Our long national nightmare has finally come to an end. Mike Conley is officially an NBA All-Star. Selected by Commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement for the injured Devin Booker, Sunday’s game will mark the first time Conley will participate in the exhibition despite having been a premier point guard for the past decade.
Not only does Conley carry a career stat line of 15 points per game, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists, but he has historically been one of the most efficient scorers in the league, with a 50% effective field goal percentage and 38% career mark from behind the arc.
Beyond the raw numbers, however, Conley earned a reputation as one of the most impactful two-way players in the NBA. Already one of the stingiest lead guards in the league when it comes to turnovers–rarely giving up more than two per game across his entire career–Conley has been adept at preventing transition baskets and forcing teams to work in the halfcourt.
Displaying quick hands and an even faster ability to recover and closeout, Conley is not only ranked near the top of the league in defensive plus-minus but slates into the 93rd percentile of all defenders on points-per-play, according to tracking data from Synergy Sports.
While his shutout from the midseason exhibition had more to do with an overabundance of stars in the Western Conference rather than a lack of production on his part, his selection this season means that he will finally retire the moniker of “best player never to appear in an NBA All-Star game.”
Though we can debate if holding that particular distinction is better than qualifying for the game itself–and we definitely think it is–what is inarguable is that without Conley soaking up all the attention, there will be an ample amount of NBA veterans vying for camera time to gripe about their lack of All-Star appearances. To help break it all down, here are the three best vets who have yet to make an All-Star team.
3. Lou Williams
The All-Star selection process has a notorious bias against bench players. While the lack of sixth-man representation is usually justifiable when discussing past contenders such as Jordan Crawford and J.R. Smith, Lou Williams carries a strong case to break the precedent.
Not only does Williams carry an impressive line of raw numbers over his career, averaging 14.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, his splits of 42%/ 35%/ 84% means that he’s been an efficient volume scorer as well. When examining individual seasons, it’s difficult to argue that Williams wasn’t deserving of All-Star consideration in both 2018 and 2019 when the guard accumulated career-best slash lines:
2018: 22.6 ppg, 2.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and averaged over a point per play throughout the entire season.
2019: 20 ppg, 3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and averaged .982 points per play.
Though his offensive production has been comparable to other All-Star candidates, the most significant detriment to Williams’ resume is that he doesn’t start games. However, not only has the guard carried a workload similar to that of a starter, but he has been a focal point of the Clippers’ offense in the last five minutes of games.
This season alone, Williams has shot over 45% from the field, and 60% from three, in “clutch” situations, according to NBA.com, justifying the organization’s decision to keep Sweet Lou on the floor when it matters most whatever his defensive liabilities may be.
In the era of positionless basketball, an NBA bench player deserves to make the All-Star team. There’s no better candidate than Lou Williams.
2. Danilo Gallinari
While he has earned a reputation over his career as an oft-injured perimeter player, Danilo Gallinari has quietly put together an impressive resume over the years. Though he has had his share of bad injury luck, when healthy, Gallo has proven capable of carrying a team’s offense for long stretches; most notably leading the Clippers in offensive efficiency when the team made a surprise playoff appearance during the 2018-2019 season.
The Italian forward also deserves credit for adjusting his game to remain effective despite losing the athletic ability that once made him a prized prospect. Where Gallinari would once look to blow by defenders off the dribble, the Atlanta forward has perfected the art of using quick pump fakes off of passes to get opponents into the air so that he can waltz his way by them and into the lane.
Even his off-ball movement has improved over the years, as Gallinari has become an expert in beating defenders towards an inside position and using his solid frame to plant himself near the basket. It may not always be flashy, but it’s just as deadly.
While he may still be presented with an opportunity to qualify for an All-Star selection in future years if the Hawks can unlock their talent to become a winning team, Gallo’s best season to date was in the aforementioned 18-19 campaign. Not only did the forward average nearly 20 points per game, but his advanced stats were even better: a 63% true shooting mark, a 23.8 usage rate, and a 4.9 offensive box plus/minus.
Whether you prefer counting stats, advanced stats, or acronyms, there’s no denying Gallinari got snubbed. If you enjoy watching players score the basketball, you should be rooting for Gallinari to make an All-Star team because no one does it as smoothly as Gallo does.
It’s not difficult to understand why CJ McCollum has never gotten the love and attention he deserves. Not only does the shooting guard share a backcourt with one of the generational players of his era, but he also happens to be in a conference overflowing with talent. While Portland has succeeded in winning its fair share of playoff series, the franchise has rarely been considered a top-tier contender, denying the Blazers and McCollum the type of national attention they both deserve.
Lillard has been more than able to make up for it with his prodigious amount of game-winners and clutch shots. His running mate, on the other hand, has made do with a quieter sort of excellence.
Beyond his counting stats–which are more than impressive in it of themselves–McCollum has never earned a true shooting mark below 52% while also managing to reduce his turnover ratio every single year of his career, even as his usage rate has risen correspondingly. In a league filled with coaches and executives who often preach the necessity of continuous improvement, few players in the NBA have lived this out more than McCollum.
Unfortunately for McCollum, however, the guard likely would have qualified as an All-Star this season had a left foot fracture not robbed him of much of the first half.
Small sample size concerns aside, in 13 games, McCollum was not only averaging nearly 27 points per game on a 62% true shooting mark (!!) but had a 26.4 PER, which would have placed him seventh in the league.
While both the guard and the Blazers will more than make do with a second-half return that propels the team back into the NBA playoffs, the lack of an All-Star appearance is a missed opportunity for a player talented enough to deserve perennial consideration. Hopefully, for CJ McCollum, his wait isn’t as long as Mike Conley’s.