- CLUTCH Summary: The 2019 NBA All-Star game featured five first-time All-Stars. Four of those players — Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, Nikola Vucevic and D’Angelo Russell — came from the Eastern Conference. Nikola Jokic was the lone first-time All-Star from the Western Conference.
- Guys like Pascal Siakam, Jamal Murray, CJ McCollum, De’Aaron Fox and Jayson Tatum can be next.
- The 2019-20 NBA season is two months away, but it’s never too early to project which players could make the leap towards stardom.
Here are five players capable of earning their first All-Star nod for the 2020 NBA exhibition contest, which will be played at the United Center in Chicago, IL.
With Kawhi Leonard bolting to the Los Angeles Clippers and Kyle Lowry now 33, Pascal Siakam is the new face of the Toronto Raptors. Siakam enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, averaging 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists during the regular season and winning the league’s Most Improved Player award.
Siakam emerged as a star during the Raptors’ title run, posting 19 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in the postseason. He produced two dominant outings in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Siakam dropped 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Game 1, before totaling 26 points and 10 rebounds in the title-clinching victory in Game 6. Overall, he registered 19.8 points per contest on 50.3% shooting during the six-game series.
Pascal Siakam joins 4 others as the only players in #NBAFinals history with 30+ points in a Finals Game 1 within their first 3 seasons in the league (since 1970) – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1971), Julius Erving (1977), Hakeem Olajuwon (1986), and Tim Duncan (1999) pic.twitter.com/DJPyhLJdKj
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 31, 2019
Slated to be the No. 1 option on the Raptors, Siakam might be the most likely player to make his first All-Star appearance next season. He is an athletic freak and versatile defender who guards well on-the-ball and off it. Siakam needs to improve his jump shot and his playmaking skills, but at 25 years young there is plenty of room for growth.
Leonard delivered a legendary postseason to spearhead the Raptors to their first championship. It was one of the greatest individual playoff runs in league history. However, as valuable as he was in the postseason, the Raptors were able to win consistently without him during the regular season when he rested for “load management” purposes. The Raptors went 17-5 (.772) last season with Leonard out of the lineup. That winning percentage is almost certainly unsustainable for an 82-game season, but it’s safe to assume the Raptors will compete for a playoff spot next year. The more games the Raptors win, the better chance Siakam has of being selecting to the All-Star roster.
Murray emerged as the clear-cut second-best player on the Nuggets squad that secured the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last year. The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged 18.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game on 43.7 percent shooting from the field and 36.7 percent on 3’s last season.
Elevating his play in the postseason, Murray upped his scoring to 21.3 points per contest to help the Nuggets win their first playoff series since 2009.
Murray’s chemistry with Jokic—arguably the best center in the NBA—is crucial to the Nuggets’ success. They play a great two-man game style together, running pick-and-rolls and inverted pick-and-rolls. Murray and Jokic form one of the best tandems in basketball and could find themselves both playing in next season’s All-Star contest.
Suiting up in the backcourt next to superstar teammate Damian Lillard, McCollum helped the Blazers advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2000. McCollum often plays off the ball while sharing the court with Lillard, but is able to create his own shot and set up teammates for open looks.
McCollum has been a critical part of Portland’s recent success, which includes six consecutive postseason appearances and its deepest playoff run in 19 years. He was sensational in the Blazers’ second-round series against the Nuggets. He exploded for 41 points in a four-overtime Game 3 win, scored 30 in Game 6 and recorded 37 points and the dagger in the Game 7 victory at Denver.
With Klay Thompson expected to miss most of the upcoming season recovering from a torn ACL, there will be an opening at the guard position for the Western Conference All-Star roster. Thompson has made the All-Star team each of the past five years, but his injury will end that streak. McCollum can fill the open slot left by Thompson’s absence and nab his first All-Star selection.
De’Aaron Fox has been the breakout player of Team USA this summer. The 21-year-old Sacramento Kings point guard was not initially expected to make the roster. But. after surviving the first cut, he is now considered a strong candidate to make the national team for the FIBA World Cup taking place in China at the end of August.
Fox made major strides in his sophomore season in the NBA. He posted 17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. Those were all improvements from his rookie campaign averages (11.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game). The former Kentucky star finished third in the voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Fox’s development has caught the attention of Team USA assistant coach Steve Kerr.
“De’Aaron’s already a really good NBA player, but there’s another level he can get to,” Kerr said.
Fox’s off-the-charts speed and aggressiveness on defense enticed the Kings to select him with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His propensity to slash into the paint with ease and improved three-point shooting (37.1% after hitting 30.7% in year one) makes him a difficult player to defend.
After guiding the Kings to 39 victories in 2018-19—a 12-win improvement from the prior year—Fox is tasked with leading the franchise to its first playoff appearance since 2006. He can secure an All-Star spot if he is able to propel the Kings into contention in the loaded Western Conference.
Following the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, Jayson Tatum is expected to shoulder a bigger role with the Boston Celtics next season. The Celtics recovered nicely in free agency by signing Kemba Walker, but Tatum will still be much more involved offensively.
Tatum made a name for himself during the 2018 postseason as a rookie. He averaged 18.2 points on 46.7 percent from the field in 35.6 minutes per game. Tatum tallied 351 total points, just one point shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record for scoring in a postseason.
But like many of his Celtics teammates, Tatum had a disappointing season last year. His intensity on defense was lacking, something head coach Brad Stevens called him out for in a regular season game in early-November.
Jayson Tatum relied far too much on his outside shooting, rather than attacking the basket. Tatum’s free-throw rate (FTr) stood at .309 as a rookie, but decreased to .220 last season. In other words, he attempted a free throw roughly every five field goal attempts. Furthermore, he has attempted eight or more free throws in a game just 12 times in two pro seasons. That number is far too low, given Tatum’s size and his ability to drive to the bucket.
While much of last year seemed underwhelming for Tatum, he did average 15.9 points in the regular season—higher than his rookie regular season mark of 13.9. He also upped his nightly rebounding from 5.0 to 6.0 and his assists from 1.6 to 2.1.
Tatum is a natural scorer and arguably the most talented player of his draft class (2017). Playing with Team USA this summer should be beneficial for the 21-year-old’s growth as he competes against top-tier players. On an encouraging note, Tatum has impressed USA’s coaching staff and dominated in a recent team scrimmage.
Setting high goals for next year, Jayson Tatum said he plans to make the All-Star team and help the Celtics advance to the NBA Finals.
“I’m going to average over 20 [points per game],” Jayson Tatum responded to his NBA 2K rating, which was lower than he had hoped. “All-Star. And the Celtics are going to the championship.”
— NBA 2K20 (@NBA2K) July 24, 2019