NBA: 7 Players Due for an All-Star Appearance in 2011-2012
Last season was a year of power shifts.
A lot of the league's most prominent players like Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams moved to the Eastern Conference, while in the West many younger teams are starting to overtake the old powerhouses for dominance. This has led to many fresh-faced players competing to be superstars in the league.
Here's a look at the seven players I think can have a breakout season and land themselves in the All-Star game, as well as some honorable mentions.
Wesley Mathews—If Brandon Roy is injured again, or takes up the role of sixth man, Mathews could improve on an already impressive season, especially with Raymond Felton at the helm giving players even better looks.
DeMarcus Cousins—If he can get along with his team, he could be very successful, especially with a group of guards as talented as Sacramento's who can take pressure off him on the offensive end. The only problem is the depth of talent at his position in the West.
James Harden—Easily an all-star talent who is constantly improving every aspect of his game, but when you play between Westbrook and Durant, even an increase in minutes could still not give him adequate touches.
Marc Gasol—Depending on where he ends up once free agency hits, he could make a big splash if he doesn't have to play second fiddle to Z-Bo. All he needs to do is refine his offensive game.
Andrew Bynum—Just barely missed the list. He is arguably the second-best defensive big man in the league and has a blossoming offensive game. He can easily make it if he stays healthy—but that is a huge if.
7. Ty Lawson
Ty's stats for last season don't really scream all-star: 12 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists. But there is huge reason to believe he will have a breakout season.
This will be the first year that Lawson will have full control of the helm. Even after Billups left, he still shared considerable minutes with Raymond Felton.
Even while sharing minutes, after the blockbuster trade he averaged about 15 points and 7 assists in just over 30 minutes of play. Plus he's an uber-efficient scorer, averaging over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point land over his career
The playoffs also showed that Lawson is Denver's go-to man in the clutch. Gallinari doesn't seem to be panning out and J.R. Smith, Nene, and Wilson Chandler could all be gone next year, leaving Lawson with most of the scoring duties.
Plus, with Westbrook, Nash and Chris Paul all possibly on the trading block, there may be more spots open than usual at the point in the West.
Oh yeah, and did I mention this will only be his third season?
6. Rudy Gay
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Gay has averaged a steady 19 points over the last four seasons and never made an all-star appearance, so why would this year be different? Don't get your panties in a bunch. I'll tell you.
The up-and-coming Grizzlies are looking to make an even bigger splash in the playoffs next season on the back of their outstanding defense.
But with OJ Mayo in a long-term slump and with defensive minded wings in Tony Allen and Shane Battier, someone is going to have to pick up some offensive slack.
If Marc Gasol also does not return, that will leave more rebounds for Gay to swipe up. If he stays healthy, it is easy to imagine him pulling 22 points and 7 rebounds a night, which would be hard to ignore, especially on a team of players that pride themselves in defense.
5. John Wall
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This one should seem more obvious. 16 points and 8 assists isn't shabby by any standards, and assuming John Wall improves his jumpshot and team chemistry over a possibly extended offseason, he will be an easy selection.
It is easy to imagine him pulling a Chris Paul-like 20 points and 10 assists, especially if he can get some chemistry going with Jan Vesely similar to the Davis-Griffin fireworks we saw this year. Plus, the parts of his game that go understated are his above-average rebounding, quick hands, and excellent shot-blocking for a guard.
The Derrick Rose comparisons seem pretty deserved.
4. Josh Smith
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If Atlanta moves him somewhere he can be content with, Smith could be a huge impact player. I see him especially potent if he can improve on playing small forward even more next season.
If he can shoot the three at a high percentage and play shut-down defense, it is going to be hard to ignore him for another year.
Think about a 6'9" small forward averaging 17-18 points, shooting about 36% from 3, grabbing 8 boards, 2 blocks and a steal or two per game.
I just imagine a prime Andrei Kirilenko with an even better stroke and 20 more pounds of muscle. Ouch.
3. Stephen Curry
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I don't see Mark Jackson holding on to Monta Ellis for too long, exchanging him for a more defensive-minded wing (Andre Iguodala or otherwise). In which case, the ball will be in Curry's hands a lot more, boosting both his assists and point totals.
More importantly, if Golden State can get their defense out of the pits and make the playoffs, it's hard not to give someone on the roster an all-star nod, and I doubt it would be David Lee.
I'm predicting 21 points and seven assists on 48% and 45% shooting, and I could very well be low-balling.
2. Eric Gordon
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The emergence of Blake Griffin seems to coincide with the rise of Eric Gordon as a 1-2 punch. Assuming he can stay healthy, I don't see how he could average any less than 23 points with Griffin disrupting defenses the way he does.
If the Clippers can start beating their inter-city big brother, then the credit will spread past just the rookie phenom.
I predict Eric Gordon looking like Monta Ellis, except with some defense.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
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If he doesn't make the team next year, I will honestly be baffled.
The MVP candidate shows no signs of slowing down, and if he can make the Trailblazers into contenders, then he could earn more than just an all-star appearance.
If Oden and/or Roy can, by some miracle, get healthy, then Aldridge would be the best player on one of the league's most talented teams.