2023 NBA All-Star: Joel Embiid biggest starter snub; Anthony Davis had a strong case over Zion Williamson

The 2023 NBA All-Star starters were announced Thursday night, and naturally, a couple players who are looking at bench roles have a legitimate beef. First, here are the starters, which were selected using a weighted system in which the fan vote accounted for 50 percent, and the media and player votes 25 percent each. 

Now, let’s get to the starter snubs, starting with the most obvious. 

It’s not an honest snub unless you can say who should be replaced, and in this case, Embiid deserved to start over Anteokounmpo. The media and players agreed, voting Embiid third among frontcourt players behind Tatum and Durant, but Embiid wound up fourth in the fan vote, where Giannis was first. That was the difference. 

I get the argument that the fans are the lifeblood of the league and they should get to see who they want to see in the All-Star Game, but they got this one wrong. Embiid scores more than Antetokounmpo with a far better true-shooting percentage. 

Embiid is top five in many catch-all advanced metrics, top 10 in all of them and trails only Jokic in PER. Giannis, meanwhile, barely outpaces Embiid in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus/Minus while registering 14th in VORP, 18th in OBPM, 26th in RAPTOR WAR, 27th in Win Shares and 46th in OWS. 

Those last couple numbers reflect Giannis’ continued shortcomings in the half-court, particularly as a perimeter creator. Giannis is incredible, obviously, but this season is serving as a reminder that he’s still a more flawed player than his status as arguably the best player in the world suggests. 

Despite having to cover for James Harden and Tyrese Maxey in the backcourt, Embiid has Philly’s defense ranked No. 7 in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. Take Harden off the court, and Embiid has Philly operating at a 104.4 defensive rating, which would by far rank as the best in the league. 

Giannis’ offense doesn’t look nearly as good, neither on paper nor to the eye. His midrange shooting is way down, and if you put him on the court without Jrue Holiday to create, the Bucks become a net neutral team, per CTG, with a bottom-dwelling offensive rating. All told, Giannis is in command of an offense that ranks 23rd both overall and in the half-court, per CTG. 

Look, we’re splitting hairs here. Both Embiid and Antetokounmpo are top-of-the-food-chain players. But Embiid is having a better year, even when you factor in Khris Middleton’s absence. He should be higher than Giannis in the MVP race, and with all due respect to the fans, he should be starting in the All-Star Game. 

Davis is averaging 27.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks with a 65.9 true-shooting. Those first three numbers trump Zion Williamson’s marks — the rebounds and blocks significantly. The TS percentages are nearly identical. 

With Davis on the floor, the Lakers, with no other elite defenders, register what would be the league’s best defensive rating, per CTG. Zion has gotten better defensively, but he’s far more a product of a good New Orleans defense than a standout himself, whereas Davis is the Lakers’ defense. There was a stretch when Davis was the best player in the league this season. That cannot be said of Williamson. 

So why wasn’t Davis named a starter? Simple, he hasn’t played enough — just 29 games. That would be a valid argument when we talk about the next guy on this list, Domantas Sabonis, who has played all but two games for the Kings, but Zion has only played 33 games himself. Playing four more games shouldn’t make Zion a starter when Davis has been the better player. 

Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis has been an absolute stud for the Kings. A Nikola Jokic light, he’s a brute in the post but also the offensive hub of a second-ranked Kings offense that falls by 10 points per 100 possessions when he sits, per CTG. Care to guess how many players are averaging at least 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven boards this season? One. Sabonis.  

As mentioned above, Sabonis has also played 45 games to Zion’s 33, and that’s to say nothing of the two more weeks, at least, that Williamson is in line to miss. The Kings have a a three-game edge over the Pels in the loss column entering play on Thursday. Sabonis ranks ahead of Williamson in VORP, BPM, DBPM, OBPM, WS, OWS, DWS and Total RAPTOR and RAPTOR WAR. 

So what was the problem? Zion is a flashier name and scores more points, and fans are suckers for both. Zion got the fourth-most frontcourt fan votes; Sabonis was ninth. Zion has been awesome when he’s been on the court, but considering the gap in games played, Sabonis deserved this starting spot. 

Haliburton is the Sabonis of Eastern Conference guards. He has been magnificent all season, but he is not the big name. Seven guards got more fans votes, and he was sixth in the player vote. 

Donovan Mitchell is a no-brainer starter, and Kyrie Irving is more than worthy. But if anyone has a legitimate beef over Irving, it’s Haliburton, who leads the league in assist percentage and is second to James Harden in assists per game despite not dominating the ball; Irving’s 29.1 usage rate ranks 19th league-wide, while Haliburton’s 23.7 ranks 82nd. 

Haliburton is also a better shooter than Irving at 40 percent from 3 on almost eight attempts per game with a slightly higher true-shooting number. Again, I don’t have an issue with Irving being a starter. He’s been really good. But if Haliburton would’ve gotten the nod, I wouldn’t have objected that either. It’s a borderline snub. Definitely worth mentioning in this post. 

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