With the NBA regular season’s first quarter finished, teams and players appear to have settled into a pattern. To this end, prognostications about potential awards are in full swing. There is talk about early season MVP candidates. Speculation is rife about title contenders. However, before those presumptions can become reality, there’s that little business of the NBA All-Star game. Each year, the All-Star game has first-time All-Star players. Even with stalwarts like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, there is always a first-time All-Star surprise. As a result, this piece looks at potential 2018-19 first-time NBA All-Stars.
The Fresh Prince of Philadelphia
As part of Sam Hinkie’s process, the Philadelphia 76ers bottomed out to acquire top-tier collegiate talent. In Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers appear to have just that. While Embiid made his All-Star debut last season, Simmons has loudly made his case to join the fraternity as a fellow All-Star.
After missing the entire 2016-17 season Simmons announced his presence to the NBA world with authority. Standing at 6’10 Simmons’ skillset is as unique as he is the 76ers point guard. On defense Simmons effectively guards and defends from point guards to power forwards. Offensively the ambidextrous Simmons masterfully commands his team while turning coach Brett Brown’s philosophy into action. Critics complain about Simmons’ inability and unwillingness to shoot from long distance. However, those same critics overlook the fact in this new age renaissance of NBA basketball that Simmons averages 15.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 8 assists and 1.7 steals per game this season. Simmons is the new age NBA star, the player that’s physically tall with guard skills. With a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 19.7 and an Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG) of 55.3, it hard to consider the 2018-19 All-Star game without Ben Simmons.
Rising in the Valley of the Sun
There is also a rebuilding project taking place in Phoenix. The Phoenix Suns have been mired in mediocrity for many years under the ownership of Robert Sarver. Sarver through his actions has worked hard to force the NBA to consider implementing a relegation policy. After years of being in the doldrums, the Suns appear to have seen the light. Star guard Devin Booker is the face of this rebuild.
Now in his fourth season, Booker has embraced his role as team leader and is poised to join the NBA elite. A most talented shooter and scorer, Booker continues to fill up the score sheet at a very high rate. Recently Booker was switched from his customary position of shooting guard to point guard, a move similar to what the Houston Rockets did with James Harden a few seasons back. Displaying the elegance of a dancer mixed with the heart of a competitive assassin, Booker faces opponents who know he’s their only opposition. While Booker’s three-point accuracy is down thus far, his eFG mirrors that of last season. Booker currently averages 23.5 points, 6.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this season.
Being selected as an All-Star from the Western Conference is tough, but Booker has the numbers to support his nomination.
Fear the other Deer
The best player in the NBA no one knows about is Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks. Middleton started all 82 games for the Bucks last season and averaged 20.1 points per game. Many folks won basketball trivia contests with that knowledge. The seventh-year swingman is one of the NBA’s most deadly long-distance shooters.
Currently, Middleton boasts 41.9 percent accuracy from three-point range on 7.3 attempts per game. Middleton overall is averaging 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists this season. Middleton plays just under 31 minutes per game and boasts an Effective Field Goal percentage of 55.4. All this while playing for the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Surely, Middleton would not suffer the indignity of being overlooked in back to back seasons.
Is there Magic back in Orlando
Perennial “tankapolooza” candidates the Orlando Magic seems to have turned the corner. A change in the front office and coaching staff paid dividends immediately. The Magic are no longer a laughing stock or an opponent’s guaranteed win. This is in large part to the play of center Nikola Vucevic.
Vucevic currently averages career highs in points, rebounds, and assists, while tied in blocks. Stellar play from Vucevic vaulted the Magic towards respectability as they (the Magic) currently sit at 11-12. Vucevic does it all for the Magic, even shoots three-point shots with 40.9 percent accuracy while attempting 3 per game. Keep in mind, Vucevic stands at 7 feet tall. Vucevic must be considered as one of the top big men in the Eastern Conference. As a consequence, Vucevic is an expected shoe-in to the All-Star team this season.
What to make of the season thus far?
Basketball pundit David Locke of the Locked On Podcast Network says the first 20 games of an NBA season is a barometer of the overall trend. To this end, these players are on their way to excellent seasons. Each of them expects to be in Charlotte for the All-Star festivities as participants in the All-Star game.