Though Christmas will have passed by the time team captains and player pools are selected for the NBA’s 69th annual All-Star game, players will still hope to be gifted a spot on one of the two All-Star teams for the 2018-2019 season. While usual suspects like Lebron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Kevin Durant will certainly attain selections and potentially even captain positions on the two all-star squads, there is a long list of phenomenally talented players who have quietly created cases for themselves to be selected to go to Charlotte this coming February. The galvanization of the All-Star game does not necessarily form from the league’s great stars showing off their skill in a frivolous exhibition – it is created by up-and-coming new players in the league who are just beginning to leave their personal mark on the NBA. Read on for a better idea on 2019’s most compelling dark horse picks to make this season’s all star game. To give a bit of structure to the broad range of talented players who fill the “dark horse” profile, one player from every position will be selected, and there will be a group dedicated to each of the two conferences. Along with that, players with obvious spots on the team, such as the ones mentioned, will not be included on the list.
Point Guard: Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) December 11, 2018
It can be debated whether he is a point guard or a shooting guard, but Zach LaVine doesn’t need a specified position to get buckets. Formerly of the Timberwolves, LaVine was looking to shape into a bench guard at best after a taxing few years between 2016 and 2018. LaVine suffered a torn ACL in early 2017, and didn’t look the same in his initial opportunities after his recovery. Traded to the Bulls in the summer of ‘17, LaVine came to Chicago with Kris Dunn, with the duo being coined the Bulls’ backcourt of the future. LaVine didn’t quite look himself in his first season in the windy city, however, and battled inconsistency throughout the year to produce a lackluster 16.7 ppg on a sluggish 38% from the field. Whether it was the uninspiring numbers, or a sparkling new $78 million dollar contract, LaVine has completely turned his career path around and has put together All-Star caliber stats in 2018. He’s averaging just under 24 points per game next to just about five assists and five rebounds, while also improving his shooting percentage to a respectable 45%. LaVine would be a clever selection for a captain looking for an explosive guard off the bench.
Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 26, 2018
Although the shooting guard position is essentially non-existent in today’s NBA, Tim Hardaway Jr. plays to the textbook definition of the 2 spot on the floor. Averaging just a trio of assists and rebounds per game, T.H. Jr. has created his all-star case through a career-best scoring output. Entering his 26 year-old season, Hardaway has dropped a personal-record 21 points per game, but is shooting a career-low 40% from the field. He’s been a focal point of the Knicks offense and still sits above league average in PER in spite of his shooting woes. His chances at selection would certainly bolstered if he improved his shooting efficiency, but New York’s lack of weapons to back him up could prove costly in his hunt for his first career all-star selection. Hardaway will be an interesting player to watch in the weeks coming up to the all-star game.
Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana Pacers
I think this was said at the 30 game mark last season but people need to start paying more attention to the 20-10 Indiana Pacers. The Bojan Bogdanovic stat line is off the charts: 51.9% FG, 48.9% 3, 82% FT, 65.2% TS.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) December 17, 2018
While Bogdanovic may be a dark horse pick for this year’s all-star game, he’s a lock to be granted an opportunity to participate in Charlotte’s three-point contest festivities. The hyper-efficient forward has shot a blistering 51% from the field, as well as a Curry-esque 48% from long range. It can be debated whether Bojan has actually kicked his game into second gear – he’s never shot better than 47% from the field, and 40% from deep – but his best season was his previous season, and he’s broken his top numbers this year. Fitting perfectly in Nate Mcmillan’s offense, it seems that Bogdanovic has found a home in Indiana as a vastly underrated sharp-shooter for the Pacers, and his accuracy could be rewarded with an all-star nod in 2019.
Power Forward: Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
Reggie Jackson: 24 PTS, 6 AST
Andre Drummond: 16 PTS, 16 REB pic.twitter.com/JfrcrBfVQD
— NBA (@NBA) December 20, 2018
While the Blake Griffin era ended in Los Angeles in the 2017-2018 season, it’s just begun in Detroit. Griffin appeared to begin declining in 2016 when he broke his streak of five straight all-star selections, and this decline was continuing as early as the end of the 17-18 season. Griffin averaged his second lowest points-per-game output in his first 25 games following his move to the Pistons, not to mention a career worst PER over the course of the full year. Always an advocate of State Farm, though, it seems that Griffin has his career insured as well. The former Clipper has been miraculously resurgent thus far, and has averaged over 25 points per game to go with nine rebounds and five assists. Griffin has carried Detroit to the playoff cusp, and the boys in blue are currently battling for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. While his numbers will lock him into the all-star game, he’s a dark horse due his collective lack of coverage and comeback player of the year potential.
Center: Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
— Stadium (@Stadium) December 21, 2018
Entering the prime years of his NBA campaign, Magic center Nikola Vucevic is putting up serious numbers in his 28 year-old season. The injury-prone big man has stayed healthy thus far this year, missing just one game, and has been able to drop over twenty points per game for the first time in his career thus far. Next to that, he’s in double figures in rebounding, and has continued to hone his three point shot, cashing in 39% of his attempts, another career best. Vucevic figures to be the Magic’s center of the future and is giving them a reason to fork over the cash in what is shaping up to be a very prosperous contract year. Vucevic deserves an all-star selection as he attempts to will Orlando to their first playoff appearance since 2012.
Point Guard: Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) December 20, 2018
Contrary to what has been a disappointing season for the Pelicans thus far, floor general Jrue Holiday has been able to put together a career year in 34 games for New Orleans in 2018. Holiday has been scoring at a decent clip with 20.8 points a game, but his passing and defensive numbers have been stellar, as he’s averaged 8.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game this year, placing him at third and eleventh in the league, respectively. With his only all-star selection coming in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if Holiday will ever take part in the festivities again. His numbers this year are even better than they were in the season of his lone selection, however, so now would be as practical a time as any for Holiday to be granted selection number two.
Shooting Guard: Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Buddy Hield has now scored 20+ in 6 straight games
28-8-1 vs MEM
37-6-3 vs OKC
21-1-1 vs MIN
28-4-2 vs DAL
27-4-2 vs GS
20-2-3 vs MIN
Bahamian Bomber pic.twitter.com/bRSMECwJSA
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) December 22, 2018
In his third NBA season, Buddy Hield has blossomed into the franchise cornerstone that the Kings traded for in their blockbuster deal with New Orleans in 2017. The former Pelican has teamed with De’Aaron Fox to create one of the most explosive backcourt duos in the NBA, and has coupled electric play with various career bests and efficient shooting. Shooting 48% and 44% overall and from deep, Buddy Hield has played a leading role in what has been the best start to a Kings season in years. Sacramento currently holds a 18-15 record (as of 12/24/2018), good for 7th in the western conference. As long as Hield continues to perform, Sacramento will have the opportunity to clinch their first playoff berth in over a decade, and Sacramento’s start shooting guard may be able to secure his first career all-star spot.
Small Forward: Tobias Harris, Los Angeles Clippers
Tobias Harris this season
Clippers 15-6 and 1st in the West
All Star? pic.twitter.com/FQzM7dd4Em
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) November 30, 2018
Move over, Blake – there’s a new forward in town. Nobody expected Tobias Harris to fill the void that Griffin left when the two switched squads in their February trade, but Tobias Harris doesn’t care about your expectations. Harris has been a star in Doc Rivers’ offense, and has been able to put up 21.6 points per match-up, plus nine rebounds. In the broader perspective, he’s been able to lead what was supposed to be a rebuilding Clippers squad to the sixth seed in the West, and given them a marketable name around a group of fairly unknown players. During a surprisingly young age 26 season, Harris has a chance at his first all-star selection, so long as he continues to lead his underrated group of hoopers to victories.
Power Forward: Julius Randle, New Orleans Pelicans
In a team severely lacking a talented power forward, Julius Randle has been able to fill the hole for the underperforming Pelicans. He’s averaged over nineteen points and nine rebounds in just 28 minutes per game. When projected over a full 36 minute span, his numbers balloon to just under 25 points per game, and a dominant 12 rebounds per game. Randle has never averaged over thirty minutes per match-up in a season, but his stats in the minutes he has currently will certainly force the Pelicans’ hand. If Randle can convince head coach Alvin Gentry to give him a starter’s share of minutes, the 5th year veteran should be able to bolster his numbers to the point of all-star consideration.
Center: Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
James Harden and Clint Capela WENT OFF as the Houston Rockets defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 108-101!
39 Points, 4 Rebounds, 10 Assists
21 Points, 23 Rebounds, 2 Assists pic.twitter.com/8ZTu0fsfWK
— Major Sports Alerts (@sports___alerts) December 23, 2018
The Rockets highly-touted center has finally been handed a starter-caliber number of minutes, and he has not disappointed. Clint Capela has been balling and dominating in 2018, racking up over 17 points per game to go along with twelve boards and an effective 63.9% shooting percentage in 33.7 minutes of play. Interestingly, he ranks third in scoring among all Western Conference centers, and is within three points of the top spot, yet doesn’t shoot from range like the stretch bigs above him, those being Karl Anthony-Towns and Nikola Jokic. Throw in two blocks per game, and you’ve got a compelling case for Capela to be sent a ticket to Charlotte for this season’s festivities.
While there is a yearly list of stars who are repeatedly locks to participate in each season’s all-star festivities, the dark horses are the players who are far more interesting to watch in their efforts to make the game. Whether it be due to lack of media coverage, or having a sudden breakout or resurgence, the best stories come from lesser known players creating a name for themselves through their dedication and hard work. Though an all-star selection is a perfect reward for a lesser known player’s diligent efforts to become noticed, snubs occur yearly for the top performers who are still denied a place on an all-star roster. Read up on each year’s most substantial all-star snuffs here.
#NBAAllStar Voting 2019 presented by @Google, which is now the league’s presenting #NBAAllStar Voting partner, will begin Dec. 25 at 11am/et – before five Christmas Day games across ABC and ESPN – and conclude Jan. 21. https://t.co/1kxutcEkF0 pic.twitter.com/t8YBDPwvxh
— #NBAAllStar (@NBAAllStar) December 17, 2018