Most teams have only played about 15 games each, but the race to be All-Stars is already on. Every year there are players we know will make the All-Star team barring injury. For example, LeBron James in the Western Conference and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference. The exciting part is the players who make the All-Star team for the first time. This year in the Eastern Conference I have identified seven players who have a chance to make their first All-Star team. It will be hard, and there is no way all seven of them make it, unfortunately. Before I get into the newcomers, let’s identify the locks.
All these players should make it barring injury. That is eight players, so only four spots left. There are also past All-Stars, who have made it in the past and still have a chance to make it this year.
Past All-Stars with a chance
Potential First-Time All-Stars
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has unlocked a giant in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are dominating on both ends of the floor. New additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova have been huge. Khris Middleton though is the returning player, who has benefited the most from the arrival of Budenholzer. He has never been better and so far this season is averaging 19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game on 45.7 percent shooting from the field, an absurd 45.2 percent shooting from three-point land and 90.0 percent from the foul line. This has added up to a career-high 62.1 true shooting percentage and 18.6 assist ratio, per NBA.com.
Budenholzer has put the ball in Middleton’s hands more this year, and he has delivered. In pick-and-rolls, Middleton ranks in the 96th percentile and in isolation he ranks in the 100th percentile, per Synergy Sports Technology. He is taking 7.5 threes per game, and with the way he has been shooting, he has become borderline unstoppable. Trap Middleton, and he has become a good enough passer, oh and they have some guy named Giannis. Middleton is having a career season on a team that will win a lot of games; I think he makes it.
A lot of people including me rolled their eyes at the large contract Zach LaVine signed this summer with the Chicago Bulls, but he is making us eat our words. LaVine has been balling this season averaging 25.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on 44.1 percent shooting from the field, 31.9 percent from three and 86.7 percent from the line. Add it up, and LaVine is having a career season by far and has a 56.1 true shooting percentage.
LaVine is carrying the Bulls’ offense, he has the highest usage mark in the league (per Basketball Reference), and his passing is improved this season. His most significant improvement this year has been his ability to get to the free throw line at a career-best rate. That skill is necessary because the rest of his scoring hasn’t been that efficient it has been more about volume. Defensively he is still bad, but that rarely matters when it comes to All-Star voting. The more concerning issue is he is on a terrible team. Still, it is hard to ignore nearly 26.0 points per game, so I think he makes it.
Very quietly Nikola Vucevic has been lights out for the frisky Orlando Magic. Last year he had a hot start as well, but this year he has been even better and more consistent. This year he is averaging 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from three and 78.4 percent from the line for a 59.4 true shooting percentage, which is a career-high. Vucevic is also averaging a career-high 16.4 assist ratio and 25.0 PER. He is one of the best passing big men in the game, can score from anywhere on the floor, is a great rebounder and gets steals and blocks at an above average rate. That is one heck of a player.
Even though he gets blocks and steals, he is still not a great defender. He also doesn’t get a lot of attention in Orlando, but the Magic have been a little better this season. I think Vucevic has been the second-best center in the East this year, but I think he has only a 50/50 shot of making it.
Before the season Ben Simmons seamed like a lock to make it. This year he has been good, but not the same dominant force he was down the stretch of last season. Joel Embiid has taken some of the spotlight, Simmons has had to adjust to Markelle Fultz, and now he will have to adjust to Jimmy Butler. All of this has taken a bit of a toll on Simmons.
Simmons has still been good, and will likely improve as the season goes on. So far this season, Simmons is averaging 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game on 53.4 percent shooting, a slightly improved 62.5 percent from the line and a 56.3 true shooting percentage.
Simmons also had back issues this season, and it has affected him. Defensively he hasn’t been the same force, and in transition, he isn’t finishing with the same ferocity as last season. Turnovers remain a problem. His rebounding has remained awesome, and his passing is elite. He makes passes that only LeBron and maybe James Harden can make. There is a lot to like; he just hasn’t taken the huge jump we thought he would make. He still can as there is a lot of time between now and when they pick the All-Stars, but right now I think he is out.
The Miami Heat have gotten off to a poor start but don’t blame Josh Richardson. Richardson is having a career season and at times has been ridiculously hot. This season he is averaging 20.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists on 42.4 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three and 87.0 percent from the line. Yes, his three-point percentage is higher than his field goal percentage, something you don’t see a lot.
Richardson’s improvements have come in many forms. First, his passing has never been better; he is in the 77th percentile for assist ratio. Second and mainly is the 42.6 percent shooting from deep on 6.7 attempts per game. The Heat were hoping he would become a solid shooter; he has become an elite one. He is due for a bit of a drop-off, but man this is an impressive start. The problem is he still can’t finish at the rim, ranking in the 5th percentile.
The Heat are putting more on his plate this season, and he is responding. He has excelled not in only in spotting up, but in handoffs, running pick-and-rolls and has improved in transition. Defensively he has not been as ferocious, probably because he is carrying a larger offensive load, and the Heat often gives him the toughest matchup. He fouls too much and is a poor rebounder, but remains a shot block expert for a guard. Miami will likely hover around .500, and Richardson has been their best player, he has an excellent shot to get in.
I said Richardson had been the Heat’s best player, but Hassan Whiteside has been pretty darn good as well. Last year it looked like Whiteside was done, but he has come back with a vengeance this season. This year he is averaging 13.9 points, 14.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and is shooting 52.3 percent from the field and is even hitting a few threes. His rebounding has never been better.
He still doesn’t pass at all and his free throws are still bad, but he is playing with more tenacity this season. In pick-and-rolls, he is finishing at the rim at a high rate, dunking everything in site. Defensively he has been the best rebounder and shot blocker in the league. He can still be exposed in pick-and-roll defense, though.
Whiteside has performances that can be dominating, but the thing with him has always been consistency. This year he has been more consistent, but still not at the level you would like. Foul trouble is still a part of that. It has been an excellent bounce-back season for Whiteside, and he should be in the discussion, but I think he is on the outside looking in.
Jayson Tatum, like Simmons, was the player that most people thought had the best chance to make his first All-Star team. Also, like Simmons, Tatum hasn’t taken the jump we expected. Tatum is averaging 15.9 points and 2.4 assists on 40.9 percent shooting, 40.0 percent from three and 90.0 percent from the line. He has a 53.6 true shooting percentage, and his passing has been better this year with a 12.3 assist ratio, per NBA.com. His efficiency has dropped, especially from mid-range where he is struggling mightily despite still taking a lot of mid-range jumpers. He is not getting to the line enough, either.
Tatum’s shot selection has not been great, especially in isolation. He is still a good three-point shooter and has fared well in spot-ups. Defensively he has been alright, but nothing special. Again, there is still time for Tatum to get it together, but right now he wouldn’t make it, and I don’t think when the time comes he makes it, either.
G- Kyle Lowry
G- Victor Oladipo
F- Blake Griffin
F- Giannis Antetokunmpo
C- Joel Embiid
G- Kemba Walker
G- Kyrie Irving
F- Kawhi Leonard
F- Kris Middleton
C- Nikola Vucevic