Labor Day is barely over, and as NBA nuts we are lacking the necessary daily fix of NBA fodder. But have no fear, predictions are here! Instead of starting with standings, however, we feel starting with All-Stars has more zing. Without further ado, the predicted 2017 Eastern Conference All-Stars:
Forward: Carmelo Anthony
With Kristaps Porzingis coming into his second season and what seems to be a rejuvenated Knicks team, Melo will likely keep his Eastern starting streak going. The Knicks, with health concerns galore, are likely to have a better-than-anticipated first half, but will probably catch the injury bug at or around the All-Star break to slide into a non-playoffs seed. Still, at the time of the break they'll be in playoff contention, which should guarantee Melo another starting appearance.
Forward: LeBron James
Just trying to get the obvious selections out of the way here. James should at least replicate some statistical line of 26, 7, and 7. His Cavs will probably have the conference's best record to boot, all of which equates to a starting slot. And they will no doubt be back in the NBA Finals this summer.
Center: Andre Drummond
Yes, not all 5 positions need to resemble your standard starting 5, which in seasons past has meant no center in the East's starting lineup. This year that won't be the case, as Drummond will easily be one of the top 5 players in the East—and fans will notice. Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy is poised to continue to assemble a Dwight Howard-like attack around Drummond, and Detroit is expecting a decent uptick in the W column with another season of that young core gelling.
Guard: Kyrie Irving
After his heroic Finals performance and his willingness to play second fiddle well to LeBron, Kyrie has quietly climbed up in recognition among NBA lore. What that exactly means for the remainder of his career largely depends on the Cavs' success in the next 2-3 years, and his ability to be slightly less selfish and improve as a defender. This is likely another starting lock, make that 4 in total, for your East All-Stars.
Forward: Paul George
As I write this, I honestly don't feel confident in any single selection. This slot could be Derrick Rose if New York has a truly great start and Rose throws up at least 17 and 7—not out of the realm of possibility, but not likely. It could be Jeremy Lin, if the Nets are even within 5 games of the 8th seed and Linsanity has returned to New York. Maybe Dwyane Wade if he somehow makes it work in a slash-heavy perimeter scheme in Chicago. Kyle Lowry is probably a somewhat safe pick here if Toronto is still among the East's top teams. In actuality, however, it may really depend on the starting lineup rules. If the NBA loosens the positional requirements, Paul George should be in the starting lineup. Yes, he is a forward, but the NBA tends to try and ensure that the best 5 for a conference start, and they'll make sure George gets in.
Forward: Jimmy Butler
A pretty decent chance at being a reserve lock, Butler is a coach's dream. He will likely ensure Chicago is within playoff striking distance, and given the lack of potential among reserve wings in the East (since the top 3 are starting), Jimmy is a near guarantee to snag the coaches' vote.
Center: Hassan Whiteside
Brace yourselves. We are going to witness the true uniqueness of Miami's center next season. Despite his contract this offseason and some gaudy stat totals, Hassan Whiteside is still underrated. His wins produced per 48 minutes make mockery of the metric, and Miami's record with him versus without him during the last few seasons is like comparing the Golden State Warriors to the Denver Nuggets. Pundits say he is purposely trying to compile blocked shot numbers, which makes his totals less impressive. That concept always irked me. I understand, as a player, how you could theoritically pile up points (volume shots – Kobe), rebounds (steal rebounds from teammates, rebound off missed free throws – Marcus Camby), maybe assists (pass up open lay ups and kick out for shots – Rajon Rondo), but defensively how do you stockpile blocks? More specifically, how does stockpiling blocks hurt your team? If the theory is that Hassan lets defenders blow by so he could then block them, he's still defending the rim and altering shots—also known as his job. With Chris Bosh likely to be out at some point and Wade gone, Whiteside's importance will finally show.
Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
In his 3rd season, the Greek Freak will make the All-Star team. The beauty of the East standings will be in their competitiveness, likely between the 3/4 – 13 slots. This is an important note, because many teams will appear to be in the hunt around the All-Star break. This will make coaches feel more inclined to get someone like Giannis in. He really doesn't have a specific position, but has as good of a chance as anyone outside LeBron to lead his team in all 5 major statistical categories.
Guard: John Wall
To reiterate the above, if you are on a team not from Brooklyn or Philly, you will be in the playoff mix. This is huge for John Wall, who is the best pure point guard in the conference and should make the squad solely as a result of that fact, regardless of team record.
Forward: Serge Ibaka
Yes! Another surprise! After Orlando swapped Victor Oladipo and rookie Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka, pundits were calling for Orlando GM Rob Hennigan's head. Ibaka is a fantastic defensive player with a developed offensive game who was begging for more scoring opportunities in OKC. Instead of incorporating him more in the offense, they picked up Enes Kanter and had more pick and roll plays involving center Steven Adams. Serge Ibaka wants to prove himself as a force in this league, and the Eastern Conference has been put on notice. Expect an All-Star nod for Serge and potentially a playoff appearance for Orlando.
Center: Al Horford
With the Celtics bound for 50+ wins, we need to select someone in green. Al Horford is a fine-tasting cookies and cream Chewy granola bar. You know what you are going to get and it's solid, with a little sugar. Horford is in prime position in Boston, likely sandwiched in a unit with some decent spacing (Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas) and no one really competing with him for boards. With the departure of Jared Sullinger, he is Boston's sole post presence. Expect healthy double-digit rebound averages and scoring flirting with 20 PPG.
Guard: DeMar Derozan
I'm not going to front, I don't love this prediction. Similar to Boston's scenario, coaches will feel compelled to select a Raptor given that they'll likely be a top 3 seed out East. DeMar likely gets a nod over Lowry or even Jonas Valanciunas simply due to the scarcity of talent at the wing slot. Coaches would probably be more compelled to select Wall in competition with Lowry and Horford/Ibaka/Paul Millsap/
Last slot: Chris Bosh (if healthy, otherwise Kemba Walker)
Okay, I could have played it safe here. Millsap, Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Lowry and maybe Reggie Jackson could have made a case here, but I'm predicting a sentimental vote. After blood clots and a series of Pharma ads with Arnold Palmer and Kevin Nealon, Chris Bosh seems ready to return to basketball. Given his health scare and Wade bolting, Chris should be able to put up good enough stats that the coaches will reward his return with an All-Star nod. Bosh will benefit from Whiteside's presence on the interior and with some lack of big man depth in Miami, he'll get the minutes and shots needed to return close to 20 and 10 form.
If Bosh does get hurt again, though, expect to see Kemba Walker suit up. You may think it has more to do with his escalation into pseudo-star status. I think it's more about Adam Silver feeling bad he took the All-Star weekend from Charlotte. As a means of gratitude, he will grant Kemba the injury-filler slot.
Up next….the West!