A week after the starters were revealed, the reserves for this year’s NBA All-Star game to be held at Salt Lake City, Utah on February 20 (Manila time) were just announced by the league. The list of reserves includes four first-timers who are very much deserving of the nod for their contributions on overachieving teams that were supposed to be “battling” it out for the top odds in the NBA Draft Lottery.
One of these players suits up for the host team Utah Jazz as forward Lauri Markkanen will be making his All-Star debut after taking a significant leap in this campaign.
Now in his sixth year in the NBA and first with the Jazz, Markkanen, who averaged only 14.8 points per game last year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is averaging 24.9 points on 52.0% field goal shooting, 3.1 three-pointers, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists over 48 appearances so far this season.
These are all career-highs for the 7’0 forward who was the main catalyst behind Utah’s surprising start to the season that saw them leading the Western Conference after a month’s worth of games. Though the Jazz have since tapered off, his strong play has not waned and he continues to prove that this recent stretch is no fluke.
Joining Markkanen from the West is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The 24-year-old guard has taken the leap into superstardom this year and it has inadvertently ruined the team’s well known plans of tanking for the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery.
Gilgeous-Alexander is one of seven players putting up at least 30 points per game this season, with an average of 30.8 points which he attains through a highly efficient 50.5% field goal shooting clip and 91.0% conversion rate on 10.1 free throw attempts a contest.
The fifth-year guard is also tallying an impressive 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. If he can keep this up, he will become the first player since Michael Jordan to achieve these gaudy per-game numbers over the course of a full season.
The third and final All-Star newcomer from the West is the Memphis Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. who edged out the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis and the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox for the last berth.
Jackson is the backbone of Memphis’ defense which is currently second in the league in Defensive Rating. The 23-year-old forward is averaging one steal and 3.3 blocks per game this season to go with 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds.
This marks the first time in the Grizzlies’ franchise history that they will have multiple representatives at the All-Star game, since his teammate Ja Morant was also named a reserve, highlighting the bright future of this up-and-coming group.
The list of West reserves is rounded up by Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), and Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers).
Over in the Eastern Conference, third-year point guard Tyrese Haliburton of the Indiana Pacers is the lone player who will be making his inaugural All-Star team. Haliburton returned from a 10-game absence due to a knee injury a few moments after he was named an All-Star and continued his breakout campaign with 26 points, four three-pointers, two rebounds, 12 assists, and two steals.
The 6’5 guard has earned the nod by averaging 20.2 points, three three-pointers, four rebounds, a league-leading 10.2 assists, and 1.8 steals in his first full season with Indiana.
Aside from Haliburton, All-Star game veterans Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), and Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks) were also named reserves for the East.
The 32-year-old Holiday will be making his second All-Star game and first with the Bucks as he has shouldered a heavy load in the absence of the injured Khris Middleton. It has been 10 years since Holiday made his first All-Star team while he was still with the Sixers and he has now surpassed the record held by Frank Selvy for the longest interval between selections.
It will be interesting to see if the need for injury replacements will arrive this season, particularly for starters Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson who are currently sidelined. This is highly likely and could pave the way for a few more first-timers to make the All-Star team.
The last time there was an All-Star game that did not need injury replacements was way back in 2005.