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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amid the NBA’s scoring boom, well-rounded players deserve all-star nods

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey gets fouled driving to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Julian Champagnie, left, and guard Tre Jones on Jan. 22.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ben Golliver Washington Post

The NBA’s never-ending scoring boom reached a new level of absurdity last week when Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic each recorded a 70-point game during a four-day span. After averaging roughly one 70-point game every seven years during its first 75 seasons, the NBA has seen four in the past 13 months.

Ten years ago, 19 players averaged at least 20 points and just five reached 25. This season, a whopping 47 players are averaging at least 20 points and 17 are posting at least 25. This marked inflation should serve as helpful context when the league’s coaches select the all-star reserves this week. With so many high-volume scorers, analysts should give greater weight to other criteria – availability, two-way play and team success – to help identify the most deserving candidates.

Here are The Washington Post’s selections for the all-star reserves, who will complement the 10 starters announced last week at next month’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis. Each conference’s reserve pool is made up of two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild cards who can play any position. All discrepancies between The Post’s picks for the all-star starters and the official selections have been noted below.

1. Eastern Conference backcourt: Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks) and Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Brunson (26.7 points per game, 6.5 assists per game, 3.9 rebounds per game) was The Post’s nominee to start over Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard, who received the official nod thanks to his superior name recognition and popularity among fan voters. Nevertheless, Brunson is a lock to claim his first all-star selection by captaining a top-10 offense and leading the scorching-hot Knicks back into the East’s playoff picture. His tough-minded identity and crafty playmaking during his two seasons in New York have given the Knicks a winning identity for the first time in a decade.

Mitchell (27.7 ppg, 6.3 apg, 5.5 rpg) also had a stronger case to start than Lillard: He has scored more, been more efficient, handled a heavier offensive burden and posted superior defensive metrics while carrying the Cavaliers, who have kept up a playoff pace without injured starters Darius Garland and Evan Mobley.

2. Eastern Conference frontcourt: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics) and Jarrett Allen (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Heat star Jimmy Butler is better and more proven than anyone in this category, but he has missed too many games because of injuries and has coasted at times when healthy. Adebayo (20.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.2 apg) has picked up the slack for Miami: He is one of only six players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds and has turned in another season worthy of all-defense consideration.

Similarly, Kristaps Porzingis would have had a strong case to join Boston’s all-star starter, Jayson Tatum, if the Latvian big man had enjoyed better health. Brown (22.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.7 apg) can be incredibly frustrating to watch given his shaky decision-making, ball control issues and overeager shot selection. Despite those warts and his underwhelming advanced statistics, he has filled a major role on the wing for the NBA’s most dominant team, contributing to a second-ranked offense and second-ranked defense.

Julius Randle, Pascal Siakam, DeMar DeRozan and Paolo Banchero are more accomplished scorers than Allen (15.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.0 apg), but the Cavaliers center outperforms all of them in the major advanced statistics thanks to his elite defensive impact and high-volume rebounding. Since Mobley, a 2023 all-defensive first-team selection, suffered a knee injury Dec. 6, Allen has guided the Cavaliers to the NBA’s No. 3 defense. His ability to single-handedly protect the paint has enabled Cleveland to get away with playing more shooting specialists, who have juiced the offense by improving the spacing around Mitchell.

3. Eastern Conference wild cards: Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers) and Julius Randle (New York Knicks)

Maxey (25.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.6 rpg) is posting nearly identical numbers to Lillard in a similar role: riding shotgun to a high-usage scoring big man. Like Brunson, Maxey deserves to make his first all-star team because of his production and his personality. The 23-year-old guard brings an infectious joy and a fast-paced creativity that have helped the 76ers thrive after their divorce from James Harden. Maxey makes the challenging job of deciding when to defer to Embiid and when to hunt his own offense look easy, solidifying Philadelphia’s spot in the East’s top tier.

Randle (24 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.0 apg) enjoyed perfect availability before suffering a dislocated shoulder Saturday, and that late-breaking injury shouldn’t stand in the way of his third all-star selection. The physical forward is far from a perfect player: He is a subpar outside shooter and tends to get loose with the ball. Nevertheless, he has been a rock for the Knicks, who are 13-2 in January. If Randle remains sidelined through All-Star Weekend, Siakam would be a suitable injury replacement.

This year’s toughest East snubs had their cases weakened by injuries (Butler and Porzingis) or by poor team performance (DeRozan and Trae Young have spent the season playing for directionless losers). Ditto for Siakam, at least until his recent trade from the Toronto Raptors to the Indiana Pacers. Banchero has turned the Orlando Magic into a pleasant surprise, but the second-year forward must improve his mediocre efficiency and impact numbers to merit an all-star selection. That’s only a matter of time.

4. Western Conference backcourt: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) and Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)

Curry (27.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 rpg) landed right where he should have in the official vote: a close third among West guards behind Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Though his scoring efficiency and defensive impact have slipped during his age-35 season, the two-time MVP remains one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. It’s disorienting to see the Warriors outside the West’s play-in picture given Curry’s excellent health, but he remains so essential to their successful stretches that it’s easy to imagine them plummeting even further in the standings if he were to miss time.

Booker (28.4 ppg, 7.3 apg, 4.9 rpg) missed eight games early in the season, but he has more than made up for it over the past 10 weeks: Phoenix is 24-14 with him in the lineup and 3-6 without him. Thanks to his polished scoring game and improved distribution skills, the 27-year-old easily clears the next tier of backcourt candidates, which includes Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox and Jamal Murray. Kevin Durant and Booker have Phoenix operating as a top-10 offense, and they’ve picked up even more steam in January with Bradley Beal back healthy.

5. Western Conference frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers) and Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)

The Post picked Leonard and Davis to start over LeBron James and Durant in the West’s frontcourt. Alas, the fan vote disagreed on both counts, leaving Leonard and Davis as no-brainer reserve selections. Leonard (23.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg) has enjoyed his steadiest season since arriving in Los Angeles in 2019; his 26 points in a blowout win over the Celtics in Boston on Saturday continued a sensational two-month stretch. Message received: The Clippers must be treated as contenders.

Davis (24.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.7 apg) has finally surpassed James as the Lakers’ most dominant force, outperforming all big men besides Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. His combination of length and defensive versatility remains unmatched, and he has managed to stay on the court and log heavy minutes for a Lakers team that has dealt with several injuries to key rotation players.

Sabonis (19.9 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 7.9 apg) is duplicating the impressive production that earned him a 2023 all-star selection for a Kings team that is right back in the playoff mix. A night-to-night workhorse, Sabonis leads the league in rebounding and distributes the ball better than any center besides Jokic. His disappointing showing in last year’s playoffs shouldn’t affect his selection because none of the other top frontcourt candidates – Rudy Gobert, Paul George, Lauri Markkanen, Chet Holmgren, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Alperen Sengun, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Victor Wembanyama – had meaningful success during the 2023 postseason, either.

6. Western Conference wild cards: Rudy Gobert (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)

Like Cleveland’s Allen, Gobert (13.3 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 2.1 blocks per game) has been the backbone of an elite defense and deserves more recognition for his contributions to winning. The upstart Timberwolves rank 19th in offensive efficiency, but they are near the top of the West standings thanks to a top-ranked defense built around Gobert’s paint presence, shot-blocking and diligent rebounding. That profile in the highly competitive West is more consequential than Sengun’s breakthrough as a well-rounded offensive threat for the middling Houston Rockets. Williamson and Ingram have had good – but not spectacular – campaigns for the plucky New Orleans Pelicans.

The West’s final spot was easily the toughest decision because a half-dozen players have strong cases. The pick here was George (23.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg), who has put his injury issues behind him, formed a deadly one-two punch on the wing with Leonard and benefited from Harden’s arrival. George is making better use of his possessions – fewer turnovers, more three-pointers, more effective finishing at the rim – and has increased his activity for an improved Clippers defense.

As two-way standouts on teams near the top of the West, Edwards and Holmgren were the toughest cuts. Incredibly, the West could field a 12-man team of snubs capable of challenging the East’s all-star team: Edwards, Fox, Harden and Murray in the backcourt; Ingram and Markkanen on the wings; and Holmgren, Sengun, Jackson, Williamson, Wembanyama and Karl-Anthony Towns filling out a deep big man rotation.