With 2017 rolling around and NBA All-Star voting kicking off, let’s take a look at some Eastern Conference players who deserve to be recognized for their play in the first part of the season.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker has come a long way since being a key member of the 2011-’12 Bobcats (debatably worst team in NBA history). Walker is coming off of a nice 2015-’16 season in which he recorded career highs in scoring and three point percentage, yet was still snubbed for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. I believe 2017 will be a different story for Kemba. Averaging a career high 22.7 points, slightly over five assists, four rebounds, and shooting nicely from the floor (46%) and exceptionally well from three at (40%). More importantly, Kemba has transformed himself into a true leader for the Hornets. He is more vocal than past years, and seems to be more willing to pass instead of dribble for half of the shot clock. The Hornets are also fourth in the East at 19-15, and Kemba is leading the show on all fronts, something well recorded in his career high player efficiency rating of 22.7. It will not be easy for Kemba to make the All-Star squad, as there are a lot of great guards in the East on teams with larger markets and more well-known names (Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Dwayne Wade). But when you look at his steady improvement and growth as a player, there is no doubt in my mind that Kemba should be an All-Star in 2017.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Known as the “Greek Freak” to most, Giannis Antetokounmpo is making a name for himself in the 2016-’17 season. After being drafted as the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft, no one had any great expectations for this lanky Nigerian kid from Greece. Maybe he would turn out to be a nice role player who would be on a few teams in his career, always in the hunt for a ring. Well it’s safe to say Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken control of his destiny and is showing all he has to offer the NBA this year; Antetokounmpo is averaging 24 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and two steals, shooting a career high 53% from the field, and with a player efficiency rating of 28.9. This 22 year old, yes he is only 22, is setting the league ablaze in a campaign that is nothing shy of spectacular. The Bucks are 16-16 and sitting on the seven seed in the East; if Milwaukee can improve this record to a few games above .500 and the “Greek Freak” continues putting up “freakish” stat lines, I believe he will be a lock for the Eastern All-Star team.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: I have been a fan of Bradley Beal’s all-around offensive game since his playing days at Florida, so it only feels right for me to vouch for his appearance in the 2017 NBA All-Star game. It doesn’t hurt that his play in 2016-’17 has been phenomenal thus far. As John Wall’s backcourt mate in DC, Beal is putting up a career high in points at 22 a game, a career high 3.6 assists, nearly three boards, and is shooting a career high 45% from the field and a strong 39% from downtown. Beal has come out this year looking strong offensively and is a big factor Washington is sitting as the six seed in the East after a rough start to the season. Beal has shown a killer instinct this year, stepping up his offensive game to another level that compliments John Wall’s abilities so well and may even push the Wizards into the playoff race. If Beal can return from his injured ankle and be effective and efficient, has a 19.6 PER for the season thus far, while helping the Wizards win games, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be an All-Star. It should be noted that due to the high chances of Beal’s teammate John Wall getting voted into the All-Star game, this could hurt Beal’s chances as coaches may be reluctant to vote two Wizards into the All-Star game event.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Last year New York fans thought that the Porzingod should be an All-Star, something that I did not agree with at all. But in 2016-’17, Porzingis is averaging a nice 20 points per game (six more than last year), eight boards, one assist, two blocks, and is shooting the lights out from three at 40% (up from his 33% mark last year). Porzingis has also been efficient this year, as he is making 45% of his shots from the floor and has a player efficiency rating of 18.8. Kristaps Porzingis is emerging as a player who has all of the tools to be a perennial All-Star in this league; he is confident, skilled, athletic and long, and can shoot from anywhere on the court at an efficient clip. The only thing I see holding Porzingis back from getting his first of many All-Star nods, is the Knicks lowly record.