The NBA is currently in the process of revealing which players will come off the bench for this year’s All-Star Game, so I thought it’d be a good time to name a 12-man team of all current Kentucky players based on their play to date.
This is going to be a blast; be ready for some takes, folks. Here we go…
Let’s begin with a five-man starting unit using the NBA’s All-Star rules of two guards and three frontcourt players.
Guard: Devin Booker | Phoenix Suns
Season Stats: 24.3 pts, 3.8 rebs, 4.3 asts, 49.3 FG%, 37.2 3P%
The addition of Chris Paul to Phoenix elevated the Suns from a fun young squad led by a superstar scorer…to a playoff shoo-in and one of the scariest teams in a loaded Western Conference. However, Booker’s numbers took a major dip to start the year. He wasn’t shooting well from three, he was scoring several fewer points a game than the previous two years and the Suns were better without Paul and Booker on the court, as opposed to one or the other.
The team sputtered early and so did Booker, but as the Suns got hot so did he. His little “slump” still included him scoring over 20 a game and dishing four assists. But in the month of February, he’s back to the man he was the past two seasons–except on a winning team that’s playing much slower than the Suns of old.
His February averages: 26.1 pts, 4.1 rebs, 4.5 asts.
On a winning team, scoring over 24 a game efficiently, Booker has finally earned a real All-Star spot, whether he’s named a reserve or not, and is a headliner for this Kentucky version.
Guard: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Oklahoma City Thunder
Season Stats: 22.3 pts, 5.3 rebs, 6.4 asts, 49.6 FG%, 38.4 3p%
A little controversial to have SGA as the second starting guard over other options like De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, John Wall or even Immanuel Quickley (kidding, kinda). But Shai is the highest-producing and most-consistent one of that bunch, and his numbers bear that out.
I fear he’ll become what Devin Booker was in Phoenix for so long: a lone beacon of superstardom with a perpetually terrible franchise. Like what Fox is in Sacramento, what Karl-Anthony Towns is in Minnesota. Sure, the Thunder are loaded with future first-round picks and have far more future capital than the Suns and Kings had when they drafted UK guards, but that won’t matter if they keep picking pencil-bodied shooters (looking at you, Aleksej Pokusevski!).
This year, OKC is intentionally sucking, which is politically referred to as “tanking.” But with Shai and personal favorite Lu Dort, the Thunder are overachieving with an 11-18 record. The only reason the Thunder are staying afloat in the West is the one-dimensional offensive dominance of Shai. He is their sole creator, their sole player averaging north of 14 points a game, and he’s blooming into the next great point guard to come out of Kentucky. Perhaps he already is.
Forward: Julius Randle | New York Knicks
Season Stats: 23.2 pts, 10.9 rebs, 5.5 asts, 48.0 FG%, 40.7 3p%
How about Julius Randle? The NBA’s leader in minutes, the clear frontrunner for Most-Improved Player and the Jesus of Madison Square Garden. A year ago I wrote that Randle could take an All-Star type of leap with a Knicks roster void of talent outside Randle, who averaged over 20 points in New Orleans the year before. He put up solid numbers last year on a pitiful team, but scored inefficiently, shot poorly from three and still struggled defensively.
In 2021, it’s a completely different story. Randle is 13th in the NBA in points scored this year, he’s eighth in rebounds and he’s averaging 5.5 assists a game. Like Shai, Randle is the lone hub of incredibly efficient offense on a roster lacking it elsewhere.
The scoring and passing leaps are remarkable but the most surprising development to me has been his uptick in jump-shooting. From three, Randle is jacking 4.5 tries a game and making 40.7% of them. That’s not a small amount. He’s turned himself into a legitimately good and reliable three-point shooter. Plus, the work he’s doing in the midrange is almost Jordan-esque.
As Randle has grown, so have the New York Knicks. It feels like it’s been decades since they were relevant. Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley and Kenny Payne are swiftly changing the culture around one of the best hoops cities in the world.
Have yourself a year, Julius.
Forward: Anthony Davis | LA Lakers
Season Stats: 22.5 pts, 8.4 rebs, 3.0 asts, 1.8 blks, 53.3 FG%
Davis is currently dealing with a fairly-frightening Achilles injury that will sideline him for at least another month, including the All-Star Game, and he’s also just had a down year so far. That can likely be chalked up to Championship hangover; heck, LeBron is having his worst statistical season in five years even though he’s the MVP frontrunner (which goes to show how freaking amazing that dude is).
With the numbers down and a few games missed, does he still deserve a starting spot? Hell yes. Davis is still the best defender in the NBA not named Rudy Gobert, he still scores a ridiculous 22 points a game with over 8 boards, and he’s the anchor and co-runner on the defending champs with one of the best records in the NBA.
I don’t have a ton on Davis, but he’s a pretty low-key guy in general having a low-key season by his standards. That still means he’s easily one of the 10 best and most-impactful players in the League.
Forward: Bam Adebayo | Miami Heat
Season Stats: 19.6 pts, 9.4 rebs, 5.5 asts, 56.6 FG%
Like we talked about with Randle and the Knicks, and Shai with the Thunder, Bam Adebayo has been mostly a one-man show in South Beach. He isn’t a statistical dream offensively like those other guys, nor is he a one-man scoring engine on a rudderless offense. He’s doing all the other stuff to keep the runners-up afloat. He is almost Davis-level on defense, one of the best in the league, he’s playing a huge load of minutes for a center and he’s been the minister of that Heat culture we all hear about: the sweat, the hustle, the day-in/day-out commitment and grind. That’s Bam Adebayo.
Jimmy Butler has been in and out of the lineup, not playing at the level he was in the bubble, while Bam has truly taken over as Miami’s most vital player. A dominant two-way force of nature that plays center, passes like a point guard and can defend all of the superstar wings in the NBA.
Above is your starting lineup. Feel free to fire off any and all takes you have about it in the comments section or @ me on Twitter. Now, in congruence with the NBA, we’ll name seven reserves regardless of position. Ha, I say we. I mean me. Let’s go.
Jamal Murray | Denver Nuggets
Season Stats: 20.6 pts, 4.4 asts, 4.4 rebs, 47.4 FG%, 38.3 3p%
Y’all, if Jamal Murray hasn’t been on your TV screen in the last week, you are missing out. The fire-breather from the Bubble is BACK. Remember? The guy who set records in playoff scoring with Donovan Mitchell. The clutch killer who slew the Kawhi-led Clippers.
Thru the end of January, Murray averaged a shade under 19 points a game, similar to last regular season, and hadn’t seen a rise in his numbers across the board after scorching Disney World with his bow and arrow. In 8 games so far this February, Murray is scoring 24.5 points a game with about the same rebounding and assists. Oh, and he’s shooting over 44% from three on a heavy, heavy volume of shots, often acrobatic ones.
In his last four games, Murray scored 25, 25, 35 and 50 the other day. Robinhood is not only hot with GameStop stock, he’s also caught fire again. If he keeps this up, it’ll be hard to justify leaving him off the starting lineup of a UK All-Star squad.
De’Aaron Fox | Sacramento Kings
Season Stats: 22.7 pts, 3.3 rebs, 7.0 asts, 47.2 FG%, 33.3 3p%
Fox and SGA have almost identical stat-lines and the Kings lead the Thunder by just one game in the standings. So why SGA over Fox for the starter nod? Well, Shai is more efficient, plays sounder defense and has been more consistent carrying a much worse roster within a game of playoff-hopeful Sacramento. Still, the margin is thin.
Fox is scoring more than ever, his three-point jumper is stabilizing after starting off rather poor and he’s captaining an absolute disaster of an organization while tutoring rookie ballhandler Tyrese Haliburton into a very promising youngster that could feasibly win Rookie of the Year.
Sacramento has again underwhelmed and I’d blame a messy administration as the reason rather than Fox or the rest of the Kings.
John Wall | Houston Rockets
Season Stats: 20.4 pts, 3.7 rebs, 6.3 asts, 44.1 FG%, 35.1 3p%
Man, it sucks that the Boogie-Wall reunion has already been shattered after Houston decided to release Cousins on Saturday, but you still have to love John Wall’s comeback. He and Kevin Durant are proving that an Achilles tear is something you can come back from and still maintain near-peak athleticism.
Wall’s days of greatness seemed behind him, but Calipari’s first rockstar is back to form scoring and passing at a high level. His Rockets have trailed off quite a bit after their hot run post-Harden, but injuries to Victor Oladipo and the emerging Christian Wood set Houston back.
The point remains, it’s awesome to see a bouncy John Wall playing with a basketball court like it’s a jungle gym once again.
Keldon Johnson | San Antonio Spurs
Season Stats: 14.5 pts, 7.0 rebs, 2.3 asts, 46.8 FG%, 32. 5 3p%
The least-talked about above-.500 team in basketball history is the San Antonio Spurs. You just don’t hear a word about them from anyone. I guess no one wants to talk about them when they’ve kicked tail for 20 straight years and are still winning with guys that casual fans (which includes Shaq) have never heard of.
One of those unheard-ofs is Keldon Johnson. Kentucky fans may have already forgotten about the sizey wing, but he’s a blast to watch this year. He tumbles towards the rim like the boulder chasing Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark; he doesn’t get every layup attempt swatted like he did in college and he’s one tough son of a gun (feel free to read it as the vulgar version).
His energy knocks you in the head the minute he steps on the court and he’s finally matured enough that he is understanding how to use it. And he is just scratching his surface.
Tyler Herro | Miami Heat
Season Stats: 16.9 pts, 6.1 rebs, 3.8 asts, 45.1 FG%, 34.4 3p%
Tyler scores 35 points in one Eastern Conference Finals game and all of a sudden he’s supposed to morph into Devin Booker the next season. At least that’s what a lot of NBA coverage would tell you. Herro hasn’t been a star in year two but he has taken a jump in production, scoring three more points a game while grabbing an “impressive-for-a-guard” six rebounds.
The Heat have disappointed this season for myriad reasons, and yes, Tyler’s shooting efficiency isn’t what it needs to be for him to take the next step, but he’s a damn fine young player. Who knows, he could be on the precipice of a Murray-like outbreak sooner rather than later.
Enes Kanter | Portland Trail Blazers
Season Stats: 11.7 pts, 11.1 rebs, 1,1 asts, 58.5 FG%
He’s back in Portland and he’s back as Jusuf Nurkic’s replacement. By the way, Portland is the NBA’s biggest overachiever this year considering the circumstances. Their offseason additions made a lot of noise but many analysts believed they failed to address some of their biggest flaws. Instead, they’ve been excellent, all without their second and third best players over the past two seasons in CJ McCollum–who fractured his foot–and Nurkic–who’s played just 12 games.
In lieu of Nurkic has been the ever-reliable Enes Kanter. He’s averaging an 11 & 11 double-double while doing all the dirty work down low playing some of the best defense of his career. He gets ragged on often for his poor defense, especially in the pick-and-roll, but I think some of that is unwarranted given his smart, cerebral nature overall, which definitely puts him as a passable defender in my eyes.
Ryan Lemond would say he isn’t a “sexy” choice, but he’s a dependable veteran filling a key role on the West’s five-seed.
Ok, our last spot (drumroll)…
Hamidou Diallo | Oklahoma City Thunder
Season Stats: 12.4 pts, 5.4 rebs, 2.5 asts, 1.0 stl, 47.7 FG%
I’m doing Eric Bledsoe wrong by selecting Hami because Eric is shooting better than he ever has, scoring about the same as Diallo, playing elite defense at the point of attack and he’s been a better fit in New Orleans than expected.
With that said, I had to give it to Diallo. Remember how bad he was at some points during his freshman year? More importantly, how sad and horrible some of our fans made him feel during his slump? All that to say: Kid deserves it.
Diallo is second on the Thunder in total scoring to his college teammate SGA. Think about that. He’s the second-leading scorer on an NBA team. That isn’t even his best skill. He’s playing superb defense, developing nicely as a fierce athlete who can drive and kick with the ability to finish at the rim in a variety of ways. Diallo is going to stick in this League, folks, and that’s something that just makes me smile.
As for the team, there you have it. Here are your 2021 University of Kentucky NBA All-Stars:
- Guard: Devin Booker
- Guard: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Forward: Julius Randle
- Forward: Anthony Davis
- Forward: Bam Adebayo
- Jamal Murray
- De’Aaron Fox
- John Wall
- Keldon Johnson
- Tyler Herro
- Enes Kanter
- Hamidou Diallo
Like it, hate, argue about it, Tweet me about it (@alexweberKSR). These are my picks. Take care!