The NBA is rapidly heading toward All-Star weekend. Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and a host of the game’s top stars will almost assuredly headline the contest, but who are some of the less-heralded players who could find themselves in Cleveland next month?
It’s that time of year to discuss All-Star sleepers. Even players love this exercise, with Curry recently stumping for Andrew Wiggins’ candidacy. The former Cavaliers draftee is not on this particular list, but the man Cleveland traded him for back in 2014 gets a shoutout, as well as three other names deserving of NBA All-Star nods.
Let’s dive right in.
F Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Wait, is it 2017? No. Kevin Love’s role is entirely different for this Cavs team than when he played with Kyrie Irving and LBJ. All the same, his season merits All-Star consideration.
Through 29 games, Love is averaging 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 43.3% from beyond the arc on 6.1 attempts per contest. His 64.2% true shooting mark is the best of his career. When stretched out to a per-36 basis, Love averages 24.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. But Love’s value runs even deeper.
The 33-year-old’s 1.0 defensive box plus-minus value is the best mark of his career. He currently has the best defensive rating and third-best net rating of his career, per NBA.com. Some of that stems from playing alongside strong frontcourt defenders in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. However, Love’s ability to contest and still switch out on guards is invaluable to the Cavs.
Love ranks 19th in value over replacement player (VORP), just behind Allen. That’s phenomenal value for a guy who barely plays over 21 minutes per game. Allen has been tremendous all season and is likely to get Cleveland’s All-Star nod. Plus, Love probably doesn’t have the counting numbers considering his playing time. Still, he deserves more recognition.
G Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Fred VanVleet’s production and energy resemble his mentor, Kyle Lowry. Those qualities also make the Toronto Raptors guard an NBA All-Star candidate.
VanVleet is averaging 20.9 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. He’s shooting 40% from beyond the arc on 8.8 attempts per game, good for a career-high 58% true shooting mark. But as strong as VanVleet has been offensively, he’s probably been even better on the defensive end.
The former Wichita State standout is tied for the NBA lead in deflections per game and loose balls recovered per game. Those numbers go hand-in-hand with his 1.6 steals per contest.
The on-off splits also reflect VanVleet’s value. He has an astounding +19.2 plus-minus per 100 possessions, with the Raptors outscoring opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court.
Only three Eastern Conference guards rank above VanVleet in VORP: Trae Young, James Harden, and Zach LaVine. He ranks 17th overall in that category, just behind Ja Morant. Impressive company, no?
The 27-year-old is having the best season of his career, and the Raptors would likely be lost without him. VanVleet should get an All-Star spot in Cleveland.
G Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray’s path to the NBA All-Star Game is much tougher than VanVleet’s because of the caliber of the backcourt players in the Western Conference. But the San Antonio Spurs guard has put up terrific numbers.
Murray is averaging 17.8 points, 8.8 assists, and 8.4 rebounds. His true shooting is below 50% as he’s been less efficient on twos, but he’s shooting a batter clip from beyond the arc than last season (34%) on higher volume. The 25-year-old is a tremendous playmaker when he gets into the paint, scoring on floaters and jump-hooks while also having the patience to find rim-rollers and cutters for easy buckets.
However, like VanVleet, Murray’s value shines through even more on the defensive end. He is tied with VanVleet for the league lead in deflections per game and ranks 17th in defensive box plus-minus. That’s third among Western Conference guards behind Chris Paul and Patrick Beverley.
The Washington native flies under the radar in terms of the West’s backcourt talent. It doesn’t help that the Spurs aren’t very good, either. But it’s hard to deem Murray’s two-way impact unworthy of an All-Star spot.
G Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
Jrue Holiday is legitimately one of the best guards in the league and has been for years now. Yet he has just one NBA All-Star appearance to his name. That’s just plain wrong, and it should change this year.
Holiday is having another superb season for the Milwaukee Bucks and inspiring Giannis Antetokounmpo in the process. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds on 50.4% shooting, including 37.7% from deep. The advanced numbers, meanwhile, are off the charts.
Milwaukee outscores opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions with Holiday on the floor. When he sits, the Bucks are -6.1 points per 100 possessions. They’re just 2-5 in games he’s missed thus far. It’s pretty evident just how important he is to the defending champions.
Holiday guards the best players on the planet and does so quite effectively, allowing Milwaukee to set its defense and have clean rotations, with Antetokounmpo maximizing his abilities as a terrifying defensive rover. Moreover, Holiday looks to get the Bucks in transition to create chances for the Greek Freak and others.
The 31-year-old’s second All-Star nod is long overdue. It should come in 2022.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.