With NBA All-Star Weekend slowly creeping up, players who deserve a spot are starting to set themselves apart from the rest. With the starters set to be announced later this month, with the reserves following, fans and analysts alike begin to pick their NBA All-Stars in each conference. While there are some very easy selections, there’s a handful of players who are flying under the radar and could sneak in. These are the players I believe should be playing when the festive weekend begins in New Orleans.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
Averaging career-highs in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage, Wall has been the catalyst for the Wizards this season. He’s gradually improved since being selected first overall in 2010, and is turning into one of the top point guards in the league. He’s an exciting player who will push the pace and get his teammates involved in any way he possibly can. If Wall isn’t selected as a starter, it’ll be hard for the coaches to leave him off the roster as a reserve.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
Ten years, nine NBA All-Star selections, an NBA Finals MVP and three championships; not a bad career thus far for one of the Heat’s stars. Wade, who has been sitting out periodically this season to rest his aging knees, has been consistent when he’s been on the court. He’s still one of the most exciting players in the league, and is a fan favorite and will undoubtedly be selected to his tenth All-Star team.
Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers
One of the most exciting young players in the league, and a rising star, George has shown he deserves to make his second All-Star appearance. He’s leading the Pacers in scoring, while locking down the opposition’s best player defensively. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and is making his case for NBA MVP early on in the year. He’s a matchup nightmare, and is making his name known to more and more people with each and every game.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
His team’s struggles aside, Anthony has been an animal night-in and night-out this season. He’s averaging a career-high in rebounds per game, and sits third in the league in points per contest. He’s a match-up nightmare, whether he’s playing his natural small forward position, or shifting down to the power forward spot. It would be his seventh appearance in the event, and fifth straight.
LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Is there anything here that says he shouldn’t be an All-Star? It’s almost unfair to have him on your team, he’s that good and does almost everything well. He can play and guard every position, and if this frontcourt materializes, James could be playing center against a player like Dwight Howard. That’s compelling television.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
The former number one overall pick will most likely be selected as the starter for the East, but I believe should be a reserve. He’s an exciting player with possibly the best handles in the league. Uncle Drew is the Cavaliers’ unquestioned leader and poised to have a long and very successful career if he’s able to stay healthy. He participated each of the three nights last year, and should see his second All-Star appearance this year in the Big Easy.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors
This spot is really a toss-up between Lowry and Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks, but I think Lowry will steal the spot. He’s moved around some, but it appears as though he’s really found a comfort zone and it’s showing in his production. He’s led the Raptors to the lead in the putrid Atlantic Division, and has really excelled since the team traded away Rudy Gay. He’s averaging career-highs in points and assists, and has been playing at an All-Star type level for much of the season.
Arron Afflalo, SG, Orlando Magic
Afflalo is one of the more interesting players that could make the team. He’s having a career year right now and is the unquestioned leader of the Magic. However, could voters and/or coaches dock Afflalo due to his team’s struggles? His growth as a player, and his ability to produce at a high level for long stretches this season should be enough to help the UCLA product sneak into All-Star weekend for the first time.
Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks
Sooner than later this Eastern Conference team needed some size, right? Millsap, in his first year with the Hawks, is having a career season nearly across the board. He’s averaging career-highs in points, assists and three-point shooting, while knocking on the door in rebounds, blocks and steals. With Al Horford out for the season with a torn pectoral, Millsap is one of the guys picking up the slack from the absence of Horford.
Chris Bosh, PF/C, Miami Heat
The third of the “Big Three” has come up big at times this season. While he’s still the third wheel, he’s had games where he’s stepped up and picked up his production with either Wade or LeBron out. He’s been shooting the three ball a little bit more regularly this season, and has been knocking it down more as well. He’s having another solid season and I see no reason why he shouldn’t make his ninth All-Star appearance.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers
The anchor to the Pacers, Hibbert has been an animal defensively this season. He’s blocking shots at the highest rate of his career and currently has his lowest defensive rating ever at 93. He may not be the biggest offensive force, but his defensive play, coupled with being on the team with the league’s best record should garner Hibbert his second All-Star appearance.
Al Horford, C, Atlanta Hawks *
Before going down with a season-ending torn pectoral, Horford was having one of his best seasons as a pro. He was averaging a career-high in points and blocks, while being more than formidable on the boards and setting up teammates. He was the team’s anchor both defensively and offensively, and his loss has shown, as the team has gone 2-4 since the injury happened. There would have to be a replacement for Horford since he won’t play, but his play while healthy was good enough to earn him a spot on the All-Star roster.
Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls +
While the Bulls have struggled with injures throughout the season, Noah has been a constant in the middle. He’s their anchor and one of their better current playmakers with point guard Derrick Rose out. He’s currently sporting his lowest defensive rating and highest assist rate of his career going. Noah is one of the highest energy guys in the league and could easily see his second straight All-Star appearance even with his team’s woes.
Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
“Pull up, drank. Pull up, drank.” Curry is one of the most entertaining players in the league and a deadeye shooter from anywhere on court. He’s getting his teammates involved even more this year, while still shooting the ball freely. He’s got the second highest assist percentage, while placing third in three-pointers made thus far. He’s young and leading one of the best and most exciting teams in the West to, potentially, another playoff berth.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers *
Point. God. Before suffering a separated shoulder, Paul was putting together an MVP-type season. Now, out for at least six weeks, Paul’s chances are taking a major hit. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Clippers, and would undoubtedly be starting if he were healthy.
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
If the season ended today, it’d be hard to say Durant isn’t the league’s MVP. He’s almost at the 50/40/90 mark, while scoring at nearly a career-high rate. Durant is at the point in his career where he’s reaching his prime and he’s nearly unguardable. He’s sneaky athletic and his playmaking and defense this season is slowly rounding him into one of the most complete players in the league.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
The high-flying Griffin will undoubtedly be making his fourth straight All-Star appearance this season. He’s helping lead the Clippers to one of the better records in the West, and has been arguably their second most important player. He’s continued to grow and has shown off an improved offensive game this season, while still throwing down amazing in-game dunks. He’s exciting and one of those guys whose game is a perfect fit in an All-Star format.
Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
After a tumultuous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard has seen his game return to its previous form. He’s fully healthy and the anchor of the Rockets defensively, while being a force offensively as well. He’s one of the most powerful players in the league and can jump with the best of them. Howard undoubtedly will have some fond memories of New Orleans and All-Star weekend after his 2008 slam dunk performance.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
In his second season, Lillard has been one of the Trail Blazers’ catalysts to return to the top of the Western Conference. He’s young, hitting game winners, scoring points in high volumes and, most importantly, exciting. Coming into the league, he was somewhat of an unknown after playing his college ball at small Weber State, but Lillard hasn’t disappointed. He’s on pace for a long and successful career and is poised for his first All-Star birth this season.
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
Parker has been one of the Spurs’ leaders for the last 11 years, and it’s not changing anytime soon. He’s having another one of those very solid Tony Parker-type years and is on pace for his third straight appearance at All-Star weekend. He’s dealt with his fair share of injuries, but he still goes out and puts together big nights.
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
One of the best shooting guards in the league, and the leading scorer for the Rockets should be seeing his second straight All-Star appearance this season. His numbers are down slightly in some categories, while he’s doing better in others. He’s shooting a higher percentage this season while still getting to the free-throw line at a high rate. Harden’s big year and increasing stardom will undoubtedly earn him a trip to New Orleans.
Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
The double-double machine and the leader of the Timberwolves is on pace for a potential career year. After missing much of last season due to injuries, Love has returned in a big way. Love has led the Wolves into possible contention for a playoff berth this season, and is making a legitimate case for league MVP. He’s one of the top power forwards in the league and having a monster season, he should be a lock for an All-Star birth at this point.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers
Having his best season ever, and helping bring the Blazers back to the top of the Western Conference, Aldridge is making possibly his best case for the All-Star game. While his shooting percentage is at a career-low, he’s scoring and rebounding at career-high rates, while playing some of the best defense of his career. Aldridge has his name in the running debate of best power forward in the league. It would be his third straight All-Star birth if he is selected.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
The lanky former number one pick has taken one of the biggest leaps of any second-year player. While he missed some time due to a broken hand, he’s been a beast when healthy. He stuffs the stat sheet on a regular basis and is a force defensively, while being one of the most exciting young players in the game. “The Unibrow” will be at All-Star weekend one way or another, as he’ll be one of the headliners for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder *
While he’s going to miss the game due to having knee surgery in December, Westbrook still deserves to make the team. He’s one of the most exciting and fastest players in the L and produces at a high level night-in and night-out. His scoring and efficiency was down this season, but his overall production was roughly the same. He went out with a bang in his last game, finishing with a triple-double against the New York Knicks on Christmas day.
Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns +
Dragic is one of the more interesting players in the Western Conference. He’s part of the backcourt duo that’s helped the Suns storm onto the scene early this season, and he’s one of the most consistent and solid players that goes unnoticed by most. He’s having a career year scoring, while shooting a career-high percentage, and has cut down his turnovers to a career-low number. It might be an uphill battle for Dragic to make the team, but he’s one of the players that the coaches should seriously consider for one of the final few spots in the West.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings +
Producing a career-high in almost every statistical category, Cousins is one of the more interesting possible selections in the West. He’s got all the talent in the world, but has some character issues and seemingly plays no defense. Since coming into the league, Cousins has shown he has tons of potential; it’s just been a struggle to harness it all with the right coach. He may be a long shot with how deep the Western Conference is on the frontline, but Cousins is more than deserving of his first All-Star appearance this season.
KEY: *, injured; +, injury replacement
Featured image courtesy Keith Allison/Flickr.