NEW YORK CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will feature several first-time starters, as well several players making return All-Star appearances while representing new places. But perhaps the most surprising news from the All-Star voting results is a changing of the guard atop the polls.
Cleveland’s LeBron James, last season’s overall vote-getting leader while a member of the Miami Heat, led the voting through each of the initial voting updates this season. But a late push from Golden State’s Stephen Curry made the Warriors guard the overall leader, with 1,513,324 votes to James’ 1,470,483.
The other big surprise in final voting totals was the rise of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. In the first voting totals, announced on Christmas Day, Lowry was in fourth among Eastern Conference guards, behind Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Irving started last season’s game for the Eastern Conference and went on to win the All-Star Game MVP.
In the most recent results, announced two weeks ago, Lowry had leapfrogged Irving to move into third place but was still over 100,000 votes behind Wade, with 406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326 . But the Raptors campaigned hard for Lowry, with social media support from people like hip-hop star Drake and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which apparently rallied enough support to push the 28-year-old Lowry, who has never been an All-Star, into the starting lineup. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes to Wade’s 789,839.
Last season’s second-leading vote-getter was Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with 1,396,294 votes. Durant went on to win his first NBA MVP award. But Durant has missed 23 of OKC’s 42 games this season while recovering from a foot fracture, while his teammate Russell Westbrook, himself a three-time All-Star, has missed 14 games with a hand injury.
For the second year in a row, forwards and centers were lumped into one frontcourt category. Each conference’s starting five will include one of the Gasol brothers — Memphis’ Marc for the West and Chicago’s Pau for the East, in his first season as an Eastern Conference player. New Orleans big man Anthony Davis, who one year ago made his All-Star debut as a Western Conference reserve, will join Marc in the Western Conference starting lineup, giving the West plenty of size along the front line.
Some players are noticeable by their absence. Despite winning the NBA title in dominant fashion a season ago, no San Antonio Spurs players were named to the starting lineup in the West. And in the East, no Atlanta Hawks charted among the top five, even though the Hawks currently are 35-8 and have a six game lead atop the Eastern Conference.
Houston’s James Harden probably has the best claim to a starting spot among those not voted to the starting fives. Harden currently leads the NBA in points per game at 27.2 per night. This year he was the only player over a million votes (1,069,368) not to make the starting lineup.
But could history repeat itself? Last season Harden was selected as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference starting lineup, and the announcement earlier today that Kobe Bryant suffered a torn rotator cuff last night puts his participation this year in doubt. If Bryant is unable to play, the Western Conference All-Star coach, Steve Kerr, will select his replacement in the starting lineup from among the players selected as reserves, where Harden would seem to be a lock. The reserves will be announced next Thursday night, Jan. 29.
Golden State’s Kerr will be the first rookie coach to coach in an All-Star Game since Larry Bird in 1998. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who is just in his second year as an NBA head coach, will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 15.
LeBron James, Cavaliers — No surprise that the league’s reigning best all-around player made the cut. After flipping from Miami to Cleveland in the offseason and a slow start with the Cavs, James recently sat out 8 games to recuperate from nagging injuries. In five games since returning, King James has averaged 30.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 6.0 apg.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — This must be a high point in an otherwise rough season for Anthony, who has averaged 24 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 33 games for the woeful Knicks, who are just 7-36 on the season. Anthony will likely be the only New York or Brooklyn representative in the game.
Pau Gasol, Bulls — After 13 seasons in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies and Lakers, a move East to Chicago has vaulted Gasol into his first All-Star game since 2011, and the first All-Star start of his career. It’s well-deserved: At 34 years old, Gasol is averaging 18.7 ppg along with a career-high 11.4 rpg.
John Wall, Wizards — After making his first All-Star appearance one year ago as a reserve, this season Wall was voted in as the leader among Eastern Conference guards. The 24-year-old Wall is having a breakout season, leading the Wiz to a 29-14 record while averaging 17 ppg and leading the NBA at 10 apg.
Kyle Lowry, Raptors — In his ninth NBA season, for the last few seasons Lowry has been the Eastern Conference player probably most deserving of an All-Star nod that never came. This season, Lowry is averaging 19.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 4.9 rpg, career highs across the board.
Blake Griffin, Clippers — All-Star Weekend is nothing new for Griffin — he’s been a participant every year since 2011, the same year he won the Slam Dunk Contest by leaping over a car. But his game has evolved over the years, using less power and more touch. This season Griffin is averaging 23 ppg and 7.6 rpg for the 28-14 Clippers.
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies — The younger Gasol brother has made just one previous All-Star appearance, in 2012. But Gasol was named the Defensive Player of the Year last season, and this season has assumed a central role in the Memphis attack, posting 8.2 rpg along with a career-high 19.3 ppg.
Anthony Davis, Pelicans – The Unibrow is officially among the NBA elite. After a summer anchoring the gold medal-winning USA Basketball team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Davis has continued his strong play into the season. The versatile 21-year-old seven-footer, in just his third NBA season, is currently averaging a double-double, with 24.3 ppg to go with 10.4 rpg, as well as leading the league with 2.9 blocks a night.
Stephen Curry, Warriors – Thus far this season, Curry has been the best player for the league’s best team. In his sixth NBA season, Curry is averaging 23.2 ppg and 8.1 apg for the Warriors, who began the season 16-0 and are currently 34-6 overall.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers — After sitting out last year’s game while recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, the Mamba was again selected an All-Star starter, although like last season, an injury could curtail his participation. Even at 36 years old, the 16-time All-Star has remained effective, averaging 22.3 points per game this season in 35 appearances.