Last year, the NBA derived from the norm—as seems to be the pattern in an Adam Silver-era. Instead of the traditional East versus West All-Star teams, the league named two captains who would pick their teams themselves. Another sign, albeit trivial, of the player empowerment era.
LeBron James was named captain of the East while Steph Curry was named captain of the West. NBA social media erupted at the news—the prospect of watching arguably the best two players in the league pick their own super teams. But the excitement was cut short when it was also announced that the draft would not be televised in an attempt to spare the feelings of the last player picked. A huge disappoint for all looking forward to seeing LeBron pick Steph’s teammate—Kevin Durant—first.
But it was announced recently that this year the draft will indeed be televised, meaning the last player picked will only have the satisfaction of being in the top 25 players in the world to console him (please hold for the tiniest violin). While we look forward to the upcoming game in February—already less than three months away—LeBron’s west coast transfer has thrown a wrench into who will be named the captains of both the West and East.
While it could easily be assumed LeBron will take the crown from Steph out West, Curry has been—or at least was before this groin injury—putting up numbers that have already sparked early MVP talk for the 30-year-old guard. Barring a dip in production (which would likely be due to another major health issue), Curry is on track to average 50 percent field-goal percentage, 50 percent from the three-point line, and 90 percent from the free-throw line—numbers that have never been produced and especially in this era of frequent three-point shooting. Curry was inducted into the 50-40-90 club in the 2015-16 season, also an MVP year and the league’s first unanimous Most Valuable Player at that. The short story: Steph is going to make it very difficult for LeBron to be unanimously named captain.
Since LeBron traded in his winter parka for sunglasses, the East is now also wide open. Naturally the MVP candidates are the ones to be considered and as we sit now about 25 percent into the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and a dark-horse Joel Embiid are the top candidates. Giannis is also the MVP leader at this point with odds at +150 as of early November, which safely makes him the front-runner for East captain as well. Like Steph, though, Kawhi has also been resting on Toronto back-to-backs and may not play enough to keep his name afloat.
While the MVP and captain race are not synonymous, it’s hard to see a player not playing 50 games and still being in the conversation.
I would be remiss to not argue a case for Damian Lillard to earn his chance at captain, despite an alien-Curry and a (maybe?) revitalized-LA LeBron. Dame has been averaging 26.5 points on 43-34-90 shooting; not quite the magnificent Steph numbers, but when you look at the team as a whole, you start to notice how different they really are from last year. The team’s net rating is 3.8 at the moment, a full point higher than it was last year when we finished 3 in the west. I can’t say I see Dame increasing those numbers so much to affect the MVP race, but if he brought this Trail Blazers team to the Western Conference finals, the league might regret making the default decision between Curry and James.