Did you hear about the Passover-like exodus that occurred this NBA offseason? Three of the Eastern Conference’s top players migrated to the West. Two (Paul George and Jimmy Butler) were traded. One (Paul Millsap) elected to leave the Atlanta Hawks for the Denver Nuggets.
Sure, the East managed to recoup some of its losses when Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics. But the conference is still in shambles. Just try penciling in eight teams for the playoffs. To refer to the East as the NBA’s JV is an insult to hardworking JV ballers everywhere. It’s more like the CYO squad to the Western Conference’s varsity.
And yet, things must go on. Exodus or not, come February, 12 players will be selected to represent the conference in the All-Star Game.
The question is: who replaces George, Butler and Millsap? Hayward likely fills one spot, but what about after that? For basketball nerds, this opens the door to fun conversations. This year’s squad will likely include some surprising names, perhaps even some first-timers.
Want an example? Some NBA scouts believe that both Zach LaVine and D’Angelo Russell could end up being selected.
First, a refresher: All-Star teams consist of 12 players:
- Five starters made up of two guards and three frontcourt players. Starters are selected by votes coming from fans (50 percent), media (25) and players (25).
- Benches consist of seven reserves: two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.
Here’s what last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star team looked like:
Guard: Kemba Walker
Guard: Isaiah Thomas
FC: Paul George
FC: Kevin Love (injury replacement Carmelo Anthony)
FC: Paul Millsap
WC: John Wall
WC: Kyle Lowry
Assuming no injuries or some other unforeseen mishaps, we know James, Antetokounmpo and Irving will be voted in once again. Butler’s frontcourt spot is up for grabs, and there’s a good chance Joel Embiid, thanks to his play and popularity, garners enough votes to get the starting nod.
For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say next year’s Eastern Conference starting five looks like this:
FC: LeBron James
FC: Joel Embiid
FC: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Guard: Kyrie Irving
Guard: DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is not a sure thing for the starting lineup—he’ll have to fend off Wall, Lowry and Thomas—but it’s safe to assume he, along with those other three, earns an All-Star bid. The same can be said for Hayward, especially with the Celtics likely to find themselves at the top of the standings.
That leaves us with a bench of:
Guard: Kyle Lowry
Guard: Isaiah Thomas
FC: Gordon Hayward
WC: John Wall
We have three spots to fill.
Bleacher Report spoke to five NBA scouts to get some early predictions for who might get the nod. Some of the mentioned names will not come as a surprise: Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal.
But a few new names popped up as well. Here are five players who could be making their first All-Star team:
Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers
The 21-year-old Pacers center and 2015 No. 11 pick was every scout’s first choice.
“I definitely expect him to be there. I think he’s going to have a monster year,” one Eastern Conference scout said.
The enthusiasm is understandable. Turner averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season. He also shot 51.1 percent from the field and even drained 34.8 percent of the 1.4 three-pointers he hoisted per game.
Turner is another one of these young extraterrestrial 7-footers who can run, jump, shoot and block shots. And now with George gone, the Pacers are his team.
They might not be any good this year, but as another Eastern Conference scout said: “He’s going to put up some big numbers. In the East, that should get him onto this team easily.”
Khris Middleton, G, Milwaukee Bucks
Most agree the Bucks are a near-lock for the playoffs. The Greek Freak is the obvious leader here, but don’t sleep on Antetokounmpo‘s sidekick.
Middleton missed the first 50 games of the season last year due to a hamstring injury. He returned in February and averaged 14.7 points per game while knocking down 43.3 percent of his looks from long range.
“I like his game a lot,” a Western Conference scout said. “I think he’s one of the best 2-guards and two-way players in the East.”
Two years ago, Middleton put up borderline All-Star numbers (18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds combined with excellent shooting and defense). Now, healthy and part of a solid team—and with Jabari Parker and his 20 points per game scheduled to miss a large chunk of the season due to an ACL tear—don’t be surprised if Middleton becomes the Robin to Antetokounmpo‘s Batman.
Dennis Schroder, G, Atlanta Hawks
The logic here is simple: There’s no one else on Atlanta who can score the ball.
Sure, the team might be awful. But as one of the Eastern Conference scouts said: “Somebody’s got to take the shots. He’s good, and he’s going to get more shots and doesn’t have to pass the ball to Millsap, who they didn’t replace.”
Schroder averaged 17.9 points per game last season. Could he bump that number up to, say, 22, this year? If so, that kind of scoring output in the East might be worthy of All-Star consideration.
Zach LaVine, G, Chicago Bulls
The talent and opportunity will be there. LaVine, after all, dropped 18.9 points per game last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves as the team’s No. 3 option. This year, in Chicago, he’ll spend much of his time on the floor as the team’s primary scorer.
LaVine is still recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in February.
“If he’s healthy he may be there [All-Star Game], but he may not be healthy enough at the beginning of the year,” one of the Western Conference scouts said. “He has the talent, though.”
D’Angelo Russell, G, Brooklyn Nets
None of the scouts mentioned Russell on their own; his name had to be floated in order get consideration. It may not be as wild as it sounds, though.
Russell, just two years removed from being the No. 2 overall pick, will be getting major minutes for a team trying to win games (thank the Celtics). In that East, that can make you stand out.
He’s also just 21 and averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game last season in 28.7 minutes per outing.
Say the Nets jump out to a fast start and find themselves in playoff contention—again, this is the East—around the time of All-Star selections. Is it out of the realm of possibility that Russell gets consideration?
“I don’t think so,” another Eastern Conference scout said. “I can see that being the case.”
This isn’t to say Russell is the second coming of Jason Kidd.
“Will he score points? I think so, but [Nets head coach Kenny] Atkinson likes ball movement, and that doesn’t play to Russell’s game,” a Western Conference scout said. “He likes to have the ball in his hands and make plays.”
Perhaps the best summary of Russell’s All-Star chances came from one of the Eastern Conference scouts: “I like him and think his numbers will probably be better. But if he’s an All-Star, then the East really sucks.”
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