This past February, Andre Drummond, Isaiah Thomas, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard each made their first appearance on an NBA All-Star team. Even a couple of months before the rosters were announced, all of these players made sense not only from a talent standpoint but also due to their rising popularity. Those are four quality players, and nobody would be surprised to see them earn All-Star nods again in February of 2017.
They do crowd the talent pool a little, though, making it hard for upcoming first-timers to crack their respective All-Star lineups. However, no Chris Bosh and no Kobe Bryant means there is at least one roster spot available in each conference for the next round of up-and-comers to find their way onto these teams. Every year, there are players who make their first All-Star team. The following are the players most likely to get it done this season:
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves – Towns won Rookie of the Year last season after putting up 18.3 PPG and 10.5 RPG, which is a stat line that on its own has been enough to get plenty of other players into the All-Star Game. In fact, there have been more than a handful of players who got there doing significantly less than Towns did in his first season. To think that Towns could be even better and playing more minutes under new head coach Tom Thibodeau is horrifying for the rest of the league and a big reason why he should make the leap to superstardom in his second season. Thibs is going to play him 36 minutes a game and, as a result, the stats are just going to roll in. The fact that he’s so damn likeable while he’s doing all this doesn’t hurt his chances either. It’s not silly to think he could even be voted in as a starter.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks – The frontcourt competition in the Eastern Conference is fierce, but Antetokounmpo feels like he’s on the cusp of a major breakout campaign. He’s gimmicky in that he can play pretty much every position on the floor, but his numbers (16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.3 APG) obviously are impressive for a man of his size, and his athleticism and defensive prowess should only further endear him to the coaches voting for the East reserves. He’d be a treat to watch in the midseason exhibition, but team success plays into these things too. If the Bucks are a surprise in the East this year, The Greek Freak might almost have to be included on the All-Star Team in 2017.
DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – This year’s winner of the “Wait, he’s never been an All-Star?” award is Jordan, who’s a raging beast of a big man almost hand-crafted by the basketball gods to receive alley-oops in exhibition games. He was named to the All-NBA First Team last season and probably should have been on the All-Star Team the last time around, but his time is coming. He averaged 13.8 RPG and a career-high 12.7 PPG last season, all while shooting over 70 percent from the field for the second year in a row. Fresh off his Olympic gold medal, the accolades should keep on rolling in, and Western Conference All-Star certainly feels like it should be one of them.
Rudy Gobert or Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – It doesn’t seem likely that both of these guys would make the All-Star Team, but if Utah is going to be as good as everyone seems to think, at least one of them will get a hard look from the coaches who vote in the reserves. Hayward scored 19.7 PPG, hauled in five RPG and dished out 3.7 APG last season, while Gobert averaged 9.1 PPG, 11 RPG and 2.2 BPG. Even Derrick Favors could be in the mix, as he averaged 16.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG last year and a big bump from him wouldn’t be all that surprising. Of the batch, Gobert seems most likely to make the team as he’s the one most likely to be among the elite players in the major statistical categories, but it’s really anyone’s guess. Hayward’s injury might make it hard to be the team’s All-Star representative, but he’s also their best all-around player. This could go a number of ways.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers – One of last season’s most pleasant surprises, McCollum was named 2016’s Most Improved Player. He averaged 20.8 PPG and 4.3 APG playing alongside Damian Lillard, who obviously was even better than that. Still, McCollum was great on his own accord and frankly has the opportunity to get even better. If he scores 23-25 points per game and sees a little boost in his three-point shooting, it will be hard to keep him off of the All-Star team.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT – In terms of opportunity, no player on this list is going to mean more to his team this year than Whiteside will in Miami, especially with Chris Bosh’s stint with the HEAT seemingly over. He easily could have been named to the team this past winter, but there’s zero question his numbers will improve this year, creating even more potential for a first-time selection. Whiteside’s per-36 minutes would have him at 30 PPG, 19 RPG and five BPG, which are MVP numbers, let alone All-Star numbers. That’s not happening, obviously, but a jump up from 14.2 PPG and 11.8 RPG is not only realistic but expected.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets – Yet another controversial snub from 2016, Walker is coming off a season in which he averaged 20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG and 4.4 RPG, which explains why he was in such serious consideration for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team a year ago. It’s hard to know how the Hornets will look this season after losing some key pieces, but with Jeremy Lin gone, it’s easy to imagine a path where Walker gets even more burn that he got in 2015-16. He took a massive step forward last year and emits the sort of star quality one expects in an All-Star.
There are, of course, plenty of other players who also could find their way to the midseason exhibition for the first time this year including (but not limited to) Reggie Jackson, Andrew Wiggins, Jae Crowder, Myles Turner, Kristaps Porzingis, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic among others. Once the season actually starts, we’ll get a better sense this.