The NBA All-Star Game has turned into an annual reunion for the game's most popular stars to catch up while lighting up the scoreboard during the friendly exhibition affair.
There's nothing wrong with getting to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul take center stage each time, as they're annually deserving candidates. But when Kobe Bryant wins the fan vote for his fine cheerleading skills while coaches somehow believe Joe Johnson is still an exceptional player, we have a problem.
Six players will make their All-Star Game debuts, a number that could stand to be higher. For some, it's long overdue. For others, it'll mark the first of many All-Star appearances.
When the league's brightest stars compete in the Smoothie King Center, home to the New Orleans Pelicans—kudos to anyone who read that without bursting into laughter—these fresh faces will make their mark on the showcase.
When: Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
It's hard to believe that this is Stephen Curry's first foray into the All-Star Game. Don't be surprised to see him make up for lost time.
The sharpshooter's game is tailor-made for such a high-paced exhibition. He has never met a shot he's afraid to take, and considering all the threes he makes, there's no reason to shy away now.
After converting a record 273 three-pointers last season, he has already knocked down 170 at the break.
He delivered an underwhelming performance in the three-point contest, getting knocked in the first round during Marco Belinelli's victory. While the format lends itself well to a spot-up shooter, Curry is much more apt at dribbling into his shot.
Also, those shots were too close for Curry. Maybe if he took a few steps behind the arc.
Most importantly, he has Barack Obama's seal of approval.
After watching Arne Duncan school everyone in the Celebrity Game, it's safe to trust the President's scouting eye.
Kevin Durant, who is also really good at putting basketballs into hoops, agrees with Obama.
Guards usually rule the high-scoring exhibition affair, and the Eastern Conference doesn't have any foes capable of keeping up. Mike Conley isn't even the most egregious guard left off the West roster (no Goran Dragic?), but he'd deserve the starting nod on the other side.
Expect Curry to get the green light to shoot at will all night.
John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
John Wall already started the weekend off right, but the Washington Wizards point guard can further cement himself among the NBA's elite against the best the league has to offer.
After becoming the seventh person to "bring the dunk contest back" over the past five years, the 23-year-old will test his in-game skills against a loaded crop of Western Conference point guards.
In his fourth season, Wall is averaging 19.8 points, 8.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest. His inefficient 42.0 field goal percentage still presents room for improvement, but he has progressed as a defender and ball-distributor.
For the purposes of the All-Star Game, he'll work well as a dynamic playmaker with immense athleticism at his position. He should receive plenty more opportunities to highlight his dunking skills, and he shouldn't draw much opposition when driving to the basket in this friendly game.
The only fear is that Wall sees guys like Curry firing a barrage of threes and decides to follow along. A putrid three-point shooter, Wall's 32.1 percentage from behind the arc this season is actually an improvement on his career 28.1 percent clip.
If he stays true to himself, Wall could be the East's top guard on Sunday night.
Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta Hawks
Admit it, your first instinct was to dose off after reading Paul Millsap's name. He's not the most exciting player in a sea of superstars, but he'll prove he belongs by playing hard for the East.
Which of these players will have the biggest impact on the 2014 NBA All-Star Game?
It's not like Millsap broke out this season; he's shooting a career-low 46.3 percent despite posting a career-high 17.6 points per game. Efficiency is bound to wane with a larger load, but he shot 53.1 percent three years ago while attempting just one less field goal per game.
The only reason he finally got the call? He was stuck behind too many talented forwards out West, and now he stands out in the barren wasteland known as the Eastern Conference.
His style doesn't seem to translate well into a fast-paced game bereft of defense, but he isn't the type of fellow to take a night off. Ample rebounds are usually available for the guy willing to actually box out.
In addition to this being his first All-Star Game, he'll get to play it in his home town. He couldn't contain his excitement when discussing the honor with The Times-Picayune's Andrew Lopez.
'It’s so special that I can’t really describe how special it is,' said Millsap, who went to Louisiana Tech. 'It’s my first All-Star Game in my hometown. It took me eight years, but that’s what makes it even more special.'
At age 29, it's no certainty that Millsap will ever play in another All-Star Game, so he'll make sure to be a big factor in this one.