We are two months away from the NBA All-Star game and it is time to count down the ten most likely players to pop their All-Star cherries.
10. Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons have deflated since their incredible ten and three starts, with their record now standing at 14-12, sixth in the Eastern Conference, and currently facing a brutal six-game losing streak. But nevertheless, the Pistons will likely be a playoff team, as FiveThirtyEight currently has them ending the season at 42-40, and their SRS is currently sitting at a tenth in the league 1.68.
Usually playoff teams, especially in the less star-studded East, see themselves as an All-Star. This leaves the Pistons two options: Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond.
Out of the two, Drummond does have the slightly better case. His real plus-minus is currently 3.76, while Harris’s is 2.13, and with the two being front courters, Harris won’t get the leg up there either.
However, Harris does still have a case, as the team’s leading scorer. He has turned himself into a serious offensive threat, racking up an eleventh in the league 45.4% mark from three-point land, an 88th percentile 1.17 points per possession on isolation, a 98th percentile 1.27 points per possession handling in the pick and roll and an 87th percentile 1.22 points per possession on spot ups. You heard me right. This year, he is doing better than Kevin Durant, handling better than James Harden in the pick and roll and spotting up better than Klay Thompson.
If Harris’s season is not recognized in Los Angeles, at the very least it should be recognized in this article.
9. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
We just went from talking about a former Buck and current Piston turning himself from good to great, so now let’s talk about a former Piston and current Buck turning himself from good to great: Khris Middleton.
With the Milwaukee Bucks posting a fourth in the East 14-10 and FiveThirtyEight predicting them to have a 46-36 record by the end of the season, it is not out of the question for the team to have two All-Stars. And that second All-Star should definitely be Khris Middleton. Sorry, Eric Bledsoe.
Khris Middleton is currently posting a career-high 20.1 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game on a career-high 52.5% from two and 58.4% true shooting. His mid-range shooting has been wetter than the Pacific Ocean, shooting an incredible 54.7%. In other words, he is making the mid-range shot efficient, something that is near impossible. And though starting slowly from three, shooting 26.3% in his team’s first twelve games, he has heated up since then, shooting 47.1% from around the arc in his last 13. He has also developed into a very good tertiary ball handler, with a 91st percentile 1.06 points per possession in the pick and roll.
The problem with Middleton’s case is that not only would he be the Bucks second choice All-Star, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being the first, but because he has racked up 99% of his minutes at the forward spots, according to Basketball-Reference. And with front courters like Al Horford, LeBron James, Kevin Love, his teammate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Drummond, and other players on this list also having great cases, it will be hard for Middleton to squeeze in there.
8. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
If you were to ask me in mid-November who the Minnesota Timberwolves’ best player is, I would have definitely said KAT. He was putting up numbers like 21.5/11.6 on 54.5% from the field and 38% from three. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler was averaging just 15.3/5/4.8 on terrible 39.7% from the field and 29.6% from three. It looked like Butler hadn’t yet integrated into the Wolves offense, and he seemed to have willingly given away first option duties to KAT.
But since then, things have changed. In the team’s last 13 games, Butler has averaged 22.5/6/4.8 on 49.8% from the field and 39.6% from three. Meanwhile, KAT has put up 18.6/11.6 on 51.4% from the field and 36.4% from three. Impressive for 99% of NBA players, but not for KAT. KAT’s RPM is 1.26, to Butler’s 4.03 and now, most would say that Butler has come out as the team’s first option.
However, this in no way eliminates Towns from the All-Star conversation, but simply reduces his chances. Averaging 20.6/11.6 is still very good, and playing for the Wolves, a probable playoff team should help too. But in the loaded Western Conference, his All-Star chances are not as great as they once were.
7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
If this were a list entitled “The Ten Best Non-All-Stars in the League,” Joel Embiid would definitely be higher on this list. But being that the title is about “the Ten Most Likely First Time All-Stars,” Embiid is a bit lower.
This is because currently, the Philadelphia 76ers’ record is just 13-13, and therefore come All-Star break, the team will likely get just one All-Star. And out of the 76ers’ two possible choices of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (sorry Robert Covington), Simmons seems like the more likely option.
Though Embiid’s RPM is higher by about .27, due to Embiid’s 266 less minutes, Simmons has actually been the team’s most valuable player. Outside of that, Embiid’s aforementioned competition in the frontcourt, is a lot harder than Simmons’s competition in the backcourt, with there being just two locks in Kyrie Irving and a Raptor, whether it be DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry, and other players like the other Raptor, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker having weaker cases than him.
6. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Before I get into my case, let’s do some trivia. How many centers in NBA history have put 15/10/4, while shooting 40% from three-point land and 55% from two-point land in one season? One. And who is that one player? Nikola Jokic.
Jokic does everything any could ask him as a hilariously unathletic almost seven-footer. He can shoot the three, is an elite playmaker and can post up anyone. He is the undeniable best player on the 14-12 Denver Nuggets, a team projected to have a 45-37 record by the end of the season and is a top three offensive center.
However, being that Jokic’s team is good, but not great, he could have a bit of trouble sneaking into the All-Star game, needing to fight through a competition like Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and other Western conference front courters on this list.
5. Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
Clint Capela’s case is not purely based on per game numbers, as if that were the case, both other Western Conference centers on this list, in Towns and Jokic would definitely be ahead of him. Capela’s case is simple: the twenty and four Houston Rockets deserve to have a second All-Star. And with Capela averaging 13.1/11.2 on 66% shooting from the field with a 1.62 RPM, Capela has definitely been the second most valuable player on the Houston Rockets, with Paul playing just ten games and having a career low usage percentage.
Is Capela a top twelve player in the West? Definitely no, but the All-Star game has never really been about being one of the twelve best. The reality is, there have only been 13 teams to match the Rockets in terms of net-rating and record through 24 games of the season and twelve of which have had two All-Stars, Capela could definitely be the 13th.
4. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Since the league’s expansion to thirty teams in 2004-2005, only one rookie has made the All-Star team. That rookie was Blake Griffin, who sat out what would have been his rookie year, with a broken left kneecap. Ben Simmons, who also happened to sit out a year with a broken foot, could be the second.
In terms of RPM Wins, Simmons is seventh among point guards, and is putting up a crazy 18/9.2/7.7 on 50.7% from the field. For reference, only four other players in NBA history have put up 17/9/7 on 50% shooting, and those were Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
His defense has also been better than expected, with opponents shooting 4.4% on his defense.
The Philadelphia 76ers will surely get an All-Star, and being that Simmons is edging out Embiid in minutes, and plays in the weaker backcourt, the Sixers All-Star spot.
3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Before the season, if you were to ask me to rank Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns, I would put Towns first, Jokic second and Porzingis third. Easily. Jokic and Towns were far better offensive players, and seemed to be more polished. However, through about a third of the season, it seems like Porzingis has overtaken Towns. He is averaging 25.5 points per game, on a true shooting percentage of 56.5%, which could be higher, if the team’s best playmaker was not Jarrett Jack. Furthermore, Porzingis has turned himself into one of the best rim protectors in the league, with offenders shooting 40.5% on his rim protection.
And for once, it seems that the Knicks have put together a decent team. Their record is 13-13 right now, and the team is putting up a positive SRS. If they stay near the playoff picture when voting comes around, the Unicorn should be able to turn Pegasus, and fly to LA for All-Star Break.
2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Last year, Bradley Beal was practically sniffing the Cajun food in New Orleans. He had a pretty good case as a reserve, playing for the Washington Wizards, who were 34-21 by All-Star break, and averaging a solid 22.2 points per game on very solid 59.8% true shooting. But come coach voting, Beal lost out on a guard spot to Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker and teammate John Wall. Then, when Kevin Love got injured, there was hope for Beal to make the game as a replacement, but unfortunately, Adam Silver replaced Love with Carmelo Anthony, likely to sell jerseys.
However, this year almost nothing is getting in the way of Beal’s All-Stardom. As mentioned before, the Eastern guard race has gotten less competitive, and with Wall being out for ten games, Beal has edged him out as the team’s most likely All-Star. Beal has been killing it for the Wizards, with 23.8 points per game and a 1.87 RPM. He has also proved to be a very good pick and roll ball handler, scoring 1.01 points per possession, putting him in the 87th percentile.
The Wizards are also predicted to have a solid 46-36 record, and are currently 14-12, with a tenth in the league 1.9 net-rating and ninth in the league 1.71 SRS. If the Wizards stay this good until the All-Star break, Beal should surely make the team.
1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers, a team FiveThirtyEight predicted to have a 32-50 record with a 28% chance at making the playoffs at the beginning of the season is now predicted to have a 45-37 record with an 83% chance at making the playoffs. What changed? Victor Oladipo.
The man who last year was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s closest thing to a second option, has turned himself into the best shooting guard in the league, outside of James Harden.
Don’t believe me? Let’s check the stats.
This year, Victor Oladipo is second in the league among shooting guards (counting Harden) in RPM. Second in the league among shooting guards in points per game. Fourth among starting shooting guard in defended field goal differential. Third among starting shooting guards in isolation points per possession, for those doing more than once a game. Fourth among those required players in pick and roll ball handling points per possessions and fifth among starting shooting guards in three-point percentage. Pretty much, everything that shooting guards are supposed to do, Oladipo does better than most. All while leading his team to the playoffs.
No first timer has a better chance of being an All-Star than Victor Oladipo, who has been a top five player in the East this year.