The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center and most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:
LeBron James. Stephen Curry. Kevin Durant. James Harden. Russell Westbrook.
Everybody wants to see the marquee stars and there is nothing at all wrong with that.
However, with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, inevitably a few deserving players get overlooked. Here are 10 players that could break through at L.A. in February:
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
The 2016 Kia Rookie of the Year averaged 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game and shot 54.2 percent from the field last season. And, at 21, he might be best center in the game. He was also the victim of four Warriors squatting on the West All-Star team a year ago. If the Timberwolves are in the playoff race, it shouldn’t happen again.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
The Eddie Johnson of the 21st century — aka, the poster boy for the overlooked. Conley has been performing at an All-Star level for years, but keeps getting squeezed out by the glut of point guards in the West. In his 11th season, he’s due.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
“The Stifle Tower” was a finalist for Kia Defensive Player of the Year last season and now he’ll see his offensive numbers go up in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure from Utah. The Jazz say they’re making him the focus of the team.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Let’s face it: he’d be the reigning Kia Rookie of the Year in 2017 if he’d played more than just 31 games last season. He’s got all the tools and he’s downright fun, too, which makes him a perfect fit to shine at All-Star weekend. It’s there for the taking … if he can stay healthy.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Paul George and Paul Millsap changing conferences opens up two spots on the East All-Star team. The Pacers’ big man with the nice jumper will get more touches now that George is gone and he’s the centerpiece of the offense.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
The league’s top rebounder last season, Whiteside also averaged 17 points, shot 55.7 percent and 2.1 blocks per game, too. He anchors a team that should be in the playoff race, but he might have to beat out Turner for the spot on East roster.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Coming off his best season in the NBA (23.1 points per game, shooting 40.4 percent behind the arc), John Wall’s running mate could make for an All-Wizards backcourt if he stays healthy and delivers consistency again.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Half of the highest-scoring backcourt in the league, he’s improved through each of his first four seasons and fills it up from the 3-point line. He’d likely have to bump out teammate Damian Lillard for the spot.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
The 7-foot-3 Latvian has all the skills to excel and the perfect forum to do it in at Madison Square Garden. If Carmelo Anthony gets his wish to be traded out of New York, the young forward will get more chances to become an All-Star.
Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
He hasn’t played a single game or laced up his sneakers for an NBA practice. But if the ballyhooed No. 2 Draft pick lives up anywhere close to the hype and the Lakers are competitive, don’t discount the fan voting in L.A. from getting him in the race.
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