2021 NBA All-Star Game Challenges: Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo and Mike Conley not named as reserves

There are always more deserving All-Star candidates than spots for them, but that has never been truer than this season. The NBA announced the reserves Tuesday, and there’s a decent chance you’re outraged by one “snub” or another.

If you missed it, the coaches voted Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Zion Williamson as Western Conference reserves. In the East, the coaches voted for James Harden, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine and Ben Simmons.

On March 4, Kevin Durant and LeBron James will select their teams. On March 7, the game will be played and, unless selected as injury replacements, the following players will not be on the court:

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Most of the coaches weren’t going to pick two Suns, and it seems Booker was a victim of Paul’s success. His attendance rate has understandably decreased now that Paul is around, but he has actually increased his usage rate to 30.3 percent and continued his extremely efficient score. This might be a tough pill for Booker to swallow, but hey, as long as his team stays healthy, he’s getting his first taste of the playoffs in a few months. That is the other side of this.

Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

It’s really surprising that the coaches didn’t pick him, given he’s universally respected and his team has the best record in the league. Conley, a 14-year veteran who barely missed the cut a few times in Memphis, is the sentimental choice to take Davis’s place. He also has a rock-solid statistical case: For 36 minutes, he’s averaging 20.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists on 59.4 percent actual shooting. Conley is hitting 3s louder and more accurately than ever and is playing better defense than some of the players selected on him. The Jazz have outscored their opponents by 17.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, which is the highest mark in the entire league.

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Middleton made the cut in 2019 and 2020, but this time he missed because his team hasn’t been as dominant (and the East has a trillion deserving candidates). However, individually he has been significantly better this season, so this feels a bit strange. Milwaukee has empowered Middleton as a playmaker, and he has averaged 6.2 assists per 36 minutes, a career-high. His .505 / .431 / .895 shooting divisions are insane.

Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Another player who has stepped up after an All-Star season, Adebayo has added the mid-range jumper to his arsenal, increased its use, and continued to grow to become one of the NBA greats. For 36 minutes, he is averaging 19.6 points, plus 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks with 63.6 percent actual shooting. It’s not his fault at all that the Heat are 14-17, but the disappointing record is probably what cost him a second appearance.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

From an undrafted bench warmer to a crucial part of the league’s best bench unit, to NBA Finals hero, full-time starter and is, the evolution has continued. VanVleet will have to wait to validate his last jump with an All-Star appearance, but he’s clearly playing at an All-Star level. It was a bright spot when the Raptors were struggling, and he’s been driving much of their success as things turned, most notably with his 54-point game against Orlando and in recent wins against the Sixers and Bucks without Kyle Lowry. In February he averaged 21.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals every 36 minutes on 59.8 percent of actual shots, but the late push wasn’t enough.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Gilgeous-Alexander, no longer part of a three-headed monster, has become the number one choice for the Thunder. This was a predictable story, but the same cannot be said for the extent of its development. Generally, when a young player’s usage rate takes a significant leap, simply maintaining his efficiency is considered a success. This 22-year-old has done much more than that. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists on 62 percent (!) Of actual shooting. The coaches probably had OKC’s 12-19 record against them.

De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

Fox has been one of the best key players in the league, and if this vote had come before the Kings’ seven-game losing streak, I bet he would have made it. On the season he is averaging 24.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals every 36 minutes, but these numbers underestimate how much he has improved as a pick-and-roll operator. Fox is confidently taking pull-up 3s and stepback 3s, and his 41.9 percent trip-catch-and-shoot mark suggests he’ll be able to hit those shots at a reliable pace in the relatively near future. He’s also hitting 72 percent of his shots at the rim, which shouldn’t be possible.

Trae Young, Atlanta Falcons

Looking strictly at the numbers, it’s hard to rationalize keeping Young off the team. The guy is averaging 27.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 9.9 assists every 36 minutes on 60.8 percent actual shooting, and opponents can’t keep him off the free throw line. However, the Hawks have had an uneven season and Young has not significantly improved his defense or his off-ball play.

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

Sabonis and the Pacers started the season strong, but their case lost some steam when the team did. However, like Middleton and Adebayo, he’s certainly better now than he was when he made the All-Star game last season. He is averaging 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists per 36 minutes on 59.5 percent actual shooting, with a career-highest 25.4 use rate. Everything Indiana does revolves around him.

Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

Hayward’s numbers for 36 (22.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals) are nearly identical to his last season in Utah. His 60 percent actual shooting percentage is a few percentage points higher. Hayward has been everything the Hornets hoped he would be, providing just the right amount of touchdowns and plays to ease the pressure on his guards without getting in their way. Unfortunately for him, those numbers don’t jump off the page in the same way as, say, LaVine’s.

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Should coaches reward the best? players or the players who are having a better time seasons? If you lean toward the former or think it should be a mix of the two, you probably think Butler was robbed. He showed he was among the best in the league on the bubble, and his stats across 19 games (20.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 2.0 steals every 36 minutes with 55 percent of actual shots) are not that different from your previous stats. season. Butler started slowly, however, and his 12 lost games probably worked against him. Probably Miami’s track record did too.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

DeRozan’s drive-and-kick game has been an essential part of the Spurs’ new offense, and he is averaging a career-high 7.4 assists per 36 minutes. He’s still an amazing mid-range shooter, but he’s cut the frequency of his 2 pitches and hit 57 percent of them – his career high, according to Cleaning The Glass. You are no longer completely avoiding the 3-point line. However, San Antonio hasn’t been a big enough story for DeRozan to generate a lot of excitement for the All-Star Game, and his decline in points per game (19.8) is likely a factor as well. When you consider how he has been talked about throughout his career, this is a rich irony.

Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

For the second time, Harris is having a career year with Doc Rivers, averaging 21.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.9 blocks every 36 minutes on 60.7 percent actual shooting. An epitome of the Sixers’ vastly improved offensive ecosystem, Harris’s shooting profile doesn’t look all that different, but he feels a lot more comfortable as a scorer than he did last season. However, as Conley discovered, it’s hard to get in when you’re teammates with two perennial All-Stars.

Honorable Mentions: Jerami Grant, Brandon Ingram, Christian Wood, Ja Morant, CJ McCollum

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