After a summer of huge trade and free agency moves and with new-look rosters throughout the NBA, Mark Deeks examines 12 players who could ascend to All-Star status after missing out on selection last season.
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With every NBA offseason comes great roster upheaval, and rarely has that ever been more true than it has been this past summer.
More teams had salary cap space than did not, meaning a lot of signings taking place; lots new players joining, lots of former players leaving. When combined with the season-long trade market and the talent infusion that is the annual NBA Draft, almost half of the league’s active playing roster spots have been turned over from where they ended the 2017/18 season.
And these are not just nibbles around the edges, either; certain big moves, such as the transformation of the LA Clippers, have changed the balance of power in the NBA.
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With that comes greater opportunities for specific players, particularly in the Eastern Conference, which now looks more open than it did last season. Aided by injuries to players such as Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, spots have now opened up on All-Star rosters as well.
]t is very early to be looking ahead to the All-Star Game, but with the new season around the corner, here are some players who were not All-Stars last year that may be this time around.
Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)
Zion Williamson flexes after scoring in his Summer League debut
Obviously, Zion has never had a chance to be an All-Star before; he still has not played an NBA game yet. Nevertheless, rare though it is for a rookie to make the team at the first time of asking, it is universally understood that Zion is one of the most enticing prospects of a generation, if not ever.
No 1 draft pick Zion Williamson soared to the rim for an explosive dunk in the New Orleans Pelicans’ preseason win over the Atlanta Hawks
More pertinently here, Williamson has a high floor as a prospect; that is to say, with his dominant physical profile and already high level of skill except for jump shooting, he should be ready to contribute from day one. The Pelicans have set up the roster for him to do so, and although the sheer volume of talent in the Western Conference could be a barrier to entry, Zion’s chances of being a rookie All-Star are legitimate.
Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Luka Doncic celebrates his game-winning basket
Doncic came close last season to doing what Zion might do this year, improving throughout his rookie campaign and becoming a triple-double threat every night by season’s end.
Watch Luka Doncic’s best buzzer-beaters from the 2018-19 NBA season
He is extremely accomplished for his young age, and as the Mavericks look to sneak in the backdoor of the Western Conference playoffs, fuelled by the pairing of he and Kristaps Porzingis, his usage and production can only go up.
Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)
Pascal Siakam applauds his team-mates during the Raptors' Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors
Kawhi Leonard’s move to the Clippers opens up a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star roster. His departure from the Raptors also opens up plenty of scoring opportunities for the defending NBA champions, ones that Kyle Lowry no longer has the legs for.
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was named Most Improved Player of the 2018-19 season at the NBA Awards
Siakam has improved extremely quickly over the past five seasons, including huge growth throughout the course of last year, culminating in him winning the NBA Most Improved Player award. He became a truly exceptional defender to go along with already being a fine athlete and a good ball-handler for a power forward, and he also finally started to hit the jump shots he has always taken. At the rate of growth he has exhibited throughout his career to date, ascension to All-Star calibre this season should be assumed.
Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
Devin Booker fires a fadeaway jumper against Miami
Booker’s individual offensive achievements have been easy to overlook given that they have come on some bottom-dwelling Suns teams. The poor quality of those teams has also dragged down his efficiency and defensive metrics, and to be sure, Booker’s sub-optimal all-around game is partly why those teams have been in the cellar.
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Yet a move to point guard last season saw Booker develop as a primary play-maker, and his assists per game total spiked to 6.8 accordingly. Alongside a hefty 26.6 points per game, the seventh-highest mark in the league, Booker was one of the best offensive players not to make it; if he can show some defensive improvement this upcoming year, perhaps he might do this time.
Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers)
Domantas Sabonis dunks against the New York Knicks
The Pacers have steadily evolved over the last few years to keep up with the evolution of the NBA without rebuilding, which has meant Thaddeus Young departing in free agency. Sabonis will start at power forward in his place, and while he does not have the defensive versatility of the quicker Young, he is becoming an excellent player in his own right.
A big-time rebounder, Sabonis has good passing vision, shot-making talent and good court awareness, and should be a nightly double-double player this season.
Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers)
Tobias Harris celebrates a basket during the Philadelphia 76ers' Game 3 win over the Brooklyn Nets
Harris also could stake a claim to one of the availed Eastern forward spots. He will likely be playing a lot of small forward on the massive line-ups Philadelphia will put out this season, and while it serves him better from a defensive point of view to play power forward, he will play big minutes at both positions regardless, because the construction of the 76ers roster needs his efficient brand of outside scoring.
Having averaged 20 points per game last season, split between Philly and the Clippers, he was already close, and may have just got in the break he needed.
Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets)
Jamal Murray fires a clutch three to lead the Denver Nuggets to a Game 2 victory over the San Antonio Spurs
We have looked at Murray’s ascent to stardom before, and with Denver having returned almost exactly the same team for this season, they are counting upon it continuing. Murray has the luxury of playing alongside Nikola Jokic, one of the best play-makers in the game’s history, and their two-man game offensively is the key to Denver’s title aspirations.
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One of the best shot-makers at the guard position the league has, Murray just received a maximum value contract with the anticipation of his continued growth, and will be given licence to shoot heavily as a result.
Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic)
Aaron Gordon elevates for a dunk
Many have been waiting for Gordon to make the offensive leap, and over the years he has steadily improved his perimeter skills, his outside shooting and his shot-making. But last season also saw him re-engage with the versatile defense that he began his career playing with Arizona.
Long and athletic, Gordon has the ability to guard all areas of the court, and if he makes further improvements on both ends this upcoming season on an Orlando team that could (or should) make the playoffs, he may be able to claim the spot that Leonard’s move out west opened up.
Jrue Holiday (New Orleans Pelicans)
Jrue Holiday fires a jump shot against Utah
While Zion is the future, Holiday is the now. Consistent incremental improvements in his offensive skills and aggression have seen him become one of the best two-way players in the league, and particularly so in the back-court.
He has tasted All-Star selection before, back in 2013, when as a 22-year-old he became the youngest Philadelphia 76ers player to be selected for an Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Holiday is productive at both guard positions, and scores plenty of points to go with top-tier defence and nice assist numbers. With the Pelicans drawing so much attention this upcoming season due to the Williamson factor, no one will miss quite how good Holiday is.
Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Mike Conley lofts a jump shot for the Jazz
Despite 12 years of excellent play on both ends of the floor, Conley has famously yet to make an All-Star game in his career. He has always been worthy of it as an individual, but, with the exception of a couple of competitive Grit ‘n’ Grind-era teams, the Memphis Grizzlies franchise he has always been with was never prominent enough to get him there.
Perhaps his trade to the Jazz in July will change that. The Utah market may not be much bigger and, as evidenced by Gobert last year, easy to overlook. But barring disaster, the Jazz will be extremely good in a competitive Western Conference, and Conley will be the head of the offensive snake.
Rudy Gobert threw down a huge dunk on Bruno Coboclo in Utah’s loss to Memphis.
Gobert will again head the defense, and he is owed a place. The two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year retained that individual accolade last season, as well as making his third consecutive All-Defensive Team appearance and the All-NBA Third Team, yet somehow was not still deemed to be All-Star calibre. It is hard to see how he can be better at what he does, but if there is any justice, another season just like the last two should be enough to get him in.
Donovan Mitchell scored a career-high 46 as he led the Jazz to a win over Milwaukee.
Mitchell, meanwhile, should benefit from the arrival of Conley. He has had excellent moments in his first two seasons in the league, looking for all the world at times like the next Dwyane Wade, but it is inconsistency in his scoring, floor game and shot selection that has kept him from stardom thus far.
Being paired with the similarly notoriously inconsistent Ricky Rubio put added pressure on Mitchell to be the back-court scorer and creator. But with the dependable Conley in tow as a pressure-release valve, plus his expected individual improvements going into year three, he may make the leap ahead of his veteran colleague.
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