Every season has its share of under-appreciated, slightly-lower-tier stars that are on the fringe of breaking out and making it to the mid-February stage. Even when players do raise their games, sometimes their career epiphany doesn’t occur until midseason or they are just edged out in fan voting and reserve selections by a bigger name or a slightly more proven player.
The talent pool in the NBA is rich with young talent, potential and up-and-coming players, making the star quality broader than ever across the league. While some of these players are immensely talented, some are injury prone, knuckleheads or victims of circumstance on a team loaded with stars. While not everyone on this list will make an all-star team, they are all capable of having an 'all-star' caliber season that could land them on a roster.
The common denominator for players on this list is that they have yet to make an All-Star squad, but there are other factors included.
Conditions for a player to make the list:
- Haven’t made an All-Star squad in their NBA Career
- Their games are improving and their career is largely on the upswing
- They must have a legitimate shot at an all-star type season
- Not a part of the 2011 NBA Draft or incoming rookie class
Big Roy has a come along way since I saw him play in high school as an awkwardly moving, yet domineering player because of his size. He’s learned how to put his 7’2”, 280 lb. frame to use and enhanced all facets of his post game.
It's hard to believe he’s been in the league three years after graduating from Georgetown and is only 24 years old. His best days are clearly ahead, but to make a squad with Danny Granger getting a good portion of Indiana’s touches, he’s really going to have to become a "go-to" offensive weapon in the paint.
In 2009-10, Bogut was having a breakout year prior to a gruesome injury (fair warning, this is not for the squeamish). However, he still bounced back nicely this past season for the Bucks and held down the paint defensively, managing to turn away 2.6 shots per game.
He came close to making the All-Star team during the 2010-11 season, but if his road to recovery continues, he has an outside chance despite not being a superior low-post weapon.
Good thing he plays a whole lot better than he dances.
Had Noah declared for the 2006 Draft instead of entering in ’07, he had a good shot at being the top pick. While he may not be that caliber, if a player was being drafted on motor and hustle alone, he would get my pick.
He’s had a few nagging injuries that have stunted his development, but he hits the boards and plays outstanding interior defense as well as anyone. He will never be an offensive weapon, but if his production continues to improve, he’s capable of getting in like Ben Wallace did.
Monroe had a nice rookie year for the Pistons and is the future of their low-post play.
He played like a rookie at times, but got hot in the second half of the season, putting up about 13 points and nine rebounds per night.
He’s not an intimidator in the post defensively, but he’s a decent defender who shows effort. As his post game and development continues to improve along with the Pistons' rebuilding effort, so does his shot at making the squad.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili 2.0 turned out much better than the first version, as Andrea might be the softest European center you know capable of dropping 20 points on a nightly basis.
He’s by no means a center in the manner the Raptors prefer, but he gets the job done from the perimeter more along the lines of a stretch forward. He gets knocked a lot for being a top pick and failing to live up to expectations, but I would have no qualms about a seven-footer shooting 37% from three-point range for his career and averaging 21.4 points per game.
He likely won’t get a ton of respect from voters or coaches unless he has a 24-25 point-plus type of year.
Hate him or love him, he’s got the size, length, talent, potential and opportunity on an aging Laker team to make a run.
He’s another big guy who has been hindered by injuries but is highly productive in limited minutes for the “Lake Show.” He already has six NBA seasons under his belt at the age of 23, so there’s plenty of time for him to have a shot and room for development to get there as a low-post threat.
Harden could be a "go-to" swingman on a lot of NBA teams, but alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, he embraces his role as a hard-nosed hustle player. Harden is a tremendously talented and efficient guard with an old-man game and one of the better basketball IQ’s in the league.
While the odds are stacked against him to make a squad in the West with the type of talent and touches going around on his team, don’t put it past his ability to be in the discussion.
I always like to say that I watched Kevin Love play high school ball in person for four years, and though I only saw Jennings play for four games, they are tied in my mind as the best prep player I have ever seen.
Keep in mind that this is ahead of the likes of Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Harrison Barnes during their prep years. Jennings plays with the ball on a string, honing the ability to break down defenders one-on-one and create his own shot.
McGee has all the gifts and potential of a prized up-and-coming big man; he has incredible size at 7', crazy length with a 7'5" wingspan, explosive athleticism and he is a shot-changer in the paint.
His post game is raw and his shooting touch is a little off, but there aren’t many big men more naturally talented than McGee in the league right now. At the spry young age of 23 he has plenty of time to learn how to play and thrive in the uptempo style the Wiz are gearing towards with Wall running the break.
Iggy has been on the brink of all-stardom for a few years in the league with his versatility, but he has never quite made it. Unfortunately, 2010-11 was a bit of a step back for him, and trade rumors with his name on it were all the rage.
Andre is a “stat sheet stuffer” who has averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and nearly 2 steals for his career, but he has no real accolades to show for it yet. At 27, he still has a few seasons to make a run as he enters the prime of his career; it could all just be a matter of setting.
Deng is one of the uber-underrated players in the NBA today with his ability to fill it up, make plays and lock down on D. The only real knock on his game is that he can get slightly trigger-happy from long distance, where he has been up and down through the years. However, he’s a solid perimeter player, and excellent within the Bulls schematics.
With Rose handling the ball all game and Boozer commanding the ball in the post, Chi-town still finds ways to get him the rock coming off ball screens and in isolations, where he excels. If he can somehow get closer to the 20-point threshold while hitting close to 40 percent from three-point range, I’d say his odds to get in the All-Star game are bright.
“Boogie” Cousins is a beast with All-NBA talent and the game to dominate if he can put his mind to it.
He only played 28 minutes per game, but still impressively managed to put up 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds-per-game as a rookie. Cousins is arguably one of the top—if not the top—up-and-coming big man talent in the league. At 6’11”, 270 lbs, with his frame in the paint complemented by his skill set, Cousins could be a force at both ends (emphasis on “could”).
Whether or not he ultimately will be is the big question, but he likely can’t get by on talent alone if he wants to be an all-star.
Memphis had the look of a special team in the postseason and could have been all the more dangerous had Gay been healthy enough to star at small forward. Rudy is a fantastic scorer who has thrived with his gifted natural talent and explosive athleticism, but hasn’t quite broken out into stardom.
He’s on the cusp of greatness for the Grizz, and with that team starting to come into prominence, Gay will begin to command the spotlight and, hopefully, all-star votes.
DeRozan is a guy I’ve been high on ever since I got to see him star in the Nike Hoop Summit. His high school tape is incredible, but his progression with Toronto has been even more stunning, as the Raptors seemingly found their swingman with the 9th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
DeRozan does an excellent job scoring in isolation and off the pick-and-roll with his ability to create shots, but has yet to really hone that long-range threat. He only attempted 52 three-pointers in 82 games, making good on less than 10 percent of those, so it's pretty clear where his work should be focused.
Nonetheless, DeRozan is an incredibly skilled scorer who is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Not many can bang with the post force that is “Big Al” and win head-to-head.
More than likely, if they do, it’s because he doesn’t completely D-up despite what his 1.9 blocks-per-game may have you think. He is a lazy post defender who gives up uncontested shots to his man, but still manages to get a fair share of blocks in the paint with his imposing size and length.
Offensively, Jefferson is stud, showing off a complete post repertoire with his back to the basket and a deadly face-up jumper to make the D pay for playing off. Had some big 20-10 years in Minnesota but didn’t get much love (no pun intended) because they weren’t winning.
Utah is stacked in the frontcourt this season with the addition of Enes Kanter to the group of Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Mehmet Okur. Despite the depth, Jefferson will get his, as his post play is one of the Jazz's biggest weapons.
Curry is one of the best young point guards in the league, lighting it up from beyond the arc at 43.9 percent for his career.
Not only is he one of the top shooters in the leagues, but he can also drop dimes—5.9 per game to be exact.
Curry is a complete offensive player with the ability to isolate, run the pick-and-roll, knock down spot up opportunities off ball and push the ball in transition. Expect to see him play in an all-star game in a few years time, if that.
For a non-all-star, Martin has had some outstanding seasons (although limited due to injury) in his career that didn’t result in a mid-season bid. He’s a top-three player when it comes to off-ball play with his ability to get open and cash in on spot up opportunities at better than 38 percent from distance for his career.
While not the best team player or all that great of a defender, K-Mart is a player who can plug into nearly any offense and score with his ability to play without the ball.
He came close to getting the nod this season on a stacked Western Conference roster and could very well do it again, as he is Houston's "go-to" guy on offense.
From a post-scoring perspective, Brook Lopez has become a weapon with his ability to face up from the high post and back down his man in the low post. It’s no coincidence that he was able to average over 20 points for the first time in his career with his shooting touch and post moves in the paint.
It’s also no coincidence that his defensive production on the boards and shot-changing abilities have dropped as well, as Lopez seems to play around the perimeter more now than he ever has. While he doesn’t quite board up or defend like you would expect for a big man, he is effective in his play and improving as a “pick-and-pop” threat with the addition of Deron Williams.
There’s a good chance for Brook to nudge into a reserve spot in the Eastern Conference down the road with a full season alongside Williams.
In terms of NBA stardom, J-Smoove is All-Leaguer on the highlight reels.
However, he hasn’t quite reached it yet on the court with his tenacity to settle and be baited into taking the perimeter jumper. He’s always played out of position in Atlanta, but his game is very undefined as a combo forward in that setup.
His inability to make shots helped bury the Hawks' fate against the Bulls, as his touch from the perimeter is mediocre at best and Mike Bibby really doesn’t want a part of his touch altogether.
He’s always seemed to get by on instincts, talent, hustle and athleticism (not a bad combo), but he still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of skill and shot-making before he’s ready to be an all-star; no doubt about his ability to get there though.
Beasley makes it look easy on the floor—almost too easy at times—with his laid-back style and demeanor.
Beasley is a mega-talent who gets unfairly criticized for being selfish, but he does a fair job of playing team ball and setting up his man if the play is there. He thrives in clear-outs, staring down his man from mid-range and letting it fly for a crisp two points.
It’s hard to believe that someone with his skill set and scoring ability is only 22, but he makes it work, teasing the 20-point mark this past season for the T’Wolves.
Rest assured, Beasley has too much time and talent to not make an all-star team in his career.
Evans is one the smoothest scorers in the league, with a natural ability to get to the rack and finish consistently. While thrust into the predominant point guard role his first two seasons, he should benefit from getting to take a step back to his natural position at off-guard with the help of Jimmer Fredette.
He’s a ball-dominant player, but he is also one of the few players on the Kings capable of creating offense and quality looks for the team. Evans has the build of a prototypical guard/forward and his game stacks up like a player with the makings of a perennial all-star.
Former “Free Darko” blogger Bethlehem Shoals had a good take that put Monta Ellis contributions on court as a scorer into perspective, but he isn’t just that. Despite averaging over five assists in each of the past two seasons, he still is largely considered a “scorer” because he has averaged over 24 points in those seasons as well.
With a usage rate of 28.2 percent on all Golden State possessions (among the top in the NBA), Ellis is a cornerstone of the Warriors offense that produces much more along the lines of a “creator.”
Despite that production, Ellis is still on the outside looking in. With Mark Jackson emphasizing defense as the new head coach, hopefully it lights a fire in Ellis to get more respect on that end and finally get validation as the all-star caliber talent he has been the past two seasons.
E-Go (ironic and not very fitting nickname) had a breakout year this past season with the on-court presence of Blake Griffin. With 22.3 points and 4.4 assists per game, Gordon stepped up and emerged as a legitimate swingman offensively.
His keen basketball IQ, paired with explosive athleticism and ball skills, produces a nearly unstoppable matchup. While still 22, Eric is a gym rat who is focused on becoming a better player, and it has showed year to year in his progression.
One of the more underrated players in the league, mostly because of the team he plays for, Gordon is part of an LAC youth movement that will become relevant in years to come, and he will be noticed for it.
With Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Blake Griffin all getting the go-ahead for an all-star selection and Tim Duncan being grandfathered in, LA was maybe the biggest snub of last year.
While known for being notoriously soft in the early stages of his career, Aldridge has transformed his style of play to become more physical and aggressive around the basket, and did it ever pay off.
He has always been a deadly perimeter marksman with that face-up jumper, but now his back-to-basket game and post moves have become lethal as well. Without Brandon Roy, LA stepped up and boosted his game to the next level. He is bound to earn a spot if he can keep it up.
While he wasn’t deserving of the accolade last year, it’s all but a guarantee that he will be in the future with his high-octane style and playmaking ability.
The franchise point guard is a wizard with the ball (pun intended this time) and is being built around to suit his “controlled chaos.” With Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee, and now Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, the Wiz can play an uptempo game that allows Wall to reward his teammates for running the floor in transition.
Wall is a special talent that has All-Star and All-NBA potential developing before our eyes. His 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game were outstanding rookie numbers worthy of rookie of the year any other year.
Wall is poised to become one of the league’s top players at the point and could have Washington dancing all over the competition.