First and foremost, congratulations are in order to the following 2018 NBA All-Stars: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Kristaps Porzingis, John Wall, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker.
For those of you who actually read through every one of those 28 names, congratulations to you as well.
Good clubs get rewarded with All-Stars. This will likely be the case forever, and rightfully so to a certain extent. The best players often play for the best teams. But there are plenty of other worthy players putting on good shows for lesser teams.
Today’s task is selecting 24 additional All-Stars (12 from each conference) from teams outside of the playoff picture.
Standing 6-6, Spencer Dinwiddie is a doozy on both ends of the floor for opposing point guards. Through 58 appearances in 2017-18, he is averaging 13.6 points (38.8 FG, 33.8 3Pt, 82.1 FT), 6.7 assists to 1.6 turnovers, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 threes, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks in 29.0 minutes per game. He has already scored more points this season (787) than in his first three years (105 games) combined (635). Ditto for assists (389-311), but not turnovers (93-106)! He has drained over twice as many threes (113) in 2017-18 as he did in the three years prior (51). Among regular rotation players, Dinwiddie enters the All-Star break with the NBA’s top assist-to-turnover ratio (4.18-to-1), and the Nets have exceeded even the most optimistic preseason expectations despite injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. The Ringer and CBS Sports, among others, have posted must-read pieces on Dinwiddie, whose inspirational journey appears to be just starting. He’ll be a highly-coveted free agent in the summer of 2019, and until then his contract is arguably the best bargain league-wide.
Dinwiddie hasn’t done it all by himself. The 19-40 Nets have been this competitive thanks in large part to the eruption of Hollis-Jefferson. The jack-of-all trades can do everything except shoot the three, covering multiple positions, attacking the glass and making plays for himself and others. Through 48 appearances in 2017-18, the 23-year-old forward is averaging 14.3 points (47.2 FG, 27.9 3Pt, 79.4 FT), 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists to 1.7 turnovers, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks in 28.3 minutes per game. With the exception of three-point percentage and steals, those are all career highs.
A player I’m surprised wasn’t snatched up for a first-round pick at the trade deadline, Carroll is cooking this season. He had already made a name for himself with the Atlanta Hawks during their recent stretch of sustained success. We already knew he could shoot the three and defend. But he has improved upon his strengths while posting more double-doubles in 2017-18 (nine) than in his first eight seasons combined (eight). Carroll is averaging 13.3 points (40.5 FG, 35.8 3Pt, 77.3 FT), 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists to 1.5 turnovers, 1.9 threes, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks in 29.8 minutes per game. At 31 years old, DeMarre is delivering career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, and made threes per night. Moreover, his veteran influence and two-way talents are among the top reasons that Brooklyn basketball is no longer an eye sore.
After finally making the full-time switch to the power forward spot, Gordon, perhaps unsurprisingly, has flourished. Orlando got off to a fast start in 2017-18 only to fall apart just as quickly, though injuries to rookie Jonathan Isaac, starting center Nikola Vucevic, and now Gordon, among others, certainly played a part in the team’s colossal collapse. No matter: Air Gordon has already shown enough improvement this year to call the season a smashing success, especially if it ultimately ends with another top draft pick. Aaron is averaging career highs of 18.4 points, 8.3 boards, 2.2 dimes, 2.0 threes (on 34.6 percent) and 0.9 steals in 34.0 minutes per contest.
Having played only 34 games, Vucevic almost didn’t make the cut. But Gordon appeared in only five more than that, and Nik will be back in the lineup when Orlando returns from the All-Star break on Feb. 22. He is among the big men who has taken their mid-range jumper out behind the arc, already making more threes this season (48) than in his first six seasons (and 399 games) combined (30). Defensively, however, there are still legitimate questions about whether Vucevic will ever be the type of guy who can protect the rim for a playoff team. With so many big men projected to land inside the lottery, the Magic, who already have big money committed to Vucevic and Bismack Biyomobo, will have some massive decisions to make in the upcoming draft.
Schröder has been serving up the sauce (career-high 19.5 points per game), albeit on a team that is tied for the league’s worst record (18-41) heading into the break. His assisting has also held steady (6.3 per game, same as 2016-17) despite Paul Millsap’s summer departure to Denver. The Schröder sweepstakes will be an interesting subplot in the lead-up to (and during) the draft. The one bugaboo for Dennis this year is his three-point shooting (28.7 percent on 3.9 attempts per game), though he hasn’t exactly had a lot of breathing room on offense. If the Hawks don’t like the offers they’re getting, they could always elect to keep Schröder, who turns 25 in September. Atlanta is undoubtedly rebuilding, but Dennis the Menace is young enough to fit the timeline if the Hawks can fly towards the top anywhere near as quickly as they plunged.
Many guys with the 3-and-D profile would’ve struggled in Bazemore’s role this season. Taking on additional playmaking responsibilities while facing increased focus in the opposing team’s game plan, Kent is contributing career highs in scoring (13.0), assists (3.6), steals (1.6) and three-point shooting (1.7 makes per game on 39.8 percent). Turning 29 this summer, Bazemore will probably find himself on a contender by the beginning of next season. I’m going out on a limb and predicting that there’ll be even more interest in Bazemore than Schröder.
Griffin’s GIF-game solidifies his status on this list. In hindsight, Blake jumping over a Kia on the way to collecting his dunk contest win was foreshadowing for the blockbuster deal that (several years later) sent him to the Motor City. The Pistons trail the East’s eighth-placed Heat by 1.5 games, but Miami is 3-7 over the last 10 while Detroit is 6-4. Through eight games with the Pistons, Griffin is averaging more assists per game this season (6.1) than he was in L.A. (5.4) and less turnovers (2.6 versus 3.0 with the Clippers). He’s clearly clicking with Andre Drummond.
As Charlotte fizzles out of the playoff race, the trolls of Twitter will be after Howard — at least until he swats them away. Dwight is still averaging 15.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, though he is sporting his worst field-goal percentage (54.1) since his sophomore season. He is also committing 2.8 turnovers per game (versus 1.4 assists) and suffering through his customary struggles at the charity stripe (55.3 percent). Howard has at least had a positive net rating (plus-2.2). Moreover, without Howard on the floor, Charlotte has a net rating of minus-5.9.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway solidified his spot on this imaginary roster with a 37-point explosion on Wednesday. His contract was among the most heavily critiqued this past offseason, but Hardaway is proving he’s worth his weight in gold. Continuing to trend upward after breaking out for Atlanta in the second half of 2016-17, Hardaway is averaging career highs scoring (16.7), rebounding (4.1), assists (2.8), made threes (2.2), steals (1.2) and minutes (32.6).
Kanter remains a defensive liability, but he is one of 12 players (among those who have played 70 percent of their team’s games) to be averaging a double-double here in 2017-18. Russell Westbrook, Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Clint Capela, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo is good company to keep.
Markkanen gets the nod for Chicago, who just about everyone (myself included) picked to finish with the worst record in 2017-18. But this spot could’ve easily gone to a bunch of Bulls. Sophomore Kris Dunn, while still inefficient, broke out. Justin Holiday helped keep the ship afloat with solid two-way play while Zach LaVine was sidelined. For Rob Lopez, it was more of the same: torturing opposing mascots, doing the dirty work inside, setting strong screens and providing veteran savvy. Markkanen’s impressive display of shooting and athleticism as a rookie gives him the edge at day’s end.
Sweet Lou is the modern-day version of Allen Iverson, if the Answer had proven willing to come off the bench.
Harris has broken out this year, averaging career highs in points per game (18.0) and three-point shooting percentage (40.2). As great as Blake Griffin is, it was still a surprise to see Detroit send Harris away, and the Clippers did well to net a player of his caliber. At 30-26, the Clippers are a mere half-game behind the eighth-placed Pelicans (31-26). L.A. is 5-1 since acquiring Harris, with a 108-95 road win over his former team mixed in for good measure.
Jordan is averaging career highs of 15.0 rebounds and 1.4 dimes per game while sinking a career-best 59.4 percent from the free-throw line. As usual, he has been as physically sturdy as anyone in the league, missing only five games thus far, and he has more breathing room in the paint alongside Tobias Harris than he ever did with Griffin. Having dropped 30 points (11-14 FG, 8-9 FT), 13 rebounds, four steals and three assists across 32 minutes in Wednesday’s 129-119 win over the Celtics, the Clippers enter the break with high hopes of surging into the playoffs.
Whether he wins Rookie of the Year over Ben Simmons or not (and he probably will not), Mitchell has established himself as a household name. Neither Simmons nor Mitchell were chosen as All-Stars, but rookies rarely receive that level of recognition, and both are good bets to make an appearance in the big game sooner rather than later if there games continue to progress. Per Elias Sports, Mitchell is the first rookie since Wilt Chamberlain to lead his team in scoring over the course of a 10-game winning streak. The Jazz (30-28), currently riding an 11-game win streak and only 1.5 games behind the eight-placed Pelicans, would be among the league’s worst teams if not for Mitchell’s almost nightly manhandling of the opposition. I don’t do this often (probably because I’m usually wrong), but in this case, I told you so.
Favors filled in well for the injured Rudy Gobert, and he is meshing well alongside the team’s star center after struggling to do that early on. In the 505 minutes they have shared the floor, they have a net rating of plus-3.2.
Utah is 18-13 in games that Gobert has played this year. Enough said.
Rubio continues to do more than his individual stats would suggest. One could easily dismiss his career-high 12.3 points per game by pointing to his career-low assists (5.2) and steals (1.5) averages. However, those are still both solid figures, especially considering he has molded his game to allow rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell more ball-time while playing with two big men who don’t space the floor like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love did before. Fellow Jazz role player Joe Ingles has been excellent as well, and could’ve earned the nod over Rubio here.
Ingram is a reminder to everyone calling (insert name of struggling rookie) a bust needs to fill themselves a glass of water and take a chill-pill. His well-rounded abilities helped the Lakers get off to a good start and weather the storm of tough mid-season losses. It wasn’t long ago that L.A. (now 23-34) was 11-27.
Gasol is shooting a career-low field-goal percentage, the Grizzlies fired their coach in part because of him and their season has spiraled into the trash can. Besides Memphis, only Orlando got off to such a similarly strong start only to flounder so fatally in the face of injuries. Gasol hasn’t been great, but the 33-year-old center is still worthy of a spot on the Lottery All-Star squad. Injuries stink, and the cat-and-mouse two-man game between Gasol and Mike Conley is one of the many things NBA fans were robbed of in 2017-18.
Evans is proof that old dogs can learn new tricks. Through 48 games with the Grizzlies he has made 103 threes, which is one-fourth of his career total. Evans went from making 0.7 treys per night (on 29.5 percent) through his first 473 career games to draining 2.1 per night (on 39.5 percent) in 2017-18. And he’s still bully-balling his way to the rim and dishing plenty of assists.
Booker hasn’t dialed up 70 points again (yet), but he has shown steady improvement as a playmaker. As well as Devin has done this year, he shouldn’t have set himself up for disappointment. Teams with twice as many losses as wins don’t get All-Stars, especially in the absolutely loaded Western Conference.
Barnes isn’t averaging as many points per game as last year (18.3 per on 15.2 shots versus 19.2 on 16.2 last year), but he has upped his rebounding (6.6) and assists (1.9), both of which are career highs. If he finishes the year a more-well rounded player, the Mavericks (18-40) can put that in their positive bin.