The All-Star reserves are out, and besides making me wonder why Luol Deng's case is stronger this year (when he's missed extended time due to injury) than last year, they got me to thinking about which players are likely to join this group in the future. Here are my top 10 most likely future All-Stars, in order.
1. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee (age 22)
Presumably, Jennings was close to making this year's team, and he got the nod in my picks. Still just 22, Jennings continues to improve his decision making, as evidenced primarily by his shrinking turnover rate. With better offensive talent around him, I think Jennings could hand out more assists, which would bolster his candidacy. He's at a point where many young point guards make the leap, so if he's close to All-Star level now, Jennings could be a no-brainer pick in a year or two. That's why, though I think other players have higher ceilings, I'd consider him the most likely future All-Star in the league at the moment.
2. James Harden, Oklahoma City (age 22)
Put Harden in the same category as Jennings. Both players are three-year veterans who are already knocking on the door of the All-Star roster. Harden might have a more difficult time cracking a crowded group of Western Conference guards, but Steve Nash can't continue to play at an All-Star level forever and Harden looks like the most promising young shooting guard in the NBA. That gives him an excellent shot at becoming a fixture as soon as next season.
3. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland (age 19)
By the end of this season, Irving may well top this list. I'd still like to see him maintain his level of efficient scoring for a full season before being completely convinced he's destined for the All-Star Game, but Irving too was on the fringe of the conversation this season. If you asked me to pick the player likely to make the most All-Star Games in the future, I'd pick him.
4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota (age 21)
I'm legally obligated to keep Irving and Rubio, the two point guards who are the leading contenders for Rookie of the Year honors, next to each other on this list. With Jason Kidd no longer an All-Star contender and Nash in his twilight, the league is in search of an unselfish playmaker who can feed the host of finishers on the All-Star rosters. Rubio's game was practically designed for All-Star play, and as he continues to develop as a scorer, Rubio will make the kind of impact to justify a spot in the game.
5. John Wall, Washington (age 21)
Wall doesn't look like quite the sure thing he was a year ago, but his talent is too immense and the flashes too impressive to leave him entirely off this list. I'd really like to see what Wall could do in a better system with more talent around him. You know, kind of like Kentucky.
6. Danilo Gallinari, Denver (age 23)
As noted in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12, more than 75 percent of the players as successful as Gallinari at such a young age have developed into All-Stars. In a larger offensive role this season, Gallinari has continued his improvement. He's not far from playing at an All-Star level right now and has another couple of seasons of development ahead of him, in all likelihood.
7. Greg Monroe, Detroit (age 21)
The way Monroe has played this season, he deserved some All-Star consideration. He's far and away the most valuable player from the 2010 Draft at this point. I think it might take some superior talent around him for Monroe's production to really get noticed, however. Until then, it's easy for those who don't watch the Pistons on a regular basis to write off his numbers as empty.
8. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City (age 22)
Ibaka has progressed so quickly that I think we (and by we, I mean me) forget how young he still is. Ibaka wasn't really supposed to be contributing until about now; instead, he's got a full season as a starter to his credit. Ibaka has stagnated a bit as a scorer this season but is showing tremendous shot-blocking ability. His nine rejections Thursday in Sacramento allowed him to tie JaVale McGee as the league leader.
9. Eric Gordon, New Orleans (age 23)
Hey, remember this guy? Centerpiece of the return for Chris Paul? A knee injury has sidelined Gordon since the season's first two games, but he remains in the conversation for the title of league's best young two-guard with Harden. I had Gordon ahead after last season, but Harden's strong start and youth now give him the edge.
10. Kyle Lowry, Houston (age 25)
The oldest player on this list by a full two years, Lowry doesn't have much development in front of him. Fortunately, he's already playing at an All-Star level. What will help Lowry get selected is more exposure, which could be coming as the Rockets reel off victories to put themselves in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race. Working against Lowry is the number of quality point guards in the West, which will limit his opportunities to make an All-Star team.
Honorable Mention: Nicolas Batum, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Josh Smith
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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