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Damian Lillard, James Harden headline 2021 NBA All-Star Game reserves

Ben Rohrbach
·9-min read

The NBA announced the 2021 All-Star Game reserves on Tuesday, as selected by the league's coaches.

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard headline the lists of seven players from each conference, both comprised of two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild-card selections.

Joining Harden in the East are Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine, New York Knicks' Julius Randle and Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic.

Lillard is joined in the West by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis, Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson and Los Angeles Clippers' Paul George.

Brown, LaVine, Randle and Williamson are all first-time All-Stars.

Starters for the All-Star Game were announced on Thursday. For a fourth straight season, the leading vote-getters from each conference — Kevin Durant in the East and LeBron James out West this season — will serve as a captains in a playground-style draft to be held prior to the All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta. The one-night event will feature a skills competition and 3-point contest prior to the game's 8 p.m. ET tipoff. A dunk contest will be held at halftime.

The Suns' Devin Booker highlights our annual list of All-Star snubs.

Check out more on this year's All-Star reserves:

James Harden has gotten his groove back as a playmaker with the Brooklyn Nets. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
James Harden has gotten his groove back as a playmaker with the Brooklyn Nets. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Eastern Conference reserves

James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

24.9 PPG (48/38/90), 11.1 APG, 7.3 RPG

Harden showed up late and out of shape for the season, quit on the Houston Rockets, and still landed a reserve spot in the All-Star Game. That is how good he is and how good he has been as the floor general for the superstar-laden Nets. His 24.9 points per game are his lowest since last he failed to make an All-Star team in 2012, but his league-leading 11.1 assists helped keep alive the longest active streak of All-Star appearances outside of LeBron.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

25.9 PPG (51/41/77), 5.5 RPG, 3.3 APG

The Celtics may be struggling to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, but it is by no fault of Brown. The 24-year-old is averaging a career-high 25.9 points on career-best shooting percentages across the board while playing elite defense. Count it as a surprise that he finished higher on a lot of ballots than teammate Jayson Tatum, another deserving candidate who found himself behind three easy selections in the East frontcourt.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

26.0 PPG (45/39/87), 7.1 RPG, 4.6 APG

Tatum was an All-Star at age 21 last season, and his numbers are even better this year. His scoring has risen to 26 points per game on essentially the same efficiency, and his playmaking continues to improve. Tatum missed more than two weeks with COVID-19 in January and recently attested to still feeling symptoms, but his last few games have shown signs of encouragement that he is rounding the corner back to the All-NBA level he began the season.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

15.2 PPG (56/17/67), 8.3 RPG, 8.0 APG

The basketball world is well aware of Simmons' shooting struggles, which severely limit his offensive ceiling, but he is still one of the NBA's most exciting players in the open court and has maintained his near-triple-double career averages. More importantly, he might be the most versatile defensive weapon the league has seen in a long time, legitimately capable of effectively guarding every position, and the first-place 76ers continue to reap the rewards.

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

28.9 PPG (52/43/86), 5.4 RPG, 5.1 APG

Plenty of people kept waiting for LaVine to fall back to earth, but his offense continues to soar. Only one other guard in NBA history has scored so many points per game with so high a true shooting percentage (64.7%): Stephen Curry in his unanimous MVP season. LaVine is not nearly the playmaker or gravitational off-ball force Curry is, and he has miles to improve on defense, but however he scores this much this efficiently is worthy of an All-Star appearance.

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

23.2 PPG (48/41/81), 11.0 RPG, 5.5 APG

Raise your hand if you thought the Knicks would be in line for a playoff spot this season. Now, raise your hand if you ever thought Randle could be this good this consistently. Well, one hand washes the other. The list of players who have averaged a 20-10-5 is full of Hall of Famers. Randle would be on it if the season ended now, all while raising his 3-point shooting nearly 10 percentage points above his career mark and contributing to a top-three ranked defense.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

24.1 PPG (48/41/84), 11.7 RPG, 3.6 RPG

Perhaps no team has been ravaged by injuries more than the Magic, significantly increasing Vucevic's workload, and he has delivered. Orlando has no business even being within a game of a play-in spot, but for the attention Vucevic commands as a floor-spacing center who ranks among the league's best rebounders. His star power would be stronger on another team, and he may get that chance. Vucevic may become the best player available in a trade.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was the biggest snub as an All-Star starter. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was the biggest snub as an All-Star starter. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Western Conference reserves

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

29.8 PPG (45/38/93), 7.9 APG, 4.3 RPG

Why Lillard's MVP odds are not better than 30/1 is beyond me. He is essentially matching Curry's production for a Blazers team that is in position for a home playoff series despite the extended injury absences of teammates CJ McCollum (fractured left foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (fractured right wrist). Once unafraid to voice his frustration over his All-Star snubs, Lillard is now an easy choice, making the sixth All-Star appearance of his career and fourth straight.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

24.5 PPG (43/39/83), 5.2 APG, 4.4 RPG

Mitchell proved he was a no-brainer All-Star in the bubble, averaging a league-high 36.3 points per game in last year's playoffs (albeit in a first-round exit). He has shown nothing to dissuade us from that reality this season, even if his numbers have not quite risen to the level of superstardom. Mitchell is the leading scorer for a Jazz team that owns the league's best record by a wide margin, and that is a better testament to his rising star than any statistics.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

13.9 PPG (64/00/59), 13.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG

The Jazz also would not be where they are atop the West standings without Gobert, the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in four seasons. Not only is he the anchor of the league's second-best defense, his role as a consistent threat at the rim in the pick-and-roll allows Utah's many playmakers to do their best work.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

22.5 PPG (53/29/72), 8.4 RPG, 3.0 APG

That this counts as a down year for Davis is a testament to his peak ability. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, given the quick turnaround from his remarkable run to the championship. He is still the best defensive player on the league's top outfit and one of the most difficult offensive matchups in the NBA. Even a down year should count as an All-Star lock for Davis at this point, and only his Achilles injury could have stood in the way of his reserve spot.

Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

24.4 PPG (51/47/89), 6.2 RPG, 5.5 APG

George will still have to answer to his critics in the playoffs, but he has reestablished himself as an All-NBA-level performer in the regular season. He started red hot from the field and has continued to enjoy the most efficient offensive season of his career by a wide margin. That is saying something for a player who has averaged 22.4 points on 43/38/85 shooting splits and 3.7 assists per game over the previous seven seasons, six of them All-Star worthy.

Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

16.6 PPG (49/40/97), 8.5 APG, 4.5 RPG

It is no coincidence that a team that has failed to make the playoffs since 2010 is now in line for a home playoff seed after onboarding Paul. His impact goes well beyond numbers, which have dipped from his prime years as the NBA's best point guard, but there is no precedent for a 6-foot floor general performing at this level in his 16th season. He and backcourt mate Devin Booker are both deserving of an All-Star roster spot, but Paul's intangibles broke the tie.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

25.1 PPG (62/35/71), 6.8 RPG, 3.1 APG

The Pelicans have underwhelmed this season, but Williamson's recent production (30-6-4 on 67% percent from the field over his last seven games) is a reminder that he will be a mainstay in the All-Star Game for years to come, so long as he can stay healthy. He is still only 20 years old, and the team success should come with experience in a system that maximizes his unique talent, but he is already one of the most powerful offensive forces in the game.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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