-thrower, making him a fun, low-usage option in a game like this.
Pelton: I think we might have been able to grab a center here and draft Thompson a little later, but we can't risk the Splash Brothers getting split up. (Relationships will come into play in this draft.) They belong together and Thompson fills a need for a 3-and-D shooting guard alongside Steph.
11. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Anthony Davis
12. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Karl-Anthony Towns
Herring: This team badly needs a big man. Davis, perhaps the best one in the league, will do just fine. He had an All-Star Game record 52 points in last season's contest.
Pelton: Towns is the first 7-footer on our roster and has a decent chance of finishing the game for us at center. He maintains the strong shooting ability of our team and, as a bonus, can't switch on Curry late in the game like he did in a memorable 2016 game.
13. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Paul George
14. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Jimmy Butler
Herring: Another friend of LeBron, PG-13 is no stranger to putting up big numbers in the All-Star Game, either -- he went off for 41 in the exhibition back in 2016.
Pelton: Dang, I would've loved to pair George with my other two-way forwards, but Butler brings relatively similar skills. And now we should have some Minnesota chemistry on our bench.
15. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: James Harden
16. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kristaps Porzingis
Herring: Harden might not be the most fun to watch in this setting, but Chris Paul will certainly like this pick. Crazy to think he lasted this long in the draft, given that he has been the runner-up for MVP two out of the past three seasons.
Pelton: Would you believe the Zinger is the first East reserve chosen? There's a distinct lack of power forwards in our player pool, and Porzingis is yet another excellent outside shooter with size for our 3-point-heavy team.
17. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Bradley Beal
18. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Kyle Lowry
Herring: Beal should help a little with the gap in shooting between Team LeBron and Team Steph so far.
Pelton: With Steph and Kyrie in the starting five, backup point guard wasn't a big need for us. But Lowry can play with either of them, and -- stop if you've heard this before -- he's another great outside shooter.
19. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: DeMar DeRozan
20. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Gordon Hayward
Herring: He might be a throwback, but it'd be hard for James, or anyone, to overlook DeRozan this late in the draft process. (Don't be surprised if he goes far earlier than this in real life -- players have immense respect for his game, and wouldn't think twice about the holes in his efficiency.)
Pelton: I think you could have safely waited until your last pick to take DeRozan. He doesn't shoot enough 3s for our team. Hayward could play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward as part of interchangeable lineups.
21. TEAM LEBRON SELECTS: Kemba Walker
22. TEAM STEPH SELECTS: Myles Turner
Herring: Have to imagine LeBron would go for the All-Star over the youngster who has never reached that level before, unless he's intent on filling positional holes. James loves scoring guards -- remember his affinity for Shabazz Napier when he was coming out of UConn -- so Walker would almost certainly get the nod here.
Pelton: Well, somebody has to be the Mr. Irrelevant of our draft, and Turner would probably be excited just to make his first All-Star Game. I'd give good odds to the final pick of the real draft being used on an East center.
Herring: Team LeBron has choices that reflect some of his relationships and rivalries as much as a desire to pick the most well-rounded roster. In this mock draft, he avoided stars who can shoot but who might not be his personal favorites -- that includes Irving for obvious reasons and Thompson, who memorably trash-talked James during the 2016 Finals. And LeBron's tight bond with CP3 came into play here as well.
But if there's a saving grace, it's that his team's athleticism is off the charts. Think about it for a second: LeBron James, still the best player in the world, could share the court with Westbrook, Wall, Giannis and Anthony Davis. Good luck with that.
It'd be nice if this team could shoot, of course. But given the way All-Star teams play defense, it might not be so bad that his teammates prefer to shoot from inside the arc. We might set the new record for dunks in a game.
Pelton: I feel good about our roster, which combined to shoot 39.2 percent on 3s last season compared to LeBron's team making 36.0 percent from beyond the arc. We've got multiple defenders to throw at LeBron and the ability to switch any picks that don't involve a point guard or a center.
Also, in addition to drafting both Kevins, I managed to get all eight players whose names start with K. Roger Clemens would be proud.
From a big-picture standpoint, the results of this draft reinforce what I wrote Tuesday about the need for the NBA to pick the 24 best players for the All-Star Game without respect to conference. All four West starters went before any East starter and then the exact same thing played out with the reserves, too. The draft will likely make clear how many of the league's best players are in the West.