10 NBA Players Most Deserving of Their 1st All-Star Berth
On Thursday, the NBA on TNT's crew announced the Western and Eastern Conference starting lineups for the 65th NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 14 in Toronto. Stars such as Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James were announced as three of the 10 starters.
The reserves for each conference will be announced during next Thursday’s slate of games on TNT.
Who will make the cut? That remains to be seen, but who deserves to make the cut as a first-time All-Star?
The criteria for the list is simple: Players from both conferences who haven’t made an All-Star Game appearance are eligible for the list.
So those hoping to see Andre Drummond or Draymond Green announced as All-Star Game reserves on Thursday night should be quite content with the upcoming list of names.
(Side note: Since Kawhi Leonard was named to the Western Conference starting lineup on Thursday, he is ineligible for this list.)
10. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
The casual NBA fan probably still relates Kemba Walker to his magical run with the Connecticut Huskies during the 2011 NCAA tournament.
But Walker has been superb this season for the Charlotte Hornets.
Not only is Walker averaging a career-high 19.9 points per game—including a 52-point performance against Utah on Jan. 18—he’s been the best player on a Charlotte team that’s had to battle adversity all season long.
With injuries to Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Walker has had to take on a bigger role with Charlotte and not only has he stayed healthy, he’s produced in a big way.
The Hornets are just 2.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for the final playoff spot, and Walker’s play is one of the main reasons as to why Charlotte is still in the hunt for postseason berth.
9. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Is there a more underrated player in the NBA today than Gordon Hayward?
Hayward plays in a small market out in Salt Lake City, but ever since he entered the league back in the 2010-11 season, his game has gotten better and better.
It’s hard for Hayward to get the proper notoriety playing in the same conference with guys like Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, but Hayward’s been a consistently good player.
The previous five players on the list haven’t played more than at least five seasons. Hayward is currently in his sixth season with the Jazz and has had to take on a bigger role with Utah since Derrick Favors’ back began to act up.
This season, Hayward is averaging 19.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest with a 26.1 usage percentage (tops on the Jazz roster for those who have played 30-plus games).
In the game where Walker dropped 52 points on Jan. 18, Hayward scored 36 points, dished out nine assists and pulled down five rebounds in the five-point loss.
It would be a crime to not see a guy like Hayward not make at least one All-Star Game in his career.
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
During last season’s All-Star weekend in Brooklyn and New York City, Giannis Antetokounmpo was able to show the world why he’s nicknamed “The Greek Freak."
Antetokounmpo represented the Milwaukee Bucks and participated in the Rising Stars Game for the World Team and in the Slam Dunk Contest.
This year, Antetokounmpo has not only continued his freakish plays, he’s gotten better.
Although the Bucks haven’t taken the next step in becoming one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference this season, Antetokounmpo has made great progress.
The Greek Freak is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and has a 16.6 player efficiency rating and a 21.4 usage percentage.
There could be a case made for his teammate Khris Middleton, but in terms of the fun factor, Antetokounmpo would be perfect for the All-Star Game. (That’s also the reason why he got the slight bump ahead of Walker and Hayward on the list.)
7. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
When you’re the biggest fan favorite in New York City, slamming down putback dunks on a nightly basis and you have two rap videos based off of you, you just might be ready for the NBA All-Star Game.
There was a time where the New York Knicks taking Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft looked like the biggest mistake on the night.
Then, Porzingis actually set foot on the floor.
Porzingis has become one of New York City’s main attractions for a surprising Knicks team who already has one All-Star on the East roster (Carmelo Anthony).
In his rookie season with the Knicks, Porzingis is averaging 14 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for a New York team that’s already surpassed their win total with about three months left in the season.
If Porzingis were to make the All-Star Game, it would bring more international eyes to the product and it would give fans a glimpse at the future.
Does playing in New York City give a bump to Porzingis’ popularity? Of course.
But the 7’3” Latvian product has some game.
In terms of Porzingis getting the edge of Antetokounmpo, you could realistically call them 8a and 8b on this list. Two awesome names with endless potential.
6. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Yeah, another rookie.
A really, really good rookie.
The 2015 NBA draft’s top overall pick is on his way to becoming the next Kentucky big man to make his mark on the pro game.
Karl-Anthony Towns may play for a bad (and extremely young) Minnesota team, but he’s quickly become one of the brightest young stars in the game today.
Not only is Towns averaging 15.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, he’s shooting around 39 percent from three-point territory.
A seven-foot, 20-year-old rookie is shooting just under 39 percent from deep.
The league might be doomed here soon.
If the season ended tomorrow, Towns would be the NBA Rookie of the Year, just like teammate Andrew Wiggins was last season.
There could be an argument made for Wiggins being on this list as well, but the way Towns has quickly grasped the NBA game has been outstanding. He’s on his way to becoming the best big man in the game.
It’s a lot of praise for a rookie that’s played just 44 NBA games, but if fellow Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are telling signs, Towns is going to have plenty of All-Star Game appearances under his belt.
5. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond won’t be the only Detroit Pistons player making an appearance on this list.
Reggie Jackson—Drummond’s pick-and-roll mate—is deserving of a spot.
There were many questions as to why the Pistons gave Jackson an $80 million max deal over the previous summer, but Jackson is certainly answering those questions with his best season of his career.
Jackson is averaging 0.8 points per game less than Walker, but Jackson’s 6.6 assists per game outweigh Walker’s 4.9 per game.
What also helps Jackson’s position on this list is the fact that he currently has a 20.9 player efficiency rating and his team is three games over the .500 mark and in sixth place in the East.
This season, Jackson is averaging 31.7 points and 10.7 assists per 100 possessions. That's not too bad.
Does it help playing with a monster like Drummond down low? Sure.
But without the complement of Jackson, the Pistons aren’t an under-the-radar team in the East.
4. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
An appearance in the All-Star Game will definitely help boost Hassan Whiteside’s rating on the NBA 2K video game.
With the rise of Whiteside’s play since late last season, the Miami Heat are a team to keep your eyes on in terms of playoff positioning.
The Heat don’t play the most exciting style of basketball without LeBron James, but with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh finishing their soon-to-be Hall of Fame careers in Miami, Whiteside has become new third piece to the puzzle.
Whiteside leads the league in total blocks this season (158), but that’s not even the end of the stat.
The next closest to Whiteside on the blocks list? Oklahoma City Thunder big man Serge Ibaka with 98 blocks.
On top of his league-leading 3.9 blocks per game, Whiteside has found himself on many highlight reels this season and is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing free agents-to be this summer.
There are plenty of guards to choose from (Walker and Jackson, on top of Kyle Lowry and Wade) and Toronto could use a couple more big men.
“True centers” are hard to find in the midseason exhibition since the position was done away with in the voting a few years ago, so someone like Whiteside would be a perfect reserve in the exhibition.
3. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
No, not that Isiah Thomas.
The younger, shorter Isaiah Thomas that has been the best player for the Boston Celtics this season.
The Celtics are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at this point in the year, and Thomas is a huge reason why Boston could find itself back in the postseason again.
Thomas get a bigger nod that Walker and Jackson on this list for his numbers and his play. Thomas is averaging 21.7 points and 6.7 assists per contest this season; both stats higher than the previous two guards listed.
He’s a spark plug every night out and has become Boston’s go-to guy on a roster full of good (but not great) pieces. It’s a team built on everyone contributing and solid play on the defensive end, and it all starts with Thomas.
If Boston is going to get a representative into this year’s All-Star Game behind the starting duo of Lowry and Wade, Thomas is its best chance.
2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
The NBA leader in double-doubles this season is Andre Drummond.
Drummond has nine games with 20 rebounds or more. No other player in the league has more than two.
(Further more, the entire league has eight games of a player grabbing 20-plus rebounds this season.)
The point is, Andre Drummond should be starting in his first All-Star Game next month.
In 43 games so far this season, Drummond has averaged 17.7 points and a league-high 15.5 rebounds per game for the Pistons.
On top of Drummond’s fantastic play, props should be given to the Pistons social media team for its work in Drummond’s campaign to make the starting five for the East.
It was hard for Drummond to get the amount of votes he needed with players like LeBron, Carmelo and Paul George listed as frontcourt players, but there shouldn’t be any doubt that Drummond will make the team as a reserve.
“Snubs” shouldn’t be an actual thing for fans to speak on without the reserves being announced, but Drummond and the final name on this list were clearly the biggest two “snubs” from the starting lineups.
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
The most important player on the league’s best team isn’t a starter for the All-Star Game?
Stephen Curry is a real-life cheat code, but without Draymond Green, the Warriors are more mortal than you’d imagine.
Curry handles the nightly scoring outbursts, while Green takes care of the rest. Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post called Green a “Swiss army knife” earlier this season and for good reason. The only player to lead his team in rebounds (9.5) and assists (7.4) per game this season is Green.
Green also leads the NBA in triple-doubles (8) and has become the league’s most versatile player. The Warriors are still great without Green, but they’re not 39-4 without him.
A big reason why the Warriors possess the league’s most dangerous lineup (with Green as the center) is because there’s not a position in the NBA that Green can’t guard.
Along with the Warriors chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and becoming the second team in league history with 70 or more wins in a season, Green is on pace for back-to-back seasons with an offensive rating above 110 and a defensive rating below 100.
Curry’s the best player for the reigning champions, but the most important player (and most deserving of an All-Star Game appearance) is Draymond Green.
Stats via Basketball-Reference.com