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5 potential first-time All-Stars in 2021-22

NBA All-Stars

There’s bound to be first-time All-Stars every year in the NBA. Whether it’s a young player finally breaking out or veteran who’s been snubbed multiple times finally getting his due, the All-Star Game never fails to deliver some fresh faces every February. Last year saw a storm of first-time All-Stars grace State Farm Arena; Zion Williamson, Jaylen Brown, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, and Mike Conley each made their All-Star debut.

While this season may not see quite that many All-Star rookies, a new crop of excellent young players is poised to take the proverbial leap, and could find their way to Cleveland come February as a result.

Here are five potential first-time All-Stars in 2021-22.

Deandre Ayton

Career Statistics: 16.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks

Accolades: 2019 All-Rookie First Team

Starting us off is one of the breakout players from last year’s playoffs.

Ayton was labeled as somewhat of a bust for a No. 1 overall pick after his first two years in the league, despite averaging 17.0 points and 10.7 rebounds during that timespan. No, he hasn’t had quite the impact of fellow 2018 draftees Trae Young and Luka Dončić, both of whom have been All-Star starters themselves already. However, the Bahamas-born center has already had quite the career himself and proved his worth as one of basketball’s best young big men in the postseason for the second-seeded Phoenix Suns.

Ayton averaged 14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds as the Suns’ 3rd offensive option in 2020-21 behind Devin Booker and Chris Paul. His regular season stats were solud, but actually declined compared to previous seasons. It was in the playoffs, however, where Ayton took his game to another level on both ends of the floor. Ayton showed his offensive and defensive versatility with newfound consistency for the eventual Finalists. In his first playoff run, Ayton averaged 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. He produced some memorable moments as well, the greatest of which is undoubtedly his buzzer-beating alley-oop to win Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers. He had his playoff career-high in points (22) in that game as well.

Ayton enters his fourth NBA season with all the momentum in the world, fully capable of taking another step in his development and emerging as a strong contender to be an All-Star center.

De’Aaron Fox

Career Statistics: 18.2 points, 7.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds

One of the most underappreciated players in the league, Ayton’s 2017 draftmate looks to finally get his elusive All-Star appearance next season.

There’s a case to be made Fox was snubbed from the All-Star game the past two seasons. He averaged career-best numbers of 21.1 points and 6.8 assists for the Sacramento Kings in 2019-20, bumping them up to 25.2 points and 7.2 assists last season. With those gaudy statistics and such an exciting playstyle, Fox should be at least a strong candidate for an All-Star reserve spot this season.

Unfortunately, there’re a lot of obstacles in Fox’s path toward Cleveland. For one, the West just so happens to have three all-time points guards in Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Dončić, All-Star locks once again in 2021-22. He’ll then have to compete with the likes of Booker, Paul, and Donovan Mitchell, just among guards, for one of the few remaining spots on the roster. It doesn’t help that he plays for the Kings, either, a small-market franchise in the midst of a 15-year playoff drought, second-longest in the league.

Fox will have to increase his production and carry his team to playoff contention to even get a sniff of a first All-Star appearance. But with the way his career’s been progressing, he might very well go on to average 28-30 points next season. With Fox, an All-Star caliber player already, and promising young players Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell in the backcourt, there’s ample reason for Kings fans everywhere to be optimistic.

Tobias Harris

Career Statistics: 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists

It’s really looking like now-or-never for Tobias Harris.

Harris is arguably the most snubbed player in today’s NBA in terms of All-Star appearances. Even with the likes of Booker and Conley finally getting their due in recent years, Harris’ name is still a no-show in the All-Star teamsheets. He did almost all he could to prove doubters wrong last season, functioning as the go-to perimeter scorer for the one-seeded Philadelphia 76ers while averaging 19.5 points per game. It wasn’t enough to break through with an All-Star berth, however.

Harris’ most egregious snub came in the 2018-19 season with the LA Clippers. He led a young and scrappy team to an unlikely postseason appearance while averaging almost 21 points and eight rebounds per game.

As a fringe-All-Star for quite some time now, this is one of Harris’ last chances to post an All-Star season. He’s already approaching 3o years old, and the Eastern Conference is only getting better. It’s high time for Harris to finally take that jump and make the All-Star team after so many painful snubs.

Ja Morant

Career Statistics: 18.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Achievements: 2020 Rookie of the Year, 2020 All-Rookie First Team

Tipped as one of the cornerstones of the league for the future, Ja Morant will be looking to make his All-Star debut in the near future.

Morant is one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league. The young point guard is a great leader, a dynamic scorer, and an all-around joy to watch. He was also able to lead his team to the playoffs last season, defeating Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament.

Many pined for the 2020 Rookie of the Year to be in the All-Star Game last season; indeed, he was one of the league’s biggest snubs. It’s only a matter of time for Morant, however, and this coming season could very well see his All-Star debut. After all, his fellow 2019 draftee and former youth basketball teammate Zion Williamson was able to get selected last year.

Similar to Fox, however, he has the obstacle of the West’s saturation of excellent guards. Morant isn’t just going to have to improve his numbers next season to make the All-Star game, but help the Grizzlies further cement themselves as a playoff team in the loaded Western Conference, too.

Fortunately, taking big leaps is hardly a foreign concept for basketball’s most explosive young floor general since Russell Westbrook.

LaMelo Ball

Career Statistics: 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists

Accolades: 2021 Rookie of the Year, 2021 All-Rookie First Team

Surely this one’s a lock already, right?

LaMelo Ball had a sensational rookie season with the Charlotte Hornets, averaging a stellar all-around line of 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game while exhibiting his trademark flashy passes, tremendous court vision, and natural leadership for such a young player. It’s safe to say that the 6’6” point guard absolutely lived up to the massive hype dating back to when he was in eighth grade.

It’s safe to say that Charlotte wouldn’t be able to play their high-flying brand of basketball without their young playmaker. With their wealth of young players set to break out anytime soon, the Hornets could very well make an underdog playoff bid next season. This would be even more likely if LaMelo takes the All-Star jump next season, a prospect that seems all but guaranteed given his season-long improvement as a rookie.

Add to this the fact that it’s much easier for a guard to make the All-Star team in the East than in the West. All-Star locks in the Eastern Conference for the guard spot would only include Kyrie Irving and James Harden. The likes of Young, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine and Jrue Holiday represent some steep competition for a final All-Star spot in the East, yes, but hardly the insurmountable type for a player of Ball’s rare talent.

LaMelo’s undeniable flair and showmanship will make him a joy to watch in the All-Star Game. With an already huge fan base, good statistics set to take a jump, and an ascending team ready to push for a playoffs berth, LaMelo Ball’s first All-Star selection is bound to occur sooner rather than later.