We’re exactly one month into the NBA season today, which is as good a time as any to start perusing candidates for the 2017-18 NBA All-Star Game less than three months away.
Really, these things kind of write themselves out.
In the West, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors will at least get two players on the team (let’s start with the obvious, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant), while every other contender in the wild, wild West lands at least one star in the game (Houston’s James Harden, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Portland Damian Lillard and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
That leaves two more All-Star roster spots and plenty of room to debate the merits of selecting Warriors Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Pelican DeMarcus Cousins, Thunder’s Paul George and Carmelo Anthony or some other player.
Same is true in the East, where Boston has taken the top seat, landing them the customary two stars (Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, in this case), not to mention one apiece for the other East contenders (Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Washington’s John Wall, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Cleveland’s LeBron James).
That leaves two more East All-Star roster spots and the arguments for and against Hornet Kemba Walker, Wizard Bradley Beal, Cavalier Kevin Love and 76er rookie Ben Simmons, among others.
So even though it may be tough to break through the status quo, we should all—at the very least—consider all the All-Star candidates out there, since there are so many players playing great this year.
And while we may not be able to pack all 60-something listed players into the NBA All-Star Game, that does not mean we cannot appreciate their accomplishments here, through the season’s one-month mark on this 17th day of November.
30. Chicago Bulls
Nobody on this tanking team deserves mention as a legit All-Star candidate. That said, suspended practice pugilist/power forward Bobby Portis has put up All-Star numbers in his first four games back in a Chicago Bulls uniform: 63 points and 39 rebounds in 100 minutes.
29. Sacramento Kings
Like Chicago, Sacramento does not have a legit All-Star candidate on the team, but two prospects—19-year-old rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox and 21-year-old sophomore power forward Skal Labissiere—stand out in their own right. Fox’s speed and hairstyle are not the only thing that makes him stand out on a court; his team-leading 31 assist percentage and miniscule 10 turnover percentage show his team-high 27 minutes per game is not too taxing on his game at all (12 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds per game). Meanwhile, Labissiere is doing plenty in his limited playing time (20 minutes per game), averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds, while maintaining a +16.5 On-Off margin per 100 possessions on a bad team (has impressive -1.6 On score). For what it’s worth, Fox has -9.2 On metrics and again a stellar +4.8 On-Off score.
28. Phoenix Suns
Not many fans/media/coaches/players are going to vote an All-Star in from a 5-10 squad, much less two candidates. But 21-year-old wing Devin Booker and 24-year-old fellow wing T.J. Warren are giving new Suns coach Jay Triano a young nucleus to develop around. Booker is the 23 points-per-game go-to scorer who still can average 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes per game, while still making 37 percent of his three-pointers and 50 percent of his 2s. Warren has become quite the reliable scorer as well, averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes per game.
After the purge of 2015 where the Hawks used the past two seasons to get rid of the four All-Stars from that 60-win team (Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague), Atlanta’s All-Star cupboard is bare, although prospect-to-point-guard Dennis Schroder is delivering 20 points and 7 assists on a nightly basis, reminiscent of the numbers Teague used to post in Atlanta. Another prospect who is looking to make the star jump is power forward John Collins, who is already posting 10 points and 7 rebounds in only 21 minutes per game as a 20-year-old rookie.
Head coach Rick Carlisle will be the first to tell you this team does not have a perennial All-Star in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki. But then again, not many teams can say they’ve had a player represent their team at 13 different All-Stars ala Dirk. Alas, Nowitzki is now a 39-year-old power forward who averages 10 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes per game, while posting a subpar .502 true shooting percentage—numbers far lower than we’ve ever seen from Dirk. That said, it is time we—the NBA as a whole—start honoring the great Maverick before it is too late. It is obvious that he is in the final five months of a legendary 20-year-career in Dallas.
25. Brooklyn Nets
Two slowly-developing prospects D’Angelo Russell, formerly of the Lakers, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are starting to show signs they may be turning the corner from prospect to player any time now. Russell, who is out this week with a knee injury, is averaging 21 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in only 28 minutes per game after making the transition from shooting guard to 21-year-old point guard for a team that is surprisingly doing better than expected (5-9). Hollis-Jefferson, a 22-year-old defensive standout, is putting up some good numbers on O, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds on .590 true shooting percentage.
Center Rudy Gobert likely lost his deserved spot when he went down with a bone bruise on his right knee Saturday. Until then, the All-NBA and All-Defense center was averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in 33 minutes per game on a .661 true shooting percentage. Now the everything-by-committee Jazz will rely on the other five double-digit scorers for more offense, while trying to keep the top 5 defensive Jazz up to Gobert’s high standards.
Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have been All-Star candidates before, but never have they actually been selected to participate in the All-Star Game. The 31-year-old point guard and 28-year-old center seem to put up All-Star-like numbers on mediocre teams (Miami is 6-8 this season), thus cutting their bids short. In 2017-18, Dragic is averaging 20 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds in 34 minutes per game on a .566 true shooting percentage, while Whiteside—in only eight games due to an early-season injury—is averaging 16 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks in 28 minutes per game on .581 true shooting percentage.
Indiana may have lost 2017 All-Star Paul George, while also watching future star Myles Turner succumb to injury most of this season (missing seven of the Pacers’ 14 games). But that is not to say the two players Indiana landed in the George trade have not transformed themselves into star candidacy themselves. Indeed, shooting guard Victor Oladipo is producing a stellar 23 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 33 minutes per game on .589 true shooting percentage, while sophomore big Domantas Sabonis is averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes per game on an impressive .665 true shooting percentage. Nobody saw that coming from those two Pacers.
21. Los Angeles Lakers
Unfortunately, All-Star voters don’t reward defensive stars so the NBA’s most-improved defense are not likely to see their All-Star chances rewarded by their latest achievement in becoming a top 5 defensive squad. Their best shot at an All-Star nom, center Brook Lopez, is putting up good metrics (-0.1 On; +6.1 On-Off), averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 25 minutes per game on a .563 true shooting percentage. Sixth man Jordan Clarkson, who leads the Lakers in usage rate, is another candidate, averaging 16 points in 21 minutes per game on a .590 true shooting percentage.
20. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets dealt with their fair share of injuries when wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was sidelined for six games while fellow wing Nicolas Batum won’t return from his elbow injury until this week. Through it all, 2017 All-Star point guard Kemba Walker kept this team afloat, averaging 22 points and 7 assists in 34 minutes per game on a .584 true shooting percentage. His contributions will likely be recognized by the coaches as Charlotte climbs up the standings in the months to come.
19. New York Knicks
Everyone’s favorite teammate Enes Kanter is putting up the type of numbers that might get himself added on to his first All-Star team, perhaps joining his “king” Kristaps Porzingis on his first All-Star squad as well. Porzingis is a lock to become a 2018 All-Star, averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 33 minutes per game on a .598 true shooting percentage. Kanter, who is a defensive liability, is still putting up uber-efficient numbers for an East center, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes per game on a sky-high .660 true shooting percentage.
18. Philadelphia 76ers
Youngsters Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons grab all the headlines, but even more deserving than both as an All-Star candidate is 27-year-old unsung wing Robert Covington, whose all-around game is validated with strong statistical backing in traditional (17 points and 6 rebounds in 33 minutes per game) and new-school metrics (.677 true shooting percentage; +4.5 On rating; +17.9 On-Off rating). Philly is smart to lock him up to a reported four-year, $62 million contract. Embiid is the 22-year-old center making a name for himself, playing in 11 of Philly’s 13 games thus far, while averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes per game on a .567 true shooting percentage. Meanwhile, Simmons has become the leading Rookie of the Year candidate, while making legit All-Star candidacy for himself, averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in 34 minutes per game on a .524 true shooting percentage.
The Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins experiment is working thus far, with both excelling individually while the team forms its own identity of being well-balanced in all facets for the first time in years. Individually, Davis is averaging 26 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in 37 minutes per game on a .650 true shooting percentage, while Cousins is averaging 28 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 38 minutes per game on a .589 true shooting percentage. Both are locks to make the 2018 NBA All-Star squad.
LeBron James is a lock to make his 13th straight NBA All-Star team, especially with his increase in playing time bringing his stats up to 28 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists in 38 minutes per game on a personal-best .660 true shooting percentage. The man who will suffer from Cleveland’s subpar record is probably four-time All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes per game on a personal-best .594 true shooting percentage.
Orlando came out the gates fast thanks to the frontline of center Nikola Vucevic, power forward Aaron Gordon and wing Evan Fournier. It is safe to say, under head coach Frank Vogel, each is producing a career-best season: Vucevic is averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game on a .588 true shooting percentage; Gordon, in the best shape of his life, is posting 18 points and 8 rebounds in 32 minutes per game on .652 true shooting percentage; Fournier is averaging a team-best 20 points in 33 minutes per game on a .636 true shooting percentage. What is even better is how the three collectively are dominating from the three-point line (Fournier 2.4 treys per game at .436 three-point percentage; Gordon, 2.3 at .519; Vucevic, 1.8 at .403).
With the rise of prospects-to-stars like Jokic and Towns, the center position will be a contentious vote in the NBA, which might cost the 2017 All-Star DeAndre Jordan his spot in 2018. And if the Clippers cannot get their record above .500 (they are 5-8), five-time All-Star power forward Blake Griffin may lose his spot as well. Through a month, Griffin is averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in 35 minutes per game on a .554 true shooting percentage.
The metrics community will complain—and rightfully so—that Khris Middleton is being ignored, but that’s what All-Star voters do to players who average 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 37 minutes per game on a subpar .507 true shooting percentage, even if they do have stellar +4.0 On and +16.5 On-Off ratings. That said, it is impossible not to reward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging MVP-like numbers such as 31 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 38 minutes per game on a .636 true shooting percentage, while posting +4.5 On and +20.1 On-Off ratings.
While fans/media/coaches/players will debate the merits of choosing either Marc Gasol or Mike Conley for a spot on the West All-Star team, an unlikely third banana is making himself an intriguing candidate one month into the process. That would be wing Tyreke Evans, who is averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in only 28 minutes per game on a .634 true shooting percentage. If Evans can maintain his unfathomable shooting numbers—85 percent on free throws, 56 percent on two-pointers and 45 percent on three-pointers—then he surely becomes a leading candidate for Most Improved Player candidate, especially if he is still sporting a .653 true shooting percentage and 25.4 PER by season’s end. That said, let us not forget about old, reliable, grizzled vet candidates like center Gasol, who is averaging 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 34 minutes per game on a .549 true shooting percentage.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns—Minnesota’s leading scorer (21 points per game), rebounder (11 per) and shotblocker (2 per)—has become the team’s de facto leader, despite playing on a crew that also features past All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and veteran presence Taj Gibson. His .633 true shooting percentage makes him the starters’ most efficient shot, while his youth (just turned 22 this week) shows he has plenty of room to grow as he fills out his 7-0, 244-pound frame. Welcome to your first of many All-Star Games, KAT!
Damian Lillard is used to being snubbed before, but those days are long gone, with Dame D.O.L.L.A. being loyal to the soil for so long, averaging 24 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in 36 minutes per game on a .556 true shooting percentage. Now that he has switched sides as a sure-fire All-Star, it would be nearly impossible to leave him off a West team, just as it’s impossible to do the same to Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook at the position. So with that in mind, look for Dame to run it up some more as he closes the next three weeks out on a continued growth spurt.
Fans of the 2016 All-Star center Andre Drummond must be happy that his game is back on the radar, with the giant evolving as an all-around big, averaging 14 points, a league-leading 16 rebounds and tripling into his 3 assist average in 33 minutes per game on a .563 true shooting percentage. It also helps that forward Tobias Harris and point guard Reggie Jackson—like Drummond—are experience career-bests in their Player Efficiency Ratings too (Harris, 19.8; Jackson, 20.8; Drummond, 22.9). Harris is also averaging 20 points and 5 rebounds in 33 minutes per game on a .601 true shooting percentage, while Jackson is averaging 16 points, 3 rebounds and 6 assists in 29 minutes per game on a .553 true shooting percentage.
The days of 2017 All-Star Bradley Beal or four-time All-Star John Wall being snubbed for the big game are behind us now, with Washingtonians like clamoring for future inclusions of rising star Otto Porter, now that he is averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals in 33 minutes per game on an unparalleled .670 true shooting percentage. As for Wall and Beal, the former is averaging 20 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists in 34 minutes per game on a .545 true shooting percentage, while Beal is averaging 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes per game on a .600 true shooting percentage.
7. Denver Nuggets
Since returning West, Paul Millsap’s level of play has dropped a bit when measured against the standard this four-time East All-Star set in Atlanta. Nonetheless, the Nuggets still have a worthy All-Star candidate in first-timer Nikola Jokic, who may just be the best center in basketball today (with apologies sent to Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins). The third-year Nuggets, who is now 22, is averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in 32 minutes per game on a .600 true shooting percentage.
Though his backcourt partner Kyle Lowry struggled, All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan was his consistent best as he continued to score effortlessly (25 points per game on a .566 true shooting percentage), while also contributing 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes per game. Perhaps it is also worth noting that DeRozan by himself nearly outscores Lowry and Serge Ibaka—Toronto’s second- and third-leading scorers—323 total points to the duo’s 333 points through 13 games.
Believe it or not, the Thunder has four legit All-Star candidates if you add center Steven Adams to the Big 3 mix of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. That said, Westbrook is the only sure thing to make the squad, with former East All-Stars George and Anthony finding out first-hand just how competitive West All-Star politics can be. And even though OKC ranks second in defensive efficiency, we all know that All-Star voters could care less about D.
4. San Antonio Spurs
With Kawhi Leonard likely out for October and November, LaMarcus Aldridge has put the Spurs on his back and led squad like the five-time All-Star he is. Aldridge is averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds in 33 minutes per game on a career-best .565 true shooting percentage. His efficiency secret? L.A. is shooting fewer long 2s; shooting twice as many efficient 3s. Twenty-first Century basketball isn’t exactly rocket science, now is it?
3. Boston Celtics
Though defense is Boston’s calling card (the C’s rank first in defensive efficiency), their two locks for All-Star spots will probably go to the team’s vets and leading scorers, four-time All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. The team’s new point guard is averaging 21 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes per game on a .540 true shooting percentage. The Celtics’ second-year center is averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in 32 minutes per game on a .679 true shooting percentage.
With nine-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul missing all games since October 17 until returning November 16, Houston has emerged as the West’s second-best team thanks to five-time All-Star James Harden and two other Rockets who deserve serious All-Star Game consideration: guard Eric Gordon and center Clint Capela. Gordon is averaging 22 points in 33 minutes per game on a .582 true shooting percentage, while Capela is posting 13 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in 26 minutes per game on a .708 true shooting percentage. Harden’s spot, however, is certain to be a lock, with the Houston combo guard averaging 31 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes per game on a .611 true shooting percentage.
1. Golden State Warriors
This might be the year Draymond Green and/or Klay Thompson do not make their customary spots on the upcoming All-Star team. It’s possible the fans/media/coaches/players decide to spread the wealth out to the remaining West contenders, rather than load the 2017 and 2015 NBA champion Warriors with four All-Stars again, as they did at the 2017 Game. The Defensive Player of the Year Green is averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds and 7assists in 30 minutes per game on a .645 true shooting percentage, while perennial All-Defense guard Thompson is averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 33 minutes per game on a .630 true shooting percentage. MVP candidates Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, meanwhile, are certain to be All-Star locks with the point guard averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals in 32 minutes per game on a .656 true shooting percentage, while the small forward is averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks in 34 minutes per game on a .659 true shooting percentage.