Tyrese Haliburton: An All-Star in-waiting
By GERY WOELFEL
Picking the 24 players for the upcoming NBA All-Star game isn’t a piece of cake.
But it isn’t all that difficult, either.
At least, that’s the opinion of three NBA officials who I polled in recent days: an executive and two advance scouts.
In fact, there was an overwhelming consensus on which players deserved to be chosen for the mid-season showcase, which is scheduled for Feb. 10 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.
In the eyes of the three NBA officials, the starters from both the Eastern and Western conferences were practically no-brainers.
In the East, they all tabbed Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell as starters.
Each had differing opinions on the other starting guard: Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan and Indiana’s Tyrese Halliburton.
While Irving and DeRozan have been all-Stars on multiple occasions – Irving seven times and DeRozan five times – Haliburton is seeking his first All-Star appearance.
Now in his third pro season, Haliburton has fashioned an All-Star caliber season. He not only is averaging 20.3 points a game but also a league-leading 10.3 assists.
Haliburton’s shooting numbers are also outstanding: 48 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent from the line.
And his team is winning. The Pacers are 23-18 and perhaps the biggest surprise in the NBA this season.
“He (Haliburton) has been great,’’ an NBA personnel director said of the 22-year-old Haliburton, a native of Oshkosh, WI. “He’s been the main reason for their resurgence.’’
The NBA officials were in total agreement on four Western Conference starters as well: Denver’s Nikola Jokick Los Angles Lakes’ LeBron James, New Orlean’s Zion Williamson and Dallas’ Luka Doncic.
Two of the NBA officials chose Memphis’ Ja Morant as the other starting guard, while another official selected Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
“We all know he (Curry) should be an All-Star starter, but I couldn’t vote him ahead of Doncic and Morant because of all the games he’s missed this season because of injuries,’’ the NBA executive said of Curry, an eight-time All-Star who missed 14 of Golden State’s first 41 games.
In the East, nine players were unanimous selections; In the West, nine players were also unanimous choices (See below for a breakdown of the voting).
In all, 34 players received votes from the three NBA officials and myself: 19 in the East and just 15 in the West.
Among the players who didn’t receive a vote in this poll were the Lakes’ Anthony Davis, Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green, the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney (all in the top 10 of the first fan voting results for the West frontcourt and Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook (all in the top six fan voting for the West guards).
Among the players who didn’t receive a vote for the East top 12 in this poll, but were in the top 1o of the fan voting were Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Washington’s Kyle Kuzma and Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton.
Perhaps the most interesting selection in the poll was Orlando forward Paolo Banchero, who is enjoying a banner rookie season. Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, is averaging 21.2 points and 6.9 rebounds for the 16-26 Magic.
“He (Banchero) has been good and he’s been consistent,’’ said an Eastern Conference advance scout. “He’s been putting up good, solid numbers. And he’s not afraid in big moments.’’
Fans account for 50 percent of the vote to decide the All-Star starters. NBA players and a media panel each account for 25 percent of the vote.
The league’s head coaches select the seven reserves from both conferences.
Here is how the three NBA officials and I voted:
EASTERN CONFERENCE ADVANCE SCOUT
East top five: Mitchell, DeRozan, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Tatum. Reserves: Jaylen Brown of Boston, Joel Embiid of Philadelphia, Haliburton, Irving, Banchero, Jarrett Allen of Cleveland, Rick Brunson of New York.
West top five: Curry, Doncic, Jokic, James, Williamson. Reserves: Lauri Markkanen of Utah, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Oklahoma City, Devin Booker of Phoenix, Morant, CJ McCollum of New Orleans, Damian Lillard of Portland and Andrew Wiggins of Golden State.
East Top five: Mitchell, Irving, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Tatum. Reserves: Embiid, Brown, Haliburton, Darius Garland of Cleveland, DeRozan, James Harden of Philadelphia and Kristaps Porzingis of Washington.
West top five: Doncic, Morant, Williamson, James, Jokic. Reserves: Curry, Markkanen, McCollum, Gilgeous-Alexander, De’Aaron Fox of Sacramento, Booker, Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers.
East top five: Mitchell, Haliburton, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Tatum. Reserves: Embiid, Irving, DeRozan, Brown, Bam Adebayo of Miami, Harden and Trae Young of Atlanta.
West top five: Doncic, Morant, Jokic, James, Williamson. Reserves: Curry, Markkanen, Lillard, Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Edwards of Minnesota, Booker and Fox.
East top five: Mitchell, Irving, Durant, Tatum, Antetokounmpo. Reserves: Embiid, DeRozan, Haliburton, Julius Randle of New York, Young, Harden, Pascal Siakam of Toronto.
West top five: Doncic, Morant, Jokic, James, Markkanen. Reserves: Curry, Williamson, Booker, Gilgeous-Alexander, McCollum, George and Fox.
EASTERN CONERENCE RESULTS
Mitchell, Irving, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Tatum, Embiid, Brown, Haliburton, DeRozan.
Garland, Porzingis, Banchero, Allen, Brunson, Adebayo, Randle, Siakam.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESULTS
Doncic, Morant, Williamson, Jokic, James, Markkanen, Curry, Gilgeous-Alexander, Booker.