The All-Star Game is three days away. I guess it’s happening(?).
I didn’t vote, but if I had, and had my vote, in some alternate dimension, mattered, I would have profoundly skewed the results.
I don’t want the best players in the All-Star game. I don’t even necessarily want my favourite ones either – though there’s a fair bit of overlap.
Nope, my lineups are predicated on a single source of criteria. They are the players that when I see them play, my heart jumps out my throat and yells “Hell F****** Ya!”.
I want to see the grittiest, hardest working, competitive dudes battle in the All-Star game like the State Farm Arena is the Coliseum.
I am not talking assholes – though, often, they are one-in-the-same. I am looking for guys who have the Kevin Garnett tenacity, the Gary Payton verbosity, the Dennis Rodman dissension, the Charles Oakley physicality. The few guys in the league, at least these days, who play with irrational animosity and bottomless energy.
That may sound strange to you. To me, it’s what I enjoy most about basketball.
Though, I’ve also determined I may be part neanderthal. When I partake in or observe any form of competition – typically basketball-related – my testosterone levels erupt like when you hear that super hype part of a track in the car and you yell-sing like no one can hear you (even though, unbeknownst to you, your windows in the back are actually down so your dog can sniff the fresh air).
I know that about me. Anyone who has played sports knows that about me. And it is why I relish these types of basketball players more than any other archetype.
It’s why Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan are my two favourite players all-time – if you have not read the Oral History of Kevin Garnett by Howard Beck, you must! – and why the Baltimore Ravens were my favourite football team in the 2000s and 2010s. They both exude the primal elements of sports.
I have to share this anecdote from the Oral History of KG:
Tyronn Lue: A lot of people do all their howling on the court and they’re faking just for attention, but what he does is genuine. So one day we were at his house and we were watching Puff Daddy’s show Making the Band, and in one of the scenes, some new guys came in and were trying to sing and were trying to compete against the guys who had been there. And KG just got so hyped, “Motherf—-r, you’ve got to stand up for yours! You’ve got to fight! Motherf—-r, you’ve got to come together!” He’s going crazy, he’s sweaty. And he just head butts the wall and put a hole in the wall of his house.
Like, either he is on a major dose of rage roids [judging by his frame, I don’t think so], or he is the scariest competitor to ever live.
That was a major aside, but all I am saying is that I basically want the All-Star game to be this. Or, at least, I want a game that is more than just disinterested jogging and free alley-oops and zero D for three and a half quarters of the game.
So, I am going to choose a team of guys who have proved this year that they won’t let that happen. No matter what you tell them, how much you pay them, or how much winking and nodding you do during the pre-game. They…are…not…going…to…let…it…happen.
That’s why I am choosing them as my 2021 NBA All-Mean-Stars.
Coach: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
He took two charges in the All-Star game last year. Enough said.
And even if he’s on the sideline stewarding this team, I feel that someway, somehow, he’s going to draw a foul.
Point Guard: Facundo Campazzo, Denver Nuggets
Even before the NBA began this year, I knew the 5’11, 190 lbs Argentinian passing maestro was going to make this team.
He is a phenomenal passer and for that I love him, but he’s on this team for his nastiness on the defensive end.
The scouting reports said it all.
“It’s his feistiness and his competitive nature…” Nuggets’ Director of Scouting, Jim Clibanoff, told The Athletic.
“He is the dirtiest, nastiest competitor that you could ever have…do I want him on my team, absolutely…I love this guy as a competitor…By the time it got to the finals [when playing against Campazzo in a FIBA tournament] he would look right through me. He is an absolute prick and is going to start shit in every game…that’s his nature.”
Jeff Van Gundy speaking a bit more explicitly about Facundo Campazzo on Zach Lowe’s Podcast prior to the season.
I am not sure how many people thought he would stick in the NBA. I worried that he would follow the same quick exit of fellow Euro League wizard, Miloš Teodosić, who came to play for the Los Angeles Clippers from 2017-2019, and, ultimately, couldn’t cut it. But Miloš was a defensive liability, which is tough when you have a roster already utilizing Lou Williams thirty minutes a game.
Campazzo is no Joe Dumars, but, unlike Miloš, Campazzo has quickly established himself as a real pain-in-the-ass on the defensive end.
I don’t mean to sound diminutive, but Facundo is one of those toy cars that you wind up by rolling backwards several times over and then letting go to drive around chaotically. He’s a frenetic ball of revved-up energy sliding, sprinting, bouncing, diving, swiping, and relentlessly full-court pressing his man.
You have to be doing these sorts of things at his size. You can’t let the defender have a moment to utilize their own advantages. Keep them frustrated and out-of-synch and by the time the discrepancy is realized, the shot clock’s ticking away. It’s working, he’s second in the league for deflections per 48 minutes and twelfth in allowing points in the paint.
He’s doing whatever he can to disrupt Chris Paul. He denies the inbounds, spears for the odd steal, or suddenly stops to try and sneak a charge. Ask anyone, even supreme athletes like CP3, this kind of do-si-doing is utterly exhausting. Even when Paul scores, Campazzo’s compounded efforts will pay dividends later in the game, particularly, when Campazzo’s on the bench, and CP3 still has to orchestrate an offence and get buckets in the closing minutes of the game.
(Thanks to Basquet Argentina for these clips)
Come All-Star night, I want Campazzo in Kyrie Irving’s shorts and up Devin Booker’s nose.
Shooting Guard: Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Collin Sexton made this team before I even contemplated making such a team. It was the night of November 25, 2017, a seemingly normal night of college basketball with Sexton’s Alabama Crimson Tide playing the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Abnormal. The game was not normal, it was wildly abnormal.
Coming down the stretch, Sexton got into it with a Gopher (that’s funny to say), followed by many Gophers and Crimsonites having a good ol’ brouhaha. The fight led to Alabama’s entire bench getting tossed from the game reducing ‘Bama to only five guys. One of the five then fouled out and another one was injured, leaving Sexton and two other dudes to play against five Gophers. Minnesota won the game, but in that three-man lineup span, Alabama won the matchup 30-22. Sexton finished with forty.
Sexton Beast Moded in that game and he’s been trying to Beast Mode ever since. The Cavs are four back from fourth place in the East (which means nothing and everything in the complicated East), and a lot of that has to do with Sexton’s success in his second year in the NBA.
You can feel that this guy wants to outwork everyone else play-after-play. How else can you explain a 6’1, 190 lbs guard being tenth in points in the paint – other than Bradley Beal, the other eight dudes are gargantuans – ninth in drives, and in the top fifteen in distance travelled per game. Now, he’s also fifth in points off turnovers and tied for seventh in fastbreak points, which can spin one or both of two ways: (1) it accounts for his high volume of paint points, inflating those numbers; or (2) it’s a further testament to his voraciousness at both ends. Besides, over 55% of his shots are contested by six feet or less. However you want to look at it, Sexton gets in the mix.
There’s no defender too large for him either. Watch him finish confidently over big-blocker, Clint Capela, and then easily seal off the stronger, longer, and taller, Deandre Hunter.
I want a guy going at whoever is in his way. I want the pace to be breakneck and constant. I want Sexton to get the ball and sprint at them. Get the ball and sprint at them again. And again. And again.
I want zero chill in Atlanta.
Honourable Mention: TJ McConnell (he probably gets this if it weren’t for the fact that I profiled him two weeks ago); Marcus Smart (he should get this every year, but he’s been injured for most of 2021)
Small Forward: Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder
Alright, don’t get all dictatorial on me with positioning. I know Dort is only 6’3, 215 lbs, but he’s unmovable. So does it really matter? Seerat Sohi of Yahoo Sports described Dort best:
“He looked like a linebacker who stumbled onto a basketball court by accident…yet he found a way to stay on the court, hounding James Harden like no one before him had.”
On my team, he can play whatever position he wants. His infamy arose last playoffs when he (A) battled the Hell outta James Harden in seven games, and (B) shot 26% from three on eight attempts a game YEGH!
This year, he’s corrected that three – thank God – and continued on as a superstar stopper. His defensive numbers don’t shine all that much thus far. According to PBP Stats, the Oklahoma City Thunder gives up eight more points with Dort on the floor than off. His defensive rating isn’t so hot either. Maybe the disparity is due to him being on the floor during some stinkers or his having a higher usage rate on offence. On the other hand, he has the 48th best RAPTOR defensive rating in the league, tied with Fred Van Vleet and OG Anunoby, and is sixth in defensive rating among guards who have played more than two minutes in clutch time.
Whatever. I want him in the game regardless. Seerat is right to say he hounds. He’s that fruitfly in your face that no matter how many times you swing at seems to still be exactly where it was before.
This sequence of defence against – kind-of-talked-about-MVP – Donovan Mitchell is elite. In the OKC loss, Mitchell went eight for twenty-three with five assists.
He does it again with former teammate, Point God, Chris Paul. Like my old night league coach always said, “he’s like white on rice.” Even in open court, Dort is not letting CP3 get anywhere easy. Paul did go for thirty-two and five on 50% shooting, but OKC won and I still LOVE THIS DEFENCE!
(Thanks to NBA Defense for these clips)
You can see in both clips how explosive Dort’s lateral quickness is. On several of their attacks, Mitchell and Paul find themselves slamming up against Dort’s enormous chest. In a Lakers package, Lebron, at times, was bouncing off Dort, not the other way around.
Dort is one of those guys who is putting every last follicle and flake of skin into his defence. He flicks his hands at dribbles, stabs into passing lanes, and reaches out at shooters like he’s trying to grab that quarter that is justttt too far under the fridge. I want to know his kilocalorie net loss per game.
Dort willingly guards anyone and everyone. No better man for the job come All-Star Weekend.
Honourable Mention: Fellow mini-tank Jae’Sean Tate.
Power Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Captain), Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis is the NBA’s CompeteLORD. He is becoming a Generation Changer of basketball mentality.
Forget the question of if he can win at the highest level. Ignore his B2B MVPs and DPOY award. He single-handedly made the All-Star game interesting again.
If you don’t recall, he trash-talked Harden during the All-Star draft and after the game, chased down blocks, closed out shooters, and went atttt Lebron. He played the game the way all us fans fantasize it being played.
Which is just how Giannis operates. This year, instead of looking to ring hunt elsewhere, he remained loyal to the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s not about loving the state of Wisconsin (no offence to the Badger State). That is all about proving he’s the best all by his lonesome. He’s never squawked. He’s never recruited (to the best of my knowledge). He’s never tweeted about his teammates or coach (here’s looking at you Lebron). He’s never lost in the conference finals and then slinked off to join an already-stacked-cast or won with an already-stacked-cast, slinked off with another miserable All-Star, and then sold his entire team to acquire a third, slinking, miserable All-Star. I’m not referring to anyone specifically or anything…
Not Giannis, he’s not done any of that. He’s put himself on the line and with that comes an edge of competition rarely seen in the NBA regular season, let alone an All-Star game.
I want that guy captaining this team. We can get into his defensive statistics – I won’t, even though they’re freaking awesome – but we all know the swagger and intensity Giannis brings every, single game. All-Star event or otherwise.
Honourable Mention: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (just because they’re siblings and fun to see together. Zach Lowe recently described him as “more of a bumper car than a basketball player.” And I love when dudes accept that they are more henchmen than individual character); Draymond Green (he could also win this every year, but I thought I’d give him the year off).
Centre: Steven Adams, New Orleans Pelicans
I LOVE Steven Adams. Like triple-Heart-emoji love. The fact that he is the gruffest and yet softest dude in the NBA hurts my feels-bones. His place in the NBA is unlike any other.
On the offensive end, the impacts of his screens are heard across galaxies. They are murderous. Watch him pancake Dame Lillard and nearly put Patrick Beverley in the intensive care unit.
He’s also one of the better offensive and defensive rebounders of our generation.
He boxes out like he’s one of the last men at the Battle of Thermopylae: this year, he’s third in box-outs and third in team rebounds when he boxes out. And he pulls boards like he’s one of Jupiter’s seventy-nine moons: for players averaging more than eight rebounds a game, he is second in contested rebounding percentage (that being the number of rebounds he collects with someone else within 3.5 feet of him), which is a quite the number considering he shares the floor with fellow rebounding planetary-force, Zion Williamson.
Steven Adams is cooler than the Cheetos Cat – cool in the sense that I want to grow out my hair and facial hair exactly like his and cool in the sense that nothing throws him off; he’s afraid of no one.
All of which is why I want him at the All-Star game, shaking hands and sharing smiles off the court and unabashedly crushing skulls while on it.
Honourable Mention: Mr. Elbows Jonas Valančiūnas is always down for a good old paint battle, and cares little who’s invited.
*All statistics are through Tuesday’s games and required players to play a minimum of fifteen games and fifteen minutes per game to qualify.