Predicting Which NBA Players Leap to All-Stars in 2022December 7, 2021
Predicting Which NBA Players Leap to All-Stars in 2022
There's a first time for everything, and today we're scanning the NBA to see which players are primed to make their All-Star debuts in 2022.
Rosters made up of the league's best players are unsurprisingly tough to crack. The greats tend to claim spots and hold onto them for years on end, which leaves few openings for new entrants. Breaking into this exclusive club requires a combination of undeniable stats, team success and maybe a little narrative juice. Let's not pretend numbers are the only things that determine All-Star status.
Not all of these predictions will come true—even with the possibility of some guys sneaking in as injury replacements. Whatever the actual hit rate winds up being, we can at at least agree it's worthwhile to celebrate the league's up-and-coming talent.
For many of these selections, missing out on an All-Star bid in 2022 will count as a minor setback. All of them are going to make the team eventually.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
As you'll see when we get to Jarrett Allen, it's brutally difficult to make the All-Star team as an East frontcourt player. Collins is an absolutely vital piece of what makes the Hawks successful on both ends, a capable defender underneath who can move in space and also happens to be hitting over 40 percent of his threes. It's just that 17.1 points and 7.9 boards don't get the job done without a true game-changing defensive impact.
Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets
Don't worry, the Hornets will be represented in the All-Star game—just not by Bridges. Still a strong candidate for Most Improved Player, the combo forward's case for an All-Star spot is weakening as his shooting cools. Bridges is still posting terrific averages of 20.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists, and his game is clearly more diverse than it was a year ago. But he's down to a 46.7/33.5/77.0 shooting split.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
The Heat are among the East's best teams, and they're very likely to send Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to Cleveland in February. Tyler Herro has a shot to give Miami three participants, but nonstarters don't typically make the All-Star game—even if he has nearly as strong of a statistical case as a couple of the guards we're predicting will make it.
He's still in pole position for Sixth Man of the Year and has been integral to creating half-court scoring opportunities in Miami's offense. In 33.7 minutes per game, the third-year guard is putting up 21.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists while hitting 39.3 percent of his deep shots.
Also considered: OG Anunoby, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Anthony Edwards, Darius Garland, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Evan Mobley, Myles Turner
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
We start with the likeliest candidate to make his first All-Star roster, Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball.
The 20-year-old sophomore is averaging 20.0 points, 8.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals while hauling the Hornets into the thick of the East's playoff race. He leads the team in all of those categories and is among the most electrifying night-to-night watches in the league.
While it's true Charlotte is getting stellar performances from other sources—Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. have all contributed—it's difficult to separate the success of teammates from Ball's influence.
He shares reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's ability to enliven everyone around him, and he now also has jersey-swap validation from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who took home a pair of MVPs prior to Jokic's win.
Ball's teammates run the floor harder and cut with purpose, knowing that if they create just a sliver of daylight, he'll get them the rock. Probably in a manner that warrants extra style points.
His passing and the creative joy with which he operates are both contagious, and it's difficult to think of a player better suited to show out in an All-Star game format where highlights and "I can't believe he just tried that" plays are part of the deal.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
The knee sprain Ja Morant suffered Nov. 26 introduces some doubt into the equation. Morant thankfully avoided serious injury, but it's hard to make an All-Star team if you've missed significant time. Hopefully, he'll get up around the 30-game mark (Morant's at 19 games played for now) before voting concludes. That should be enough to earn him a spot.
Also of note, the Memphis Grizzlies suddenly turned into a demolition crew when Morant hit the shelf, piling up wins, one of which, a 73-point obliteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder, will pretty much ruin Morant's on-off splits for the season.
Still, there's no doubt about who makes the playoff-ready Grizzlies go.
Morant is averaging 24.1 points, 6.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds with dramatically improved scoring efficiency. Despite the largest offensive role and highest usage rate of his career, Morant is posting a personal high in true shooting percentage, climbing above the league average in that metric for the first time.
Though best known for his uniquely creative handle and coiled-spring athleticism, Morant is more than a run-and-jump highlight generator.
Teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. spoke to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears on Morant's less-heralded skills: "His bounce. He's flowing around. That's obvious. But if you really know the game, you see what he's reading. It's crazy. … You just see time and time again that his mental game is really above pretty much anyone. It's above them. With that type of mentality, you can make reads that a lot of people can't."
A lot of people also can't make All-Star teams. Morant can.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
After two safe picks, we're already in iffy territory with Fred VanVleet. But hear his case out, and it's not so difficult to imagine the 2019 NBA champ making his first All-Star appearance at age 27.
VanVleet finished ninth among East backcourt options in 2021 All-Star voting, and the field ahead of him has thinned since then. Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons all finished ahead of FVV last year, and no member of that trio is going to get in over him this time*.
Bradley Beal, James Harden and Jaylen Brown are all having down years by their standards, which should give VanVleet a decent shot to compete with them as well.
Through 23 games, VanVleet leads the NBA at 38.1 minutes per contest. Durability may not be as valued in the load management era, but topping the league in anything is worth a mention. In that unmatched amount of playing time, FVV is averaging 19.8 points, 6.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting the ball far better than he did last year when the Toronto Raptors were playing "home" games in Tampa.
He's one of only 15 players in the league averaging at least 19.0 points with a true shooting percentage north of 57.0.
Toronto's ho-hum performance as a team hurts VanVleet's chances, but the Raps have been without Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby for significant stretches of the year, and they've also struggled to find a clear answer at center. The only guards in the East with better Estimated Plus/Minus figures, per Dunks and Threes, are Ball and Trae Young. VanVleet actually tops every guard not named Stephen Curry in FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR Wins Above Replacement.
*If the fans vote Irving in as a starter, we'll need to consider disenfranchising them.
Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jarrett Allen's path to an All-Star debut is obstructed by some of the biggest names and starriest reputations in the league.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum, Julius Randle and Domantas Sabonis are just a handful of the East frontcourt options in Allen's way. All of them have made All-Star teams in the recent past. Even the ones playing below their typical levels, like Tatum and Randle, have far longer track records and could run so hot between now and the close of voting as to make Allen's spot here seem ridiculous.
At the moment, though, Allen belongs. And that's not just because he has no problem getting dunked on, a low-key value-add in an All-Star format that prizes posterizations.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are officially a professional operation now, and while Darius Garland and Evan Mobley have had their roles in legitimizing the Cavs for the first time in the post-LeBron James era, Allen has been the most impactful piece.
He leads the Cavs with a plus-4.3 EPM, a figure topped only by Antetokounmpo, Durant, Butler and Embiid among East frontcourt players. Cleveland is succeeding on the strength of its defense, currently fourth-best in the league. With Allen on the floor, the Cavs are even stingier on D than they are overall.
Averages of 16.9 points and 11.3 rebounds don't leap off the page, but Allen's 70.3 field goal percentage does, along with the fact that he ranks 12th in the league in Box Plus/Minus, another catch-all.
With all the superstar traffic ahead of him, Allen will have to be impossibly good to make the East roster. But then, Cleveland playing this well once seemed impossible. Yet here we are.
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are better than their spot in the standings, sporting a break-even point differential with an 8-13 record. They'll have to juice that win-loss mark a whole lot more to help Dejounte Murray deliver on this prediction.
The rangy point guard is doing his part, but the Spurs' status as play-in chasers and the litany of worthy mainstays in the West backcourt make Murray the longest shot on the list.
That said, you've got to respect averages of 19.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists, particularly when they come with truly disruptive backcourt defense and 2.0 steals per game. He and Luka Doncic are the only players putting up a 19/8/8 line this season, and nobody'd argue Doncic is in Murray's league defensively.
Sitting 29th in Box Plus/Minus (right between Zach LaVine and Myles Turner) and 12th in FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR Wins Above Replacement, Murray also has a solid advanced-stats case.
Is said case persuasive enough to get Murray into a position group that will include Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Doncic and Morant, among others?
If Murray sustains his numbers and the Spurs get their record above .500, it just might be.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through Dec. 6. Salary info via Spotrac.