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NBA PM: The Next Wave of Eastern Conference All-Stars

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There has been a mass migration of talent in the NBA. Over the past several seasons — whether via trade or free agency — stars have routinely found themselves leaving the Eastern Conference, heading out West for it’s seemingly more talented and competitive counterpart. Most recently, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap have all packed up and left the East, stripping the Conference of three players from last season’s All-Star team and leaving it almost devoid of recognizable star power outside of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

However, the East still needs to field a team for the 2017-18 All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. While they may not be stars yet, the East has plenty of young, high-upside talent and there’s a good chance that there will be some first-time All-Star selections next season. Here are five players that could accomplish that:

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

You don’t often find players like Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 forward-center who can stroke it from the outside. Since being drafted fourth overall by the Knicks two seasons ago, Porzingis has vastly exceeded his expectations, finishing last season with averages of 18.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 35.7 percent from three on 314 attempts. While it may seem surprising, Porzingis has yet to make an All-Star team in his young career, having occasionally been hampered by injuries. But with the major distraction that was Phil Jackson gone from the Knicks front office, look for Porzingis’ to take another step forward next season and, at the very least, make a reserve appearance in the All-Star Game.

Otto Porter, Washington Wizards

Otto Porter made the leap for the Wizards last season, his fourth in the NBA. Porter became one of the best three point shooters in the league — he finished the season fourth in three-point percentage at 43.4 percent and fifth in effective field goal percentage at 60.8 percent — while also increasing his stats virtually across the board, finishing the season with averages of 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. With another season under his belt, Porter has the opportunity to improve even further on those numbers and has a legitimate chance of finding himself with a roster spot on the All-Star team next season. While it may be harder for him to make the cut playing for a team that has two other All-Star caliber players in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Porter has the talent to get himself into the game.

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

A torn hamstring sidelined Khris Middleton for much of the first half last season. But, when healthy, Middleton showed that he is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, finishing the season with 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game in limited playing time across 27 games. His offensive versatility allows him to contribute to the team in a multitude of ways — whether it be spot-up shooting or playmaking — while his size allows him to guard multiple positions. Going into the season healthy, Middleton should see a robust increase in his minutes played, followed by an increase in most of his counting stats. With his legs fully underneath him, Middleton should find himself alongside teammate Antetokounmpo on All-Star Weekend.

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

With the trade of George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Myles Turner now bears the weight of the Indiana Pacers franchise on his more than capable shoulders. Last season, Turner averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game and, after becoming the focal point of the team in George’s absence, those numbers should only increase. Turner’s ability to guard multiple positions as a center is extremely valuable and he is proficient enough on the offensive end — he shot 51.1 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three — that his overall game should warrant some serious recognition. So, while the Pacers don’t look like a great team overall on paper, Turner has more than enough talent and will likely be deserving of a spot on the All-Star roster when the time comes.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

While Joel Embiid was unable to make the All-Star team in his rookie season, his first half play was certainly deserving of a spot. When Embiid and his stat line of 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game were on the floor, the 76ers were a completely different team; players who have that type of impact typically find themselves as regulars on the All-Star squad. However, Embiid has one thing keeping him from being that perennial All-Star: his health. Embiid’s inability to stay on the floor has hampered his career since college, forcing him to miss two seasons following his selection in the 2014 NBA Draft and likely costing him an All-Star appearance and Rookie of the Year award this past season. If Embiid can maintain his health throughout the season, he’ll almost certainly be a lock for the All-Star Game.

Honorable Mentions:

Jonathon Simmons, Orlando Magic

When Kawhi Leonard went down with an injury in the Western Conference Finals, Simmons finally had the chance to break out and showed that he can be an impact player in the NBA, culminating in a three-year deal with the Orlando Magic. The move to the East should allow Simmons to play much closer to 30 minutes per game rather than the 16.3 minutes he averaged in his two seasons with the Spurs, leading to a likely uptick in points and other stats.

Kelly Olynyk, Miami HEAT

The move to South Beach should do wonders for Kelly Olynyk, who should see a major increase in play time as well. Throughout his four years with the Boston Celtics, Olynyk flashed the potential that made him the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but was never able to maintain that type of play consistently. If Olynyk can play well in a more featured role with the HEAT, he’ll get some well deserved All-Star consideration.

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

With a strong second half of the season, Elfrid Payton may very well have saved his job. The Orlando Magic showed confidence in the third year point guard by not drafting a point in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft. Payton likely doesn’t have much of a chance to make the team in the Eastern Conference — which is loaded with guards — but showed he is a talented player by finishing the season with five triple-doubles, good for fifth in the NBA.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

The move from Los Angeles to Brooklyn should lead to a major increase in shot opportunities for D’Angelo Russell, leading to an almost inevitable increase in points per game. Like Payton, Russell doesn’t have much of a chance to make the team in a Conference loaded with guards — playing on perhaps the worst team in the NBA won’t help him either — but he can stake a claim for one of the more talented scorers in the East.

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About Shane Rhodes

Shane Rhodes