4 Under the Radar Players Who Could Be NBA All-Stars

By Patrick Hayes   February 11, 2021 

4 Under the Radar Players Who Could Be NBA All-Stars

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the NBA season, and the league started its 2020-21 season with no clear plan for when – or if – this year’s All-Star Game would happen.

With coronavirus cases still surging, COVID-19 variants emerging in some regions, and several games having to be postponed already because of outbreaks within teams, whether or not it is even a good idea to have an All-Star Game is a legitimate question. There have since been reports that the league is indeed finalizing plans for an All-Star weekend, with plans to hold it in Atlanta on March 7. 

The news that there could be an All-Star Game has been met with a mixed reaction. Kings star De’Aaron Fox said, “I think it’s stupid,” to play the game. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have also said they don’t understand why an exhibition game that brings together hundreds of players and personnel during a pandemic would be played. 

But one thing we’ve learned watching all professional and major college sports operate during the pandemic is that all leagues will find a way to operate as close to normal as possible to not leave money behind. All-Star Games bring in revenue, so that significantly increases the odds that a game will be played.

Candidates to play in it include some obvious yearly choices: James, Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, and Nikola Jokic. This year, though, some new candidates have emerged. Here are four potential first-time All-Stars and why they should play in the game.

Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons

Grant’s signing with the rebuilding Pistons in the offseason seemed like a. curious one. He was a very good and versatile role player in Denver and Oklahoma City, but never a centerpiece of a team’s offense. Grant is averaging 24 points per game – double his average last year — and making 38 percent of his three-pointers. He’s also averaging 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block per game while continuing to play strong defense, typically against the opposing team’s best frontcourt player, every game. Grant told The Athletic’s James Edwards III that a big part of his motivation signing with the Pistons was the opportunity to play for a Black general manager (Troy Weaver) and Black coach (Dwane Casey) in a majority Black city. He’s had a great first season, proven he was worth the big contract he signed, and has adjusted to defenses sending more defenders at him as the season has gone on. The Pistons aren’t winning, which hurts his All-Star chances, but the respect he has around the league should help get him in the game.

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

At 26-years-old, on his third team, and in his seventh year in the league, not many would’ve predicted that Randle would be the leader of the New York Knicks turning their sad-sack franchise around. New York is contending for a playoff spot, and Randle improving three of the weakest areas of his game has been a huge factor. He’s shooting 40 percent from three-point range (he’s a career 31 percent shooter), he’s playing good defense, and he’s averaging nearly 6 assists per game. He’s had a reputation as a shoot-first player his entire career, so his willingness to share the ball has been particularly impressive. He’s averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, which all lead the team. If he gets the Knicks into the playoffs this season, he will probably have immortal status in New York. That in itself is worthy of All-Star consideration.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Williamson’s inclusion this list isn’t exactly a surprise – last year’s No. 1 pick has been viewed as a future star since he was in high school. How fast he has risen to All-Star level status has been impressive, though, especially considering he’s playing for his second coach in two years and he missed most of his rookie season due to injury. Williamson is leading the Pelicans in scoring 24 points per game and averaging 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. He’s hitting 59 percent of his shots overall and 36 percent of his three-pointers. More importantly for the Pelicans, he’s quickly becoming a good defensive player. He’ll be a fixture in All-Star Games for years to come, but even with New Orleans struggling much of this season, he’s still deserving right now.

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

Sexton and backcourt mate Darius Garland are All-Star worthy for their combination nickname alone — “Sexland.” But on the court, Sexton has been one of the best shooting guards in the league. He’s averaging 24 points, 4 assists and a steal per game while shooting 48 percent overall and 43 percent from three-point range. He’s also significantly improved on defense. The Cavs are a surprising playoff contender, and Sexton’s continued improvement is the biggest reason for that.

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