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It’s bizarre to be discussing NBA All-Star candidates when no one in the league has played even 30 games yet, but in this COVID-adjusted world, here we are.
With the ill-advised 2021 NBA All-Star Game scheduled for March 7, we’ve got less than one month before All-Star events are underway, and even less time before voting closes.
Is it foolish to have this year’s All-Star batch determined by 25-30 games in a 72-game season? Absolutely. But much like the NBA’s operating procedure for this entire season within a pandemic, logic goes right out the window in favor of pushing ahead for financial reasons.
Bearing that in mind, there are several talented players deserving of All-Star consideration, but as always, a lack of team success could hold them back. Here are seven candidates who deserve to be in the conversation but may fall short because of their team’s paltry record.
Of this bunch, Randle feels like the most likely player to break through and earn a spot in the Eastern Conference frontcourt. The New York Knicks are only 11-15, but Randle has enjoyed the season of his career, averaging 22.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 38.2 percent shooting from 3-point range. All of those numbers represent career highs.
He’s the fulcrum of Tom Thibodeau’s surprisingly competent Knicks squad, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He deserves an All-Star spot, even if New York is currently four games under .500, and he may have an easier time getting there because there’s less competition for those frontcourt spots.
Good luck securing an All-Star backcourt spot in a Western Conference that houses Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Mike Conley and another guy further down our list, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It’s a murderer’s row, and someone (read: some people) will be left out.
Because the Sacramento Kings are only 12-12, that could very well include Fox, who is putting up 23.4 points, 6.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds a night on .477/.357/.684 shooting splits. Maybe the Kings go on a win streak and Fox’s numbers see a slight bump, but it’d take a real heater for him to edge most of the names on the list above.
Poor Zach LaVine. The Chicago Bulls got their much-needed makeover in the front office and the head coach’s chair, but the team still sucks. Sporting a 10-14 record thanks to a dismal five losses by three points or fewer, the Bulls might not even be that good; nine of their 10 wins have come against teams that are .500 or worse.
However, LaVine is putting together the finest season of his career despite being stuck in the place Devin Booker found himself for his first five years in the league: Putting up big numbers but being denied the label of “winner” simply because he has no help. LaVine’s 28.2 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game on scorching .518/.425/.863 shooting splits speak for themselves, but if the Bulls don’t turn their record around, he may just miss the cut anyway.
At 11-13, the New Orleans Pelicans just aren’t good enough to warrant two All-Stars, especially if teams like the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns will probably only get one. That means it’s down to Zion Williamson vs. Brandon Ingram, and though you could easily make a case for Ingram, it’ll be hard for voters to deny the hype train that is Zion in his first healthy season … especially when B.I. already earned an All-Star selection last year. First-time All-Stars are just more fun.
Zion is putting up a team-high 23.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting a blistering 59.9 percent from the floor. Ingram isn’t far behind at 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game on 46.9 percent shooting, but even if he’s the superior 3-point threat and facilitator, Williamson has arrived. Like most defenders cowering in his wake, it’s best to just get out of the way unless the Pelicans go on a massive tear led by Ingram.
We covered how Jerami Grant’s bet on himself is paying off earlier this week, but thanks to the Detroit Pistons‘ league-worst record of 6-19, it is entirely possible his unexpected breakout season comes up short in the All-Star selection process.
Grant is putting up 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on 38.7 percent shooting from 3-point range, but even with his surprising growth as a lead shot creator, and even with his standing as the Most Improved Player frontrunner, is it enough to earn him an All-Star bid? Don’t forget, Bradley Beal put up even better numbers last season on a more competitive Washington Wizards squad and still missed the cut, so don’t be surprised if the same fate befalls Grant this year.
On the one hand, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 10-14, sitting 14th in the Western Conference. On the other hand, that’s much closer to .500 territory than anyone was expecting from this supposed tanker, and the biggest reason is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing fantastic basketball.
Averaging 22.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting an efficient 50.6 percent from the floor and 38.2 percent from deep, SGA is clearly the best player on this Thunder team. But his numbers aren’t good enough to butt into that Booker-Mitchell-CP3-Conley group, and right now, even Fox has a slightly better case. OKC needs to go on a Gilgeous-Alexander-led tear right away if he’s going to insert himself into the conversation as more than an honorable mention.
It wasn’t long ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers were occupying a playoff spot in the East. Five straight losses later, they’re 10-16, sporting a conference-worst point differential and fading fast. That does Collin Sexton’s All-Star case no favors, especially with his numbers being firmly planted in “good but not great” territory.
Sexton certainly deserves recognition, averaging 22.7 points and 4.3 assists per game on blistering .485/.423/.809 shooting splits, but he doesn’t do much on the stat sheet aside from shoot and score, and even his scoring numbers could do with a bump. It’d take quite a rapid turnaround for him and the Cavs to get Sexton into the All-Star Game at this point.
Speaking of NBA things coming up, trade season is nearly upon us. Our own Micah Wimmer answers the question of why Andre Drummond has become such a hot commodity on the market.
The latest NBA Power Rankings are up! This week is dominated by the Pistons playing to the level of their competition and the Jazz owning their schedule thus far.
Speaking of the red-hot Jazz, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor took a great look at why their blistering start could be for real.