Post All-Star Break Ballin’
Headed down the stretch, in any given NBA season, we’re likely to see the game’s biggest players start playing their best basketball while jockeying for playoff position. After all, the cream always seems to rise to the top. But every year there are a number of guys who step their game up after the All-Star break. These bursts of explosions could be driven by an injury, a spot in the starting lineup or increased minutes.
Whatever the case there are more than a few guys, outside of the established elite-level talent, bringing the heat as we wind down the 2015-16 campaign. We’ll focus on this season’s non-All-Stars making an impact.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Pre All-Star: 24.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists
Post All-Star: 33.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists
Sooner or later, Damian Lillard is going to get the respect he personally desires and deserves. From the 2016 Olympic Team USA Finalist omission to last month’s All-Star snub, Lillard appears to be on the outside looking in at stardom. No worries because the fourth-year guard has been on an absolute mission, running roughshod on the league since the All-Star break. Current free agent and former teammate Dorell Wright once told Basketball Insiders that the constant lack of respect drives Lillard to push himself to another level. Wright was right on the money.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Pre All-Star: 20.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Post All-Star: 26.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists
The Charlotte Hornets have posted an 8-2 record since the All-Star break and are in control of their playoff destiny heading down the stretch. The Hornets’ rise has been driven by Walker’s take-no-prisoners assault on opposing defenses after many believed he was snubbed from February’s festivities.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Pre All-Star: 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Post All-Star: 21.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists
As a unit, the Milwaukee Bucks have been a huge disappointment this season. However, this doesn’t mean the franchise doesn’t have a bright spot to smile about. Parker is beginning to show the star potential the team believed he possessed when they drafted him No. 2 overall back in 2014. Parker’s ascent was delayed due to a torn ACL suffered during his rookie campaign and subsequently rounding back into form. But it looks like the second-year forward has started to figure out the pro game over the past month and is putting the league on notice.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Pre All-Star: 15.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists
Post All-Star: 21.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists
Holiday, a former All-Star, entered the season on a minute restriction and coming off the bench. With a month to go in the regular season, the veteran guard is in the starting lineup and putting up fantastic stats across the board. The Pelicans have been absolutely decimated by injuries in their backcourt, which opened the door for Holiday, so you have to credit Holiday for making the most of his newfound opportunity.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Pre All-Star: 17.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Post All-Star: 21.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists
The losses continue to mount up in Minnesota, but the growth experienced in this year’s No. 1 overall pick is the topic of conversation. Towns is headed for Rookie of the Year honors with a bullet and is developing into a legitimate 20-10 threat.
D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
Pre All-Star: 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Post All-Star: 19.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists
The Lakers shocked many when they opted to draft Russell with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft instead of big man Jahlil Okafor (who was immediately picked by Philadelphia with the next pick). During the earlier portion of the season, the criticism began to get a bit louder. However, as we head down the stretch, head coach Byron Scott has taken the training wheels off and Russell has thrived in an increased role – consistently demonstrating the potential the Lakers’ front office envisioned.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Pre All-Star: 15.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Post All-Star: 19.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists
Jabari Parker isn’t the only guy who has the Bucks grinning about their future from ear-to-ear. Antetokounmpo has raised his game since the All-Star break and essentially took over the team’s playmaking duties after point guard Michael Carter-Williams was shut down for the season. Since the All-Star break, Antetokounmpo has become a nightly triple-double threat.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Pre All-Star: 10.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Post All-Star: 18.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists
When healthy, the Phoenix Suns have one of the most dynamic starting backcourts in the NBA with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight calling the shots. But Bledsoe is out for the season and Knight is still working his way back from a lengthy absence in the nightly rotation. Those injuries have paved the way for Booker, a rookie, to get more on the job training than was originally expected entering the season. Although his shooting percentages have declined significantly, Booker has responded very well to the challenge and is becoming a consistent performer.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT
Pre All-Star: 12.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.9 blocks
Post All-Star: 18.5 points15.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists
Whiteside is quickly rising up the list of best big men in the game – especially from a defensive standpoint. What’s even better for Miami is that the big man is posting even better numbers while coming off the bench. Whiteside was drafted in 2010, but has just 122 regular season games under his belt. The growth displayed is amazing as a standalone, but when you factor in Whiteside has less than two years of true NBA court time, the production shines even brighter.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Pre All-Star: 6.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
Post All-Star: 17.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 0.8 blocks
Len is now averaging over 31 minutes per contest since the All-Star break for the lottery-bound Suns. Earlier in the season, the former lottery pick’s playing time was sporadic and – not surprisingly – his play was wildly inconsistent. But with the increased playing time, Len has found a rhythm and is becoming a positive in an otherwise bleak season in Phoenix.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.