The Case for These First-Time NBA All-Stars, East Edition

It’s never too early to start looking at NBA All-Star berths, especially considering just how fascinating and wide-open the 2019-20 season has been so far.

While the NBA still needs to expand the field to include 15 players—much like how an actual NBA roster is set up—let’s provide a glimpse of players that are making a strong case to be included at this year’s All-Star game in Chicago’s United Center. (There will certainly be no Bulls present.) 

Based on career pedigree, past All-Star appearances and overall impact this season, the sure things are already Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics), Bradley Beal (Bradley Beal) and Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets; assuming he returns to action fairly soon).

There are also a number of fringe cases, such as Ben Simmons (who will likely get a nod due to pedigree and name recognition), Andre Drummond (who might also make it in due to past All-Star game berths) and Kyle Lowry (who has missed many games due to injury but is putting up big numbers for a terrific Raptors team).

That leaves three spots open in the Eastern Conference, which opens the door for new players to showcase their skills. 

As the All-Star starters come down to fan voting, people vote for players they are aware of and enjoy watching highlights of. (Most NBA viewers don’t pore over spreadsheets of adjusted plus/minus statistics or other advanced metrics.) As such, narrative plays a big part, but the following players have narratives and are putting up some truly impressive numbers that deserve to be highlighted in the early going this season.

Most of these guys will be reserves, however, noticed by the coaching vote for the huge contributions they’ve made so far this season.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

There can be no denying Young’s status as a complete turnstile on the defensive end, but when it comes to All-Star berths, defense is the last thing on voters’ minds.

Does Young create highlights with supreme regularity? Yes. Is he extremely fun to watch? Hell yeah. As such, there is no doubt that the 21-year-old will make his first All-Star game in his second season. In fact, he might even be a starter (and the only one you could see that happening with from this following group.)

I mean, just watch him tie his career-high with 49 points (in a game the Hawks lost, of course):

Even beyond the gut feeling that Young will make the team, his statistics and all-around impact is staggering. According to Cleaning the Glass, Young is second on the Hawks with 1.2 points per shot attempt, which is behind only Damian Jones’s robust 1.4 points per shot attempt (though the big man is only playing 18.2 minutes per contest).

In terms of offensive impact, Atlanta’s offense improves by 15.4 points per 100 possessions when Young plays, which is in the 99th percentile. That number trails only Jabari Parker’s +17.9 points per 100 showing in that same category. The Hawks’ effective field goal percentage skyrockets by 7.2 percent when Young plays, which is also in the 99th percentile.

Lastly, and somewhat surprisingly, the team’s turnover rate actually falls by 3.5 percent when Young plays, which is also in the 98th percentile.

According to ESPN’s all-in-one impact metric real plus/minus, which was released recently, Young is one of the top three offensive players in the league, behind only LeBron James (6.46 ORPM) and James Harden (5.07 ORPM) in that category with a 5.06.

In terms of raw production, Young’s numbers are staggering: Despite a sputtering Hawks team, Young is putting up 27.9 points, 8.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. The diminutive point guard is shooting 37.6 percent from downtown (a vast improvement on last year’s 32.4 percent clip) on a whopping 8.9 attempts per game. He is 5th in the NBA with 213 three-point attempts this season.

He is doing all of this on 59.7 percent true shooting percentage and a sky-high 34 percent usage rate, which is 4th in the NBA.

The eye test further drives home the idea that Young is an All-Star. He carries the Hawks on a nightly basis via an extremely engaging and entertaining play style that should translate well to an All-Star format.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets

If anyone thought former second-round pick Devonte’ Graham would be in the conversation for an All-Star berth in the 2019-20 season, they certainly kept quiet during the preseason. Nonetheless, he deserves serious consideration for a spot.

The second-year guard is already in the running for Most Improved Player after he only averaged 4.7 points across 46 games (676 total minutes) during his rookie year. Graham’s scoring average is now up to 20.0 PPG and he is among the league leaders in three-point shooting.

Graham is also second in triples made in 2019-20 with 103, and his 240 attempts are third in the league. That includes striping 42.9 percent from downtown on a whopping 57.3 percent attempt rate per Basketball Reference. Over half of those made triples have been unassisted (per PBP Stats), meaning he is taking some extremely difficult attempts off the dribble, including a game-icing moonball against the Nets on Wednesday:

According to Inpredictable, Graham is second in the league in win probability added at 3.14. That metric considers made/missed shots, made/missed free throws, getting fouled and turning the ball over. That 3.14 mark is ahead of a bevy of All-Stars such as James Harden, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Graham’s shooting WPA of 5.38 is behind only Harden. His kitchen sink WPA (which compiles all box score statistics into one metric) trails Harden by a mere .03: 11.65 to 11.62.

Graham’s hot shooting has helped the Hornets play far above their expected level, which puts them at No. 2 in the league with +2.8 wins better than expected, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Far from a one-trick pony, Graham is also top 10 in all three major passing categories: Assists per game (7.6, 6th), total assists (205, 4th) and assist rate (37.0%, 8th).

The Hornets have also been far superior when Graham plays, as evidenced by BBall Index’s luck-adjusted on/off numbers, which paint him as the single most important player to his team in the entire NBA. Graham leads all players in luck-adjusted on/off rating with a staggering +16.6, ahead of Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Pascal Siakam, who round out the top four.

According to BBall Index, his offensive LA on/off rating of +15.6 is behind only Towns, and his offensive NET rating of +289.5 (which is his LA offensive on/off multiplied by the number of offensive possessions a player has been on court for, divided by 100) laps the field by a considerable margin. His overall NET rating of +309.8 is over 45 points higher than the second-best in that category (Siakam’s +264.3 NET).

The Hornets were widely believed to be the worst team in the NBA heading into this season, but Graham has helped keep them far away from the dingy basement of the East, and, for that, he deserves credit.

Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers

The Pacers’ relatively surprising success this season has mostly been borne on the back of terrific play from two players that could qualify as first-time All-Stars this season: Domantas Sabonis and new Pacer Malcolm Brogdon. The latter is seemingly having a slightly better all-around season, though it’s incredibly close.

The Pacers have been hit by a glut of injuries, but Brodgon (the Pacers’ major offseason acquisition) has helped keep them afloat. Thanks to being untethered from the Bucks’ understandable reliance on Antetokounmpo, he is flourishing as a No. 1 option in Indiana.

Brogdon is leading a 16-9 team that’s 6th in the East right now in scoring (19.5 PPG) and assists (7.5 APG) while his sterling efficiency is buoyed by a stunning 94.6 percent clip from the free-throw line.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Brogdon is tops on the team in offensive rating, as the Pacers outscore opponents by 6.8 points when he’s on the floor, which is good for the 84th percentile. Not only is he a brilliant free throw shooter, but his sturdy frame and unhurried style of offense lead to the Pacers drawing a ton of fouls as a unit when he’s on the floor: The team’s free throw rate skyrockets by 8.9 percent when he plays, good for the 98th percentile.

While there can be no denying that there is some noise in this metric, Brogdon ranks 41st in the NBA with a 1.28 real adjusted plus/minus per NBA Shot Charts, which is ahead of notable players such as Luka Doncic, Danny Green, Aron Baynes and Nikola Vucevic.

Brogdon is a capable defender, but most of his value is being accrued on the offensive end in 2019-20.

Again, this stat is noisy, but Brogdon is top-50 in the NBA in ESPN’s RPM with a 2.60, and he is top-15 among all point guards in that metric—ahead of players such as Kemba Walker, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jamal Murray. Most of that RPM comes courtesy of a strong 2.25 ORPM. Brogdon is also top-25 in offensive player impact plus/minus per BBall Index with a 2.55.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Apr 13, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) prepares to shoot a basket against the Orlando Magic during game one of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Orlando defeated Toronto. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Two Raptors have an extremely strong argument for making the All-Star game. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are the team’s two best players, but if Kyle Lowry makes it (which is a substantial “if”), then three Raptors on the team might be a stretch. As such, let’s focus on the player that is pretty much guaranteed to be in this year: Siakam.

After looking like the Raps’ best player at times during the playoffs last year (despite sharing the floor with Kawhi Leonard), Siakam has built on his breakout MIP campaign to be one of the best players in the East this season.

Though his scoring efficiency is down considerably, most of that can be chalked up to being his team’s No. 1 option, as his usage rate has leapt from 20.8 percent to 28.8 percent in 2019-20. With that increased volume has come career-highs in every major counting stat: 24.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.9 SPG and 0.8 BPG in 36.9 minutes a night.

Siakam’s +16.8 net rating per Cleaning the Glass is tops on the Raps and is in the 97th percentile. In particular, the team’s offense improves by 15.7 points per 100 possessions when he plays, which is in the 99th percentile—and is miles better than the team’s second-best in that statistic: VanVleet’s +5.3 is 77th percentile.

According to ESPN’s RPM and NBA Shot Charts’s RAPM, Siakam is a top-10 player this season, as his 5.11 RPM is ninth and his 2.56 RAPM is eighth. He is also second in the entire league in BBall Index’s NET rating with a +264.3—behind only Devonte’ Graham.

With an increased role and an enhanced stature around the league as a terrific, championship-caliber player, Siakam should easily slide into his first All-Star game.

Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Though 22-year-old Bam Adebayo might not have the gaudiest stats for the Heat, the third-year player is having a tremendous season in 2019-20, and he recently dropped a 30-point triple-double masterclass against the defensively challenged Atlanta Hawks:

Adebayo was transcendent in that game, and his improvement from his second season to this year has been stark. He is averaging career-highs in every major category: 15.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.2 BPG. He is one of three players (Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns) producing those numbers in 2019-20, according to Basketball Reference.

Though not immense, Adebayo’s usage rate has increased to 19.6 percent this season, yet his true shooting percentage has stayed about where it was last year at 62.6 percent. He is shooting a career-high 60.7 percent from two-point range, however, including a career-high 75.7 percent at the rim.

Adebayo’s real claim to fame is his smothering defense, which has helped Miami retain a top-10 defensive rating this season. His defensive box plus/minus of 4.6 per Basketball Reference is fifth in the NBA this season and his stupendous 100.7 defensive rating is 17th.

According to ESPN’s defensive RPM metric, Adebayo is a top-10 defender and third among centers—ahead of Rudy Gobert, Dwight Howard and Al Horford—with a 3.78 DRPM.

Combine that all-around production and efficiency with Adebayo’s blanketing defensive prowess and you have the makings of a first-time All-Star. Especially for a Heat team that is 18-6 and undefeated at home.

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards

The theme of this Washington Wizards season could really be described in two words: Bertans Unleashed!

After being traded for pretty much nothing from the team that developed him (San Antonio Spurs), Bertans has been on a tear with a terrific Wizards offense (fifth in the league per Cleaning the Glass), of which he is a hugely important part.

Bertans is producing a career-high 15.7 points per game on a frankly absurd 67.4 true shooting percentage, which, when combined with his 78.3 three-point attempt rate, showcases just how much of an elite shooter he has been this season.

With 1.39 points per shot attempt, Bertans is in the 98th percentile per Cleaning the Glass, and he also leads the Wizards in that category. He also leads the team by a mile in net rating, as they improve by 17.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor (98th percentile). In particular, the team’s offense improves by 13.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court—buoyed by a 5.5 percent increase in effective field goal percentage, which ranks him in the 94th percentile.

Bertans leads the entire NBA in Inpredictable’s Win Probability Added metric with a lofty 3.19, and he is being employed similarly to how JJ Redick was during his two seasons with the 76ers. However, the difference is that Bertans is a  6’10” power forward with surprising athleticism. While him being a trade piece seems to be a foregone conclusion, no matter where he ends up, the 27-year-old deserves a real shot at the All-Star game this season.

If not that, then at least get this man in the three-point shooting contest!