2017 NBA All-Star Game: The Case for 5 Potential First-Timers
Over the past five years, finding room for all the NBA players deserving of All-Star nods has been tough.
Stalwarts such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant have been taking spots for nearly a decade, but this season, there are five potential first-timers trying to bust through and make it to New Orleans. Using numberFire's nERD player rankings, these are the ballers making the strongest cases.
A Trio of Jazz
The Utah Jazz are perhaps the most surprising team of the 2016-2017 season.
They currently sit fifth in numberFire's team rankings and have a 98.1% chance of making the playoffs. Their meteoric rise up the Western Conference standings is due in large part to three players vying for their first All-Star game: Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and George Hill.
Hayward's name is the one that jumps off the page -- the seven-year pro is averaging a career-high 23.3 points per game, while also adding 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Despite having missed a handful of games with a finger injury, he's 16th in our nERD rankings.
Kawhi Leonard (sixth overall) is the only higher-ranked wing in the Western Conference right now. That should strengthen Hayward's case to be an All-Star. Assuming he remains healthy, Hayward appears to be the most likely Utah player to make it.
Gobert is currently in his fourth NBA season while also making a case to be an All-Star, and has been doing so with Derrick Favors on the sidelines. The French big man is the highest ranked Jazz player according to nERD (seventh overall) and is posting career highs in points, rebounds and blocks. He's also leading the NBA in field goal percentage (67.1%).
As good as he's been on offense, it's the other end of the floor where he really excels, as he has a defensive rating of 98 and is part of a league-leading defensive unit. Despite gaudy defensive stats and a sparkling nERD rating, it seems like an uphill battle for Gobert to make an All-Star appearance due to a loaded Western Conference frontcourt.
Hill, the only newcomer of this bunch, has found new life with the defensive-minded Jazz. He never averaged more than 17 points per game in his career entering this year, but is currently pouring in 20 points a night and is on the court for an average of 32.7 minutes. Adding offense to his defensive game has him up to 22nd in our nERD rankings.
The biggest issue for Hill is his lack of games played.
A variety of injuries has limited him to 11 games played, which severely limits his relevance for making the All-Star team. The Western Conference is also loaded at point guard with guys like James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard, to name a few.
The always undervalued Clipper
During his first two seasons with the Clippers, Jordan averaged 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. With the arrival of Griffin for the 2010-2011 season and Paul the year after that, the big man has taken his game to a new level.
That level has seen Jordan lead the league in rebounding twice, while also being a two-time All-NBA and All-Defensive team selection. Despite these accolades, the 17th-best player, according to numberFire rankings, has yet to be declared an All-Star.
His low scoring totals doesn't match other All-Stars, but much of that is due to a low shot total -- he only attempts 6.8 shots per game for his career.
As the new All-Star format of selecting frontcourt players and not just centers takes effect, Jordan certain does have a better shot. With down years from the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, the retirement of Tim Duncan, and the injuries to Dirk Nowitzki, Jordan may finally get his long awaited seat at the All-Star game table.
Michael Jordan’s alpha dog in Charlotte
Kemba Walker has normally been poised for his first All-Star appearance, but has been left off in favor of others. So far this year, Walker is making the strongest case of his career by averaging 22.8 points (career high) on a stellar 2.6 three-pointers per game.
That increase in scoring complements his all-around game, which includes per-game averages of 4.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals on the young season.
Those numbers have bumped him to 23rd in the nERD player rankings, ahead of past All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and John Wall. Much of that boost has been due to an increasingly efficient game.
As a rookie, Walker struggled from the floor, shooting a meager 36.6% from the field and only 30.5% from deep. Now in his sixth NBA season, the former UConn guard has bumped those percentages to 46.6% and 41.4%, respectively. With his team sitting at 14-11 and primed for a playoff spot, this year should certainly be the year Walker makes his All-Star debut.