Center Tyson Chandler is a major reason why the New York Knicks sit on top of the Eastern Conference.
The 2013 NBA All-Star Game should feature a batch of fresh faces ready to show the world that they're for real.
Early ballot results indicate that the usual suspects will round out the starting lineup. Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett lead the Eastern Conference voting while Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard are slated to start for the Western Conference.
Unless Jeremy Lin beats out Paul, there won't be any All-Star newcomers standing at center stage during tipoff, but there are plenty of seats left on the bench.
Veterans on the most successful teams tend to scoop up the reserve slots over deserving players rotting away on struggling squads. That line of thinking supports a couple of these selections, so a few of these players will likely not make the trip to Houston because of their team's record.
Players still have well over a month to prove their worth, so plenty can change between now and Feb. 17. Since he has only played 16 games this season, Kyrie Irving missed this list despite averaging 23.6 points and 5.5 assists per game, but he'll likely capture a bench slot if he stays healthy and continues to perform this well.
As of now, these six players should earn roster spots for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, their first taste of such an accolade.
Statistics contained herein are accurate through Dec. 20, 2012.
Tyson Chandler has posterized countless defenders this season.
Although he won Defensive Player of the Year last season, Tyson Chandler fell short of receiving an All-Star bid.
That oversight should be fixed this season, especially now that the New York Knicks are currently No. 1 in the East at 19-6. Their resurgence has led to MVP murmurs surrounding Carmelo Anthony, but he might not be the most valuable Knick.
Chandler has played an integral role in re-branding the Knicks into a gritty, defensive-minded club that is now a genuine threat to seize the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The 30-year-old should probably start alongside Anthony over Garnett, but a change in the voting procedure has hampered his chances.
Chandler leads the league with an insane 70.3 field-goal percentage. Improving with age, he is now one of the game's elite scorers working off the pick-and-roll.
He has also mastered the catch-and-dunk to such perfection that the MSG Network's crew formulated the nickname "Lob Gotham City." Ever since the Knicks signed him prior to the 2011 season, he has been the hero New York deserves.
His 10 boards per game do not take into account his frequent tendency to tap out loose balls to teammates who secure the rebound.
Serge Ibaka leads the NBA in blocks.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, a decline seemed inevitable.
Most teams can't recover from dealing the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year (now averaging 25.4 points per game), but most teams don't have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder stars are now often discussed as a dynamic duo, but Serge Ibaka still gives them a formidable big three.
Now the third amigo in Oklahoma, Ibaka has significantly stepped up his game this season. Formerly a single-digit scorer, the 23-year-old has ballooned his average up to 14.2 points per contest on a career-high 56.6 percent shooting.
Foul shots used to cause headaches for the young big man, but his free-throw percentage has skyrocketed from 66.1 percent to 83.1 percent. A stable shooting stroke was the missing piece that is now driving Ibaka closer to stardom.
He still makes his presence felt most on the defensive side, where he swats a league-high 3.1 blocks per game and grabs 8.2 boards.
For those who still value selecting winners to represent their successful squads, Ibaka is a major contributor on the NBA's best team. The Thunder are now 21-5 after seeing an 11-game winning streak come to an end on Dec. 20 against the Timberwolves.
Kemba Walker is a top candidate to win Most Improved Player.
I know, I'm surprised too.
Just a year ago, Kemba Walker shot an abysmal 36.6 percent during his rookie season with the 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats. The former UConn star looked too small and too raw to shine in the NBA.
Well, Walker is now the best player on a team that has matched its microscopic win total from last season. His sophomore stats jump off the page, as the 22-year-old is scoring 18.8 points per game with a 43.9 field-goal percentage.
The improvement ranges across the board, though. He has boosted his assists to 6.1 per game along with snatching two steals, the league's fifth-best rate.
A lack of impressive guards in the East also works in Walker's favor. Only Irving and Kyle Lowry have posted higher PERs among Eastern Conference point guards, but each has only tallied 16 games.
Brandon Jennings will garner some support for an All-Star appearance, but he posts similar numbers at a less efficient 39.8 field-goal percentage. Jrue Holiday looms large among the top candidates, but he turns the ball over 3.8 times a night.
Believe it or not, Walker is among the East's top guards and deserves some recognition this February.
Chances are this shot went in.
Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks should probably be a desolate, fleeting squad relegated to the bottom of the West standings.
Led by an unexpected surge from O.J. Mayo, they're 12-14 and well in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Jettisoned by a Memphis Grizzlies club who grew tired of the sixth man, the 25-year-old latched on in Dallas, where he has filled the star role during Nowitzki's absence.
Mayo is setting career-high averages in points (20.2), rebounds (4.0) and assists (3.7). After shooting 40.8 percent from the floor last year, he is now hitting 47.8 percent of his shots.
But that doesn't even tell the whole story of Mayo's remarkable shooting touch this season. He leads the league with a staggering 50 percent success rate from downtown. People aren't supposed to convert half of their three-point attempts.
According to Basketball Reference, Mayo has earned a .610 true shooting percentage, which combines two-pointers, three-pointers and foul shots to calculate a player's overall shooting precision. Among the NBA's guards, only Kevin Martin, Ray Allen and Jason Kidd shoot more efficiently, and those three have taken significantly fewer shots than Mayo.
That exceptional shooting should net Mayo a ticket to his first All-Star Game.
Anderson Varejao is stepping up his game this season.
Guess who leads the league in rebounding? Seriously, you'll never figure it out.
Wait, how did you know—oh, the slide title and picture of Anderson Varejao must have given it away (because it sure isn't Brook Lopez).
This was a tough choice, since Joakim Noah can also make a great case for deserving an All-Star nod. His 3.0 turnovers per game, however, kept him just behind Varejao.
Besides, Noah has played 40:12 minutes per game, so he deserves some much-needed rest.
Because the Cleveland Cavaliers are a five-win team and the Chicago Bulls are 14-10 without Derrick Rose, Noah is more likely to land one of the bench spots that are in such high demand.
But Varejao has grabbed a staggering 14.4 boards and scored a career-high 14.1 points per game. His 22.24 PER ranks fifth out of all centers, and his 5.2 estimated wins added (so the Cavs would have minus-0.2 wins without him?) surpasses Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard and every other center.
Don't punish Varejao for Cleveland's obscurity. Let's instead honor a great player who is overlooked because he plays for a middling team.
Ryan Anderson is more than just a one-year wonder.
Ryan Anderson led the league in three-pointers made last season, but there's no way he could carry over that production into the 2012-13 season, right?
Actually, Anderson has expanded his game even further to improve as a shooter. He has already nailed 84 three-pointers while spiking his percentage from long distance to 40.8.
Anderson, however, is more than a spot-up shooter. The 6'10" forward is shooting 50 percent from inside the arc to boost his scoring average to 18.5 points per game.
Not limited to operating outside the perimeter, Anderson hoards 7.2 boards a game as well. The former benchwarmer is proving that he is far from a one-year wonder.
While nobody expects the two sides to form balanced squads, a big man who can shoot lights-out from long range would provide the West with a major weapon during the game.
Also playing on a last-place, five-win team, Anderson won't gather many endorsements in his quest for an All-Star selection. A talented group of forwards dispersed throughout the West won't help his cause either.