This season, the NBA All-Star Game is likely to see some new faces, and we’re here to play Nostradamus and predict them.
Being picked as an All-Star is a big achievement. Typically, the players selected to compete are some of the most talented the NBA has, but the voting process also makes it a popularity contest. All of the league’s biggest names get voted because they’re (a.) superstars who play the game at an incredible level and (b.) superstars who are also iconic.
Also Read: The Issue With Composite NBA Player Rankings
Some of that star power overshadows players who are better but not as known. And each year features a handful of snubs. In 2017, Damian Lillard didn’t make the team despite putting up numbers that were worthy of an appearance. On the East Coast, Carmelo Anthony took the spot of an injured Kevin Love, and there were a couple of guys were just as if not more deserving than Anthony, whose name alone carries tremendous weight.
The four guys listed below are in the position to breakout. Each conference features two players, one backcourt and one frontcourt, but there are more than four guys who will be jockeying for votes. I picked this group because they made a strong case last season, and that’s a great foundation going forward.
East Backcourt – Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
- 2016-17 Stats: 23.1 points, 3.5 assists, 60.4 True Shooting Percentage
We finally got an explosion from Bradley Beal. In July of 2016, Beal inked a massive $127 million extension, and there were more than a few people who felt he was undeserving, and rightfully so. Up until last year, Beal was injury prone and had maintained roughly the same level of production for three years. With a player his age, it was obscure. Then, in year five, it all clicked.
When I mentioned Anthony’s All-Star selection, Beal was one of the guys who I felt got a raw deal. He averaged more points than Melo and was a much more reliable scorer despite being lower usage and playing almost the same minutes. Also, the Wizards were a better team. But that’s an ambiguous part of the voting.
Beal demolished his previous scoring benchmark (17.4) and did so with an overall efficiency that caused whiplash. He retained his marksmanship from three (40.4 percent), but expanded and became a surprisingly effective three-level scorer, which turned the Wizards into one of the NBA’s newest beasts. The only change I see with Beal is how heavily Washington leans on him.
John Wall was the lone teammate to average more nightly shot attempts. Since Washington hasn’t done much this offseason, another career-year from Beal would be huge in helping them get over the hump, and he could very well be a 25-point a night guy for them.
East Frontcourt – Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
- 2016-17 Stats: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 25.4 minutes
I might be a closet Joel Embiid stan. It took a lot for me to vote for Malcolm Brogdon as the Rookie of the Year, despite injuries limiting Embiid to 31 games. Don’t get me wrong — Brogdon was stellar, but Embiid was on another level. He could’ve been an All-Star last season, but his lack of playing time came back to haunt him.
The numbers were ridiculous for someone with various restrictions. Furthermore, he’s a social butterfly with charisma that makes you light up every time he tweets. That garners an influx of fan votes, especially millennials, who haven’t yet killed the All-Star Game.
He could’ve replaced Paul Millsap (or Anthony), whose numbers were a bit lesser. However, I see why someone would pass on the rookie center. Last season, Millsap remained one of the more underrated players in the NBA. He put up 18.1 points, 7.7 boards and 3.7 assists, and he was the piece between the Atlanta Hawks making the playoffs and them rebuilding. Embiid was the better offensive player and also showed potential on defense, but Millsap was more well-rounded and was able to stay on the floor longer.
If I had to guess, durability was the sticking point. Now, Millsap is in the Western Conference. That frees up a roster spot, and we expect another huge year from Embiid. He’ll be the go-to guy for the Sixers yet again, and he by himself makes them League Pass worthy. That usage is going to translate to numbers, and Philly will be much improved as a team. If that happens, we’ll see Joel Embiid in the first of many All-Star Games.
West Backcourt – C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
- 2016-17 Stats: 23.0 points, 3.6 assists, 58.5 True Shooting Percentage
C.J. McCollum has come a long way. In his fourth year, he erupted, transforming into one of the NBA’s most crafty scorers, and that’s the polar opposite of what we saw over his first two seasons.
There are few skills McCollum hasn’t polished. He’s a sniper who can create off the dribble and is arguably the best mid-range shooter in the league. On top of that, McCollum gets to the line where he’s nearly automatic, and his 91.2 percent clip was tops in the NBA. He and Damian Lillard combined to make one of the most explosive backcourts in basketball, and you can make the argument that no two guards get buckets better than they do. With C.J., the talent pool is to blame for his lack of acknowledgment.
The guard positions are deep. That’s why I wouldn’t consider McCollum a snub from last year’s game. He’s not even the best player on his team, and it’s asking a lot to outperform guys like Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who have all had historic seasons in various ways. If he were to take anyone’s spot, it’d be Klay Thompson’s. And that’s a possibility because Kevin Durant is still a Warrior. Klay has plateaued over the last couple of years, and his numbers won’t improve much with Durant taking a majority of the shots. There’s also the difference in their game: C.J. McCollum is a more dynamic scorer than Klay, who’s more efficient.
If I’m watching an All-Star Game, I’d rather see C.J. because he’s more entertaining to watch. It’s simple as that. That may be narrow-minded, but, after all, we’re talking about an exhibition game.
West Frontcourt – Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
- 2016-17 Stats: 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks
Earlier this year, I wrote about how Towns’ sophomore season was Hall of Fame-level. Simply put — he became one of the NBA’s best centers while barely being old enough to drink. Town abused defenses on a nightly basis with an offensive repertoire that no one knew he had, and the only thing that stopped him from being the best at his position was his defense.
Five power forwards and centers got picked for the 2017 All-Star Game: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins. None of them averaged 25 points and 12 boards. Davis, Green and Cousins were the only locks. Towns should’ve been an All-Star last season over Gasol and Jordan, but, then again, both the Grizzlies and Clippers were better than Minnesota. (Sometimes winning matters, other times it doesn’t.)
The Timberwolves went out and added Jimmy Butler, so I don’t expect Towns to take another stratospheric leap. I do, however, see him maintaining these averages while returning to form on the defensive end. If it plays out that way, Towns will be an NBA All-Star. Guys who average 25 and 12 don’t come along often, and being an elite rim protector would make that player the ideal center. Karl-Anthony Towns is 67 percent of the way there.
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