By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kemba Walker was named an All-Star starter on Thursday night, a pretty big honor for the Celtics point guard. But will he be the only Celtic to take the stage in Chicago?
Walker’s play on the floor and leadership in the locker room are two big factors in Boston’s success this season, but Walker will be the first to tell you he’s not the only reason the Celtics have played so well. He’s always quick to pass out praise to his teammates, and has had no shortage of love for young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
It was just a few weeks ago where it looked like the Celtics would send a trio of All-Stars to the Windy City. But now it appears they’ll be lucky to send two.
While the player’s vote pushed Kemba into a starter spot, it didn’t give that big of a push to Tatum, who finished fifth among Eastern Conference forwards. That’s still a great finish for Tatum, a sure sign that his peers see Boston’s rising star as one of the elite players in the league, and it gives him a great shot at earning a reserve role when NBA head coaches make their picks next week.
Brown, however, has a much harder uphill climb. He finished ninth among East guards and has a plethora of worthy players to beat out for one of the final seven spots on the squad, including Khris Middleton of the Bucks, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo of the Heat, Ben Simmons of the 76ers and Bradley Beal of the Wizards — not to mention Tatum.
It’s hard to argue that the Celtics, currently sitting as the four-seed in a cramped East, should have three All-Stars. So chances are Tatum and Brown will end up splitting votes, making it very likely only one of them will join Walker for the festivities.
If you have to pick just one, Tatum is the choice. He’s still a bit inconsistent and not always the most efficient shooter, but he’s taking over games at a much higher clip than last year. He’s averaging 21.5 points while shooting at a 43.5 percent clip from the floor and 36.6 percent from long distance. He’s aggressively attacking the basket, no longer settling for his unreliable mid-range jumper. He’s making progress in every area you’d want a 21-year-old to improve in.
The same can be said for Brown, though his takeovers don’t involve the same kind of flash that Tatum shows. Brown is the more complete player, averaging 20 points per game while also playing some solid defense. He too is aggressively attacking the basket (you may have heard of a dunk he recently had), while hitting 39 percent of his bids from three-point range, matching his career-best. He’s also become a much better playmaker and ball-handler.
That may not be enough to get Brown over the hump though, especially with Tatum and others garner more All-Star attention. Having coaches pass him over would be a disappointment for Brown, who is certainly worthy of some All-Star recognition, but it would also serve as some incredible motivation for an already fiery player for the second half of the season.
NBA All-Star reserves will be announced next Thursday night, with the game set for Feb. 16 at the United Center in Chicago.