NBA PM: Potential First-Time All-Stars
Which NBA players could make their first All-Star team this season? Joel Brigham takes a look.
All-Star Weekend is still over two months away, but with the All-Star uniforms getting released on Thursday afternoon there has started to be a little bit of talk about who might actually wear those delightfully understated jerseys come February.
There are plenty of great debates to be had about which players will and will not make the All-Star Game, but a good place to start some of those conversations is with which players will be voted to the team for the first time. Obviously there are plenty of All-Star staples in both conferences, while the Western Conference has two waning old men in Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan who might also be given legacy nods.
Whatever happens with the returning All-Stars, here are the five players from each conference with the credentials necessary to get serious consideration for their first All-Star team this season:
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – The closest thing to a shoe-in that exists among first-time Eastern Conference All-Star candidates, Drummond is averaging 18.6 PPG, a league-leading 16.7 RPG, 1.5 BPG and 1.8 SPG, which are strong enough statistics to land just about any player onto the All-Star team. Actually, Drummond has been deserving of a roster spot for a couple of seasons now but the Pistons have been so brutally awful that the coaches couldn’t justify putting him on the squad. This year, the Pistons are above .500 (so far) and Drummond is more dominant than ever. No more excuses. Get this guy on the team.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks – It sounds crazy to talk about a rookie only 20 games into his career as an All-Star candidate because there simply is no way anybody could make that sort of influence that quickly, but we have to consider the fan vote here. Adi Joseph of Sporting News is very persuasive in his argument that Porzingis could make the All-Star roster as a starter, pointing out the 8+ million potential voters in New York and the 2+ million in Porzingis’ home country of Latvia, which already helped middling Latvian NHL star Zemgus Girgensons lead the league in All-Star votes last season. It’s impossible to underestimate just how popular Porzingis already has become in New York, and a strong popular vote there and at home could potentially land him a frontcourt spot in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets – For his fourth straight season, Walker is averaging between 17.3 and 17.7 PPG, proving that he is the epitome of consistency on the offensive end of the floor. But what makes him so much better this year is the efficiency with which he’s scoring. The numbers have always come in volume on poor shooting in the past, but Walker now is shooting career-highs of 44.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc, both of which should earn him consideration for an Eastern Conference All-Star team that doesn’t have as many sure-thing guards as it used to (especially with injuries to Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, etc.).
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – It’s not uncommon for 5’9 point guards to go undrafted because, frankly, there haven’t been a lot of 5’9 players in this league that have seen successful at all, let alone at an elite level, but Isaiah Thomas continues to dominate offensively despite his minute stature. Thomas, once the very last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, is having his best year as a pro, averaging a career-high 20.8 PPG (sixth in the Eastern Conference) and 6.3 APG (seventh in the Eastern Conference). He’s starting and he’s back up over 30 minutes per game, both of which have had profound influences on his statistical output. An incredibly likeable guy, Thomas would be right at home among the league’s most adored and charismatic stars, so while the Celtics haven’t had an All-Star since Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo made the team in 2013, it might be time to remedy that.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT – Nobody wants to rob Toronto of the opportunity to boo Chris Bosh at All-Star Weekend this winter, but Whiteside arguably has been even better than Bosh this season and should earn some consideration as the Miami HEAT player most likely to be voted to the team. Both guys won’t get in, but one of them should, and Whiteside’s 13.4 PPG, 11 RPG and league-leading 4.5 BPG are a little more prolific than Bosh’s 17.6 PPG and nine RPG. To have two true centers on the roster (Whiteside and Drummond) would certainly buck the recent small-ball All-Star trend, but crazier things have happened. Whiteside certainly has earned some votes with his play this year, if not an actual nod. For more on Whiteside’s dominant season, check out this recent breakdown of his play.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – There is a zero percent chance that Green does not make the All-Star team. Golden State still hasn’t lost a game and Green is closer to averaging a triple-double than anybody has been since LeBron James’ peak. With 12.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 7.3 APG, plus a reputation as one of the league’s premier defenders, there’s no way this young man doesn’t make the team. Depending on how the fan vote goes, he could even start. Okay, so Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin will start, but Green deserves it too. A reserve role would be fine, as long as he finds his way on to the team.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – Especially on the offensive end, Leonard has made “The Leap” this season, jumping up to 21.9 PPG (11th in the NBA) and pretty clearly taking the torch from an aging Spurs roster that needs a star with which to move forward. Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge clearly are the future there, but Leonard is the one serving as the on-floor leader of that team right now in terms of production. He’s never been an All-Star before, but as the best player on one of the league’s best teams, it certainly looks like he will be this year.
Eric Bledsoe and/or Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns – Both of Phoenix’s point guards are having career seasons so far, with Bledsoe averaging 22.2 PPG (ninth in the NBA) and 6.4 APG (11th in the NBA), both career-highs for him, and Knight chipping in 21.8 PPG (12th in the NBA), 5.4 APG and 4.4 RPG. However, the Suns are currently three games under .500 and it’s hard to imagine both of these young gunners making the team in a year where so many more prolific and bigger-name guards are also likely to make the team. Both could be snubbed, but if only one were to be voted in, the smart money’s on Bledsoe.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz – While his numbers aren’t dramatically better than they were a year ago, 16.4 PPG and 8.7 PRG both are career-highs for him, as are his almost two steals per game and his 54.8 percent shooting from the field. He has become a leader for that burgeoning young Utah team, which as it stands would be among the Western Conference teams competing in the playoffs. The Jazz need some more wins to garner Favors any sort of serious consideration, and in truth his chances of making the team are slim considering how many other big-name talented frontcourt guys exist in the West, but the fact that he’s on the radar is encouraging.
What other potential first-time All-Stars deserve consideration for this year’s All-Star Game after having played the first quarter of the season? Balloting starts later this month, so it’s time to start thinking seriously about who deserves your vote. Perhaps this year’s an appropriate time to give some attention to the newbies instead of the All-Star regulars.
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