On Thursday, the NBA will announce its 2018 All-Star game starters. The All-Star game format has a new wrinkle this year. The top vote-getter from each conference -- as of the latest round of voting, that would be LeBron James and Stephen Curry -- will be team captains and will draft their teams based on the starters and reserves that are selected. Here are our choices for the East and West All-Star starters and reserves, where we're ignoring popularity and positions and simply looking at who is most deserving of being there and why:
LeBron James. This will be James' 14th All-Star selection, which will tie him with Jerry West, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. On the grand list of James' career accomplishments, it will go down as merely a footnote. Still, his longevity and consistency has been unlike anything we've ever seen in this league. In his 15th season, James is averaging 27.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists and shooting 55.7 percent from the field. The Cavaliers, despite their recent slump, are once again one of the top teams in the East. Rumors have been swirling around the league about another exodus from Cleveland this offseason, and many believe James will end up with the Lakers. It just so happens All-Star weekend will be in Los Angeles. Media day should be fun.
Kyrie Irving. James should end up being the top vote-getter in the East, which means he will be a captain, which gives us the interesting subplot of whether he will select Irving as one of his teammates for this game. Out of the King's shadow in Cleveland, Irving has helped key Boston's first-half run that has the Celtics at 34-11, the best record in the East. Aside from the numbers -- 24.0 points, 5.0 assists, 47.3 percent shooting, 39 percent from three -- Irving's value might be best measured by how much the Cavaliers are missing him.
DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan's year-to-year improvement has been well documented, but what he has done this year, a career year in his ninth season in the league, has been remarkable. He's averaging 25.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds and almost eight free throw attempts per game while shooting a career-high 35 percent on threes. He has improved in every facet of his offensive game and become one of the most underrated passers in the league. The Raptors have the second-best record in the East, and they have their star guard to thank.
Giannis Antetokounmpo. We're finally getting to see how dominant Antetokounmpo can be when he puts everything together. The Greek Freak is an MVP candidate, averaging 28.3 points and 10.1 rebounds, and he looms as the most logical threat to become the next best player in the East should James decide to head west. The only downside of the new All-Star format is that we'll potentially be robbed of seeing just how fun an Antetokounmpo-Joel Embiid frontcourt might be.
Joel Embiid. His numbers -- 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds -- will get him there, but Embiid should probably earn an All-Star spot for his entertainment value alone. The 23-year-old has already matched last year's games played total with 31, and the Sixers are the best version of themselves when Embiid is on the floor. Health is always a concern with Philadelphia's franchise center, but he has shown this season that when he's on the court, the Sixers are a legitimate playoff contender. Embiid is also the leading candidate to steal the spotlight for All-Star weekend.
Reserves: Al Horford, Victor Oladipo, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry
Horford deserves to be there -- and there's an argument to be made that he should be a starter on merit -- for being Boston's anchor on defense (the Celtics have the No. 1 defense in the league) and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Oladipo (24.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists) has been one of the best stories in the league. Wall (19.9 points, 9.3 assists, 1.4 steals) and Beal (23.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists) are both having All-Star seasons, as are Porzingis (23.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 38.5 percent from the field) and Love (19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 41.0 percent from three). The final spot goes to Lowry (16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists). He might be having an off year by his standards and has been overshadowed by DeRozan's recent scoring binge, but the advanced metrics still rate him as one of the top guards on the league. The Raptors are behind only the Celtics in the East, making Lowry the pick over Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic, who are having spectacular seasons, too.
Kevin Durant. The move from Oklahoma City to Golden State might have overshadowed the fact that Durant is in his prime and having another incredible season. Durant averages 26.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists and has a shooting line of 51.4/41.3/88.6 from the field, three and free-throw line. On another team, on3 without Stephen Curry and one that isn't heavily favored to win its third championship in four years, we might be talking about Durant much more. Regardless, Durant is a no-brainer choice for his ninth All-Star appearance.
James Harden. A hamstring injury has kept Harden out for the past seven games, but his numbers have been spectacular, making him a strong contender to win the MVP. Harden averages 32.3 points, 9.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds with over four three-pointers made and 10.5 free throw attempts per game. Harden is arguably the best offensive player in the league, on a team that, at full health, should at least challenge the Warriors in the postseason.
Anthony Davis. Davis is on a tear right now. His past three games: 36 points and nine rebounds against Portland, 48 points and 17 rebounds against New York and 45 points and 16 rebounds against Boston. The Pelicans have won three in a row and six of their past 10 to move into sixth place in the West. Davis is putting up numbers that, on a better team, would merit MVP consideration: 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 56.1 percent from the field.
Stephen Curry. Curry has played in just 30 games, but the numbers and his impact makes him an easy choice as an All-Star starter. He's averaging 27.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds while hitting 41.4 percent of his threes on 9.8 attempts per game. Per NBA.com, the Warriors have a +16.5 net rating when Curry is on the floor. They also score 120.8 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. Those are out of this world numbers that perfectly illustrated that while Durant might be the better player, Curry is the most important player in the Warriors machine that keeps humming along in the West.
Jimmy Butler. Butler and the Timberwolves have picked it up as of late. Minnesota is up to 29-17, fourth in the West and just half a game behind the Spurs. Butler is averaging 21.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists in his first season with the Wolves, and he has led a team that's not made the playoffs since 2004 into a top-four spot in a tough conference. That resume makes him a worthy All-Star starter.
Reserves: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns
There are so many talented players in the West who are going to get snubbed, starting with Nikola Jokic, who will have plenty of All-Star selections on his resume before his career is over. Damian Lillard is another player who is perennially on the honorable mentions list just because of how deep the field is for guards in the West. You could even talk yourself into guys like Devin Booker, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin as All-Stars. Chris Paul would be there, too, if it weren't for the fact he's played in only 25 games.
Westbrook is nearly averaging another triple-double (25.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.9 assists) and will be there to have his annual awkward pow-wow with his former teammate Durant. His current teammate, George, has been a perfect co-star in Oklahoma City despite the team's up-and-down struggles, averaging 20.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and helping to anchor the Thunder's defense. Thompson (20.5 points, 45.2 percent from three) and Green (11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks) are having All-Star seasons, and it helps that the Warriors are once again setting the pace with a 36-9 record.
Aldridge requested a trade from San Antonio this offseason, then patched things up with Gregg Popovich and has led the way in Kawhi Leonard's absence, averaging 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cousins is having a spectacular season in New Orleans, averaging 25.5 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Towns is at 20.1 points and 12.0 rebounds and rounds out the list of West reserves.