The NBA's All-Time Almost All-Stars Team
Only a few handfuls of players can be named All-Stars during any given NBA season. Typically, the vast majority of them are repeat offenders. A few new standouts are honored during most campaigns, but that still leaves a ridiculous number of players without the "All-Star" label on their resumes.
Throughout all of NBA history, that means there are quite a few notable players—even stars, in some cases—who literally never gained access to the midseason festivities. It's our job to sort through them here, building a traditional starting five and then following the rules for the reserves: two backcourt players, three frontcourt members and two wild cards who can play at any position.
We're not interested in players who were snubbed just once and then honored later. These featured players have to boast resumes completely devoid of any All-Star appearances.
There's also going to be a distinct leaning toward modern standouts, if only because the league's depth is more impressive now. The number of All-Stars has remained steady for decades, but the talent level has only grown, leaving more year-after-year snubs from recent seasons.
Finding yourself on this list means you never received the recognition you were rightfully owed. But these guys can at least take solace in the fact that they're getting some retroactive credit.
Starting Point Guard: Rod Strickland
Teams: New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Bullets/Wizards, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets
Career Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.0 PER
Best Season (1997-98) Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.6 PER
It's not easy to lead the league in a major offensive category and miss out on the All-Star festivities, but Rod Strickland managed the feat in 1997-98 when he averaged 10.5 assists per game for the Washington Wizards. He also managed to post 5.3 rebounds per game that season—a high-water mark for his career—and didn't exactly struggle as a scorer.
In fact, there are only four players in NBA history who have averaged at least 17, five and 10 for a qualified season, and there aren't really any slouches on the list. Guy Rodgers did once, and that 1965-66 season with the San Francisco Warriors saw him earn one of four All-Star bids. Chris Paul, Oscar Robertson (five times) and Magic Johnson (eight times) are the other three, and you've probably heard of them.
But while that's Strickland's only appearance on the 17/5/10 list, it's not as though it was the only legitimate chance for him to be honored. From 1994-99, the 6'3" point guard averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.
Plus, he was never a true defensive liability, so there's no convenient excuse for the exclusion that rests with the less glamorous end of the court.
Starting Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis
Teams: Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks
Career Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 16.9 PER
Best Season (2007-08) Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.0 PER
The 2014-15 season has seen Monta Ellis submit yet another All-Star-worthy campaign, this time for the Dallas Mavericks. But the Western Conference is far too deep for him to actually make the squad, especially if the coaches decide Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook belong in the competition, despite their minimal number of games played.
Still, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle is convinced his standout shooting guard belongs in New York City. Bryan Gutierrez of MavsOutsider recently tweeted some of Carlisle's quotes out in separate messages (h/t ProBasketballTalk's Brett Pollakoff):
Carlisle on the most-deserving Mav as an All-Star: "I think Monta Ellis is the most deserving based on how he continues to elevate his game"
Carlisle on Ellis as an All-Star: "Each year with us, his defense is a bigger factor. He's become a leader. … The evidence is all there."
Rick Carlisle: "Monta Ellis deserves to be an All-Star. Tweet that."
It's not the first time you could make a convincing case.
Though Ellis has never been an asset on the defensive end, his knack for scoring the ball from all areas of the half-court set and dishing out the rock to open teammates has always helped him retain value. That was especially true in 2007-08, when he averaged 20.2 points per game while shooting a career-best 53.1 percent from the field.
What more does this scoring stud have to do?
Starting Small Forward: Jalen Rose
Teams: Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns
Career Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 15.3 PER
Best Season (2000-01) Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 17.8 PER
One of the game's premier point forwards during his prime, Jalen Rose routinely put up mind-boggling lines for a small forward. Then again, calling him a 3 is pigeonholing him into a traditional role that really doesn't fit, as the current Grantland analyst routinely played point guard and shooting guard as well, even lining up at the 4 on some occasions.
But no matter his position, Rose produced.
That 2000-01 season was particularly special, as he became one of the few players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and six assists per game during a qualified season. Only 32 have done so, and Rose is one of the few who didn't make the All-Star team that year, joined by other notable almost All-Stars like Stephen Jackson.
This wasn't Rose's only excellent season, either.
For example, his 2002-03 campaign with the Chicago Bulls saw him score 22.1 points per game with an improved outside shot, and it's not as though his other numbers suffered much while he focused more on calling his own number.
Starting Power Forward: Josh Smith
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets
Career Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.0 blocks, 17.7 PER
Best Season (2011-12) Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.7 blocks, 21.1 PER
Over the last few years, Josh Smith has not exactly been a high-quality player. Plagued by extremely poor shot selection, the versatile forward struggled with the Detroit Pistons, to the point that he was waived entirely, not even traded for minimal future assets.
But don't let a couple seasons completely overshadow what Smith did during his prime with the Atlanta Hawks. Once upon a time, he didn't let mid-range jumpers and three-point attempts fly with reckless abandon. Instead, he attacked the rim, scored with impressive levels of efficiency and wreaked quite a bit of havoc on the defensive end, all while asserting himself as a perennial All-Star snub.
As Ben Golliver explained for CBS Sports in 2012, Smith was a particularly head-scratching omission during that lockout-shortened campaign:
This year's prime example: Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, who is averaging 15.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.4 steals while shooting 46.7 percent from the field in 34.4 minutes a night. The Hawks are currently 18-9, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. That's a strong, strong resume, but Smith was left off the final Eastern Conference All-Star team in favor of guys like teammate Joe Johnson, Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala and Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce.
Remember, no one in NBA history was quicker to 1,000 blocked shots. Few were so good at simultaneously jumping into the passing lanes. Only Julius Erving, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett have more combined seasons blocking and stealing the ball at least 1.4 times per contest.
Smith had the misfortune of having his best years come while he played for a fan-unfriendly Atlanta Hawks team that eschewed the spotlight year after year. Unless his last few seasons of unintelligent play trump his early career, he'll likely always be one of the most talented non-All Stars to suit up in the Association for such a long period of time.
Starting Center: Al Jefferson
Teams: Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets
Career Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 20.8 PER
Best Season (2013-14) Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks, 22.7 PER
In 2007-08, Al Jefferson broke out during his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging an impressive 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Next year, he'd get even better, posting 23.1 points and 11 boards per contest.
He didn't make the All-Star squad in either campaign.
Fast-forward through the rest of his career in Minnesota and his time with the Utah Jazz, when he consistently excelled as one of the key pieces for a yearly playoff contender. Still no All-Star bids, even though he averaged 18.1 points and 9.4 boards per game during the four seasons we just glossed over.
Then, Jefferson joined the Charlotte Bobcats and flat-out dominated.
He was a force from the left block and on the glass, and Steve Clifford finally got him to play some high-quality defense. For the first time in his career, he was a truly complete center, and that effort at least got him widely recognized as one of the 2013-14 campaign's biggest All-Star snubs. This year, staying healthy might have gotten him into the festivities for the first time, given the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference's contenders for the NYC party.
"He's the most productive center in the East and has Charlotte in the playoff mix in his first season with the Bobcats," Michael Wallace wrote for ESPN.com last season, arguing that Jefferson was the East's biggest snub. "I certainly have no problem with Joakim Noah making the team, but Jefferson is the only thing Charlotte has going well on most nights."
At least he made All-NBA Third Team, although I suppose that only makes his All-Star exclusion even more inexplicable.
Backcourt Reserve: Derek Harper
Teams: Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers
Career Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 16.0 PER
Best Season (1986-87) Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.0 PER
"You, then, are ready for the East and West editions of our All-Harper Team, which honors the best active players who have never made it to the All-Star Game and is named in tribute to two Stein Line favorites who were snubbed throughout their careers: Derek Harper and Ron Harper," ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote in 2009 while talking about the best non-All-Stars of all time.
We'll get to Ron later; let's begin with Derek.
Picking out this Harper's best season is actually a tough task. I lean toward 1986-87, when he averaged 16 points and 7.9 dimes per game while shooting slightly over 50 percent from the field. But 1990-91 is a valid choice as well, since Harper averaged a career-best 19.7 points to go along with his 3.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, all while shooting 46.7 percent.
And those are just two of the six seasons in which his player efficiency rating was on the right side of 18.
After Harper left the Dallas Mavericks for the New York Knicks, traded to Madison Square Garden in 1994 for Tony Campbell and a first-round pick that would eventually become John Thomas in 1997, he was never the same. Sure, he put up solid numbers for the Knicks, but they weren't All-Star ones.
Those were reserved for his Dallas days, even if they never got him the recognition he deserved.
Backcourt Reserve: Ron Harper
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers
Career Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.6 PER
Best Season (1988-89) Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.8 PER
Ron Harper didn't take long to make an impact in the NBA. As a rookie, he was fantastic for the Cleveland Cavaliers, putting up impressive numbers while suiting up in every one of his team's 82 games.
In fact, tell me which player should have made the All-Star squad in 1986-87:
It's pretty close, but Player Y probably deserves it because he was more efficient. That was Jeff Malone, who got in at Harper's expense. However, take a look at another direct comparison that took place two years later:
Harper is Player X again, but this time he has a vastly superior resume to Mark Jackson's. The latter may have produced better surface numbers while playing for the New York Knicks as a sophomore point guard, but Harper had the better season. Just not the all-important bigger name.
Plus, we can't just gloss over the fact that the second Harper to appear on this all-snub team averaged 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest through his first eight seasons at the professional level.
Frontcourt Reserve: Corey Maggette
Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons
Career Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 17.9 PER
Best Season (2004-05) Per-Game Stats: 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 19.9 PER
From 2003 through 2010, Corey Maggette was one of the better scoring threats in the NBA. During that eight-season stretch, which makes up most of his career with the Los Angeles Clippers and all of his time with the Golden State Warriors, the small forward averaged 19.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 32.2 percent from beyond the arc and 83 percent at the charity stripe.
In three of those seasons—including his impressive 2004-05 campaign—Maggette broke past the 20-point barrier.
And it's not as though he was particularly inefficient.
Maggette's typical field-goal percentage hovered right around 45 percent, and he wasn't much of a perimeter sniper. However, few players have been better at getting to the charity stripe with so much frequency. This small forward even took an even 10 trips to the line per game during that same 2004-05 season.
As a result, his true shooting percentages were always great.
Only 18 players in NBA history have posted at least two seasons in which they've averaged at least 20 points per game, produced a true shooting percentage on the right side of 57 percent and failed to make the All-Star Game. Maggette did so three times, and that's a feat matched by just Dale Ellis (three), Reggie Miller (four), Kiki Vandeweghe (five), Kevin Martin (five), Dan Issel (five) and Adrian Dantley (five).
Martin is the only other one who never made the All-Star team, though. We'll get to him in a bit.
Frontcourt Reserve: Happy Hairston
Teams: Cincinnati Royals, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers
Career Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 16.5 PER
Best Season (1972-73) Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 20.0 PER
Happy Hairston averaged a double-double throughout his entire career, which included years with the Cincinnati Royals, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers. He never achieved the feat in that first location, but the rest of his professional tenure—especially the part at the end with the Lake Show—more than made up for his early-career flaws.
Only eight players in NBA history have posted career double-doubles in points and rebounds without making a single All-Star team. No one did so while playing as many games as Hairston.
Swen Nater, Roy Tarpley and Elmore Smith never reached the level that this forward did during his 1972-73 season with the Lakers. The same is true of Ray Scott, whose atrocious shooting has allowed him to remain anonymous now that decades have passed since he last suited up in 1970.
Then we have Nikola Vucevic, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond, all of whom are still active and have legitimate shots at being included in the 2015 All-Star festivities. Even if they're left out this year, each should make it at some point in the near future.
Hairston stands alone, even if some of his numbers are a bit inflated by the pace of the 1960s and early '70s.
Frontcourt Reserve: Lamar Odom
Teams: Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks
Career Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 16.5 PER
Best Season (2000-01) Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.6 blocks, 18.9 PER
Don't be fooled by the tumultuous end of Lamar Odom's NBA career. While he was malcontent once he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and failed to make an impact during his subsequent return to the Los Angeles Clippers, the beginning and middle portions of his unique professional tenure are worth remembering all the same.
As a rookie out of Rhode Island, the point forward averaged 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. He got even better during the ensuing 2000-01 campaign, which was arguably the best of his career.
Later, when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, he posted monstrous, strange numbers for highly competitive squads. For example, he averaged 14.2 points, 10.6 boards and 3.5 dimes per contest in 2007-08 while playing on a team that would eventually go to the NBA Finals.
Even in 2010-11, when he won Sixth Man of the Year by averaging 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on 53 percent shooting for the Lakers, he couldn't get a nod.
"It's just the way it is," Odom said about the 2011 All-Star snub, per Mike Trudell of NBA.com. "It's something that you'd like to do, but if you don't, you move on and focus on winning a championship."
He should know. After all, he had to deal with being excluded quite often.
Wild-Card Reserve: Kevin Martin
Teams: Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves
Career Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 18.1 PER
Best Season (2007-08) Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 21.0 PER
During his prime, Kevin Martin was an analytic dream.
Sure, he didn't rebound particularly well, never passed the ball much and looked as though he'd rather get a root canal than play league-average defense. But when it came to his scoring prowess, few were better throughout the mid-2000s. Not only did Martin put up points in bulk, but he did so while getting to the free-throw line ridiculously often.
For five consecutive seasons from 2006 through 2011, Martin averaged at least 20 points per game. During four of those campaigns—the 2009-10 one standing as the lone exception, as he struggled with the Sacramento Kings and was traded to the Houston Rockets—he posted a true shooting percentage on the right side of 60.
Only 21 players have ever thrown up a season in which they averaged more than 20 points per contest, had a true shooting percentage above 60 and still failed to make the All-Star team—restrictions that are a bit more stringent than the ones used with Maggette. Larry Nance (twice), Kiki Vandeweghe (three times), Reggie Miller (four times) and Adrian Dantley (four times) are the lone ones besides Martin to qualify for this list on multiple occasions.
For Martin, the number of occasions would be a record five.
Wild-Card Reserve: Byron Scott
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, Vancouver Grizzlies
Career Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 15.5 PER
Best Season (1987-88) Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.2 PER
"It didn't really hurt me," Byron Scott told Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer in 2011, looking back on the one true hole in his resume. "I always felt that I had All-Star potential. But I also felt if I wasn't with the Lakers, I probably would have made the All-Star team three or four times and never won a championship. I'll take the championship instead of the All-Star team any day."
Danny Ainge—who played against Scott so many times while they were on the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively—concurs. As the current C's general manager told Boyer:
I can't think of a better player who's never made an All-Star team.
In my mind, he should have been on four or five All-Star teams. It's just unfortunate because he played at a time when there were so many guards in the West.
He's under-appreciated by the world—probably not by the Lakers, but the outside people. Everyone kind of thought, 'Magic made Byron a great player.' I think Byron was great no matter who he played with.
Scott was definitely held back by playing alongside Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and all the other impressive Lakers of the 1980s, but his numbers still merited at least one All-Star nod. Especially since coaches have always tended to reward the league's best squads with extra inclusions.
Other Notables: Mike Bibby, Marcus Camby, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins, Phil Ford, Stephen Jackson, Richard Jefferson, Eddie Johnson, Ty Lawson, Cedric Maxwell, Andre Miller, Emeka Okafor, Sam Perkins, Drazen Petrovic, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Richardson, Isaiah Rider, Arvydas Sabonis, Purvis Short, Jason Terry, Hedo Turkoglu
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into Jan. 28's games.