Predicting the 1st-Time NBA All-Stars of the 2014-15 Season
First-time NBA All-Star appearances are the best.
Perennial selections are always great, as are the unexpected vote-getters, be it because they're so young or old or something like that.
But nothing beats the first time players earn a selection, whether it's as starters or reserves. That's a special occurrence, undoubtedly one the recipients remember.
Inaugural appearances happen mostly every year, too. Youngsters develop, free agents find impeccable situations that play to their strengths and certain veterans finally eclipse that All-Star plateau.
Our mission: finding out who the next crop of first-timers are for 2014-15.
Consider this an early look at notable snubs or surprising performers who may flirt with an All-Star selection.
Lucky for these guys that we don't use All-Star berths to define success.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins should have made a trip to the dance last year, but he's DeMarcus Cousins, the stigma-shouldering big man whose public persona hasn't yet turned completely.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
This is both funny and not a joke.
The shooting guard position is thin, and the Bucks are still the Bucks (built to lose). Giannis Antetokounmpo figures to have a great year and could emerge as one of those surprising outsiders you're compelled to acknowledge.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Look, the thing is, as long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are in town, Kawhi Leonard won't have the regular-season responsibilities of an All-Star.
He'll just have to settle for looking at his 2014 NBA Finals MVP trophy. Oh, and his championship ring, too.
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic most definitely should have made the team last year. He didn't, and he's probably not going to make it next year.
Not only is he competing with guys like Russell Westbrook, Curry, Lillard and Parker for a reserve spot, but the Western Conference roster might be thrown for a whirl because of...
Jeremy Lin, Los Angeles Lakers
Years Experience: 4
2013-14 Stats: 12.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steal, 44.6 percent shooting, 14.3 PER
There isn't a realistic scenario in which Lin deserves to make the 2014 All-Star squad that doesn't include him being drunk off Michael Jordan's Secret Stuff. But it could happen.
It probably will happen.
When it does, Lin will have the Los Angeles Lakers' brand-boosting mystique to thank, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
If he makes it, the Lakers will have something huge. If he doesn't, the Lakers still will have brought in a new stream of revenue and excitement for this season—perhaps even the Western Conference's All-Star starting backcourt via fan vote given the global popularity of Bryant, Lin and the Lakers.
Lin, the Lakers and Kobe Bryant are a popularity match made in buzzword heaven. Even though the Lakers don't project as a playoff team, and even though their starting backcourt doesn't rank among the best in the NBA, they may be well represented in New York.
And not because Nick Young is heading for a breakout year.
Start warming up to the idea of him nabbing his first All-Star appearance.
Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets
Years Experience: 4
2013-14 Stats: 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 49.1 percent shooting, 14.7
Although Lance Stephenson would have an easier time distinguishing himself on the Paul George-truant Indiana Pacers, he's still primed for a nice follow-up to 2013-14, during which he was one of only four players—Kevin Love, Nicolas Batum and Kevin Durant—to average at least 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game.
The Charlotte Hornets are a team that preaches defense and needs offense; they ranked sixth in defensive efficiency and 24th on the offensive end last year. Stephenson is going to fit right in, providing a little of everything they need (scoring, playmaking, energy) and some of what they already have (defense).
Most of his time will be spent as the third option behind Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, but he's helped along by a dearth of talented shooting guards. Joe Johnson (because, I don't know) and DeRozan (well deserved) made All-Star appearances last year. Stephenson could realistically replace either of them.
All he has to do is stay on the good side of coaches—since Dwyane Wade will win the fan selection—while hoping Frank Vogel doesn't both harbor resentment and have influence over how others vote.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Years Experience: 8
2013-14 Stats: 17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 42.3 percent shooting, 20.1 PER
Bold? Yup, but it feels right.
Also, it's not that bold.
Kyle Lowry absolutely should have made the Eastern Conference roster last season. He was the best point guard there, and that's not because we're excluding Wall and Kyrie Irving from the conversation. It's just true.
Making it in 2014-15 will be harder, but not impossible. Derrick Rose is going to win the fan vote if healthy, so this becomes a matter of Lowry first playing well during a non-contract year, and then winning the coaches vote.
Will Irving be a shoo-in now that he has to contend with the offensive egos of Love—who is heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers soon, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski—and LeBron James? Probably not.
Wall will pose a threat, as will Rajon Rondo, but Lowry has a legitimate shot. He's still riding the wave that came with ending the Toronto Raptors' half-decade-long postseason drought, and the Eastern Conference's point guard situation isn't as brutal as the West's.
Expect his All-Star drought to end soon.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Years Experience: 5
2013-14 Stats: 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 2.7 blocks, 53.6 percent shooting, 19.6 PER
In the infamous words of Russell Westbrook: Why not?
Love's relocation to the Eastern Conference has left room for another forward to join the Western Conference's premier dignitaries. That forward could be Serge Ibaka.
If he continues his upward trend, it will be Ibaka.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's rim-protecting machine continues to improve yearly. His rebounding totals have increased in each of the last three seasons, and his player efficiency rating has improved like clockwork every year since entering the NBA.
Ibaka, as Bleacher Report's Fred Katz put it in February, just keeps growing up:
That's because this isn't the Serge Ibaka we're used to seeing. It's the new Ibaka, the 'Serge Protector.' And because of the substantial, yet subtle leap he's made this season, the Thunder have a good chance at keeping up their torrid pace for the rest of the year.
After watching the Thunder play uninspired basketball without him during the playoffs, his value to that team, and standing within the league, has never been clearer.
Someone needs to fill the frontcourt void left by Love.
Why not Ibaka?
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets
Years Experience: 10
2013-14 Stats: 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 50.9 percent shooting, 22.7 PER
More than a few things happened last season within the Eastern Conference that didn't make the least bit of sense. Chief among those things were:
- Then-New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson thinking the "East is big, man."
- The Philadelphia 76ers beginning the year 3-0 when they were actively trying to go 0-82.
- Jason Kidd's sloppy beverage consumption.
- Roy Hibbert making the All-Star Game over Al Jefferson
That last one won't happen again. It better not, anyway.
Jefferson was an absolute beast for Charlotte last year. Unless he puts forth a pouty effort as he laments the Bobcats' disappearance, there's no reason to believe he won't dominate the interior once again.
Talented centers aren't running all over the place anymore. It would be a shock to see Hibbert make the All-Star team again next season, and Joakim Noah, the other Eastern Conference center who made it last year, could see some of his clout dissipate while playing alongside Pau Gasol.
That leaves Jefferson.
The paint is still his to roam in Charlotte, especially with forwards such as Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh having three-point range.
Another 20 and 10 season is not out of the question.
Incidentally, his first career All-Star cameo isn't either.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Years Experience: 2
2013-14 Stats: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 41.9 percent shooting, 14.3 PER
Bradley Beal is on the fast track to stardom.
Two years into his career, he's already one of the best 2-guard scorers in the game. He's a deadly shooter who can double as a secondary playmaker, and he really upped the ante during the playoffs, averaging 19.2 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting a scorching 41.6 percent from deep.
Only one other player in league history under the age of 21—Beal turned 21 on June 28—maintained per-game averages of at least 19 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals through the playoffs. His name is Kobe Bryant.
Yeah, Beal put himself in that kind of company. And he put himself in a different type of company when he was invited to try out for the FIBA World Cup roster. He was inevitably cut, but the mere opportunity carries weight.
“I feel as though I can come in and make the impact and be the best I can be,” Beal told The Washington Post's Michael Lee of his Team USA venture. “That’s all I can ask for. I’m granted a great opportunity."
Next season he's granted a different, though equally great, opportunity: that of using his status as one of the few stardom-approaching 2-guards to snatch an All-Star appearance.