It’s hard to find a period in the NBA with a deeper talent pool than right now, and that’s especially true for the younger generation. A whopping 14 players age-22 or younger averaged at least 15 PPG, tied for the most ever. But with so much young talent, who will emerge as an All-Star this season? Let’s break down the six most likely candidates to appear in their first All-Star game four months from now in Chicago.
Winner of the Most Improved Player award in 2018-19, Pascal Siakam is now “the guy” in Toronto with Kawhi Leonard having left town. Per 36 minutes, Siakam averaged 19.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists on an insanely efficient 55% shooting, which is still underselling what his production can be with an increased workload next season. He looked like a franchise player for stretches at a time last playoffs and came up huge in the deciding Game Six, even hitting one of the biggest shots of the entire Finals. Unlike anyone else on this list, he’s an NBA champion; that experience and swagger can propel him to an All-Star level in and of itself. He’s also the only player on this list to see his greatest teammate depart this summer with a clear opportunity to fill a bigger role. To top it all off, he’s playing in the weaker Eastern Conference, where Leonard’s and De’Angelo Russell’s departure have opened spots on the AS roster.
The Jazz quietly pieced together one of the most complete rosters in the league last offseason, yet Donovan Mitchell still remains at the center of it all. The face of the franchise, Mitchell emerged as one of the best players on Team USA and received rave reviews regarding his leadership, not to mention he’s packed on a few pounds of muscle. Last season he put up 23.8 PPG and 4.2 APG, but he’s got to improve his efficiency (43.2%) from the field. The addition of Mike Conley Jr. will allow Mitchell to play his natural position of Shooting Guard, and Bojan Bogdanovic provides spacing to attack off the dribble. The D-Wade comparisons are a little far-fetched, but their numbers through two seasons are startlingly similar. At only 22 years old, he’ll represent the Jazz in Chicago provided they’re vying for a top seed in the West.
De’Aaron Fox was on the outside looking in last All-Star Game voting, but with a growing roster of weapons around him, his game will elevate to a new level. As of right now, he looks to be the 2nd best prospect of the 2017 draft (behind Mitchell and ahead of Tatum), but that list is subject to change based upon this season. Fox plays with two refined, rim-running big men in Marvin Bagley III and Dewayne Dedmon, plus Buddy Hield has All-Star potential: all this firepower will inflate his assists numbers. He’s improved his 3-point efficiency from 30% to 37%, but he’s got to maintain that consistency while taking more than 2.9 attempts as he continues to develop. Hunting for the eight-seed in a loaded Western Conference, Fox could be in Chicago come February if they’re on track to achieve their goal when voting rolls around.
The Luka Doncic show was one of the most entertaining tickets in the league last season, and giving him a weapon like Kristaps Porzingis (health provided) turns the Mavericks into a must-see NBA League Pass team. The best rookie since Lebron, per 36 minutes averaged 23.7 PPG, 6.7 APG and 8.7 RPG: already All-Star numbers. He’s been grinding this summer to make any conditioning concerns a thing of the past and although there’s room for improvement defensively, the All-Star game is much more about scoring. He’s a unique player, resembling a blend of Manu Ginobili and James Harden, and the buzz he brings would attract new fans to the game. Even a slight improvement from last season would make him deserving of an All-Star nod, if he isn’t already deserving enough.
Coming off an ACL tear suffered during 2017-18, Zach Lavine bounced back in a big way last season. He averaged career-highs in points (23.7), rebounds (4.7) and assists (4.5) and newly drafted Point Guard Coby White allows Lavine to slide into Shooting Guard, his natural position (like Mitchell in Utah). One of the biggest hurdles to an All-Star selection is the success of the Bulls, as their record might deter coaches and media from giving him a spot. One advantage he has is that the All-Star game is in Chicago, so the fan voting will favor him considerably. A human highlight reel and winner of back-to-back dunk contests, these type of games are made for him. Looking ahead, only three players in the past 10 years haven’t made an All-Star game while averaging over 25 PPG; that’s the magic number for him to earn a selection.
Much like Lonzo Ball and Brandan Ingram, Julius Randle was stuck in between the Kobe and Lebron eras of the Lakers, and he broke out as soon as he left town. In his sole season with the Pelicans last year, Randle averaged 21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and drastically improved his 3-point shooting (22% to 34%), and those numbers jump to 25.2 and 10.2 per 36 minutes. Despite the Knicks logjam at power forward, Randle will easily emerge as the cream of the crop at that position. The New York City media will give him national exposure, plus he’s got the benefit of playing in the Eastern Conference, where there’s multiple open roster spots. He’ll battle with Pascal Siakam for one of the team’s frontcourt positions.
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