The Los Angeles Clippers moved to 15-6 with their impressive win in Sacramento on Thursday night. That 15-6 mark is tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the second-best record in the league, with only Toronto boasting a better record to this point. This season has been unpredictable so far, which is fairly unusual for a league that has been anything but unpredictable for about the last half-decade or so.
Obviously, nobody expected the Clippers to be sitting alone atop the Western Conference at the quarter pole of the season. Most prognosticators had the Clips pegged as a team that would do well to finish in the bottom-half of the conference playoffs. They may still wind up there by the time the dust has settled, of course. The Warriors and Rockets are going to get healthy eventually, while the Nuggets look like a team that’s taken the next step. Teams like OKC, Utah, Memphis, Portland and the Lakers are wild cards.
The Clippers have gotten off to this impressive start despite the fact that they have a roster full of players that has combined to play in a grand total of zero All-Star Games. They’ve combined to play in one fewer All-Star Game than Jamaal Magloire. Lou Williams gained quite a bit of momentum as a candidate last season before ultimately falling short. It wasn’t that long ago that the Clippers were routinely putting 2 players into the ASG - they did so every year from 2011 through 2015 - but they face an uphill climb to get someone into the game again this year despite their strong early showing.
Let’s assume the Clips continue to win at a decent rate. They shouldn’t have to remain atop the conference in order to be deserving of an All-Star representative. It won’t be easy given the insane amount of talent in the West (which just added LeBron James), but Tobias Harris (or Montrezl Harrell) has a strong chance of getting there.
Through 21 games, Tobias has averaged 21.7 points and nearly 9 rebounds per. He’s shooting a blistering 52.8% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. Harris is 19th in the league in scoring, and he has the fourth-highest 3-point percentage among players with at least 100 attempts (Danilo Gallinari is actually second). His usage rate isn’t as high as superstar types like James Harden or Russell Westbrook, but Tobias has quietly transformed himself into one of the most efficient offensive weapons in the game. Not bad for a guy that shot under 35% from deep as recently as 2 seasons ago.
It feels like he’s been in the league forever, so it’s hard to believe Harris is still only 26. The potential has always been there, and he’s finally blossoming as the Clippers’ offensive centerpiece.
Sometimes good teams do get rewarded for being good. Just a few years ago the Hawks managed to get 4 guys (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and, yes, Kyle Korver) in the midst of their 60-win season. The shallowness of the Eastern Conference had plenty to do with a guy like Korver getting in, but there are some similarities between those Hawks and these Clippers. Those Hawks were a team full of non-superstars that managed to win tons of games regardless. The Clippers probably aren’t going to win 60 games, but you get the point.
There are just 12 spots on the All-Star roster for each conference. Harris would likely be a lock at this point if he were putting up these numbers while still plying his craft in the Eastern Conference, but there’s more star power out west. The guys that look like sure things (barring injury) to make it are Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden and LeBron James. Steph Curry has played just 12 games to this point, but assuming he returns from his groin injury as scheduled and doesn’t suffer any further setbacks, he can safely be considered an All-Star lock, too. That’s 5 spots of the 12 accounted for.
I’ll stop short of calling Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard full-on locks, but they’re about as close as you can get. Westbrook is just 0.2 assists per game shy of averaging a triple-double on the season, and we know how much voters seem to love those. Lillard is averaging a career-best 27.1 points per game thus far and once again has the Blazers exceeding expectations. Westbrook and Lillard will be All-Stars 6 and 7 here. 5 open spots remain.
Davis is the only traditional big on the list so far, so we can look for a center or two. Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol fit the bill. Jokic is averaging over 7 assists per game, which is absurd for a center, while Gasol looks reborn after a lost 2017-18 campaign. At this point I don’t see how you leave either of them off. I’d choose Jokic if forced to pick one, but they’re both plenty deserving. That brings us to 9 All-Stars with 3 vacant slots left.
Karl-Anthony Towns faces an uphill climb following a calamitous start to the season. Towns struggled quite a bit while the Jimmy Butler fiasco was ongoing, but he’s looked more like his old self since Butler was shipped out. Others worthy of strong All-Star consideration are DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert and Luka Doncic. Donovan Mitchell hasn’t been consistent enough in my opinion, while Chris Paul is once again battling injuries.
I think Holiday is deserving of a spot based on the job he’s done handling what has been one of the league’s best offenses to this point. Thompson, George and Paul will get seniority votes. Rookies rarely make the All-Star team, so Doncic is likely to wind up on the outside looking in. The Jazz have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league, so I’m not all that enthused by Gobert’s case. I think Gasol has a stronger case than Conley, especially given positional scarcity. It obviously wouldn’t make sense for the Grizz to get 2 All-Stars while the Clips get snubbed. Fox and Booker may miss out as guards thanks to the numbers game.
All things considered, I see little reason Tobias can’t make the cut here. Once you get past the superstars in the conference it’s essentially a free-for-all. There’s pretty much a 0% chance Harris gets voted in by the fans, so we’ll have to hope coaches from around the league are paying enough attention to put him in. We’re going to hear tons of politicking about this over the next couple of months, but, assuming the Clippers don’t fall off the face of the earth between now and February, Tobias Harris deserves to be an All-Star. And he’s got a decent shot at actually making it.