Matt Slocum/Associated Press
“Snub” is a difficult word when it comes to the NBA‘s All-Star teams. There are only 12 spots in each conference, but far more than 24 players deserve the recognition.
It’s hard to make the argument that one player should have been selected without also saying another player should be left off. Looking at this year’s starters and reserves—the latter group was announced Tuesday on TNT—you’re hard-pressed to find anyone on the list who shouldn’t be there.
With that said, there are a few players in each conference who legitimately deserved it.
Some of them may sneak in as injury replacements. Anthony Davis isn’t expected to be healthy in time for the March 7 showcase, so there will be at least one spot open. Some are up-and-coming young stars who should become All-Star fixtures in due time, but a few are on the back end of their careers and may not have many more opportunities.
These four players in each conference would have been worthy selections.
Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
For at least the past seven years, Mike Conley has held the dubious title of “the best player in the NBA never to make an All-Star team.” That run should have ended this year.
The Jazz have the NBA’s best record, and Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were locks to make the team. But they’ve played well enough to merit a third All-Star, even in a crowded conference, and Conley should have been that guy.
He’s built on a strong bubble performance over the summer and has anchored the surging Jazz. Although he’s averaging only 16.4 points and 5.6 assists per game, he’s shooting a career-high 41.2 percent from three-point range.
Conley may never have a better opportunity to be named an All-Star than now, playing for the best team he’s ever been on and being a quiet, steady source of that success. Even that wasn’t enough to get him over, which is a shame.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young’s omission is a genuine surprise given his popularity and the fact that he was an All-Star starter last year. The Atlanta Hawks are below .500, but they were last year as well and he made it.
Young is having another good season, shooting a career-best 37.9 percent from three and averaging a career-high 9.5 assists per game. Although the Hawks aren’t playing up to expectations amid several injuries to key players, they’re still considerably better than they were last season.
There are a lot of good guards in the East, so someone had to be squeezed out. It’s a bit of a shock that it was Young, though.
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
The Kings have had a typically up-and-down season, and most of the “up” can be attributed to De’Aaron Fox, who is in the midst of a career year after signing a five-year, $163 million extension in November.
In his fourth season, he’s fully stepped into his role as the leader of a young team.
As with anything this early in the season, the dynamics of the All-Star race change by the day. Recency bias often takes hold.
Earlier this month, when the Kings were winning and Fox was named Western Conference Player of the Week, he was gaining legitimate buzz to make his first career All-Star appearance. Had the coaches voted for the reserves then, he likely would have made it.
The Kings slipped, and so did his chances. But he’s having an All-Star-caliber year.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo being left off the All-Star team is entirely due to the Miami Heat’s disappointing record coming off last year’s Finals run in the bubble. It certainly isn’t because of his production.
Adebayo and two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only two players averaging at least 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists and one block this season. The Miami big man was an All-Star last year, so he didn’t have to overcome the first-timer hump, either.
Unfortunately, injuries and COVID-19-related absences have left the Heat short-handed for much of the year. It appears as though Miami’s lack of team success is what cost Adebayo a spot on the All-Star team.
Even though the Heat are currently out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference, they’re still in the playoff hunt, and no one will be surprised if they make another deep run. That’s in large part because of Adebayo, who is quickly cementing his place as one of the NBA’s best young bigs.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but they aren’t as bad as you think. They’re the kind of bad team that good teams dread playing because they’re annoying.
A big part of that is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has taken another leap in his second season with the Thunder and third season overall. He’s becoming a legitimate star in the making.
Gilgeous-Alexander has markedly improved as a shooter, hitting threes at a 40.7 percent clip (up from 34.7 last year) on a career-high 4.7 attempts per game. He’s also putting up career highs in points (22.8), assists (6.5) and field-goal percentage (50.6).
It’s hard for players on teams with sub-.500 records to get All-Star consideration, but Gilgeous-Alexander should have been one of the rare exceptions.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers currently have the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but they have zero representatives on the All-Star team.
Three of their players—Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon—have been good enough to warrant consideration. Of them, only Sabonis has been an All-Star before, which would have made him the most likely to get a spot from the coaches.
By nearly every statistical measure, Sabonis is having a better year than he did in 2019-20, when he was named an All-Star for the first time. Combine that with the Pacers’ record, and he qualifies as a snub.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker made his first All-Star team last year as a last-minute injury replacement for Damian Lillard. He’ll have to hope NBA Commissioner Adam Silver names him as Anthony Davis’ replacement this year.
In the past, Booker was putting up big stats on a bad team. That isn’t the case this year, though.
The Suns are currently fourth in the West, and Booker’s teammate, Chris Paul, was rewarded for that with his 11th All-Star appearance.
Booker has been just as good as he was last year and just as important to the Suns’ success as Paul, but it still wasn’t enough for him to be selected outright.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Like Bam Adebayo, Khris Middleton was likely punished for the Milwaukee Bucks’ somewhat disappointing record coming off two straight first-place finishes in the East.
However, Middleton is having the best statistical season of his career.
The nine-year veteran is averaging 20.5 points per game—a shade lower than the career-high 20.9 he averaged last season—to go with 6.0 rebounds and a career-high 5.7 assists. He’s also shooting a career-high 50.5 percent overall and 43.1 percent from three-point range while playing his typically excellent defense.
Even with their recent losing streak, the Bucks are still third in the East. They deserved to have two All-Stars with Middleton playing as well as he is.