The balance of power between the Western Conference and Eastern Conference has changed this offseason. For the last twenty years, since the first retirement of Michael Jordan, the West has been the stronger conference. Since 1999, the Western Conference has produced 16 champions. In comparison, six teams from the East have won the ultimate honour.
Now, the Eastern Conference looks strong again. There are something like six teams who could feasibly make it out of their conference and into the promised land. The same cannot be said for the West. Only Golden State and Denver have teams capable of winning it all.
The rebalancing of the Conferences is reflected in the how talent has moved from West to East. Donovan Mitchell and Dejounte Murray both changed conferences this offseason. DeMar DeRozan and James Harden moved in 2020 and 2019 respectively.
In addition to this, the West’s cohort of elite guards continues to get older. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are both in the twilight of their careers. Barring some incredible late renaissance, I do not expect either to be picked as All-Stars in 2023.
Damian Lillard is still a transcendent force on his day but his injury history casts doubt on whether he can perform at an elite level on a nightly basis for an entire season.
The only real locks for All-Star are Curry, Doncic, Booker and Morant. The remaining two All-Star guard spots are up for grabs. It is a perfect time for Gilgeous-Alexander to capitalise on the uncertainty and finally become an All-Star.
For such a young player, it has been a long road. Gilgeous-Alexander was on the fringes in 2019-20 and 2020-21 but missed out both times. The Thunder did not have a narrative to sell in 2019-20 which could have got Shai into the game. The commonly told story for that season was Chris Paul dragging the Thunder to the playoffs.
In 2020-21, Gilgeous-Alexander played his best season to date. Shai averaged 24 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game on 62 TS%. He was truly elite and he made meaningful, winning contributions to an inexperienced team. He missed out on an All-Star as the NBA opted to recognise the Jazz’s success and made Mike Conley Jr an All-Star.
For the first half of the 2021-22, Gilgeous-Alexander was not even close to the All-Star game. His overall level of play was not good enough and the Thunder’s record was pretty poor.
If Gilgeous-Alexander plays anything close to his level, he will be a strong candidate to make the All-Star for the first time in his career. In terms of other All-Star candidates, the field is pretty thin. Klay Thompson and Jalen Green could potentially earn their way to Salt Lake City but a lot would have to go in their favour.