Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
For just the second time in league history, NBA players drafted the All-Star teams. For the first time, we got to watch.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two leading vote-getters for the 2019 game, got to select their squads from the pool of 24 All-Star players for the Feb. 17 exhibition in Charlotte, North Carolina.
James and Stephen Curry were elected captains last year in the first All-Star draft, although the event was not televised. Both wanted to keep their selections private at the time but said a future televised version would be a good idea.
So here we are. With allegiances tested, enemies becoming friends, friends becoming enemies and even a post-draft trade, which team came out on top?
Who Has the Better Starting 5?
First, a look at both team’s final rosters, including starters and reserves:
The 2019 #NBAAllStar #TeamLeBron & #TeamGiannis rosters as drafted by #LeBronJames and #Giannis! https://t.co/AbvnyJjMsv
James, the overall leading vote-getter, had the first pick and selected Kevin Durant. Antetokounmpo responded with Curry, proving once again just how insanely talented the Golden State Warriors are.
From there, James selected former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving third, Kawhi Leonard fifth and James Harden seventh. Antetokounmpo took Joel Embiid fourth, Paul George sixth and Kemba Walker with the eighth and final starter pick.
While both opening units are stacked, there’s a clear winner.
James and Durant are the two best humans on the planet at playing basketball and combined for 48 points in last year’s game. Starting a team with this pair seems almost unfair.
Antetokounmpo didn’t have the opportunity to draft Durant, so he took Curry, the best player available. His mistake came in drafting Embiid over Leonard and Harden—a move that appeared to surprise James, who pounced on Leonard with his next pick.
In the end, James has perhaps the three best two-way players in the world (when they want to be) in himself, Durant and Leonard. Add in the reigning MVP, Harden—he of a league-leading 36.5 points per game this season—and that’s an incredible amount of offense. Oh, and then there’s Irving, who was built for the All-Star stage and hit the shot that helped deliver James his last NBA championship.
For Team Giannis, a backcourt of Curry (6’3″) and Kemba Walker (6’1″) is great but a little undersized. Walker, like DeMar DeRozan last year, doesn’t quite carry the level of star power as his starting peers. The good news? The 7’0″, 250-pound Embiid will be nearly impossible for anyone on Team LeBron to cover because of his size and strength, and both George and Antetokounmpo are terrific two-way players.
Still, the combination of having to pick second (and then last overall) hurt Team Giannis.
Advantage: Team LeBron
Who Has the Better Bench?
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
Instead, Antetokounmpo chose loyalty and went with Bucks teammate Khris Middleton.
This was great for team chemistry—but not for winning the All-Star Game. Had anyone but Antetokounmpo been this team’s captain, Middleton would have likely been the last player taken.
Davis was then the obvious choice for James. Even though they didn’t become teammates in real life, James’ team needed size to combat that of Embiid on Team Giannis. The 6’10”, 253-pound Davis is the second-leading scorer in the NBA (29.3 points per game) and was the All-Star MVP just two years ago.
With Westbrook, Lillard and Klay Thompson still on the board, Antetokounmpo’s next selection of Nikola Jokic was another shock. Jokic is perhaps the league’s best passing big man, but this is his first All-Star game. Guys playing in their first All-Star gala tend to be a little more passive and defer to veteran teammates. Jokic needs to be aggressive and show off his overall game if he wants to validate being picked this high.
James did a good job of filling his lack of size with Davis, the 6’11” LaMarcus Aldridge (who LeBron hoped Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would let play more than two minutes) and the 7’0″ Karl-Anthony Towns. He also drafted some excellent shooters in Thompson, Lillard and Bradley Beal, who somehow went last overall.
While James originally took Westbrook, he eventually traded him to Team Giannis for fellow Klutch Sports client Ben Simmons. Dwyane Wade was his obvious pick among the legends, although playing time for both he and Dirk Nowitzki of Team Giannis will likely be limited. The difference is Wade can still contribute in spurts, while Nowitzki is struggling to run up and down the court.
For Antetokounmpo, there were some head-scratching choices. He went with Simmons over Lillard, Blake Griffin over Westbrook and first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic over Towns. Antetokounmpo should have taken Beal over Lowry with his last pick, but said he had already told Lowry he would make sure he wasn’t the final selection in the draft.
Again, loyalty hurt Team Giannis.
Advantage: Team LeBron
Team LeBron Wins If
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
James’ squad is more talented, and talent typically wins these games.
Experience is also a big factor for Team LeBron. His starting lineup alone has a combined 41 trips to the game compared to 20 for Team Giannis. Antetokounmpo also has four players who will make their first appearance, compared to just one (Simmons) for James.
Team LeBron has the better starting unit and better bench. There’s an argument to be made that Davis, the sixth man for James, would be the best player on Team Giannis.
If there’s a close game in the fourth quarter, Team LeBron has three of the top-five clutch scorers in the NBA this season (Harden, Leonard and Irving) compared to just one (Walker) for Team Giannis. Lillard, Durant and James have all hit their share of game-winning shots as well.
Team LeBron doesn’t need to do anything special. As long as everyone is healthy and at least somewhat motivated, it has the talent to win.
Team Giannis Wins If
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
One major area of strength for Team Giannis is size. The 6’11” Antetokounmpo drafted six players 6’9″ or taller, not including himself. Team LeBron contains five total, including one (Simmons, 6’10”) who’s a point guard.
If it wants, Team Giannis could put out a lineup with Antetokounmpo running point guard with George, Griffin, Jokic and Embiid. Forcing Team LeBron to go big at times would help keep backcourt assassins Harden, Irving, Lillard, Thompson and Beal off the floor.
By trading for Westbrook, Team Giannis also has a two-time All-Star Game MVP on its bench—one who tends to take these games seriously.
Curry, perhaps the best shooter in NBA history, could neutralize a lot of what Team LeBron does as well.
Having the game in Charlotte could carry a big advantage for Team Giannis.
Both Walker and Curry (a Charlotte native) should have plenty of family at the game and will be extra motivated to show out. With 50.4 percent of all shots in last year’s All-Star Game coming from the three-point line, having Curry helps Team Giannis if this turns into a shooting contest.
There’s also the off chance that James will get distracted while trying to tamper with talk to all of the expected upcoming free agents (Durant, Leonard, Thompson, Irving) that he just so happened to select for his team.
Team LeBron 154, Team Giannis 148
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.