All-Star appearances are often used as a way to partially define legacies, with players who rack up the distinction being rated highly in the minds of NBA aficionados. And although that is far from the best way to define someone’s career, All-Star berths do tell us a lot about which players are considered to be the most impactful (or, sometimes, popular) on any given year.
This season, various up-and-coming stars have the chance to make their first appearances in the prestigious exhibition; in fact, a few of them came quite close last year.
The first returns of All-Star fan voting came in today, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way for the East and a player coming up at the top of this ranking coming in first for the West.
Below, we rank the 12 NBA players who have the best opportunity to make their first All-Star Game this season.
12. MALCOLM BROGDON
Not only did Malcolm Brogdon have to overcome the transition to a new team, he’s had to take over the role of a primary playmaker for the first time in his career as well, with Victor Oladipo still not back from injury.
And despite all that, Brogdon is still having his best NBA season.
The Virginia product is averaging 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 2019-20 on 45.2/33.3/93.3 shooting splits; he’s one of just nine players putting up an 18/4/7 stat line this year, with names like LeBron James and James Harden joining him on the list.
Additionally, Brogdon’s impact has been far from empty, as the Pacers have been one of this season’s pleasant surprises at 21-12 through 33 games, which puts them sixth in the East.
Indiana took a risk offering Brogdon such a rich contract despite him having experience mostly as a secondary, or even tertiary, up until this season. Thus far, however, it’s worked out wonderfully for both parties.
11. DOMANTAS SABONIS
Brogdon’s pick-and-roll partner in Indiana, Domantas Sabonis, also has a solid shot of making his first All-Star roster this season.
The 23-year-old has improved every single year since reaching the NBA, and 2019-20 has been no different, as Sabonis is averaging a career-best 17.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest.
Sabonis ranks fourth league-wide in nightly rebounds and fourth among centers in nightly assists, proving what a well-rounded big man he’s become. Those numbers and the effect they’re having on the Pacers’ strong season could be enough to push Sabonis towards his first All-Star berth, though the East’s depth in the frontcourt positions could have something to say about that.
Even so, the legendary Arvydas’ son is making a strong case for himself.
10. BRANDON INGRAM
For years, we’ve waited to see Brandon Ingram start to reach the huge ceiling that many forecast he had when he was just an NBA prospect. Well, this season, we’re starting to see what a fully functional Ingram looks like and, we must say, it’s pretty scary.
Ingram has been nothing short of spectacular in his first campaign as a New Orleans Pelican, with averages of 25.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists to his name, but perhaps even more impressive than that is the fact that after shooting just 32.9 percent from three over his first three seasons, he’s now hitting 41 percent of his outside looks, which has made him nearly impossible to defend.
According to Synergy, Ingram ranks as a “very good” scorer in four separate play-types: as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, as a spot-up shooter, in isolation and in transition. It’s difficult to get much more well-rounded than that.
There are a couple of things standing in Ingram’s way as far as his first All-Star appearance goes, however. For starters, the West is absolutely loaded on the wings, particularly with LeBron, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George absolute locks to make it every season. Second, the Pelicans have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams this year, even despite their recent good form, with a 10-23 record through 33 contests.
Regardless, Ingram’s numbers are so eye-popping that they could be enough to get him in as an All-Star reserve anyway.
9. DEVIN BOOKER
For a while early on in the season, the Phoenix Suns looked like a new team, as they boasted a 7-4 record through 11 games with a +6.4 net rating (the league’s fourth-best mark to that point) to show for it, all with Devin Booker leading the way as the franchise’s lone star-level player.
Since then, however, things have fallen off a cliff for Phoenix. The Suns are 6-16 from Nov. 14 through Dec. 29, and have the NBA’s 10th-worst net rating in that stretch at -3.8. Overall, they now sit 10th in the West on a year where the bottom of the conference is weaker than usual, meaning the opportunity is there to sneak into the postseason for the first time since 2010-11.
Simply put, if Phoenix can’t at least hover close to the playoff line, that’s going to hurt Booker’s All-Star credentials. He’s been productive for years now, with this season being no different at 24.4 points and 6.3 assists per game, but if he can’t prove he’s an actual outcome-changer, there’s a good chance he gets ignored yet again once coaches have to decide who the All-Star reserves are going to be this year.
Fans are sort of ignoring Booker’s All-Star candidacy at this point, too, as the first fan-vote returns have Booker sitting ninth in the West among guards, behind… Alex Caruso.
8. SPENCER DINWIDDIE
Despite major injuries to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets have remained afloat this year with a 16-15 record and a seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
A lot of that has to do with Spencer Dinwiddie putting the team on his back for most of the campaign. Dinwiddie is averaging 22.5 points and 6.8 assists per game in 2019-20, and is putting up career-best marks in catch-all advanced metrics Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares per 48 Minutes. And he’s doing that despite shooting quite poorly from beyond the arc this season at 29.8 percent.
Without Dinwiddie, the Nets would surely be sitting outside of the postseason picture out East, and that, plus a usual All-Star lock-in Irving missing so much of the year, could help the 26-year-old make the prestigious exhibition roster.
7. JAYSON TATUM
After a down sophomore season, at least relative to expectations following such a strong debut, Jayson Tatum’s career trajectory is back on the upswing thanks to his fantastic level of play in 2019-20.
On the year, the Boston Celtics forward is averaging 21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists nightly and playing some of his best defense since reaching the NBA. He might not be Boston’s best player, that honor would probably belong to Kemba Walker, but Tatum has been a huge part of the Celtics’ bounce-back season (they boast a 22-8 record through 30 outings) after what was deemed widely as a disappointing 2018-19.
Tatum ranks as a very good scorer, per Synergy, both out of the pick-and-roll and in isolation (both with passes included), placing in the 81st percentile and 80th percentile in the two all-important play-types, respectively. The Duke product is really starting to live up to the efficient bucket-getter potential he had coming out of college.
6. DONOVAN MITCHELL
Similar to Tatum, Donovan Mitchell didn’t make the leap some expected as a sophomore last season. Also like Tatum, however, the third-year guard out of Louisville has placed himself right back on an upward trajectory in 2019-20 with an improved level of play.
Mitchell is averaging 25.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this year along with a career-high 55.4 true shooting percentage. He’s also posting career-best marks in Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares per 48 Minutes, which do a good job of measuring the nightly impact made by players.
Most importantly, Mitchell has the Jazz sitting at a 20-12 record and sixth in the West, even despite the poor play of the team’s big offseason acquisition, Mike Conley. In fact, once Conley went down and Mitchell took over more primary playmaker duties, his play got even better, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens once the veteran floor general gets healthy.
5. BAM ADEBAYO
Sitting behind Hassan Whiteside for the last two-and-a-half seasons, Bam Adebayo seldom got the chance to show off his immense skill level, besides a random flash here or there. This year, though, as a full-time Day-1 starter, that’s no longer the case, as Adebayo has taken his new role and run with it.
Playing over 30 minutes nightly for the first time in his career, Adebayo is averaging 15.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting over 56 percent from the floor. Adebayo’s explosion this year has helped the Miami Heat far exceed even the loftiest expectations, as the team sits second in the East at 24-8 through 32 games.
Sure, the addition of Jimmy Butler has played a huge part in that, but without Adebayo performing like an All-Star, on both ends of the floor, Miami wouldn’t be where they’re at today.
4. RUDY GOBERT
Arguably 2018-19’s biggest All-Star snub, Rudy Gobert has maintained a strong level of play this season, but hasn’t quite improved upon his play from last year, which could mean the big Frenchman just misses out on being an All-Star again.
Gobert is averaging 14.8 points per game this season (down from 15.9 last), to go along with 14.2 rebounds (career-high mark) and 1.9 blocks nightly. The big man is also sixth in Win Shares in 2019-20 and 12th in Value Over Replacement Player. What’s more, the 27-year-old is making another strong case for Defensive Player of the Year, which would be his third season in a row winning the award.
The 7-footer’s candidacy for All-Star status this season will be an interesting one to monitor, as it’ll really depend on how coaches and media view his defensive acumen and whether they believe he should be rewarded for that, because it looks like the fans won’t be helping Gobert make his first All-Star roster.
As of the first return of fan votes, Gobert did not rank among the Top-10 vote-getters among Western Conference frontcourt players. Mind you, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard both did.
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3. TRAE YOUNG
The Atlanta Hawks may be having a pretty disappointing season, but it’s impossible to fault Trae Young for that. The second-year guard ranks fourth in the league in scoring this year at 28.5 points per game and fifth in assists with 8.3 nightly.
His vision as a playmaker is nearly unmatched, he can hit reliably from deep three-point range (Young is shooting a healthy 35.5 percent from 25 to 29 feet from the basket) and he has the ability to draw fouls at a high rate (shooting over seven free throws nightly), where he sinks freebies at 84.5 percent, which gives his offensive efficiency a huge boost.
So although the Hawks have been disappointing in 2019-20, their most promising player has not been. The fans have taken notice, too, as the first returns of votes have Young as the No. 1 vote-getter among Eastern Conference guards, ahead of Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.
He still might not be a lock to make it because of the media and coaches vote accounting for 50 percent of the total, but the fans are doing their best to push the talented floor general in.
2. PASCAL SIAKAM
A surefire lock to make his All-Star debut this season, barring injury, is Toronto Raptors swingman Pascal Siakam. After a Most Improved Player campaign last year, Siakam is making the rare case to win the award again this year thanks to another massive leap in his level of play.
On the year, Siakam is averaging 25.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists nightly while hitting a career-best 39.2 percent of his triples. Siakam’s big improvement has made the sting of Kawhi Leonard’s departure hurt a little less, as the Raptors boast a 23-11 record and the league’s No. 6 net rating at +6.0.
Siakam has missed Toronto’s last seven games due to injury, and in that span, the team’s net rating has dropped and their record is just 4-3, including a blowout loss to the Celtics, which goes to show how important the 25-year-old to the team’s chances of Eastern Conference contention later in the year.
1. LUKA DONCIC
Without question, Luka Doncic is posting one of the best sophomore campaigns in league history, averaging 29.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists per contest while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 80.6 percent from the foul stripe (on over nine attempts per game).
As if that wasn’t enough to earn the young Slovenian his first bid to the All-Star Game, his massive popularity globally has already made him one of the league’s most marketable stars. The first returns on fan All-Star voting bear that out:
So… yeah, there’s no doubt Doncic will be an All-Star in 2019-20, an honor that will likely become an annual occurrence for the burgeoning superstar.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.