Seven players will be making their NBA All-Star debut in the league’s 2022 showcase that will be held at Cleveland over this weekend. The count of seven first-timers is tied for the second highest total over the past 10 years, behind only the 10 newcomers who participated in the 2020 edition two seasons ago.
Five out of the seven new All-Stars are point guards, which further emphasizes the recent shift in the league’s paradigm towards a more free-flowing and guard-centric game. 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant of the 41-19 Memphis Grizzlies was voted as a starter and headlines this year’s class.
Now in his third year in the league, Morant has made a significant statistical leap from his first two campaigns with Most Valuable Player-level averages of 26.8 points on 49.5% field goal shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.2 steals. He is the driving force behind the major leap that the Grizzlies have made from a fringe playoff team last season to the third seed in the West.
It is highly likely that this is the first of many All-Star appearances from Morant. His jaw-dropping athleticism should lead to at least a few memorable highlights on the court this weekend and he already seems to be enjoying the experience.
His successor as Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball will also be making his first All-Star appearance as a sophomore. He was initially snubbed before being selected as the first Eastern Conference injury replacement for the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant. Ball’s selection was well-deserved, especially with the strong start to the season that his Charlotte Hornets enjoyed.
Though they have slipped to 29-31 and ninth in the East due to a flurry of injuries to several rotation pieces, the flamboyant Ball continues to produce and remains the motor of this up-and-coming team. The flashy passes from Ball that have become a staple of the Hornets’ nightly highlight reels are perfect for the All-Star game and he will have more than his fair share of targets on the highly-athletic Team Durant.
Ball joins his fellow Eastern Conference point guards Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet who were part of the initial batch of reserves selected by the league’s coaches.
Both the Cavaliers, who are hosting this year’s festivities, and the Raptors have exceeded expectations this year and are in the thick of the East’s postseason race. Garland and VanVleet have shouldered much of the offensive load for their two teams and their inspiring efforts have duly rewarded with this much-coveted recognition.
The third-year guard Garland, selected three picks after Morant in the 2019 NBA Draft at fifth overall, has maximized his increased opportunities in Cleveland’s backcourt following the absence of the injured Collin Sexton.
Garland has played so well–averaging 20.3 points and eight assists this season–that he has leapfrogged Sexton as the team’s favored guard which made the “Young Bull” expendable in trade talks prior to this year’s trade deadline. He was also highly-coveted by the two team captains Durant and LeBron James in the NBA All-Star Draft which is quite an honor and further proof of how good the 22-year-old is even at such an early point in his career.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old VanVleet is the oldest among this group and his spot on this year’s All-Star roster is a culmination of his inspiring rise. The 6’1 guard went from undrafted to a key role player on the 2019 NBA champions to the lead guard of his unconventional Toronto team.
He is averaging career-highs across the board with 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and seven assists despite the added attention that he has received from opposing defenses following Kyle Lowry’s offseason departure.
Back in the Western Conference, Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs was selected as the substitute for the Golden State Warriors’ sidelined star Draymond Green to complete the cast of five debutant point guards. Although the Spurs are struggling this season with a 23-36 record that has them outside of even the play-in tournament, it is not because of Murray who has been brilliant.
The 6’4 guard has become a nightly triple double threat and is recording 19.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists, and a league-leading two steals per game. San Antonio is clearly inclined on building around him and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as he approaches his prime.
Rounding up the group of fresh faces are Western Conference frontcourt starter Andrew Wiggins from Golden State and Cleveland’s emerging center Jarrett Allen.
While Wiggins’ selection as a starter received mixed reviews, there is a sound case to be made for him given how much he has improved in his time with the Warriors and how crucial he has been to their reemergence this season. He has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his first overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, but he has carved out an ideal niche on Golden State as a multi-dimensional athletic wingman.
Allen has similarly found a fantastic fit on his second NBA team. He was the last player named to this year’s All-Star team as a replacement for the Philadelphia 76ers’ newly acquired guard James Harden. However, he is just as deserving as the rest of the players suiting up for this exhibition.
With his teammate Garland running the show on offense, it has allowed Allen to focus on finishing around the rim and protecting it on the defensive end. It has paved the way for him to average 16.2 points and 11 rebounds, both of which are career-best numbers, along with 1.3 blocks at the young age of 23
The hulking interior presence of the 6’11 Allen, coupled with his mobility and motor, make him the perfect big man for the modern NBA and Garland in particular. This Cleveland pair will have the support of their hometown crowd behind them in their first All-Star game and they should remain fixtures here in the coming years as they ascend in the Eastern Conference.
The future of the league is clearly bright with these players and the rest of their All-Star teammates leading the way. In a league overflowing with talent, especially in the guard positions, it is quite a considerable feat that they have achieved this distinction. Subsequent All-Star appearances are far from guaranteed so it will be exciting to watch how they make the most of their opportunity to share the floor with the league’s finest.