With the new year upon us, we are approaching that time of the season when players and teams are beginning to find their rhythm. There have already been some startling developments (specifically, out of Boston) going back to the offseason. Trades and injuries aside, there have also been some new storylines that have captured our attention. One being the changes made to the All-Star game.
Come February, millions of fans will be drawn to the new format of the All-Star game. Some will complain about it. Others will assuredly applaud its refreshingly unique qualities.
The new rules are as follows:
- The player who receives the most votes in each conference will be a team captain.
- Team captains will select their teams from the pool of 22 players selected by both the fans and the coaches representing each conference.
- What will be the same: fans select 10 starters; coaches select 14 reserves.
Given the likelihood that we will see at least half of last year’s All-Stars return, the field becomes more narrow as we begin to predict who will fill in the remaining spots. Some of the most talented players in the NBA are under the age of 26 years old. There are those among that group who have yet to be selected for their first All-Star game.
Here is the list of 8 players who deserve an opportunity to play in their first All-Star game this year.
Bradley Beal - 23.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.6 APG
Beal has elevated his game to new heights these past two seasons. He seems to compete at an even higher level during the postseason. When his team needed him at his best, last season against the Celtics, in a series that went the full seven games, he rose to the occasion and answered their call for help, scoring 33 and 38 points, shooting a combined 27 out of 48 from the field, in games 6 and 7. Beal and the Wizards, led by teammate John Wall, have advanced past the first round of the playoffs each of the last three years. Over the course of those 34 postseason games, Beal has averaged 22.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 3.9 apg.
This season, Beal is averaging career highs in points, shot attempts, free throw attempts, rebounds, assists, and steals. Beal is already a seasoned veteran at the age of 24.
Devin Booker - 25 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.3 APG
If it is not enough that the guy averaged a higher number of points per game (22) than his age (20), last season, he also managed to score 70 points in a single game against the Boston Celtics, while on the road. Booker was 24 of 26 from the free throw line in that game.
Devin Booker continues to exceed expectations. He is averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category, except for one: minutes per game. Think about that for a moment.
Although the Suns do not seem to be competing for a playoff spot, at this point, the team’s chances of winning seems to improve by about 10%, when Booker is in the lineup, as evidenced by his team’s 3 wins and 7 losses when he has had to sit out.
To put things into perspective, remember, Devin Booker was not even old enough to legally purchase alcohol at the start of the season.
Joel Embiid - 23.8 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.5 APG
The 23-year-old Embiid has already competed in almost as many games as he played in last season as a rookie. His numbers have improved across the board, with one glaring exception: his three-point shooting percentage. So far, he has shot under 30% for the season. He is averaging about three attempts per game. Just slightly less than his average last season, when he was converting about 37% of his three-point shot attempts. In all fairness, he did start out the season 0 for 10, over his first two games. He has since gone on to make about 1 out of 3 of his shot attempts from long distance.
Otherwise, he is having a phenomenal year; and he is helping the Sixers compete for a playoff spot.
Nikola Jokic - 16.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.6 APG
The Nuggets have already won half as many games as they won all last year (40). At 22 years old, Jokic is proving to be perhaps a transcendent talent. He is one of the best passers in the game. It is a unique gift to find anyone in this league who will pass the ball with the kind of flair, excitement, and spontaneity displayed by Jokic, especially a big man. Although second in scoring, he leads his team in both rebounding and assists. His true shooting percentage is 61%.
Last season he finished the season ranked 9th in win shares per 48 minutes. This season he is ranked 9th in the same category. The Nuggets are one of eight teams in the NBA to average at least 108 points per game. He is the centerpiece of his team’s offense and the engine that makes them run.
Victor Oladipo - 25 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4 APG
The oldest player on this list, at 25, Victor Oladipo averages nearly twice as many points per game as his team’s second-leading scorer. When healthy, Oladipo is leading the Pacers to wins in 60% of their games. Without his help, they are 0-6.
He is shooting nearly 49% from the field, and just over 42% from 3-point range on 6.5 attempts per game. The 6’4” guard is also averaging 1.8 spg and 1 bpg. While he has more than doubled his free attempts per game, he has also increased his scoring by nearly ten points per game.
His advanced metrics are off the charts. His efficiency rating is one of the best in the league at 23.8. His true shooting percentage is continuously hovering at around 60%, even though he is only connecting on 79% of his free throw attempts. His late-game heroics and leadership qualities have helped turn the Pacers into a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the East.
Kristaps Porzingis - 23.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.2 BPG
With the departure of Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis has been able to find his groove and assert himself as one of the league’s most lethal forces on the offensive end. Through his team’s first 18 games, this season, he was averaging 27.3 ppg and 7.2 rpg, while shooting 47% (20.5 fga), 40% (5.1 3pa), and 84% (7.2 fta). His team won 10 games over that span. Just as a comparison, his team won 31 games all last season.
His numbers have slipped quite a bit during the month of December. But, for a five-week span to start the season, we did see what appeared to be a ‘Unicorn’ sighting…
His usage percentage this season is at 33%. That is a higher number than LeBron James’ current season percentage (31%) and his career percentage of 31.5%.
Ben Simmons - 16.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 7.4 APG
21-year-old rookie sensation Ben Simmons, listed at 6’10”, weighing approximately 240 lbs, with a 7-ft wingspan, possesses the unique blend of height, length, speed, vision, and finesse. Those attributes allow for him to play the point guard position masterfully well, with precision and grace.
His numbers would indicate that he is comparable to a young Magic Johnson. The way he runs the floor reminds me more of a young Jason Kidd. Either way, you cannot go wrong with comparisons like those.
His length and athleticism allow him to control the tempo of the game on both ends. Playing alongside Embiid, he is able to attack players at both ends of the floor. Their aggressive defense gives them opportunities to force turnovers and quickly turn those plays into scoring opportunities at the other end of the court. Simmons runs the floor exceptionally, and wreaks havoc on opposing defenses, creating many match-up problems.
His only weakness appears to be his free throw shooting, a paltry 55%. If he can overcome these struggles early on in his career, this Australian-born talent seems destined for a bright future.
Karl-Anthony Towns - 20 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2 APG
Now that he is surrounded by All-Star talent, Karl-Anthony Towns will have an opportunity to display his talents during the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team loaded with talent. They seem poised to challenge these other Western Conference super-teams for at least the next few years.
At 22 years old, Towns’ ceiling may be higher than anyone else’s in the NBA. His rebounding numbers are comparable to a young Tim Duncan’s. He has soft hands, and an ability to shoot the ball up to four times per game from three-point range, connecting on 40% of those shots. There are only a handful of players throughout history who have possessed those combinations of abilities within a 7-foot tall frame.
He has had some difficulty matching up with some of the other top centers in the NBA. I would not worry too much about that. He will undoubtedly continue to show improvement.
The future of the NBA looks bright with all these burgeoning young stars.