Voting for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game has already begun, and the names leading the fan voting are unsurprising. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo top the list, and everyone currently projected to start would be an All-Star Game veteran.
However, one of the great joys of this season has been the breakout starts for some of the NBA’s young stars, and there are a host of names that have worthy cases to be an All-Star for the first time this season. When the coaches select the reserves this season, there will be a lot of difficult decisions to make, but there are 10 players who would be first-time All-Stars that have made strong cases for consideration. Sadly, many of them won’t find their way to Atlanta, at least initially, but it’s possible the league has to dip deeper into reserves than usual given how many stars have pushed back on the fan-less All-Star.
Still, we’re going to look at the list of 10, fully understanding there are a number of names that have become perennial All-Stars that will be tough to beat out for spots, but at least some of these guys deserve to have their name called for All-Star honors.
Zach LaVine (28.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.3 apg; 51.9/43.0/86.3 shooting): LaVine should be an All-Star this season, full stop. The Bulls scuffled early, but have been clawing their way back into the playoff race in the East and it is in large part due to the exploits of LaVine. He’s averaging career highs in, well, just about everything on a per game basis: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, FG%, 3P%, and FT%. He’s become one of the NBA’s best scorers, developing his shot at all three levels and has established himself as an elite closer, as we saw on Monday in the Bulls overtime win over the Pacers.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 16, 2021
Julius Randle (22.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 5.6 apg; 46.9/39.1/80.6 shooting): Like LaVine, Randle is posting career highs in just about every category this season and is the biggest reason why the Knicks are currently the 6-seed in the East. He’s not just scoring and rebounding, things he’s always been capable of, but he is legitimately running the New York offense a lot of the time, leading the Knicks in assists per game. That playmaking bump, along with the shooting efficiency from deep, has made him not just a stat sheet stuffer, but a guy who is impacting winning, shown recently by his 44-point outburst to beat the Hawks on Monday. The Knicks have been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises and no one on the team has contributed to that more than Randle, who deserves an All-Star nod for his efforts.
Jaylen Brown (26.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.4 apg; 51.3/40.9/75.2 shooting): Brown was on the fringe of All-Star contention a year ago and has made another leap with his playmaking on offense this season. The Celtics wing is posting a career-best scoring season in both volume and efficiency and is also facilitating more than ever, as he has stepped his offensive game up to match that of Jayson Tatum. The moments where he simply asserts his will on both ends and looks like an absolute dominant player in the league are incredible, and happen far more often this season than in years past. Without Brown’s contributions this season, the Celtics would be looking even worse than their 13-13 record and, like the first two names on this list, he should find his way onto the East squad.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 12, 2021
Malcolm Brogdon (21.1 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.3 rpg; 43.9/38.7/90.1 shooting): The Pacers have stumbled in recent weeks, in large part due to trading Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who hasn’t played yet after having a cancerous mass removed from his kidney that was found in the trade physical. Losing your best wing without a replacement is always going to be tough to handle, but Indiana has at least been able to tread water a bit thanks to the continued strong play from Brogdon. He, along with Domantas Sabonis, have been the offensive engines for the Pacers and had they been able to keep up their early season winning pace, I think he’d be firmly in the race. Right now, he’s likely on the outside looking in, but should at least get consideration from the coaches for his contributions to the East’s current 5-seed.
Jerami Grant (23.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.0 apg; 43.5/38.4/87.7 shooting): The Pistons have been dreadful this season, but not for a lack of effort from their biggest free agent signing. I must repent here and apologize to Grant, who I feared may have made a mistake going to Detroit for a bigger role over signing for the same money in Denver for the more comfortable fit. He has thrived with the ball in his hand this season, producing his own shot at a rate and efficiency that he never has previously and has been among the few positives in Detroit thus far. The Pistons being at the bottom of the East will likely keep him out of real contention for a spot on the team, but he’s deserving of some love for what he’s done this season, exceeding expectations and more than playing up to his big contract.
John Collins (18.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg; 1.6 apg; 54.3/39.1/85.3 shooting): Collins’ production isn’t as gaudy as it was a year ago when he averaged 21/10, but the Hawks also have competent frontcourt pieces around him to take some of those touches away. He’s still a tremendously efficient player and is having a terrific season on both ends of the floor (he’s one of the few positive defenders on the Hawks), as he, Clint Capela, and Trae Young have been the lone constants for the Hawks this season amid a rash of injuries. Collins is unlikely to get the nod due to the Hawks just not being good enough so far, but he deserves some national love for his play and should they have to dip into the reserves in the East frontcourt he could get a look. Also, he’s built for the All-Star Game with his dunking and lob-finishing ability.
De’Aaron Fox (23.4 ppg, 6.8 apg, 3.3 rpg; 47.6/34.3/68.6 shooting): The Kings have been among the league’s most fun teams to watch this season and are hanging around the West playoff picture, thanks in large part to the continued improvement of fourth-year point guard De’Aaron Fox. Fox has been nothing short of tremendous this season, as he’s become more aggressive offensively and the Kings are benefitting from the confidence he’s playing with on that end. Defense is a nightmare for Sacramento, but that’s neither here nor there (and, hey, there’s no defense in the All-Star game anyways). The West backcourt race is incredibly difficult to sift through, but Fox should get serious consideration for a reserve spot.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, 5.5 rpg; 50.6/38.2/77.1 shooting): Few would fault you for not watching a ton of Thunder basketball this season, but you have been missing out on one of the true rising stars in the NBA if you haven’t. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been good since he entered the NBA, but he continues to take leaps and in his third year as the clear leader of a team he has been absolutely sensational. SGA has this Thunder team that the entire world pegged for DFL in the NBA before the season at 11-15, tied with New Orleans and Houston for 12th in the West. He is an absolute maestro with the basketball, creating for himself and his teammates, and has steadily become an elite finisher and quality shooter. As mentioned earlier, the West backcourt is a tough group to crack but he has the numbers to match up with just about anyone who has buzz as a reserve and, compared to expectations, his impact on winning is on par with most as well.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 9, 2021
Mike Conley (16.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.7 rpg; 45.0/41.0/81.5 shooting): The Jazz are going to have two All-Stars for sure, but as the NBA’s best team thus far there will be a case made that they deserve a third and that that third All-Star should be the best veteran in the league who’s never made an All-Star Game. Conley doesn’t have the gaudiest counting stats and that will hold him back, but the Jazz have been sensational when he’s on the floor and while Donovan Mitchell is the offensive leader and Rudy Gobert is the defensive leader for this team, Conley is the glue that holds it together. I don’t think we’ll see him in the game and that’s both a shame and understandable, but if there were ever a year for him to get on an All-Star squad it’s this year with what he’s doing for the NBA’s best team. There’s also precedent for the coaches rewarding the best team with a nod like this, as we saw it with the 2015 Atlanta Hawks.
Zion Williamson (24.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.9 apg; 60.7/30.8/71.1 shooting): It took a little bit to figure things out under new coach Stan Van Gundy, but Zion has been preposterous of late for the Pelicans. The second year star is an absolute monster on the offensive end as teams have no idea how to keep him out of the restricted area and he simply bends defenses to his will. New Orleans is an abject disaster on defense and that has to be fixed for them to be a playoff team anytime soon, but it’s crazy how good the Pelicans offense is when Zion’s on the floor. The league would certainly be thrilled to see him in an All-Star Game, and whether that happens this year or next, he’s going to be out there soon.