Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Tatum, Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Durant are the leading scorers for the East’s top four seeds entering Monday, so narrowing that quartet down to three selections qualifies as the ballot’s toughest call. Tatum and Embiid have been neck-and-neck for the third and final spot in the fan vote, but Durant’s uncertain status sets up a potential compromise where he becomes the odd man out.
What’s clear is that Tatum (31.2 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game) must be in, as he’s enjoyed excellent health while the other three have missed significant time. Tatum has responded well to his 2022 Finals struggles, leading the East’s most efficient offense and establishing Boston as this year’s championship favorites. The 24-year-old forward has posted career highs in scoring, rebounding and Player Efficiency Rating in his sixth season, and he’s gotten to the free throw line more often thanks to intelligent tweaks to his shot selection.
Antetokounmpo (31 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.3 apg) will be a worthy captain if his lead in the fan vote holds up after the players and media weigh in. The two-time MVP is averaging more than 30 points per game for the first time in his career, and he remains a rock for a tough-minded defense that ranks third leaguewide. The other candidates in this category all have more help than Antetokounmpo, whose noticeable slip in scoring efficiency can be partially explained by his heavy burden and his relatively weak supporting cast without an injury Khris Middleton.
The final spot is pretty much a coin flip, as Embiid (33.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.2 apg) and Durant (29.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg) have both spectacularly played when healthy and missed similar amounts of time. Embiid received the nod because he has followed up his 2022 scoring title with an even more dominant campaign, and it didn’t hurt that Philadelphia has climbed back into the playoff mix with an 18-4 push since Dec. 9. The Nets have wavered without Durant, and it will be a shame if he can’t suit up for a fourth straight All-Star Game due to injury.