The approach of the NBA All-Star break provides an ideal landmark for the basketball world to highlight some of the most impressive players in the 2017-18 season.
Keep in mind these are not necessarily the premier talents in the league. While a few top-tier superstars are included, the focus is on players holding together rosters, assembling breakout campaigns or outperforming previous years. Standout rookies are also included.
Players with season-ending injuries, such as DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, were not considered for the list.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward, Milwaukee Bucks
He scores more points than Stephen Curry yet offers a defensive impact in line with Draymond Green. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the ultimate two-way asset, and the 23-year-old is still improving as an NBA player. The Greek Freak has amassed averages of 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting career-best percentages beyond the arc and overall. His defensive Real Plus-Minus of 2.40 ranks 24th in the league, per ESPN, only trailing Green by 0.2. Antetokounmpo has Milwaukee eyeing a top-four seed for the first time since 2000-01.
Clint Capela, center, Houston Rockets
Only six players account for more possessions as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets, but nobody in the league is more effective than Clint Capela. The fourth-year center has taken advantage of having James Harden and Chris Paul in the backcourt. Among players who use at least two possessions per game, Capela leads the NBA with a 66.8 score frequency and 68.6 effective field-goal percentage. He’s posting career-high marks across the board with 14.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Capela is performing at an All-Star level.
Tyreke Evans, guard, Memphis Grizzlies
Tyreke Evans has always provided a well-rounded impact, but the nine-year veteran has never been this efficient. He’s scored 19.4 points per appearance thanks to a personal-best 39.0 percent mark from long distance, and a 45.5 percent clip overall is among the highest in his career. Evans has also collected 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists. According to NBA.com, Memphis boasts a plus-9.6 rating with Evans on the floor. Considering the Grizzlies are tied for the fewest wins in the league, that’s an extraordinary impact on a struggling team.
Aaron Gordon, forward, Orlando Magic
The fast start to 2017-18 is merely a memory, and the Magic have tumbled to the bottom of the standings. But fourth-year forward Aaron Gordon is finally having a breakout season. The Arizona product has lifted his career-best scoring average from 12.7 to 18.4, and though he’s attempting more threes (5.8 per night) than ever is also connecting at a higher rate (34.6 percent). He’s setting personal-high marks with 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.9 steals, too. Orlando isn’t close to being competitive, but the franchise must value Gordon as a primary piece of the continued rebuild.
LeBron James, forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
Although he’s a contributor to the drama in The Land, LeBron James remains the most irreplaceable player in the league. In addition to his average of 26.5 points, the four-time MVP has dished a career-high 8.9 assists and grabbed 8.1 rebounds. LeBron is tied atop the league with a 5.7 value over replacement player, per Basketball-Reference.com. In other words, remove LeBron from the Cavaliers, and they’ll sink. But he’s kept a floundering — now retooled — roster in position to secure a top-three seed in the East.
Donovan Mitchell, guard, Utah Jazz
When the Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to Boston, they had a massive offensive void to fill. After a slow start, Donovan Mitchell has taken control of Utah’s scoring attack. The Louisville product leads all rookies with 19.5 points per game, adding 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals. Mitchell is still working on his efficiency, but his shooting marks — 35.3 from three and 44.0 overall — are respectable for a rookie with a 29.0 usage percentage. Utah wouldn’t be threatening for one of the Western Conference’s final playoff spots without Mitchell.
Victor Oladipo, guard, Indiana Pacers
Through four NBA seasons, Victor Oladipo had showed he’s a competent scorer who provides great energy. The trade to the Pacers has unlocked an All-Star version many NBA viewers never thought possible. Oladipo has gathered 24.4 points per game while shooting career-high clips beyond the arc (38.3) and overall (48.7). He’s also tallied 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists on average, propelling Indiana into discussions as the potential No. 4 seed in the East along with Milwaukee. Oladipo is the most unsuspected superstar of the campaign.
Ben Simmons, guard, Philadelphia 76ers
An injury kept Ben Simmons off the court in 2016-17, but the former No. 1 overall pick has been everything Philadelphia hoped he would be. He’s averaged 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals, using a 6-foot-10, 230-pound frame to bully defenders and see passes other point guards typically cannot. Most interestingly, he’s this productive despite the three-pointer not being even an ancillary part of his game. Simmons has only attempted 10 all season and hasn’t made one. His presence is a major reason the 76ers are currently in the playoff picture.
Al Horford, center, Boston Celtics
If the team is going to make a serious run at the NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving will be the reason Boston defeats the Cavs or Toronto Raptors. However, the Celtics also won’t have a chance unless Al Horford is a steady presence. The center’s versatility is key for Boston both as a switchable defender and all-around offensive player. Though his scoring (13.2 per game) isn’t especially glamorous, he’s averaging 5.2 assists while shooting a career-best 43.4 percent from three-point range. Horford isn’t a traditional superstar, but he’s one of the most efficient players in the league.
Klay Thompson, guard, Golden State Warriors
Sure, it’s a bit easier to look great when surrounded by Curry, Kevin Durant and Green. But that shouldn’t change how impressive Klay Thompson has been on both ends. In addition to being a reliable defender, he’s shooting a career-high 45.5 percent from beyond the arc, ranking second in the league. Additionally, per NBA.com, no full-time player attempting more than four triples per game owns a higher percentage than Thompson (46.1) when taking zero dribbles before firing. The marksman knows his role, and he’s a consistent force.
Karl-Anthony Towns, center, Minnesota Timberwolves
Dirk Nowitzki will be remembered as one of the best-shooting 7-footers in the game. Karl-Anthony Towns is already surpassing the Dallas Mavericks legend. The 22-year-old boasts a 60.5 effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for the value of a three-pointer being worth more than two. Nowitzki is also on track to set a career-high mark in the category — and he’s at 55.0. Towns has never finished a season below that clip. He’s still improving as a defender, but Towns is one of the most effective shooting centers the game has ever seen.
Kemba Walker, guard, Charlotte Hornets
The only reason the Hornets aren’t flailing to the league’s worst record is Kemba Walker. Now a two-time All-Star, the point guard has collected 22.9 points and 5.8 assists per game this season, and he’s shooting a commendable 37.7 percent from three-point range and 42.5 overall. With him on the floor, per NBA.com, Charlotte sports a plus-4.0 rating. As soon as he hits the bench, though, the Hornets have a minus-12.6 mark. Put simply, the franchise would be lost without Walker, who will be due a massive raise following the 2018-19 season whether he’s traded or not.