As the 2017-18 NBA season draws near, the Eastern Conference — despite Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap moving westward — remains loaded with talent. Should Philadelphia 76ers fans expect to see any Sixers take part in the action?
For much of this century, a significant talent gap has existed between the Eastern and Western Conference. This offseason, talents such as Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap have swapped conferences, opting for the bloodbath of the Western Conference, further exacerbating the notion. With rumors swirling around the future homes of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, there could potentially be five vacant spots on next year’s Eastern Conference All-Star team. Will any Philadelphia 76ers seize these opportunities?
Before I dive into my choices for the roster, a couple of reminders: starting lineups consist of three frontcourt players and two backcourt players. True positions are not necessary for composing a lineup. Last season, the Eastern Conference didn’t even boast a true center on the roster.
Now, time for the fun.
John Wall continues to ascend the NBA’s point guard hierarchy. After a season in which he produced staggering numbers, the former Kentucky Wildcat is a full-blown superstar. He led the Wizards back to the playoffs after a brief one-year hiatus before falling to the Boston Celtics in an epic seven game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. His popularity continues to grow as he is unabashed and wears his heart on his sleeve, evident in his commanding style of play. As the conference’s best point guard (apologies to Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas), it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Wall doesn’t take the court as a starter next season.
Coming off a career-year in which he was voted in as an All-Star starter, DeMar DeRozan is entering the prime of his NBA tenure. He averaged a career-high in both points and rebounds, helping the team stay afloat during Kyle Lowry’s extended absence. While not necessarily the second best guard in the East, he is backed by all of Toronto and his popularity seems to be gaining considerable steam. The possibility exists for his backcourt mate Lowry to steal this spot from him but either way, it’s highly likely that the Raptors are represented in the starting lineup alongside Wall during next season’s All-Star game.
Death, taxes and LeBron James making the All-Star team. Little, if any, needs to be said about LeBron’s spot in the starting lineup. He’s made 13 consecutive All-Star teams, is the most popular player in the Eastern Conference — and potentially the whole NBA. With any threat to his place atop the NBA hierarchy out West, LeBron should remain the unquestioned king of the East for years to come.
Make no mistake, if anyone’s going to dethrone LeBron, it will be Antetokounmpo. After three years of steady development, the Greek Freak burst onto the scene last season, dazzling the league with jaw-dropping coast-to-coast finishes, crafty passes and stellar defense. He became only the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) en route to winning the 2016-17 Most Improved Player Award. He quickly grew to be one of the most popular players in the entire NBA and with another year under his belt, Antetokounmpo very well may be the leading vote getter next season and emerge as a top five player in the league. Any number of superlatives cannot do this guy’s game justice so just sit back and enjoy:
After battling ongoing foot injuries for the first two years of his career, forcing him to sit out both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Joel Embiid emerged as one of the most dominant forces in all of the league last season. Despite only playing in 31 games, sitting out all back-to-backs, Embiid finished third in the fan vote for all Eastern Conference frontcourt players last season. With the additions of rookies Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, the Sixers are sure to field a considerably more formidable team this upcoming season. As Joel Embiid continues to grow as a cultural icon, his popularity is only increasing. Between a gifted skill-set, strong social media presence and a vastly improved Sixers roster, Embiid is sure to compete for a starting gig in next year’s All-Star game.