The NBA season is in full swing and it’s been just about as wild as anyone could’ve hoped. The Lakers are as dysfunctional as anyone could’ve possible imagined, the theatre of the Ben Simmons saga at and outside of Sixers practices has been mesmerizing, and now Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status could stop one of the best super teams in league history from ever winning a title. Somehow, each and every NBA season is able to bring us something insane and unexpected that captivates us all.
With seemingly so much change either happening or on the cusp of happening around the league, what changes might we see when it comes time for the All-Star game? What players will either finally breakthrough after years of coming up just short or blossom into All-Stars earlier on in their careers, preparing to continue to play in the game for years to come? Last season, there were five first time All-Stars, with players falling into each of those categories: Jaylen Brown, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, Mike Conley, and Zion Williamson.
Here are five players who you might see make their first All-Star team in 2022 from least likely to most likely:
5. RJ Barrett
Two of RJ Barrett’s teammates (one current, one former) accomplished the feat last year. Now it’s his turn. Barrett is one of the NBA’s most underrated young stars. If the Knicks remain a playoff team, Barrett should have the advantage over other players putting up slightly better numbers like Colin Sexton or Jerami Grant. It’s not quite as easy to make the All-Star team in the East as it was in years past, but expect Barrett to build on a stellar second season and throw his hat in the ring for a spot.
4. Fred VanVleet
With Kyle Lowry relocating to a warmer climate, Fred VanVleet will take over a larger responsibility in the Raptors offense. His scoring responsibilities may not change much in the long-term, but could take a big jump early on until Siakam returns sometime in November. A slight uptick will be necessary to propel him to All-Star status. The real change in VanVleet’s role will come as a facilitator.
His assists average has already jumped this season in the first few games. Led by Siakam and VanVleet, with contributions from OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes, the Raptors should compete for a playoff spot. That, along with continued solid defense and steal numbers for VanVleet, should give him a shot.
3. Michael Porter Jr.
With Jamal Murray out, the Nuggets will place a heavy offensive burden on Michael Porter Jr. in his third official season. Murray being out is only half the story though. After signing Porter Jr. to a five-year max extension in September, Denver is clearly betting big on Porter Jr. rising to stardom. Porter Jr. averaged 19 points per game as the team’s third option. Murray averaged over 21 last season. How much of that scoring output will Porter Jr. take on? It won’t just be scoring. If Porter Jr. can bring his block and steal averages up over one, it will be hard to deny him a spot.
It will be hard to make the All-Star team in the West, but perhaps not as hard as it once was. With Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson out, that takes two names out of contention for an All-Star spot. Chris Paul and Mike Conley are getting a little long in the tooth. Russell Westbrook is off to a not so stellar start. The list of players that Porter Jr. would have to beat out is likely shorter than you would think. As long as the Nuggets are winning, Porter Jr. will be in the All-Star conversation.
2. Tobias Harris
Just like VanVleet, Tobias Harris is stepping into a larger role this season. At this point in time, it feels like the days of Ben Simmons suiting up to play for the Sixers are over. His return to the court will likely come with a different jersey on his back, opening the door for Harris to step into a role as the team’s second star alongside Joel Embiid.
Despite heavy criticism being levied against Harris and the Sixers after they came to an agreement on a max extension in 2019, Harris has been exceptional for Philadelphia. The averages Harris has put up over the last two seasons would actually be worthy of All-Star contention without any improvement at all. All Harris may need to make his first All-Star appearance is a bigger spotlight which he will be afforded with Simmons out of the picture.
Harris has garnered All-Star consideration in the past during his time with the Pistons and Clippers. Interestingly, even playing alongside Simmons, Harris is averaging more assists with the Sixers than he has at any other point in his career. The Sixers will rely on that improved playmaking ability even more with the team lacking a true primary playmaker on the roster. The responsibility to keep the ball moving will fall on the shoulders of Joel Embiid (who currently leads the team in assists) and Harris.
1. Ja Morant
Ja Morant feels like the only lock on this list to breakthrough this season and find his rightfully deserved place playing alongside the NBA’s biggest stars in February. Through three games, Morant has been absolutely on fire. He leads the NBA in points per game. The likelihood that he stays at the top is low, but he may not dip too much. Morant looks poised to make the jump from good to great this season. The Grizzlies have been in the playoff hunt in both of his first two seasons and don’t expect that to change this year, especially if Morant takes another big leap.
Photo: (Karen Pulfer Focht – AP Photo)