The 2021-22 NBA All-Star player pool is set after the NBA announced the Eastern and Western Conference reserves on Thursday night. The West reserves were led by two sets of teammates -- Phoenix's Chris Paul and Devin Booker and Utah's Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell -- with Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors) and Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves) rounding out the list. Two first-time All-Star guards headline the East reserves in Cleveland's Darius Garland and Toronto's Fred VanVleet to go along with veterans Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), James Harden (Brooklyn Nets), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) and Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics).
Which player having a historic season got snubbed? Who might end up being selected last by James or Durant? Our NBA Insiders break down the All-Star storylines, snubs, surprise picks and look ahead to next week's draft.
1. Who is the biggest All-Star snub?
Tim Bontemps: Jrue Holiday should've been the second Buck selected to the All-Star Game, not Middleton. Holiday is one of the best defensive guards in the league, and is bordering on shooting 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range. Middleton is a very good player but hasn't been at the same level this season. Jarrett Allen arguably has been the best Cav this season, too, and also should've made it.
Kevin Pelton: Nobody. At some point "snub" changed from meaning an intentional, dismissive oversight to being used to describe any player who doesn't get picked. There's nobody who obviously should have been picked for the game and wasn't. Of that group, I think Allen and Holiday were the most deserving candidates -- ahead of their teammates Garland and Middleton, who were chosen.
Jamal Collier: Allen has been the anchor for the best defense in the conference and one of the main reasons the Cavaliers have been one of the surprise teams in the East. It was a surprise to see the second-best center in the conference behind Joel Embiid left off the team, especially in favor of other offensive-minded wings who are having somewhat underwhelming seasons by their standards.
Bobby Marks: My initial reaction was the Suns' Mikal Bridges, but it is hard to make an argument against the Western Conference reserves who were selected. Plus, Bridges has a strong chance to be named as a replacement with Green not playing. That leaves the Hornets' Miles Bridges as the biggest surprise. The Hornets are over .500 and should have seen at least Bridges or his teammate LaMelo Ball selected as a reserve. Bridges is a strong favorite for Most Improved Player and is averaging 19.9 points and 7.2 rebounds on 48.6% from the field.
Andrew Lopez: San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray has been having an outstanding season so far. Murray is averaging 19.6 points, 9.1 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 2 steals a game this season, numbers that no player has averaged throughout a full NBA season. He's looking to be just the third player in NBA history to average 8 assists, 8 rebounds and 2 steals, joining Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
2. What about the biggest surprise pick?
Pelton: Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins was a legitimate candidate, but I'm still a little surprised he got enough support from the media panel and player voting to be chosen a starter ahead of Green and Gobert -- both of whom finished better than Wiggins in those two categories.
Collier: Middleton is having a fine season, but I thought Holiday, his teammate and fellow Olympic gold-medal winner, was a more deserving pick for Milwaukee's second All-Star. Holiday has really rebounded after getting off to a slow start because of injuries, averaging 20 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds on 55% from the field and 45% from 3 since the start of December, while continuing to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Holiday has been the Bucks' next most impactful player.
Bontemps: Middleton over both Holiday and Allen.
Marks: No offense to Middleton, but did the Eastern Conference head coaches make their selection based on last year's playoffs? Granted, Middleton did not have an offseason because of the Bucks' deep playoff run and the Olympics, but the guard's production has dropped off from the prior two seasons. I guess that championship equity carries over to the next season.
Lopez: Looking at the Eastern Conference reserves, the biggest surprise is that there aren't any big men among the selections. Cleveland was rewarded by having Garland selected, but teammate Allen probably should have been selected too.
3. Who are your first and last picks in the draft?
Marks: If you polled NBA front offices right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic would be the two players that they would want to build around. It's a coin flip, but it is hard not to take the Finals MVP in Antetokounmpo. Not to pile on, but Antetokounmpo's teammate Middleton should be the last player selected in the draft.
Collier: Giannis would be my first pick; he's still the most dominant force in the league, putting together another season worthy of MVP consideration. Following his Finals performance last year, he deserves this honor, as well. Starters get drafted first, so I can't technically pick Wiggins last, so I'd have to take Gobert with the final pick. It's an All-Star Game; I'm not here for rim protection.
Bontemps: The first pick is Antetokounmpo. In a game full of fast breaks and dunks, why not take the guy who can do both by himself, and better than anyone else? The last one is Gobert, simply because his game is not suited for a game where defense, even with some of the recent rule changes, is optional at best.
Pelton: My first pick is going to be Antetokounmpo, last year's All-Star MVP and the best non-center on the board. My last pick would be Gobert, an incredibly valuable player during real games (see my answer to the fifth question) whose defensive value doesn't translate as well in an All-Star setting.
Lopez: I can't pick the kid from Akron since he'll be making the picks, so let's go with two-time MVP Antetokounmpo, who has averaged 28.8 points in the All-Star Game, first all-time among players with five or more games. His 144 points is already 23rd all-time for total points in the midseason contest. Picking VanVleet last seems like it would add another chip on his shoulder, which would make for a fun All-Star experience.
4. Which first-time All-Star is poised to repeat next season?
Lopez: Not only should Ja Morant be poised to repeat next season as an All-Star, he might just be poised to be an All-Star starter for years to come. Part of being a starter is having the fan vote behind you, and that's certainly something that'll be in Morant's corner.
Collier: Morant. Barring injury, it feels like you can pencil in his name for the next few years.
Marks: Get used to seeing Morant in the All-Star Game for the foreseeable future. The guard is not only having an All-Star season, but should receive votes for MVP and also see his name on one of the All-NBA teams. The Grizzlies' roster is also sustainable to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, only helping Morant's All-Star case.
Pelton: Morant. Barring injury, Morant should be a fixture at All-Star going forward.
Bontemps: In order to not pick Morant again, I'll pick from the reserves and say Garland by a hair over VanVleet, only because he's going to likely put up bigger stats between the two of them. VanVleet is a terrific story, though, as only the fourth undrafted All-Star, and is more than deserving of making it.
5. Which reserve should have been a starter?
Marks: First, can we just do away with positions and select the best five overall players when it comes to the starters? The easy pick for me is Booker. Though he was selected as a reserve, Booker is not only playing for the best team in the NBA but is having one of his more efficient seasons, averaging 25.4 points on 38% from 3.
Collier: Booker. This isn't a situation where frontcourt or backcourt should matter. Add a third guard into the West lineup and get Booker in to replace Wiggins, which also gives the Suns, the team with the NBA's best record, a starter.
Bontemps: Gobert. Wiggins shouldn't have been an All-Star, let alone a starter. He has had a very nice season, but Gobert or Green, who won't play due to injury, should've been the third West starter in the frontcourt alongside Jokic and James.
Pelton: Gobert. He was one of my frontcourt picks, and while I also had a pair of different starters in the backcourt (Paul and VanVleet), the difference between them and the players' chosen starters is marginal at best. Gobert was a clear choice to me.
Lopez: It's hard to argue against Morant or Stephen Curry in the backcourt for the Western Conference, but this seems more like a case where positions could be dropped because it sure feels like Doncic should be among the starters more than Wiggins.