2021 All-Star

5 takeaways from second fan returns of NBA All-Star Voting 2021

LeBron James overtaking Kevin Durant for the top spot is one of several intriguing storylines from the latest returns.

LeBron James is the leading vote-getter after the latest fan voting returns.

Five takeaways from the second fan returns of NBA All-Star Voting 2021 presented by AT&T:

1. LeBron is back where he belongs. Or, at least, where he’s accustomed to being and we’re accustomed to seeing him in this All-Star voting thingamajig. Last week, Kevin Durant ranked first overall in votes, though his position had at least a little to do with getting out of the Western Conference and having an MVP-level season so far in his comeback with the Brooklyn Nets. Durant’s lead over LeBron after Week 1 was a mere 14,029 votes, just 0.6% of his total. James’ advantage over Durant in Week 2 was 10 times the size of last week’s gap – 149,129 – vaulting him to the status of top vote-getter with a week to go. That’s a perch James has enjoyed seven times previously in his All-Star career, good for second place all-time behind Michael Jordan’s nine since fan voting began in 1975.

2. Too early to call some races? Premature prognostication can be downright embarrassing. In this particular case, we’ve got an unknown number of votes still to be cast and counted. We’d hate to discourage some voters from exercising their James Naismith-given right. We’d hate even more to guess wrong.

Still, some outcomes are looking awfully certain. James and Durant are locks to be voted as starters in the West and East frontcourts, respectively. The Lakers superstar already has more than three times the number of votes than the No. 4 finisher last year, Nikola Jokic, garnered. The 2020 fourth-place finisher in the East, Jimmy Butler, wound up with nearly 1.5 million fewer votes than Durant already has.

Fact is, the entire East frontcourt seems pretty set. After the likely starting front line of Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, the step down to Jayson Tatum at No. 4 is more than 1.3 million votes. Put another way, Tatum has only 56% of No. 3 Embiid’s vote total. That’s a lot of ground to make up.

Out West, the jockeying behind James looks to be limited to three guys in search of two starter spots. Denver’s Jokic (3,006,981) has the sixth-most votes through two weeks of returns, with the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2,462,621) and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis (2,329,371) tightly grouped for the next two spots. From there, the step down to Leonard’s teammate Paul George is a considerable 1,305,138 votes, more than double what it was last week. It raises the question, which L.A. fanbase will be able to power their star into the final three?

3. Beal winning, Wizards less so. Granted, it is more of a coaches’ thing than a fans’ thing that All-Stars are best drawn from teams with winning records. The people want what they want, and in the case of Bradley Beal’s mounting lead as the top vote-getter among East backcourt players, they might get exactly that.

Washington won only one of four games since last week’s returns were made public. Beal sagged, too, averaging 24.3 points on 37.5% shooting overall and 22.2% on 3-pointers. But it didn’t matter to those casting ballots – the 6-foot-3 shooting guard and two-time All-Star still leads the NBA in scoring at a gaudy 32.8 ppg, and that was good enough for the fans. Beal’s lead over Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving expanded from 180,206 to 424,589.

Irving (2,104,130) and Nets mate James Harden (1,829,504) appear to be locked into an either-or battle for the East’s second backcourt spot. Boston’s Jaylen Brown (1,062,888) is the only other guard in the East for now with more than 1 million votes.

In the West, it’s Golden State’s Steph Curry (4,033,050) with what probably is an insurmountable total. Then Dallas’ Luka Doncic (2,484,552) and Portland’s Damian Lillard (2,095,157) playing musical chairs for the final seat. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell (479,241) is in fourth place and would need to double and double again his total, just to see Doncic and Lillard from where he’d be sitting.

4. Double the time, double the votes. OK, so it’s not a triple-double and not even a double-double. But 19 of the players who ranked among the Top 10 vote getters at their positions last week doubled their totals by this week.

In the West, 10 players enjoyed 100+% boosts, six of them in the backcourt. In the East, the breakdown was nine overall and seven in the frontcourt.

None of them, of course, was the leading vote-getter in his category, since the huge number of ballots cast already for James, Durant, Curry and Beal make it exceedingly difficult to double.

There weren’t even any place changes in the two conferences’ Frontcourt returns. Same 10 players, same 10 spots, with only the vote totals ticking up.

The backcourts offered a bit more maneuvering. In the East, Toronto’s Fred VanVleet – as predicted here! – opened enough voters eyes with his 54-point explosion against Orlando Feb. 2 to snag the 10th spot. That mean Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons dropped down.

Out West, Mitchell rode Utah’s 20-5 start to a flip-flop with Memphis’ Ja Morant, the Jazz guard moving to No. 4 and Morant to No. 5. Meanwhile, OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dropped out of the Top 10 while dealing with a knee injury and playing only two of the Thunder’s five most recent games.

Who snuck in for the open spot? Lakers guard Alex Caruso, who has been hurt lately too. He’s averaging 5.5 points, 2.1 assists and 18.6 minutes while coming off the bench for all 19 appearances.

5. Klay makes his move. It was duly noted last week that Golden State’s Klay Thompson was benefiting from some combination of loyalty, habit and chicanery by showing up in the No. 10 spot among West backcourt players. Remember, Thompson hasn’t played in an NBA game since June 13, 2019, Game 6 of The Finals against Toronto, the night he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. He missed all of last season, then wiped out this season with a torn right Achilles injury at a November workout.

Didn’t matter to the voters. Thompson’s total shot up from 99,094 to 225,169 and he went from 10th place to No. 8 in the West.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s driving the Thompson candidacy. Name recognition? Voter loyalty? Or an alternative to the Nielsen TV ratings system from folks who were delighted by the return of “Sideline Klay” during the broadcast of the Warriors’ game against Detroit a couple weeks ago?

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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