Major Candidates to Be First-Time NBA All-Stars at the Quarter-Season Mark
Few matters in the NBA generate more debate than All-Star selections. Many fans lament the popularity contest that the game has always represented, while the traditional position criteria has limited the chances for many legitimate All-Star contenders.
However, with the introduction of a new ballot system, the All-Star game in 2013 will more closely represent the modern NBA and its shift to smaller lineups and increasingly versatile rosters.
Yet, will that change see a handful of first-timers gain selection into the annual league showcase? Are there any players out there, yet to land an All-Star appearance, who deserve selection this season? After all the perennial All-Stars are selected, will there be any remaining spots on each team?
In the East, the following players are as close to certainties as you can get:
The same can be said for these guys out in the West:
That leaves just four spots open on each team, and there are a number of players with All-Star appearances already to their name (Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge just to name two) who are also strong candidates to feature in Houston.
That may leave just a few spots for potential first-timers. So who will they be?
Here are the major candidates for a debut berth in February's All-Star game.
*All stats accurate as of December 11.
2012-13 Stats: 24.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.6 APG
It's undeniable that James Harden is having a breakout season after being traded from Oklahoma City to Houston.
No longer the third player mentioned when talking about the Thunder's young talent, Harden is proving he's a legitimate NBA star in his leading roll with the Rockets.
The 82 points he posted in the first two games of the season quickly garnered the NBA's attention, and he's now fifth in the league in scoring.
There have, of course, been some hiccups along the way. The 23-year-old had a dreadfully tough night in his return to Oklahoma City in particular, but it shouldn't stop him being a strong candidate for a first-time selection in this season's All-Star game.
2012-13 Stats: 17.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.8 APG
Josh Smith has been snubbed from the All-Star game for a number of years now, but with several strong performances again this season, he's a genuine contender once more.
With Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn, Smith, along with Al Horford, is a genuine leader on Atlanta's revamped roster and a huge part of why the Hawks sit third in the East at 12-6.
Given the change in the All-Star ballot system, Smith arguably has a better shot this season at gaining his first appearance in the annual game.
The removal of the center position and implementation of three frontcourt spots now means there is more room for Smith to be selected alongside James, Anthony, Garnett and Bosh.
If the 27-year-old keeps on racking up big wins and stats, he should get the nod for the All-Star Game.
2012-13 Stats: 9.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG
Jeremy Lin will not be a popular All-Star in 2013, particularly among the majority of NBA fans in the United States.
However, unless the NBA's growing popularity in Asia suddenly falls by the wayside, the argument over Lin's merit in the annual showcase is going to occur every year until his career comes to a close.
Yes, there are plenty of better guards in the Western Conference than Lin, but the overnight popularity boom that he experienced during last season could be enough to earn him a place on the team.
Lin could be voted in primarily on the back of immense support from Taiwan, China and Eastern Asia in the same manner that Yao Ming was year after year, fueling the fire for those who bemoan the popularity contest that the All-Star Game often is.
However, whether it's right or wrong, the Rockets' $25 million point guard has a definite shot at putting on a Western Conference jersey on February 17.
2012-13 Stats: 20.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 53.0 3P%
Picked up by Dallas after four seasons with Memphis, O.J. Mayo has experienced a renaissance with the Mavericks, leading the team in scoring and sitting eighth in the league overall.
After an impressive opening to his career with the Grizzlies, the shooting guard's form and confidence fell away after being demoted to a bench role for the last two seasons, as the team opted to start the defensive-minded Tony Allen.
The shift to Dallas' starting unit now has Mayo in the All-Star conversation, after a scorching start to the season that has him leading the league in three-point percentage and helping the Mavericks to withstand Dirk Nowitzki's absence.
Although his role will likely be slightly reduced when Nowitzki returns from injury, Mayo is without question one of the hottest 2-guards in the league right now.
James Harden may be the only man standing in his way from a first-time selection.
2012-13 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.9 APG
DeMar DeRozan is regularly forgotten about up in Toronto, despite his impressive play as a shooting guard for the Raptors.
Through 22 games this season, DeRozan is having the best year of his career, leading his team in scoring and providing a nice collection of highlights like this in the process.
The man known primarily for his athletic ability at the rim has developed a nice offensive repertoire, which has led to him taking the team's leading role away from Andrea Bargnani.
Given that he's one of the best performing shooting guards in the Eastern Conference, DeRozan could potentially find himself playing behind Dwyane Wade on February 17.
However, the biggest factor counting against him will be Toronto's poor record, which may lead some to see him as a "stat-sheet stuffer" on a bad team.
2012-13 Stats: 22.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 5.6 APG
In just his second season, Kyrie Irving looks poised to become a top-15 player in the NBA.
The No. 1 pick from the 2011 NBA draft, Irving impressed onlookers in his first year in Cleveland, dampening the blow of LeBron James' departure to Miami a season earlier.
Despite missing some time with injury this season, Irving is expected back against the Lakers (via CBSSports.com), giving him plenty of time to put forward an impressive case for a first-time All-Star selection.
Although he'll be competing against Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams, the lack of standout shooting guards in the Eastern Conference may pave way for another point guard to be selected, given that the backcourt slots aren't separated.
2012-13 Stats: 18.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 8.9 APG
76ers point guard Jrue Holiday is in serious competition with Irving, after putting together the beginnings of a wonderful breakout season for Philadelphia this year.
The 22-year-old not only leads his team in scoring, but he's currently sitting third in the league in assists, behind only Rondo and Chris Paul.
He's also shooting the ball well from the field (.450) and is keeping his team afloat at 12-9 with summer signing Andrew Bynum still sidelined with knee problems.
While earning an All-Star nod at point guard is incredibly difficult right now, given the depth around the league at the position, Holiday has to be considered a major candidate.