The Whiteboard: Get ready for some new faces on the NBA All-Star teams

Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, The Whiteboard

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The NBA All-Starters will be announced tonight, with reserves to follow on Feb. 3. There are sure to be some surprises as the rosters are filled out but one thing seems all but assured — there are going to be some new faces.

By my count, there are seven players from last year’s roster who almost certainly won’t make it this year because of extended absences or dramatic regression — Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, Ben Simmons, Damian Lillard and Paul George. A few others — Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum — could be in serious jeopardy for the same reasons. That could open as many as 10 of the 24 slots to players who didn’t make the team last year.

At least some of those slots will be filled by former All-Stars who just didn’t make the team last year, players like Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan and Karl-Anthony Towns. However, the sheer number of openings ensures that we’ll see at least a handful of first-time All-Stars this year. Here are a few of the players with the strongest cases.

Which players could make their first NBA All-Star teams this season?

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Morant is as close as you can get to a lock and there’s a good chance he’s actually named to the starting lineup for the West this evening — he was the second-leading vote-getter among Western Conference guards behind only Steph Curry in the last round of voting. Morant is averaging 25.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, he’s responsible for a slew of eye-popping highlights, been one of the most consistent performers in the clutch and his the Grizzlies holding the No. 3 seed in the West. He’s doing to be an All-Star and there’s a chance that’s not the only honor he earns this year.

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

Garland’s numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as Morant’s — 19.7 points, 8.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds — but they should be more than enough to earn him a spot, especially with the Cavaliers’ record and the creation load he’s carrying. The Cavaliers have the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference right now and the emergence of Garland has been one of the primary drivers of their success. Also, you have to assume the Cavs, given their success, will get at least one player on the All-Star team and Garland’s case is much stronger than Jarrett Allen (although he also has an outside shot to make his first All-Star team).

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

VanVleet just keeps getting better for the Raptors and this season he has really inhabited his role as a three-level scorer and high-efficiency primary creator. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 7.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been dynamite shooting off the dribble, attacking the basket and creating for teammates, and he has as much defensive value as any other guard who is an All-Star candidate in the East.

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

If Jrue Holiday or Khris Middleton make the All-Star team, there may not be room for all three of Garland, VanVleet and Ball to make the team (assuming Zach LaVine, Trae Young, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan are locks for other guard slots). I’d argue the numbers and context are more impressive for both VanVleet and Garland but Ball is averaging 19.4 points, 7.7 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game and is one of the most exciting passers and creators in the league. He has the kind of game that would translate incredibly well to an All-Star Game setting and if he gets in, even for the sake of aesthetics and excitement, you won’t find any complaints here.

Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs

Murray might be hard a sell. In Ben Ladner’s picks for the Western Conference All-Star team, he ended up choosing between Devin Booker and Dejounte Murray for the final spot. If things do actually shake out like that, it’s hard to imagine Murray making it (even if he was Ladner’s pick) over Booker’s reputation and legacy. Still, Murray has been incredible this year and he has a shot. Even with a shaky outside jumper, Murray is averaging 19.2 points, 9.2 assists, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. His dribble penetration has been one of the Spurs’ only consistent offensive weapons and his point of attack defense has been among the best in the league.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

Wiggins is having a fantastic season but his inclusion may be a stretch. He is playing solid defense and averaging 18.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on a 57.8 true shooting percentage, by far the highest of his career. But he also has the luxury of limited offensive responsibility and playing off two (now three) future Hall-of-Famers in Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Even among players in his role, I’d rather see someone like Mikal Bridges or Desmond Bane get the nod. But Wiggins does play for the Warriors and that has a way of opening doors for players that aren’t open to others.

Other NBA stories:

If you’re craving more All-Star conversation, check out Ben Ladner’s picks for the Eastern Conference and Western Conference rosters.

Making picks for the NBA All-Star Team is hard. But what if we were only picking from players who wear t-shirts under their jerseys?

The Boston Celtics are going in circles and a trade could be just what they need to help them recover their mojo. Here are five possibilities.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how crucial Kevin Love has been to the Cavs’ bench. He went out and proved it again in a huge win over the Milwaukee Bucks last night. On the other end, the Bucks have no one to blame but themselves after seeming to let off the gas after a hot start.

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