Last season a new era arrived at the NBA All-Star game, with 10 players selected for the first time in their careers – the most since 2002. Fresh faces like Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum and Trae Young earned a jersey in Chicago and another group of rising stars will have their sights set on a callup in early March. It’s hard to envision another 10 new All-Star’s being picked with such a talent-rich pool to choose from, although these players deserve to be in the conversation after their captivating seasons so far.
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Jaylen Brown, Celtics
Book it, Jaylen Brown will be an All-Star this season providing he stays on the court. Boston has raced out to one of the best records in the league, with Brown taking the necessary step in development to emerge as a star partner for walking bucket Jayson Tatum. With Tatum out the last three games, Brown has helped pick up the slack, bumping his scoring average up to 25.8 points with career-high shooting percentages and defensive stats. The Celtics will win enough games to deserve two All-Stars by the time the break rolls around, only further strengthening Brown’s case.
Collin Sexton, Cavaliers
All personal bias aside, Collin Sexton has been one of the best scorers in the early portion of the season, returning from an ankle injury to upset Brooklyn with 42 points last time out. Sexton’s 27.0 PPG now ranks 8th in the league for scoring average with Cleveland’s rising star scoring over 20 in 14 straight contests dating back to last season. It’s unlikely that he’ll beat out some of the East’s more established guards for an All-Star gig, with Sexton’s absurd shooting numbers expected to dip as well (53.4 FG%, 50.0 3P%). Either way, with the Cavs sitting at .500 Sexton is turning plenty of heads with his play.
Ja Morant, Grizzlies
The only hindrance for Morant’s All-Star campaign is that fact he missed eight straight contests with an ankle injury. Excluding his injury affected game, the sophomore from Memphis has put up 26.5 PPG & 8.0 APG to build on his impressive rookie campaign. Some were making the case for Ja to be an All-Star last season and the young Grizzly is certainly playing like one of the league’s premier talents. The race for the final few spots on the West list is always tight at the guard spot, but Morant’s production warrants him a place on the roster.
Christian Wood, Rockets
You could be forgiven for not knowing a lot about Christian Wood before this season, with the new Rocket bouncing between the NBA and the G-League since going undrafted in 2015. Following an Andre Drummond trade last season, Wood made the most of his 12 starts with Detroit – averaging 21.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG in those games. Fast forward to the present and Wood is producing near identical averages in Houston, emerging as the frontrunner for the Most Improved Award. Wood won’t get the same silver service that James Harden supplied before his exit to Brooklyn, but that shouldn’t slow his chances of a first-time appearance.
Jerami Grant, Pistons
I’ll admit I was one of the people who scoffed at Jerami Grant when he said he wanted to leave the Nuggets for Detroit to seek out a “bigger role”. You could hardly be blamed for thinking that way given Grant’s best season came when he averaged just 13.6 PPG for OKC back in 2019, however, the Pistons’ big offseason acquisition is living up to the hype through 14 games. Grant has more than doubled his scoring average from a year ago, up to 25.4 PPG ahead of players like Trae Young, Paul George and LeBron James. Should he can keep this pace up, Grant will own the highest PPG average for a Piston since Jerry Stackhouse put up 29.8 points a night back in 2000-01.
Zach LaVine, Bulls
Bulls faithful had their fingers crossed that Zach LaVine would have broken through for an All-Star appearance last season when they played host for the annual event. As we all know, that wasn’t the case but LaVine is doing his best to rectify that this season by posting career-best numbers across the board. Incredible box scores such as his 45-point night with 10 made 3’s against the Clippers will help, but the scoring sensation may fall victim to Chicago’s poor record once again. There is a logjam in the East for teams hovering around the middle and a Bulls winning streak to boost them into the playoff picture would be handy fuel to LaVine’s All-Star fire.
Julius Randle, Knicks
If the playoffs started today the Knicks would be the 8th seed out East, a feat that none of us would have predicted New York could accomplish. Part of that can be attributed to Tom Thibodeau stepping in as head coach, but Julius Randle has done the heavy lifting on the court. Having battled his fair share of injury woes in the past Randle is using a clean bill of health to post 22.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG & 6.1 APG – joining Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic as the only three players averaging 22/11/6 this season. He’s worthy of a spot on an All-Star roster, but he’s got his work cut out for him to dethrone the likes of Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic for a gig.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Sacramento’s record isn’t where they’d like it to be, but their offseason investment in De’Aaaron Fox is paying dividends. With a five-year, $163M extension in his back pocket, Fox has taken his game to another level and reaffirming his status as the cornerstone for the Kings’ future. His per-game numbers don’t jump off the page after some inconsistent games, which makes it that much harder for Fox to crack the rotation in a stacked West backcourt. Unless Sacramento can go on a tear to prove he demands a spot on the roster, it’s hard to get behind Fox’s chances in 2021. His time is coming though.
Zion Willaimson, Pelicans
Purely based on his highlight potential, Zion Williamson should vie for the most fans votes this season, along with the rest of the NBA’s mainstream superstars. LeBron James has claimed the most votes in each of the last four years, but Zion has featured in 12 of the 13 Pelicans games so far, giving more fans more opportunity to watch him in action. Of the 41 players averaging at least 20 PPG right now, Zion has by far the best shooting percentage of the lot with his 59.1 FG% fuelled by shots in the paint and of course above the rim. If he doesn’t get in on popularity alone, expect the coaches to still grant Williamson with an All-Star berth.
Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers
With every game that passes, Milwaukee’s decision to let Malcolm Brogdon walk looks worse and worse. In his second year with the Pacers, Brogdon has continued to build a lethal one-two punch with Domantas Sabonis, now averaging 22.5 PPG & 7.1 APG as Indiana’s lead guard. Victor Oladipo’s departure only opens up more opportunity for Brogdon to have the ball in his hands, although I still view his sidekick in Sabonis as their go-to guy and the more integral part of Indiana’s success. It doesn’t mean Brogdon should give up hope, but the scheduled hosts for the event will likely only have one All-Star this season.