With the NBA all-star captains and starters set to be named tonight, several players will await the announcement of a lifetime: their first career all-star selection.
Last year, longtime veteran Mike Conley finally made his first career all-star game after years of narrowly missing out. And this year, quite a few others will look to make some noise as first-timers.
These are five players who will potentially make their mark as first-time NBA All-Stars in 2022.
In January of last year, the Brooklyn Nets made a splash in the trade market by acquiring James Harden from Houston in a three-team deal. So naturally, Harden, a former MVP fresh off three-straight scoring titles, was the talk of the trade.
But there was another notable player hidden in the trade: Jarrett Allen. After three decent seasons in Brooklyn, the Nets shipped Allen to Cleveland as part of the deal. Allen put together a solid stint in his first year with the Cavs, averaging 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in 51 games. Such numbers were respectable, but nothing to warrant an all-star selection.
But today, Allen’s all-star bid is legitimate. As part of an exciting Cavaliers team, he’s averaging 16.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. He’s holding opponents 6% below their average efficiency as the primary defender and has spearheaded the NBA’s third-ranked defense.
Behind efficient rim running and superb rim protection, Allen ranks favorably among the NBA’s two-way bigs. As a result, his first career all-star selection is well within reach.
After an outstanding finish to his rookie season in 2021, Anthony Edwards has picked up right where he left off as a sophomore. ‘Ant,’ one of the league’s most entertaining personalities off the court, has continued turning heads on the court.
Through 41 games, Edwards boasts a stat line of 22.7/5.2/3.5 to go with 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks. All are upgrades since his rookie year. But Edwards’ most notable improvement since 2021 is his efficiency.
After a poultry 52.3% true shooting mark in 2020-21 (4.9% below average), Edwards upped that to 56.5% in 2021-22 (0.7% above average). So while many stars have watched their efficiency dwindle with the rule changes, Edwards has experienced the opposite. It’s a testament to his improved shot selection and outside shooting (4.7% improvement on 3’s since last year).
With so many elite guards in the western conference, it’ll be difficult for Edwards to make the all-star game this year. But his strong performance in year two deserves consideration.
This season, the Cavs’ resurgence to playoff contention has been one of the league’s biggest surprises. At the forefront of that resurgence is third-year guard Darius Garland.
After quietly making statistical improvements across the board in his second year, Garland has continued his upward trend to assert himself as one of the league’s most dynamic young guards. He and the Cavs have exceeded expectations even after backcourt mates Collin Sexton & Ricky Rubio suffered season-ending injuries.
This season, Garland averages an impressive 19.7 points and 8.2 assists on an efficient 57.5% true shooting. Those are all good enough for career bests.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Garland is how he elevates his teammates. While the previously mentioned Jarrett Allen is a quality player by himself, his pairing next to a selfless playmaker like Garland maximizes his abilities to new heights.
Garland vastly elevates the Cavalier offense as a whole. With Garland initiating things on the court, the Cavaliers post an impressive 113.8 offensive rating, ranking fifth in the league. Without him, that mark drops to 106.6, 28th in the NBA.
If there’s one player on this list who’s guaranteed an all-star spot this season, it’s Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2021-22, Morant broke the 20-point per game threshold for the first time, upping his scoring average to 25.8 points per game. In addition, he’s shooting 71.2% inside 3 feet, an otherworldly mark for someone of his size (6’3″, 174 pounds).
His playmaking remains excellent, as he’s one of the league’s best at collapsing defenses and carving out unique passing angles to open teammates. Next to his increased aggression as a scorer, Morant also dishes out 6.9 assists a night.
But fans already knew about Morant’s incredible rim finishing and playmaking. So those areas of his game were never concerns. Instead, Morant has been most surprising as an outside shooter.
After hitting just 31.7% of his threes in his first two pro seasons, Morant’s 3-point percentage has risen to a solid 35.8% in year three. As a result, it’s opened up even more of his lethal drives to the basket. With defenders respecting his outside jumper, Morant’s scoring arsenal forces opponents to pick their poison.
If defenders sag off to plug up his driving lanes, Morant can knock down a jumper. If they step up on the perimeter, he can drive right by them for an acrobatic finish.
In total, Morant’s shooting growth, paired with his poise as a slashing playmaker, has elevated him into a deserved all-star starter. After that, the sky’s the limit.
Since joining the Raptors as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Fred VanVleet has seemingly improved every year. Now, in his sixth season, that improvement has finally culminated into an all-star campaign for the 27-year old.
As of today, VanVleet in 2021-22 has notched career-highs in points (21.7), assists (7.0), and true shooting (57%). In addition, he shoots 39.3% from long range on a lofty 9.9 attempts per game. Impressively, over half of these attempts are difficult pull-up 3’s.
In previous seasons, VanVleet often struggled at finishing in tight spaces around the basket. He always had the agility and first step to get to the rim, but his small stature limited his finishing against much bigger defenders.
But he completely flipped that script in 2021-22. He’s shooting 65.8% inside three feet, up from 53% the year prior. Now, he’s more selective with his shots around the basket (he attempts only 9% of his field goals inside three feet), but it’s boosted his efficiency.
Alongside his offensive improvements, VanVleet’s defense has remained steady. Together, that two-way impact has earned VanVleet some of the top advanced metrics in the league. He ranks fourth in 538’s RAPTOR, ahead of superstars like Stephen Curry and LeBron James.