Which NBA Rookies Will Join Luka Doncic in an All-Star Game Someday?
The top of the 2018 NBA draft board is off to an encouraging start, with a handful of rookies, led by Luka Doncic, flashing signs of real All-Star potential. Doncic may be an all-star in his first NBA season, as the Mavericks' point-forward is currently second in Western conference frontcourt voting.
Doncic will be the only rookie to sniff the all-star game this year, but which other rookies have shown flashes of future all-star status? And what kind of all-star status are we talking about?
Not every All-Star is equal. Some show up on rosters every season. Others make cameos or put together shorter runs years down the road.
Today's NBA is loaded with 20-point scorers, and stats alone aren't enough anymore. Team development could ultimately play a significant role in the trajectory of these rookies' careers.
Based on skill sets, first-year production and windows to improve, we projected the following six players to have the best odds at cracking an All-Star roster at some point.
Perennial All-Star: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Already with the second-most votes among Western Conference players, Luka Doncic is pushing for All-Star consideration this February. He'd join Blake Griffin and Yao Ming as the only rookies to pull it off since 2000.
Doncic looks abnormally comfortable through his first 43 NBA games, averaging 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists with a 56.4 true shooting percentage. Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson were the only other rookies who've matched those numbers in their first seasons.
In just a few months, Doncic has definitively squashed concerns over his potential to create separation and finish against NBA athletes—his perceived barrier to NBA stardom that presumably led the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks to let another team draft the teenage Slovenian.
Based on his physical profile (6'7", 218 pounds), age (19), elite skill level, historic rookie production and late-game shot-making, this should be the start of a lengthy All-Star run. His flash and style will continue earning him extra points with fans, but beyond the fancy dribbling, step-backs and three-category production, Doncic is an easy-to-feel impact player.
If Doncic's NBA floor is All-Star, chances are he'll be one every season for the foreseeable future.
Extra rookie numbers and notes
- Dallas has 20 wins by January 17 after racking up 24 all of last season, and Doncic's 2.58 offensive real-plus minus ranks No. 20 in the NBA.
- He's a top-30 NBA scorer and still shows serious room for improvement, making just 42.3 percent of his drives and 38.0 percent of his 7.1 pull-ups per game. Those numbers should only be expected to rise.
Perennial All-Star: Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
A redraft of the 2018 class may see the original No. 4 pick going before the original No. 1.
Jaren Jackson Jr.'s ceiling could be viewed as the highest among all rookies given his physical tools (6'11", 242 lbs, 7'5 ¼" wingspan), age (19), evolving offense and elite defensive potential. Through 44 games, he's proven to be further up the developmental ladder than his pedestrian production at Michigan State (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds) initially suggested.
In terms of upside, Jackson has enough talent to earn All-Star votes even if the Memphis Grizzlies have to reset and build from scratch.
At 19 years old, he's averaging 13.2 points on 58.3 percent shooting inside the arc, though it's the 0.8 threes and 1.6 blocks (in 25.5 minutes) per game that make Jackson so compelling. Only Kevin Durant and Shawn Marion have finished seasons averaging a three-point make and 1.5 blocks while shooting better than 50.0 percent (minimum 42 games).
Assuming Jackson continues to improve his shooting—he's also hitting 78.5 percent of his free throws—he's going to become one of the NBA's most unique two-way players because of his rare ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim.
Throw in an efficient post game, the ability to attack closeouts and defensive versatility highlighted by switchability and playmaking, and continuing to develop at his current rate could lead to realistic All-Star votes by next season and an eventual routine starting spot down the road.
Extra rookie numbers and notes
- Jackson hasn't been featured often in the post (4.3 times per game), but he's shooting 52.8 percent on his attempts, a higher mark than those (11 players) who take between 4.0 and 6.0 per game except for Domantas Sabonis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steven Adams.
- After shooting just 54.2 percent at the rim in college, per Synergy Sports, Jackson is converting 73.8 percent of his shots in the restricted area this season.
- Opponents are shooting 50.3 percent against Jackson at the rim. Of the 41 players who defend at least 4.0 attempts per game at the rim and have played at least five games, only Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors and JaVale McGee are holding opponents to under 50.3 percent.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
The All-Star numbers could be there soon for Deandre Ayton, assuming as a second-year player and beyond he builds on his rookie stat line of 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds on 59.2 percent shooting.
His All-Star chances will likely be tied to how far he can pull the Phoenix Suns out from the West's bottom. The competition for big-man votes in this conference will always be stiff, with Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams usually in the running. Double-doubles won't be enough for Ayton if the Suns can't break free from this tanking stage of the rebuilding process.
Phoenix isn't short on young talent, however. Depending on how the upcoming trade deadline, draft and free-agency period go for the Suns, they could wind up following the 2018-19 Sacramento Kings back to relevance. Ayton would presumably be right in the center of Phoenix's rise as its most efficient scorer and leading rebounder.
Extra rookie numbers and notes
- He's one of the game's most effective interior scorers right now, shooting 71.4 percent inside five feet, the second-highest mark behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's among players with at least seven attempts that close.
- Ayton has been an efficient post scorer, shooting 50.7 percent on 5.7 post-ups per game.
- Making 40.7 percent of his 2.4 catch-and-shoot chances, he shows confidence in his mid-range jumper, which he also goes to off jab-steps and rise-and-fires working one-on-one.
- Ayton has taken the most heat for his defense and energy, but he's flashed enough glimpses of defensive range—plus textbook tools for rim protection—to fuel optimism over his chances of improving. In terms of natural ability, he slides his feet well while possessing enough athleticism and plenty of length to make defensive plays on the ball around the basket.
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
Kevin Knox's ceiling reads All-Star based on his physical tools (6'9", 212 lbs), age (19), immediate production (16.8 PPG since December 1) and a skill set that includes three-point shooting, pull-ups, floaters and driving ability.
The question is whether he ever becomes consistent/efficient enough to get there, which would require extensive sharpening of certain skills and basketball IQ, plus the New York Knicks front office strengthening the roster.
He's going to benefit from playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis, who'll take needed pressure off and improve the quality of Knox's scoring chances, with so many right now coming as a result of the rookie having to create something out of nothing.
On a bad team like the Knicks, however, Knox would have to dominate to earn All-Star votes, especially with Porzingis more likely to have the better season. For Knox to become an All-Star, New York will need to become relevant, a development that would likely mean the Knicks adding another a big name, whether it's Duke's Zion Williamson or a prized free agent.
Still, Knox possesses enough talent to become a viable No. 2 behind Porzingis. And if that happens and translates to wins and the Knicks returning to the playoffs, the result could lead to All-Star votes.
Extra rookie numbers and notes
- Over his last 20 games, Knox has hit the 20-point mark seven times, demonstrating three-level scoring and the ability to make shots in streaks.
- Knox is hitting 1.7 threes per game (2.3 per 36 minutes), an encouraging number for a 19-year-old forward.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Wendell Carter Jr.'s All-Star potential should appear more clearly after seasons No. 2 and 3.
It's come in flashes this year for a team that's dealt with injuries and dysfunction. He's averaging 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25.2 minutes, giving the Chicago Bulls a two-way role player at his floor.
His physical tools (6'10", 255 lbs, 7'4 ½" wingspan), skill set and basketball IQ suggest he's capable of evolving into an elite role player—maybe not a go-to scorer, but a high-impact starter and an integral building block like previous All-Stars Al Horford and David West were for multiple franchises.
Strong and with enough bounce, Carter should develop into a force around the basket at both ends. And he's shown signs of defensive awareness in terms of making reads and timing plays on the ball.
It's still his inside-out scoring package that represents Carter's future ticket to All-Star weekends. The back-to-the-basket footwork and delivery are there. His mid-range shooting touch is relatively soft for a 19-year-old big.
How long until he starts executing with more consistency?
His overall offensive delivery for a 19-year-old hints at eventual high-level success. The Bulls must improve their roster to give Carter the best chance. But if he's handed the ideal role on a winning roster—as a supporting scorer who's felt defensively and valued extra for his reliability—Carter has the game and presence to follow in the footsteps of Horford and West.
Extra rookie numbers and notes
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young shouldn't be judged by his rookie shooting percentages. Instead, the positives outweigh the inefficiency, given his age (20) and the lack of support in Atlanta.
He's averaging 16.0 points and 7.2 assists, and that's while missing 3.7 of his 5.2 three-point attempts per game. Based on Young's shot-making and range, he figures to eventually raise that three-point mark over the next few seasons, which would help bring up his scoring average in turn.
Meanwhile, his passing still remains his most distinguishable and bankable skill. The better the players Atlanta puts around Young, the more dangerous he becomes as a playmaker, and he's already No. 9 in the NBA in assists with John Collins as the team's No. 1 option.
In any event, the production looks like it will be there for Young. The ball is his in Atlanta, and he's proved he can score and create without standout tools or explosiveness.
His All-Star chances will receive a boost when he guides Atlanta out from tanking mode. Over the past six games, Young has flashed glimpses of that potential by averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 assists with wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.
The Hawks have some other promising pieces to build with in Collins, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince and coach Lloyd Pierce. The rebuild will require patience, but after a few more seasons, the Hawks could have enough blossoming talent and chemistry for a breakout season. And Young has the offensive upside to be behind it, running the show.
Extra rookie stats and notes
- With 16.8 drives per game, Young is tied for third in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and John Wall. On those drives, he's converting shots at a 51.2 percent clip—higher than Westbrook's, Donovan Mitchell's and Kemba Walker's. It's notable, considering there were predraft questions about his lack of size, strength and athleticism.
- He's made just 30.5 percent of his 6.2 pull-ups per game and only 32.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances. There is major room for Young to improve here and a high likelihood that he does.