With the 2022 NBA All-Star Game under a month away, it's time to make some predictions as to who will be representing the league's best. In this article, I will be providing my selections for this season's Eastern Conference reserves. A disclaimer—the All-Star Game follows a draft format, so the players you see below won't all be playing together on February 20. With that being said, let's discuss some of the NBA's best approaching the 2021-22 season's halfway point.
LaVine is enjoying another impressive scoring season despite losing touches to first-year Bull DeMar DeRozan. His 24.9 points per game are not a far cry from his excellent 2020-21 season (27.4 points per game) when he was the Bulls’ unquestioned first option. This new 1A-1B hierarchy between him and DeRozan has benefited LaVine in several ways. His 2.8 turnovers per game are a significant improvement from his previous three seasons in which he averaged almost 3.5 turnovers per game.
Among the 21 players that attempt at least seven 3-pointers per game, LaVine is just one of three that convert at least 40 percent of those shots. He’s made remarkable improvements in the shooting department since entering the league. In his first four years, he converted 36.4 percent of his 4.4 attempts from deep per game. Those figures have jumped to 39.5 percent on 7.2 3-point attempts per game in LaVine’s last four seasons. This will be LaVine’s second All-Star selection, and he will likely add several more as he continues his career in Chicago.
We have to give credit where credit is due: Harden has carried much of the offensive load for a Nets roster entering this season with championship aspirations. He’s their floor general, and with Kevin Durant injured and Kyrie Irving playing part-time, Harden has been the mainstay of Brooklyn’s offense. He’s averaging 37 minutes per game—that’s the league’s second-most, as well as his biggest workload in eight years.
The good: Harden has been excellent in his role as initiator, averaging 10.1 assists per game (second in the NBA) with an assist percentage of 39.4 (fourth). The bad: he’s coughing the ball up at a prodigious rate, averaging a league-leading 4.8 turnovers per game. The ugly: Harden’s field goal percentage of 42.0 is his worst since his rookie year, and his 3-point percentage of 33.7 has never been worse. His 23.0 points per game are his lowest since 2012. Could we be seeing a permanent decline in Harden’s once-prodigious scoring ability, or is this a season-long anomaly?
Though Butler might not have the gaudiest counting stats (21.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game), he’s the driving force behind one of the best teams in the league. The Heat sit atop the Eastern Conference at 30-17, in no small part due to Butler’s persistent drive, leadership, and hustle. Now that Bam Adebayo has returned from thumb surgery, Miami will look to separate themselves from the pack.
Turning 33 in September, Butler is still an elite defender. His 1.9 steals per game are sixth in the NBA, and he’s a key cog of a Heat unit whose defensive rating of 107.7 is eighth-best. Butler does it all, as seen by his three triple doubles this season—the same as Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and LaMelo Ball.
Tatum is beginning to establish a real reputation as a streaky shooter. He’s averaging a notable 26.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, but Celtics fans have been maddened by his inconsistency. Tatum dropped 51 points on 18-for-28 shooting overall and 9-for-14 from deep against the Wizards on Sunday. But he hit a combined 13 of 38 shots (including 0 of 13 from 3-point range) in the two games leading up to that nuclear performance.
This might simply be a part of Tatum’s game. He has always had a propensity for difficult shots; while he has cut down on his mid-range attempts since entering the league, Tatum will never hesitate to shoot. Then again, he is just 23 years old. This is already his fifth professional season, and we should see his shot selection and willingness to pass improve as he continues to emotionally mature.
Primarily known as a defensive stalwart, the 23-year-old Allen has drastically expanded his offensive production in his fifth season. The Texas alum is averaging 16.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game, all of which are career-high marks. He’s an elite rim runner and lob finisher, often assisted by floor general Darius Garland.
Allen is a perfect example for how sudden improvement earns NBA players their first All-Star selection. He’s quickly become an integral piece of the foundation of a young Cleveland team that has shattered expectations this season.
VanVleet has been a workhorse for the Raptors, playing a league-high 38.2 minutes per game. As their point guard and team leader, he’s one of the reasons why Toronto has been able to cling onto the eighth seed in the East. VanVleet’s 21.7 points and 7.0 assists per game are both career highs, and his eight double doubles have already tied his regular season record set in 2020.
On pace for 320 made 3-pointers, VanVleet has the chance to join Steph Curry and James Harden as the only players in NBA history to make 300 3-pointers in a season. He’s having his best shooting year yet, hitting 39.3 percent of his deep shots on 9.9 attempts per game. VanVleet is also one of the best defenders at his position, averaging 1.7 steals per game (11th in the NBA).
At just 20 years old, Ball is one of the most gifted point guards in the league. He is just one of six players averaging at least 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Ball’s teammates must always have their heads up, because he can find them for an assist from anywhere on the court. He mans an energetic Hornets squad that runs the floor for a blistering 100.9 possessions per game (second in the NBA).
Ball’s shooting efficiency is slightly below-average (41.8 FG%, 35.8 3PT%), but he impacts the game in so many ways on any given night. He’s a dynamo with the ball in his hands and can rack up triple doubles in his sleep. This would be the first of many All-Star selections for Ball.