The 2021-2022 season has been full of surprises. In the Eastern Conference three non-playoffs teams from last year, the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, and Cleveland Cavaliers are among the top-6 teams. At the same time, three 2021 postseason squads, the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Atlanta Hawks, find themselves outside the playoff picture looking in.
Out west the 2019 champion Lakers are 8-8 and barely holding off the young Oklahoma City Thunder for 9th place. Meanwhile, after flopping two play-in games during last year's playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have charged out of the gate, and are in first place at 13-2.
NBA organizations rise and fall each decade, with a select few fortunate enough to raise a banner. Similarly, All-Stars lift off and drop fast in the NBA.
The 2020 All-Star Game featured ten first time All-Stars:
- Brandon Ingram
- Devin Booker
- Luka Doncic
- Pascal Siakam
- Trae young
- Donovan Mitchell
- Rudy Gobert
- Jayson Tatum
- Domantas Sabonis
- Bam Adebayo
In 2021, it was more of the same as five fresh faces joined the NBA’s mid-season festivities for the first time:
- Zion Williamson
- Jaylen Brown
- Zach LaVine
- Julius Randle
- Mike Conley
2021 All-Stars, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, and Zion Williamson have yet to play, while Mike Conley and Damian Lillard have underperformed for the Jazz and Trail Blazers, respectively. These five athletes have helped—in one way or the other—pave the road for a budding crop of first-timers to make the jump from solid NBA players to All-Stars.
Next, we’ll delve into the case for and the case against five possible first time All-Stars.
2021/22 Stats: 20.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.6 FG%
The Case For CJ McCollum
During the previous six seasons, CJ McCollum has averaged 20-plus points while putting up solid shooting averages from across the floor. CJ topped out last year for the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 23.1 PPG and dishing out 4.7 APG while shooting 40.2% from deep. Despite McCollum’s shooting prowess, he’s never sniffed an All-Star berth for two main reasons: McCollum didn’t set up his teammates for easy looks, and more importantly, he was a subpar defender, nearly giving away as many points as he’s scored.
McCollum’s backcourt partner, Damian Lillard, has struggled this season, forcing CJ to pick up his playmaking. He’s averaging 9.1 potential assists, and he’s taking care of the ball better than many veteran point guards throughout the league with a 2.06 assist to turnover ratio.
CJ McCollum’s never going to be an excellent overall defender. His rebounding percentage (6.4%) and block percentage (2.3%) are too low for the advanced stats to favor him. Still, this season McCollum’s on-ball D has improved significantly. Through the Trail Blazers’ first 16 games, McCollum’s scrambling on the perimeter and fighting over screens as well as holding his own against post-up attempts. Overall, he’s first among all Portland players in shots defended at 13.2 per game, and he’s keeping his assignments to -1.7% under their normal average, not a spectacular mark, but solid for a guy who’s been known as an offensive specialist his entire career.
The Case Against CJ McCollum
The Western Conference is over-saturated with talented perimeter options. Eight guards out west have a higher scoring average than CJ McCollum:
- Stephen Curry: 29.5 PPG
- Ja Morant: 26.0 PPG
- Luka Doncic: 24.9 PPG
- Donovan Mitchell: 24.3 PPG
- Talen Horton-Tucker: 23.3 PPG (only three games played)
- Devin Booker: 23.0 PPG
- Anthony Edwards: 22.5 PPG
- Shai Gilgeous Alexander: 21.1 PPG
Stephen Curry’s the leading MVP candidate so far, and he’s a lock. Luka Doncic isn’t far behind Curry in MVP voting, and he’s guaranteed a spot in the All-Star game. Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker are top-20 players in the league (if not higher), and they also seem sure to make the list.
Ja Morant is second in the association in scoring. Chris Paul’s still an advanced stat god, clocking in at 25th (minimum 15 MPG) in www.nba.com’s player impact estimate at 15.3, which considers his overall offensive and defensive performance.
This is the same story as every season for CJ McCollum. He’s a good shooting guard in a conference where being anything short of excellent means you’re going to find yourself on the outside looking in on the All-Star game.
2021/22 Stats: 21.7 PPG, 3.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 45.4 FG%
The Case For Tyler Herro
Tyler Herro is one of the best high-volume three-point shooters in the league. Tyler Herro ranks 17th in accuracy among players who are attempting six or more long-distance shots per game at 39.4%. Unlike many of the other great three-point snipers in the league, Herro’s not solely a three-point specialist.
Compare his field goal numbers to the top-3 high volume shooters from beyond the arc:
- Joe Harris: 8.9 FGA and 6.3 3PA
- Lonzo Ball: 11.5 FGA and 6.9 3PA
- Grayson Allen: 11.3 FGA and 8.4 3PA
- Tyler Herro: 18.2 FGA and 7.2 3PA
We can see that Harris, Ball, and Allen take most of their attempts off of spot-up opportunities from distance. Tyler Herro isn’t that type of player. He’s attempting less than half his shots from deep.
Herro’s shot profile matches up better with some of today’s young superstars:
- Zach LaVine: 19.4 FGA and 7.0 3PA
- Donovan Mitchell: 20.4 FGA and 9.6 3PA
- Jayson Tatum: 22.2 FGA and 8.1 3PA
This season “Boy Wonder” has morphed into a three-level offensive threat. He’s connecting on 65.2% of his shots at the rim, 57.4% from 10 to 16 feet, and 45.5% from 16 feet to the three-point line.
On defense, Tyler Herro has blocked zero shots this season, and he has a total of seven steals through 15 games. Still, he’s mixing it up with the big boys inside, averaging 5.7 RPG, and he has turned into one of the best three-point defenders in the league. This year Herro is defending 4.9 shots from beyond the arc per contest, and he’s holding the opposition to only 20.6%, a massive 14.2% under their normal average. Herro’s outside D has been especially valuable because Kyle Lowry hasn’t lived up to his usual standards throughout the early goings, allowing his assignments to shoot 12.3% over their typical three-point average.
The Case Against Tyler Herro
We’ve established that Tyler Herro is a crucial offensive weapon for the Miami Heat. Here’s the problem, though. He can’t carry an offense. The former Wild Cat is near the league’s bottom (7.5 percentile) in isolation play types, connecting on a miserable 0.58 points per possession. To make matters worse, he’s taking 8.9 pull-up field goal attempts per contest and hitting only 42.1% of his shots, good for a 49.6 eFG%.
Only four guards are guaranteed an All-Star berth in each conference (although there are two wild card spots available, meaning the coaches can select up to six guards if they want).
2021 All-Star guards Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons haven’t played. Still, the Eastern Conference is loaded with excellent two-way perimeter players who carry the type of superstar gravity that Tyler Herro has yet to find.
DeMar DeRozan is fifth in the league in scoring at 26.6 PPG, while his teammate Zach LaVine is seventh in the association in points at 26.2 per game.
Jaylen Brown and Trae Young are ranked ninth and tenth in the NBA in scoring, respectively, excelling in one-on-one situations.
Bradley Beal and James Harden have yet to reach last season’s production, but Beal’s Wizards are tied for third place in the Eastern Conference at 10-5, and Harden’s Nets are tied for first at 11-5.
Tyler Herro might get squeezed out by more established Eastern Conference guards for his first All-Star selection.
2021/22 Stats: 22.2 PPG, 6.5 APG, 7.1 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 44.8 FG%
The Case For Malcolm Brogdon
Caris LeVert has struggled throughout the early stages of the 2021-2022 season, jacking up 16.5 shots per game and connecting on only 39.4% of them. Making matters worse. LeVert has the highest usage rate on the Pacers at 30.8%, but he’s averaging a paltry 3.5 assists per contest.
Domantas Sabonis has been his usual efficient self from the block, but through 35.9 minutes per game, he only takes 12.7 shots, decreasing his overall impact.
Myles Turner has been even shyer on offense, putting up only 8.9 field goal attempts per game.
So, Malcolm Brogdon has had to step up his game. His raw numbers are impressive. He’s averaging 22.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 6.8 APG to go along with a solid 20.7 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Brogdon’s been an integral part of nearly every aspect of Indiana’s offense, pushing the 28-year-old into a more prominent role than ever.
Going beyond his traditional stats, Malcolm Brogdon ranks 28th in player impact estimate (15.0) ahead of other solid Eastern Conference guards, Trae Young, Zach LaVine, and Jaylen Brown. His Box Plus/Minus is also an excellent 3.6, meaning he’s been worth 3.6 points more per 100 possessions than an average NBA player, which is higher than LeBron James (2.6), Jayson Tatum (-0.9), and Bradley Beal (-0.1).
Overall, Brogdon’s stats scream “out top-30 player in the NBA,” and he also passes the eye test. He’s been a decent outlet for his teammates during messy half-court possessions, capable of driving down the lane and finishing at the rack (68.9% from 0 to 3 feet) or dishing out to open teammates (8th in potential assists at 14.4 per game).
The Case Against Malcolm Brogdon
After losing to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, the Pacers are 6-10, and the All-Star game is often reserved for winning players.
Chris Paul is a perfect example. His overall numbers of 14.1 PPG, 10.5 APG, and 4.1 RPG while shooting 32.6% from deep don’t look as flashy as Malcolm Brogdon’s statistics. But the Phoenix Suns have won ten games in a row and sit in second place out west at 11-3.
Would any GM in the league take Malcolm Brogdon over Chris Paul?
Not if they want to keep their job.
Malcolm Brogdon is heading toward the dreaded “empty stat” zone. Sure, he’s getting hoops, and he’s dishing the ball, but the Pacers are too talented with two-time All-Star Damontas Sabonis, shot-blocking sensation Myles Turner, and up-and-comer Caris LeVert to sit four games under.500.
Unless the Pacers surge throughout the rest of November and December, it’s hard to see Malcolm Brogdon making his first mid-season classic.
2021/22 Stats: 18.8 PPG, 7.1 APG, 7.5 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 41.6 FG%
The Case For LaMelo Ball
Miles Bridges has made a lot of noise this season with his improved play for the Charlotte Hornets. Bridges is pouring in 21.3 points per game through 16 games, the highest on the squad. Still, he’s not the Hornets’ best player, and it’s not particularly close.
The honor of best Hornet goes to 20-year-old LaMelo Ball because he’s impacting the game in nearly every way.
Compare LaMelo’s stats to the other Eastern Conference guards (minimum 15 MPG):
LaMelo’s 12th in scoring (18.8 PPG)
He’s 3rd in rebounding (7.4 RPG)
He’s 4th in assists (7.5 APG)
He’s 5th in steals (2.1 SPG)
LaMelo’s not putting up empty stats either. The Charlotte Hornets are 9-7, with signature wins against the 13-2 Golden State Warriors and the 10-5 Washington Wizards.
LaMelo Ball was the decisive factor in the Hornets’ victory over the Warriors, scoring 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, solid defense, and a team-high +13 rating.
Ball helped secure the win differently versus the Wizards. His shot wasn’t falling (4-18 from the field), but he dished out 14 assists, snagged 6 rebounds, and held opposing point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a career low zero points. In the end, LaMelo finished second on the Wizards at +20 for the game.
LaMelo has a little Kobe in him. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’ll guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player. He’ll take the last shot with the game on the line, and he’ll jump a lane for a game-sealing steal. LaMelo Ball’s a superstar in the making.
The Case Against LaMelo Ball
He’s only 20-years-old.
Unless LaMelo Ball and the Hornets flop through the rest of 2021, the only reason he won’t make the All-Star team this year is because he’s too young.
The Charlotte Hornets are 9-7 while playing the most difficult schedule in the league by a country mile.
Does a former All-Star like Jayson Tatum deserve to make the team over LaMelo Ball when the Celtics are 7-8, and he’s shooting 39.6% from the field off an outrageous 22.2 attempts per game?
What about 2020 All-Star Trae Young, who’s guided the extremely talented Hawks to a 7-9 record and admitted he’s found it challenging to stay focused this season?
There’s little statistical proof or eye-test indicators that say LaMelo should not make the All-Star team in 2022.
2021/22 Stats: 26.0 PPG, 7.1 APG, 6.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 50.2 FG%
The Case for Ja Morant
Ja Morant has ascended this season. He’s a top-10 player in the league, who’s eighth in scoring and 11th in assists. But more notably, Morant is fifth in the NBA in isolation scoring, dropping 1.37 points per possession, and he’s connecting on a superb 42.4% of his pull-up three-pointers. If that’s not enough, he lands inside the top-50 in points per possession as the ball handler in pick and roll situations (0.96 PPP).
This season, outside of Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, and Kevin Durant, there has been no better offensive weapon than Ja Morant.
He’ll pull up and kill you from beyond the arc, pick you apart in the pick and roll, and when things bog down in the half-court, he’ll dribble by you for an easy layup.
On defense, he’s been subpar with a 113.6 Defensive Rating, but that hasn’t stopped other superstars like Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Zach LaVine from making the All-Star squad.
The Case Against Ja Morant
The only way Ja Morant doesn’t make the All-Star team is if his Grizzlies go on a massive losing streak.
The Grizzlies sit at 8-7 in the Western Conference while facing the third toughest schedule in the league. While many other Western Conference playoff hopefuls can boast of a Big-2—Chris Paul and Devin Booker for the Suns, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for the Jazz, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the Trail Blazers, and LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers—Ja Morant is on his own at the end of close games.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the solid Grizzlies with Morant in the fold, slipping far enough down the standings to eliminate the former Murray State star from his first All-Star selection, especially considering Memphis’s schedule lightens up considerably over the next few weeks.
Anything Can Happen
We’re still at the toddler stage of the season, which means we’ve seen enough to notice distinctive patterns emerge. Still, it’s early.
Damian Lillard has struggled through 16 games, but he has time to get hot and push Ja Morant down the All-Star ladder. The same holds true in the east, where James Harden has underperformed during the early goings but is slowly turning it on. Over the next month, he could push LaMelo Ball out of the mid-season celebrations.
NBA fans love basketball because of the type of hot streaks superstars burst through, and conversely, they take a mischievous joy in watching a player buckle under pressure and begin to clank shots. We’ll have to keep a close eye on things and see how our potential first time All-Stars perform as fall shifts into winter.
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