NBA All-Star Game: Team USA vs. Team World – What If?

The NBA has seen an influx of talent overseas. Many international players have emerged as stars, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, and many others. Could an NBA All-Star Game between Team USA and Team World happen?

Of course, the NBA is no stranger to the Team USA vs Team World format. Every year before the All-Star Game, the league would hold the Rising Stars Challenge. It was an exhibition game showcasing rookie and second-year players, pitting United States-born players and international players against each other. For many basketball fans, it’s considered one of the highlights of All-Star Weekend.

But, what if the NBA took the format for the Rising Stars Challenge, and applied it to its annual All-Star Game? In theory, such a scenario could play out in the future. With many international players blossoming as stars in the league, the NBA has enough resources to pull an All-Star Game like this off. That said, how would the rosters of each team look?

To get a glimpse at what a Team USA vs Team World All-Star Game would look like this year (under normal conditions), we will be forming rosters by picking out players based on their performance so far this season. This will show us who’s worthy enough to get in, and who might wind up being snubbed. There will be snubs aplenty, so brace yourselves…

Team USA

Starters

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Backcourt)

Stephen Curry appears to be back to form, after being out for much of last season with a wrist injury. The former two-time MVP is averaging 28.4 points per game so far and has a 62-point effort against the Portland Trail Blazers to his name. Perhaps dropping the dreadlocks did the trick…

Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers (Backcourt)

Paul George missed out on the All-Star Game last year, being hampered by a shoulder surgery that caused him to miss half of his team’s games. But now he’s fully healthy again, scoring 25.1 points per game without any trouble. Slowly but surely, George is regaining his past MVP form.

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Frontcourt)

Having missed the entire 2019-20 season with an Achilles injury suffered in the Finals, Kevin Durant appears to be back to form. He’s scoring 27.9 points per game while showing several flashes of his previous All-Star self. His scoring average might take a slight dip with James Harden now joining the Nets, but the decrease shouldn’t be too dramatic. Provided that Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving can effectively share the ball, of course.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Frontcourt)

LeBron James makes it unto the Team USA roster by being…well, LeBron James. The 18th year veteran has made it to the All-Star Game every year after his rookie season, so it would be hard to see him get snubbed. Even with his numbers slightly down compared to years past, LeBron’s overall impact on the court would still help him garner All-Star consideration.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Frontcourt)

With Kemba Walker sidelined with a knee injury, Jayson Tatum has certainly stepped up to the plate. The four-year small forward was scoring nearly 27 points per game before COVID protocols kept him – and the Celtics – off the court. Once Tatum returns clear protocols and returns to the court, we may see him return in a dominating fashion.

Reserves

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Backcourt)

Good thing that Damian Lillard doesn’t have to worry about being snubbed anymore. The veteran point guard has been putting up fantastic numbers, with 26.9 points and seven assists per game. Amazingly enough, Lillard isn’t leading the Blazers in scoring this year (that’s CJ McCollum).

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Backcourt)

CJ McCollum has always been somewhat of a fringe All-Star, scoring over 20 points per game each season but never receiving an All-Star nod. But this year, the Blazers shooting guard has been absolutely showing out. He has career highs in scoring average (27.6 PPG), rebounds (4.3 RPG), and assists (5.3 APG). One thing to look out for is McCollum’s three-point shooting – eleven tries from him per game – which may or may not decrease as the season goes on.

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (Backcourt)

Bradley Beal was snubbed from the All-Star Game last year, despite putting up 30.5 points per contest. His snub was mostly attributed to the Washington Wizards being a lousy team. But with Beal currently leading the league in scoring, with 34.9 points per game, it would be pretty hard to overlook the shooting guard this time around.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (Backcourt)

Jaylen Brown continues to progress nicely as an NBA player, and so far this season he’s putting up an All-Star caliber performance. The shooting guard is scoring 26.3 points per game, with a great shooting efficiency to boot. His field goal and three-point shooting percentages that’s over fifty and forty percent, respectively.

Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Frontcourt)

Had this been a regular All-Star Game, Kawhi Leonard might’ve had a decent chance at being a starter. But under this format, Leonard will be relegated to being a bench player. And for good reason. By his standards, Kawhi’s having quite an underwhelming season so far, averaging 24.8 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Frontcourt)

LeBron gets his running mate in Anthony Davis, who is having another All-Star caliber season. Davis is scoring 22.1 points per game, and while his RPG total (8.5) is the lowest it’s ever been since his rookie season, his defense is still holding up. His defensive efficiency is 101, best on the Lakers.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans (Frontcourt)

Brandon Ingram signed a new deal with New Orleans in the off-season, and the Pelicans forward has been living up to his contract. He has emerged as New Orleans’ best player (yes, over Zion Williamson), scoring 23.8 points per game on efficient shooting with an improved defense to boot. His playmaking has certainly improved as well, as his assist percentage (27 percent) is much higher than last season.

Team World

Starters

Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks (Backcourt)

Luka Dončić is enjoying another MVP-caliber season, putting up a very excellent stat line – 27.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game. And what’s most impressive is that he’s doing all of this despite poor shooting percentages. And looking chunkier than usual.

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets (Backcourt)

Jamal Murray caught the attention of basketball fans everywhere in the 2020 playoffs, putting up 26.5 points and 6.6 assists per game throughout the postseason. The Canadian guard continues to impress, averaging 19.7 points in ten games so far. While his play may not be as otherworldly as it was in the NBA bubble, Murray has shown that he’s worthy enough to be deserving of a spot in Team World’s starting lineup.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Frontcourt)

Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a unanimous starter for Team World, despite his slightly underwhelming stat line. But where would the Greek Freak fit on the squad? Given the number of bigs on Team World, Giannis will be slotted at the small forward position. Giannis hasn’t played at the three since the 2016-17 season – the same season where he became a first-time All-Star.

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (Frontcourt)

Domantas Sabonis was a first-time All-Star last season, averaging a double-double (18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game). The Lithuanian forward has been showing out again, so far achieving career highs in points (21.9) and rebounds (12.8) per game. Sabonis has also adding a flair of passing to his game, dishing out 5.8 assists per contest.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Frontcourt)

Joel Embiid has been an All-Star fixture since 2018, and this year won’t be any different. His scoring average of 26.6 points leads all other centers in the NBA, and he’s also in the top five in total rebounds. The 76ers’ improved shooting and spacing can definitely help Embiid maintain his All-Star performance.

Reserves

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Backcourt)

One may take a look at Ben Simmons, and believe that he’s worthy of a starting spot for Team World. However, that hasn’t been quite the case so far this season. Simmons has seen career lows in points per game (12.4) and field goal percentage (.515%), while his assist total remains modest. But since competition for the reserve guard spot on Team World is pretty thin, Simmons finds a way to get in.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Backcourt)

Ever since he was traded from the Clippers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the best up-and-coming players in the NBA. Even with the exodus of Chris Paul (who was great for his development), Gilgeous-Alexander continues to put up impressive numbers. The Canadian guard is unquestionably the best player on the Thunder right now (20.5 PPG/5.4 RPG/5.8 APG), which makes an All-Star nomination for him fairly easy.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors (Frontcourt)

It was only seven years ago that Andrew Wiggins went first overall in the 2014 NBA draft, being dubbed “Maple Jordan” and such by basketball fans. And Wiggins…hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of being the number one pick. Still, he’s had a pretty solid career in the NBA so far and has scored nearly 17.8 points per game for the Warriors this season. Which may be good enough to warrant him some All-Star consideration.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (Frontcourt)

Pascal Siakam had a pretty rough start to the 2020-21 season, but he’s starting to pick up the slack despite the Raptors’ struggles. The Cameroonian forward averaging nearly 20 points per game, and he’s also grabbing nearly nine boards per game, too. If the Raptors can win consistently, that may help Siakam’s chances at being an All-Star.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Frontcourt)

While he might not be a starter for Team World (partly due to spacing issues on the starting lineup), there’s no shame in Nikola Jokic being a leading candidate off the bench. Jokic has adept passing ability, and the Serbian center is leading the league in assists, with 10.5 per game. And he’s achieving a career-high in scoring too, with 24.3 points per game.

Nikola Vučević, Orlando Magic (Frontcourt)

Nikola Vučević was named to his first All-Star Game two years ago, and this year he’s showing everyone why he deserves to be named an All-Star a second time. The Montenegrin center is averaging a double-double, and his box plus/minus is currently best in the East. Also worth mentioning that Vooch is shooting over forty percent from behind the arc.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Frontcourt)

Rudy Gobert may be down offensively, but his defense is still holding up fairly strong. And for what it’s worth, he’s second in the league in rebounds per game, with 13.4, so that’s pretty good. Most fans would be slighted by a 11.6 PPG scorer being in the All-Star Game, though.

So, Could it Work?

Would an All-Star Game between Team USA and Team World work out? In a word…not really.

For Team World, there probably wouldn’t be that many snubs. Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis would arguably be the biggest snubs from Team World, obviously due to injuries. Outside of those two, there are no other snubs on Team World that would be noteworthy.

As for Team USA…just take a look at the list of players who would miss out on the All-Star Game, under this format:

  • Kyrie Irving: Is Irving worthy enough of being an All-Star? He put up some great numbers (27.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.1 APG) in the seven games that he played in. But would he play in the All-Star Game, if it actually happened? That’s a question for another day.
  • James Harden: His scoring average of 24.8 points per game is the lowest since 2014. Now that Harden will be joining a Nets team with Durant and Irving, will his numbers be sustained?
  • Khris Middleton: Middleton not only has great numbers (21.6 PPG/6.3 RPG/5.7 APG), but great shooting percentages to boot (.544/.471/.939). He could join the 50/40/90 club by season’s end.
  • Malcolm Brodgon: He’s scoring 22.8 points per game, while on the cusp of having a second 50/40/90 season. Only Larry Bird and Steve Nash have had multiple seasons with such shooting percentages.
  • Zion Williamson: Of course, Zion would have a strong likelihood to be an All-Star, given his popularity. That said, 21.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and a field goal percentage of .557% is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Bam Adebayo: Adebayo currently has the best defensive plus/minus in the league, and his offense has improved over time.
  • Christian Wood: Wood shown a lot of promise in a small sample size with the Detroit Pistons, and is now showing out with the Houston Rockets. He’s averaging a double-double, with 23.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
  • Julius Randle: He has dramatically improved on defense, and he’s putting up fantastic numbers (22.8 PPG/10.8 RPG/6.8 APG) in his first year under coach Tom Thibodeau.

And there’s plenty of more snubs, too – Trae Young, Devin Booker, and even Jerami Grant, to name a few. Also, how would NBA fans feel about someone like Andrew Wiggins being in the All-Star game…but not Middleton or Adebayo? Not to say that Wiggins isn’t a terrible basketball player, by any means, but Wiggins being an All-Star may leave a sour taste in the mouths of NBA fans.

It’s fun to speculate an All-Star Game with American players and international players playing against each other, given all the talent in the NBA right now. But it’s also easy to see why such a format wouldn’t work out logistically, in real life. A lot of great players would be left out of the All-Star Game, especially on the Team USA side. Could this format have worked last year, when Siakam, Simmons, and Gobert had All-Stars seasons? Perhaps. But the NBA would risk having worthy players miss out on the All-Star Game, mainly on Team USA. And that’s a risk not worth taking.

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