After two rounds of fan voting for the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, it seems like a safe bet that we’re going to see plenty of well-established superstars add another All-Star appearance to their already sparkling résumés. Maybe my favorite part of the yearly midseason exhibition, though, is getting to see some newcomers elbow their way into the mix, generating enough buzz and garnering enough recognition from the different voting bodies — the fans, fellow players and media members who cast ballots for starters, and the coaches who pick the rest of the rosters — to earn their first selections.
Carving out that elbow room is no picnic. The eight multi-time All-Stars who have already surpassed two million fan votes — Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokić, Kevin Durant, Luka Dončić and Stephen Curry — are all almost certainly locks, whether they wind up starting or not. Add in some of the other very famous vets off to great starts — guys like Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Kyrie Irving out West, and Jimmy Butler, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard in the East — and you start running out of open spaces on these 12-man rosters pretty damn quick.
Some first-time hopefuls, though, just might have strong enough cases to claim a seat ahead of their more established megawatt brethren. Six of the players I highlighted in this space last season did go on to make their first appearances: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Haliburton, both of whom should also be locks this season, as well as Lauri Markkanen, De’Aaron Fox, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Anthony Edwards.
Let’s take a look at some contenders — listed in no particular order! — to follow in their footsteps this time around:
Tyrese Maxey, 76ers
Coming into the season, we wondered when Daryl Morey would finally decide to move on from the increasingly toxic Harden saga, and what it would take to convince him to do it. And then Maxey came out and scored 91 points on 56 shots with a 19-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio in Philly’s first three games, and suddenly Jimbo was on his way to L.A.
The fourth-year guard has taken advantage of the opportunity created by Harden’s absence to step into the spotlight, exploding into stardom to help reigning MVP Embiid stabilize a Sixers team that had seemed to be in a state of perpetual chaos. Maxey sits 12th in the NBA in scoring and 14th in assists, averaging 26.1 points, 6.6 dimes and 3.6 rebounds per game — all career highs — while leading the league in minutes under famously hard-charging head coach Nick Nurse.
He has combined his trademark blinding speed off the bounce and willingness to work off the ball — Maxey ranks in the 91st percentile in scoring efficiency coming off a dribble handoff, according to Synergy, and is shooting a blistering 49.1% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, second-best in the NBA among high-volume shooters, according to Second Spectrum — to help aid in the transformation of Philadelphia’s offense into a more dynamic attack that’s still just as potent. He’s also displayed growth as a facilitator in his first go-round as a full-time point guard, dishing assists on 27.5% of his teammates’ baskets during his floor time while coughing the ball up on a microscopic 6.8% of his plays — the second-lowest turnover rate of any player who’s using more than a quarter of his team’s offensive possessions, according to Stathead.
Maxey has maintained his high offensive efficiency while shouldering the largest workload of his career and has even pulled off the previously nigh-on-unthinkable magic trick of keeping Philly’s offense afloat when Embiid hits the bench. (The 76ers have scored 119.6 points per 100 possessions when Maxey plays without the big fella, according to Cleaning the Glass — equivalent to the Nuggets’ full-season mark.) Without Maxey’s breakout performance, the Sixers wouldn’t be breathing down the Bucks’ neck for the East’s second seed; his emergence as a legitimate lead ball-handler and No. 2 scorer on an elite offense is one of the biggest stories of the first half of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that development rewarded with an All-Star nod.
Chet Holmgren, Thunder
I raised this as a possibility when The Ringer’s Michael Pina joined me on Devine Intervention in late November …
Chet Holmgren's averaging 18 + 8 on 56/44/88 shooting; he's top 15 in a bunch of advanced stats, including 5th in EPM.
From today's DEVINE INTERVENTION: Could this dude be an All-Star *already?*
✳️: https://t.co/LO5WLVVE5D pic.twitter.com/MIQFW7g2Q4
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) November 29, 2023
… and since then, all this dude has done is average nearly 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks per game on .647 true shooting while being the interior anchor for a top-five defense. OK, man. Sure. Why not?
The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft has proven to be a perfect plug-and-play fit in the middle in Oklahoma City. He’s a legitimate stretch 5 — 39.2% from 3-point land on more than four attempts per game — who demands defensive attention on the perimeter, helping open opportunities for dribble penetration by Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, Josh Giddey and the rest of the slashers on a Thunder team that leads the NBA in drives per game. He’s not just a standstill shooter, though. He’s got enough shake to his face-up game and a tight enough handle to be able to get downhill on his own, averaging nearly 6.5 forays into the paint per game, and has the touch to finish over the top if he can’t get all the way to the rim, shooting 58% from floater range.
The 22-year-old’s impact has been just as pronounced on the other end, where he ranks fourth in the league in blocks and second in contested shots. Opponents shoot at the rim much less frequently when the Gonzaga product is patrolling the paint. Less accurately, too: Holmgren has held opponents to just 52.2% shooting at the basket — the 11th-lowest percentage among 175 players who’ve guarded at least 100 up-close shots, according to Second Spectrum.
Holmgren, with all of 39 pro games under his belt, sits in or around the top 20 in the entire league in a slew of advanced metrics, including estimated plus-minus, value over replacement player and win shares per 48 minutes. It’s rare for a rookie to make contributions that significant on one end of the floor, let alone both of them; then again, sometimes a team in search of its missing piece just happens to stumble upon a rare-ass big man. There are lots of reasons why Oklahoma City finds itself jousting with the Celtics for the NBA’s best net rating, and with the Timberwolves and Nuggets for the West’s best record. SGA is the biggest. But the 7-foot-1 redshirt rookie has a damn good case for being the second — and for being its second All-Star representative.
Jalen Brunson, Knicks
I thought Brunson had a case last season, but he wound up on the outside looking in while teammate Julius Randle — whom Brunson helped revitalize after a down 2021-22 — wound up representing the ’Bockers. If the Knicks only get one All-Star this season, though, it might be the other way around, because Brunson has followed up his breakthrough campaign in Gotham with an equally impressive encore.
Averaging a career-best 25.8 points and 6.4 assists per game, Brunson is the heartbeat of a Knicks offense that ranks eighth in points scored per possession outside of garbage time. According to NBA Advanced Stats, the Knicks haven’t finished consecutive seasons in the top 10 in offensive efficiency since the league started collecting play-by-play data all the way back in 1996-97; they’re on pace to go 2-for-2 since bringing in Brunson.
New York has scored at that level despite sitting in the bottom third of the league in generating shots at the rim and in shooting accuracy on attempts in the paint or from midrange. The Knicks pull off that magic trick in part by knocking down 3-pointers, getting to the free-throw line and limiting turnovers — all areas in which the sixth-year vet excels.
Brunson is the north-south engine of New York’s attack. He’s driven to the basket more this season than anybody besides Gilgeous-Alexander and sits tied for 14th in points and tied for 12th in assists per game off dribble penetration. His constant paint-pounding and generation of shots on goal — despite playing at one of the league’s slowest paces, the Knicks are tied for the second-most field goal attempts per 100 possessions — also helps unlock New York’s other offensive superpower: offensive rebounding. No team grabs its own misses more voraciously, or scores off of them more frequently, than the Knicks; they do both more often with Brunson on the floor.
Just as vital for a team light on lasers, Brunson has turned himself into a top-flight marksman, too, shooting 42.4% from long distance while taking 6.6 attempts per game — both career highs. He has combined shooting efficiency, assist generation and turnover avoidance at a level matched by only three other guards in the league: the aforementioned SGA, Maxey and Irving.
Add it all up and Brunson has been, by multiple metrics, one of the 10 to 15 best offensive players in the NBA this season. That might not be enough to earn him a starting nod over Maxey or the more decorated Lillard, Mitchell or Young (who’s got a similarly strong statistical profile, but plays on a significantly worse team). But it’s absolutely enough to garner real consideration for a spot on the squad — an outcome I’m not sure anybody outside the Knicks’ front office and those closest to Brunson (which, as we know, is a heavily overlapping Venn diagram) saw coming this time two years ago.
Alperen Şengün, Rockets
Houston has been the site of the NBA’s most dramatic turnaround; less than halfway through the campaign, the 19-20 Rockets have nearly equaled last season’s win total and put themselves in the mix for a play-in berth. That ascent to respectability has been fueled mostly by a climb up the defensive rankings following the arrivals of head coach Ime Udoka, point guard Fred VanVleet and chaos-agent wing Dillon Brooks. Some of the credit, though, belongs to Şengün, the precocious playmaker whose eye-popping play has earned comparisons to the likes of Jokić and Domantas Sabonis.
Şengün leads resurgent Houston in scoring and rebounding this season, and trails only VanVleet in dishing dimes, averaging 21.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. The only other players in Stathead’s database to top 20-8-4 by their age-21 seasons? Dončić, Magic Johnson and Chris Webber. Pretty good company!
Rather than wilting under the spotlight of more offensive responsibility and more defensive attention, Şengün has blossomed beneath its warming glow. He’s shooting a career-best 57.7% on 2-pointers and averaging more than six free-throw attempts per 36 minutes while becoming one of the league’s highest-volume offensive hubs from the elbows and out of the post. He has responded to the largest usage rate of his career by maintaining his shooting efficiency, delivering assists on a higher share of Houston’s offensive possessions and committing turnovers on a career-low share of those trips.
With Şengün on the floor, a still-buffering Rockets offense has scored 115.9 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass — exactly league-average. When he sits, that drops to 111.5 points-per-100 — which would be 25th. And, perhaps most important, he’s giving himself more of an opportunity to make that offensive impact by giving Udoka less reason to look to yank him over his defense.
While Şengün might never be a top-level interior stopper, Houston’s opponents take a much lower percentage of their shots at the basket when he’s in the paint. When they do attack, he’s contesting a ton of shots at the rim, holding opponents below their season averages with him defending, and — like Jokić — using his anticipation and great hands to disrupt possessions, logging more than four steals-plus-deflections per 36 minutes. The Rockets, currently seventh in defensive efficiency, have allowed fewer points per possession with Şengün on the court than off it.
With a quintet of future Hall of Famers ahead of him in fan voting and the glut of great choices at guard likely to spill over into the wild-card spots, Şengün might find himself out of luck. If he does, though, it might be the last time for a while; Şengün is a talent on the rise, and before too long, he might just wind up being undeniable.
Derrick White, Celtics
The closest analog to White’s candidacy in recent years might be Mike Conley Jr. back in 2020-21.
Like Conley, White is the fourth-leading scorer on a team that enters midseason boasting the NBA’s best record and best net rating. Like Conley, White’s case rests less on standard box-score numbers — he’s averaging fewer than 16 points and six assists per game, a combination that has rarely resulted in All-Star nods for guards in the modern era — than on his role in his team’s overwhelming overall success and on his fantastic advanced statistical profile. White enters Monday tied for ninth in the NBA in estimated plus-minus, ahead of a bunch of superstars, including teammate Tatum; he’s also just outside the top 20 in value over replacement player and box plus-minus.
And, like Conley, White’s bona fides are burnished by the fact that his team seems to thrive whenever he’s on the court — even when he isn’t sharing it with its other All-Stars. Boston has outscored opponents by 12.9 points per 100 when White plays without Tatum; by 10.6 points per 100 when he plays without Jaylen Brown, the No. 2 scorer on what has been, when you adjust for the strength of schedule that each team has played, the NBA’s best offense; by 9.2 points per 100 when he plays without Kristaps Porziņģis, the stretch 5 whose arrival via offseason trade has helped turn Boston’s starting lineup into one of the league’s most dominant five-man groups; and by 20.4 points per 100 when he plays without Jrue Holiday, his partner in what has been the NBA’s best defensive backcourt.
The context matters, of course, and what exactly it says remains to some degree in the eye of the beholder. The Celtics’ league-pacing performance to date owes more to the harmonic convergence of their top six players, to how phenomenally they augment each other, than to the individual excellence of any one piece of its puzzle. What all those glittering impact stats suggest, though, is that White’s ability to contribute in all facets of the game — as one of the sport’s premier point-of-attack defenders and a possession-disrupting helper off the ball, as an excellent pick-and-roll scorer who also totes a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, as a dangerous spot-up threat drilling 43.5% of his catch-and-shoot triples, as a dynamic cutter who’s shooting a career-best 73% at the rim, as an unerringly dependable two-way player who does just about everything at a good-to-great level and hardly anything at a below-average clip — helps unlock Boston’s best self and perhaps the best version of the C’s we’ve seen in the Tatum-and-Brown era.
Maybe that’s not enough to nose ahead of the gaggle of Eastern guards with gaudier stat lines. Don’t be surprised, though, if the coaches give White a nod in recognition of just how much tougher he’s made it for them to deal with this rampaging Boston team.
(Or, failing that, if the commissioner looks White’s way if he needs an injury replacement. That’s how Conley made it back in 2021, after all.)
Jamal Murray, Nuggets
I’m tempted to suggest that this one was all but cinched up back in June, when Murray authored a sterling performance — 21.4 points, 10 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game on 45/39/93 shooting splits — while partnering with Jokić to lead Denver to its first NBA championship. But that would risk damning Murray’s performance this season with faint praise.
Fresh off that reputation-stamping chip, the 26-year-old is playing the best ball of his regular-season career, keeping the Nuggets in the heat of the race for the West’s top spot and affirming for anyone who might somehow still be sleeping that he’s the absolute goods:
Murray is scoring and dropping dimes at career-best per-minute and per-possession rates, and shooting a career-high 41.2% from deep on nearly seven attempts per game. Jokić remains Denver’s alpha and omega, but Murray’s position in the champions’ hierarchy is ironclad and unquestioned, as is his impact on the Nuggets’ success: Entering Monday, they’re 20-7 with Murray in the lineup, and just 8-6 in the 14 games he’s missed with hamstring and ankle injuries.
Those absences could hurt his candidacy. If we presume Gilgeous-Alexander and Dončić are locks, and we should, then Murray finds himself in a very deep group of Western guards vying for a scant couple of reserve spots. Curry, Fox, Edwards and Harden all hold significant advantages in games and minutes, and have been somewhere between very good and elite in their own rights. Devin Booker’s played only three more games, but 250 more minutes, and has arguably been more productive on a per-possession basis; ditto for Irving, who’s played fewer games, but about the same minute total.
That’s some incredibly stiff competition, and it might leave Murray once again just shy of a roster spot. You’d have to imagine that would irk a competitor as ferocious as Murray. Then again, dude seems to have a pretty good perspective on the matter.
"I'd rather be a champion,” Murray told reporters before the season. “A lot of guys are All-Stars and not champions."
Scottie Barnes, Raptors
After a sophomore slump coming off his Rookie of the Year campaign, Barnes has been a gleaming silver lining to a largely gray and underwhelming season in Toronto. As the Raptors begin to figure out what comes next, with OG Anunoby out the door and Pascal Siakam perhaps soon to follow, the 22-year-old’s Year 3 leap has offered hope for brighter, better days to come on teams built around the kind of massive, relentless, multifaceted playmaker who can boss the game on both ends:
Barnes’ development of a reliable jump shot — 48% on long midrangers, 38.2% from 3-point range on nearly twice as many attempts (5.6) as last season (2.9) — has opened up his offensive game, forcing defenses to honor him on the perimeter and creating more opportunities for him to attack closeouts, drive to the basket and look to either kick out to a shooter, finish inside (where he’s shooting 71% at the rim) and, if he misses, clean up his own mess (he’s 15th in the league in second-chance points).
With the ball in his hands more often, Barnes has also become a more frequent and more potent playmaker in the two-man game. Including possessions where he passes out to a teammate, Barnes’ pick-and-rolls are producing just under 0.95 points per possession this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology — not a particularly great mark among high-volume creators, but a significant improvement over last season, and good enough to slot him in behind more traditional (or at least traditionally sized) guards like Coby White and Jrue Holiday.
Combine the leveled-up playmaking with more accurate, higher-volume shooting, and you’ve got one of only six players averaging more than 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game this season. (The other five: Jokić, Giannis, Embiid, Sabonis and Luka.) Combine that with one of the league’s most malleable and disruptive defenders — 5.5 steals, blocks and deflections per 36 while routinely defending elite offensive players of all shapes and sizes (Barnes leads the NBA in The BBall Index’s defensive versatility metric) — and you’ve got one of the best two-way players in the East … and, just maybe, a first-time All-Star.
Desmond Bane, Grizzlies
This probably wasn’t going to happen anyway, given the aforementioned traffic jam of fantastic guard candidates in the West and Memphis’ struggles to a 15-25 record in a suspension-slowed, injury-ravaged season. It became all but elementary on Sunday, thanks to the most recent of those ravages: the Grade 3 left ankle sprain Bane suffered during Friday’s loss to the Clippers, which is expected to keep him on the shelf for at least the next six weeks.
For what it’s worth, though, Bane was performing at an All-Star level for these Grizzlies. He accepted the thankless, Sisyphean task of trying to continually roll the boulder that was the Ja Morant-less (and Steven Adams-less, and Brandon Clarke-less, and often Marcus Smart- and Luke Kennard-less, and on, and on) Memphis offense up to the top of the hill every damn night. Some nights, he actually got it there:
Before suffering that ankle injury, Bane was averaging a career-best 24.7 points and 5.4 assists per game on 48/38/87 shooting splits — good for a .598 true shooting percentage. Only 10 other players in the NBA this season are scoring and dishing both that much and that efficiently, and the list reads like an All-NBA ballot: Jokić, SGA, Giannis, Embiid, Luka, Dame, KD, LeBron, Book and Kyrie.
Bane did all that while dealing with opponents’ top perimeter defenders for the first time … in lineups all but devoid of spacing and with little complementary scoring punch outside of JJJ … while playing point guard more often than he’d ever had to before out of necessity … and while handling the largest offensive burden on his career because, well, someone had to. That level of overcoming via sustained growth — the ongoing evolution of Bane’s game that began when the Grizzlies put the ball in his hands at Summer League and encouraged him to dream bigger — isn’t going to get him to All-Star Weekend this year. It deserves recognition, though. So: here’s some. Get well soon.
Paolo Banchero, Magic
The reigning Rookie of the Year has taken another step toward stardom in his sophomore season, serving as the leading scorer, rebounder and assist man for a Magic team that’s been tougher than many expected as it vies for a postseason berth (and just its second over-.500 finish in the last 12 years):
Banchero has been on a particular tear of late, averaging 26.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game since mid-December as the Magic have fought to stay afloat amid a tough, road-heavy run of the schedule. That they’ve slipped some — they’re 6-10 with the NBA’s third-worst offense in that stretch — might ding his case, especially with the preeminence of Embiid, Antetokounmpo and Tatum pushing a number of other high-class candidates (Butler, Randle, Brown, Barnes, Porziņģis and Bam Adebayo, among others) into the reserve running, whether in the frontcourt or in the guards-included melee for wild-card slots.
There’s something to be said, though, for a player who has increased his scoring, rebounding and facilitating while dealing with every opponent’s best defender, who has made a significant improvement in his 3-point accuracy (from 29.8% last season to 35.6% this season) and who has logged the most minutes for the NBA’s No. 3 defense. If fans, players and/or coaches see fit to reward Orlando’s strong start to the season with an All-Star selection, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them select Banchero.
Franz Wagner, Magic
The case for the zag starts here: Despite Banchero’s glossier counting stats, Orlando has been outscored by 1.8 points per 100 in his minutes and is a whopping plus-9.4 points per 100 with him off the floor. Wagner, on the other hand, has the best on/off splits of any Magic starter save for surprise godsend center Goga Bitadze.
(The real story here, perhaps, is just how damn good Orlando’s bench has been. Screw it: Mo Wagner, Cole Anthony and Joe Ingles for All-Star!)
Wagner has struggled from long distance this season, shooting just 28.8% beyond the arc, which has hampered his efficiency numbers. In every other aspect of the game, though, the third-year pro has continued to build on his strong first two seasons, averaging a shade under 21 points, six rebounds and four assists per game while increasing his defensive rebounding and assist rates and turning the ball over less often.
To the extent it can be said that the NBA’s 24th-ranked offense makes hay anywhere, Orlando does it with constant rim pressure. The Magic take a higher share of their shots from within arm’s reach of the basket than any other team in the NBA and are third in the percentage of their total points that come in the paint — and Wagner drives that identity as much as, if not more than, any other member of the Magic roster.
Wagner’s constantly looking to get downhill, whether he’s curling off an off-ball screen, driving a closeout after taking a swing pass, hunting opportunities to cut from the weak side or keeping his dribble alive as he gets into traffic, opening up the possibility of taking another step to get himself a little closer to the cup. He takes 43% of his own shots at the rim, and the Magic as a team take nearly 42% of their shots from point-blank range with him on the court. The only players who boost their team’s rim rate more, according to Cleaning the Glass? Zion Williamson and Giannis.
That in and of itself probably won’t be enough to vault him past the higher-wattage frontcourt players in the East — including teammate Banchero, for whom Wagner recently stumped: “I think Paolo should be an All-Star because he’s probably the main reason why we are where we are in the standings, and [he’s] creating mismatch problems for the [other] team all game.” (This should be credited to Franz’s stat sheet as an assist.) It does, however, highlight how valuable Wagner’s contributions are to this Magic team’s continued growth and aspirations of contention … and, maybe, to the potential for another leap to come if he can get his long-distance connection back online.
CJ McCollum, Pelicans
OK, OK, I hear you: If the Pelicans get any All-Stars, it’s much more likely that either Zion or Brandon Ingram will make the cut than McCollum, who’s scoring fewer than 20 points per game for the first time since 2015 and whose 5.1 assists per game are tied for a pedestrian 17th among Western guards.
He’s shooting 44.3% from 3-point range on nearly eight attempts a night, an absolutely vital aspect of spacing the floor for the more interior-minded Williamson and Ingram that has helped propel New Orleans to a top-five offense since the in-season tournament; and
He is now the only active player (and just the 14th since 1980, according to Stathead) with more than 13,000 points, 2,500 assists and 2,000 rebounds in his career who has never made the All-Star Game.
Am I being a sucker for what would be a nice storyline — a decorated veteran who’s been a big part of good teams for a long time finally getting the kind of nod that has eluded him? Perhaps. Am I at least moderately in the tank for a dude who was willing to let me ask him questions about the gnarliest diaper blowouts he’s experienced as a parent? Undoubtedly. But if some aspect of the voting bloc thinks it’s worth recognizing a representative from one of the NBA’s hottest teams, it could do worse than tapping McCollum — the veteran leader of a group that’s put itself within hailing distance of home court in a crowded West.
Victor Wembanyama, Spurs
I understand that you have to be pretty damn exceptional to sniff All-Star consideration when you’re on a 7-32 team. It’s just that … well, kids, let me introduce you to exceptional:
Here’s the list of players who have averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks per game: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, Bob Lanier … and Victor Wembanyama.
Wembanyama’s presence alone transforms a terrible Spurs team into a near-top-10 defense. (EPM suggests he might be a top-five individual defender already.) Give him an honest-to-goodness point guard to play with in Tre Jones and suddenly San Antonio has the same net rating as the Bucks. Letting him explore the studio space — pulling from deep and calling for alley-oops from beyond the arc, taking the ball coast-to-coast in transition and nutmegging dudes, going off the glass to himself and flicking in 3-point floaters — has produced some of the most jaw-dropping moments the league has had to offer this season.
Maybe it’s a little early for Wemby at All-Star Weekend on the merits. Then again, if you’re going to have an exhibition like this … why the hell wouldn’t you include the guy who everybody wants to watch? (Especially considering he’s already going to be there.)