10 players who deserve first NBA All-Star appearance

By David Kenyon

Familiar names dominated the annual popularity contest that is the NBA All-Star Game, but both conferences should see a small group of new faces in 2018.

Since there are only 12 spots for either conference, just a handful of places will remain after picking obvious choices. As a result, several deserving first-time All-Stars will not be selected to the event. But if any of the listed players receives a nod to the game, we would nod in agreement.

Note: Rosters will no longer be split by conference, but both the East and West will send 12 representatives to the All-Star Game.

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

If you don’t believe us, perhaps the best player on the planet will sway you. LeBron James said Bradley Beal is performing at an All-Star level.

The shooting guard ranks 16th in the league with 23.6 points per game and has dished 3.6 assists on average. Beal has appeared in every game this season, also carrying the Wizards when All-Star teammate John Wall missed nine contests while recovering from a knee injury. Beal will rely on the coaches to recognize his All-Star-caliber campaign and send him to Staples Center as a reserve.

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

Clint Capela is a perfect example of “it’s probably not going to happen, but we would be on board.” The fourth-year center has registered career-high averages in points (14.2), rebounds (11.1) and blocks (1.8) for the No. 2 team in the West. Capela also leads the NBA in shooting percentage with an impressive 67.2 clip.

Based on that resume, he would be deserving of an All-Star nod. The question — one we will bring up again — is which player do you remove, so a loaded frontcourt in the West may keep Capela out. Still, he’s a strong candidate for a reserve pick.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Although the trend of injuries continues to affect Joel Embiid, the 23-year-old is an absolute star when on the floor. Through 29 games, the versatile center has accumulated 23.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 blocks per appearance. The only other center putting up 20-plus points with similar complementary numbers is DeMarcus Cousins, and there’s no doubt he’s an All-Star.

Embiid should be a top vote-getter in the frontcourt for the East, so expect to see him in Los Angeles. Hopefully an injury won’t keep Embiid from playing.

Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons

Perhaps the most under-the-radar player on the list, Tobias Harris has asserted himself as a key to Detroit’s success. After shooting just 34.7 percent from three-point range last season and 33.2 in his career, Harris has connected on 43.8 percent of those attempts in 2017-18. That improved range has helped the forward supply a career-best 18.4 points per game.

The Pistons are 8.9 points per 100 possessions better with Harris on the floor, and no Detroit player has a larger difference, according to NBA.com. He is a worthy All-Star reserve.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

According to Basketball-Reference, six NBA players are averaging 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists this season. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins are definite All-Stars. Ben Simmons is headed that direction. And so is Nikola Jokic.

The versatile center has notched 15.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, adding 1.3 steals. Similar to Capela, the problem for Jokic is an outstanding group of frontcourt players in the West. But it also doesn’t help that the Nuggets are far below Houston in the standings. Even if it doesn’t happen in 2018, Jokic will eventually be an All-Star.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

There’s no question we’re going to see Victor Oladipo in Los Angeles. After being traded to the Pacers in the offseason, the former Indiana star has elevated his production to a new level despite playing similar minutes to his previous four years. Olapido has contributed 24.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range and 49.2 overall. Every single one of those numbers is either a career-high mark or tied for it. Oladipo has been the breakout performer of 2017-18.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

No longer in Carmelo Anthony’s shadow, Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as the superstar that regularly flashed last season. The former No. 4 overall pick has collected 23.7 points per game, hitting 43.5 percent of his shots and a personal-best 37.1 percent beyond the arc. Porzingis has also grabbed 6.8 rebounds and swatted 2.2 shots on average. Thanks to him, the Knicks have edged their way into the playoff conversation this year. Porzingis probably won’t be a top-three finisher in the East’s frontcourt voting, but he’s an All-Star lock.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons might be the next dynamic duo.

Ben Simmons missed the entire 2016-17 season, but he was worth the wait for Philadelphia. The 6-foot-10 point guard has amassed 16.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game, forming a tremendous duo with Embiid to lift the Sixers out of the Eastern Conference’s depths.

Most impressively, Simmons has dominated without a jumper. In today’s pace-and-space league, it seems unfathomable a perimeter player can star despite not shooting the ball. Nevertheless, Simmons — who still has zero three-pointers in his NBA career — has excelled.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Much of the NBA world thought Jayson Tatum would be this player eventually. But as a rookie? Few people expected the Duke product to stand out as a consistent, efficient shooter in a full-time starting role right away.

Tatum has provided 13.9 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting, including a 46.2 clip from three-point range. That long-distance mark ranks No. 4 in the league. Although he’s not assured a place on the All-Star team, Tatum was seventh on the initial ballot. Regardless of whether he comes up short, the fact we’re even having this conversation is amazing.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

No matter if it’s this season or one in the near future, Karl-Anthony Towns will be an All-Star player. For the second straight year, he has a convincing case to be included. The arrival of Jimmy Butler has dropped Towns’ usage rate, but the center is still averaging 20.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

Butler will likely appear in the All-Star Game again, so Towns must hope Minnesota’s No. 4 standing in the conference will be enough to sway the coaches that two Timberwolves should represent the West.