Every season has its share of under appreciated, slightly lower-tier stars who are on the fringe of breaking out and making it to the mid-February stage. Even when players do raise their games, sometimes their career epiphany doesn’t occur until midseason or they are just edged out in fan voting and reserve selections by a bigger name or slightly more proven player. The talent pool in the NBA is rich with young talent, potential and up-and-coming players, making the star quality broader than ever across the league. While some of these players are immensely talented, some are injury-prone, knuckleheads or victims of circumstance on a team loaded with stars. While clearly not everyone on this list will make an all-star team, they are all capable of having an ‘all-star’ caliber season that could land them on a roster.

Roy Hibbert

The common denominator for players on this list is that they have yet to make a squad, but there are other factors included. Conditions for a player to make the list:

-Haven’t made an all-star squad in their NBA career yet

-Their games are improving and career largely on the upswing

-Must have a legitimate shot at an all-star type season

-Not a part of the 2011 NBA Draft or incoming rookie class

25. Roy Hibbert (IND)

Big Roy has a come along way since I got to see him play in high school as an awkwardly moving, yet domineering player because of his size. He’s learned how to put his 7’2”, 280 lb. frame to use and enhanced all facets of his post game. Hard to believe he’s been in the league three years after graduating from Georgetown, and is only 24 years old. Hiss best days are clearly ahead, but to make a squad with Danny Granger getting a good portion of Indiana’s touches, he’s really going to have to become a ‘go to’ offensive weapon in the paint.

24. Andrew Bogut (MIL)

In the 2009-10 season, Bogut was having a breakout year prior to a gruesome injury (fair warning, this is not for the squeamish). However, he still bounced back nicely this past season for the Bucks and held down the paint defensively, managing to turn away 2.6 shots per game. He came close to making the team during the ’10-11 season, but if his road to recovery continues, he has an outside chance despite not being a superior low post offensive weapon.

23. Joakim Noah (CHI)

Good thing he plays a whole lot better than he dances. Had Noah declared for the 2006 Draft instead of entering in ’07, he had a good shot at being the top pick. While he may not be that caliber, if a player was being drafted on motor and hustle alone, he would get my pick. He’s had a few nagging injuries that have stunted his development, but he hits the boards and plays outstanding interior defense as well as anyone. He will never be an offensive weapon, but if his production continues at freakishly higher based on his style, he’s capable of getting in like Ben Wallace did.

22. Greg Monroe (DET)

Greg Monroe

Monroe had a nice rookie year for the Pistons and is the future of their low post play. He played like a rookie at times, but got hot in the second half of the season with about 13 points and 9 rebounds per night. He’s not an intimidating in the post defensively, but he’s a decent defender who shows effort. As his post game and development continues to improve along with the Pistons rebuilding effort, so does his shot at making the squad.

21. Andrea Bargnani (TOR)

Nikoloz Tskitishvili 2.0 turned out much better than the first version, as Andrea might be the softest European center you know capable of dropping 20 points on a nightly basis. He’s by no means a center like the Raptors prefer to play him at for now, but he gets the job done from the perimeter more along the lines of a stretch forward. Gets knocked a lot for being a top pick failing to live up to expectations, but I would have no qualms about a seven footer shooting 37% from three for his career and averaging 21.4 points per game. Likely won’t get a ton of respect from voters or coaches unless he has a 24-25 point plus type of year.

20. Andrew Bynum (LAL)

Hate him or love, he’s got the size, length, talent, potential and opportunity on an aging Lakers team to make a run. He’s another big guy who has been hindered by injuries but is highly productive in limited minutes for the “Lake Show.” He already has six NBA seasons under his belt at the tender age of 23, so there’s plenty of time left for him to have a shot and room for development to get there as a low post threat.

19. James Harden (OKC)

Harden could be a ‘go to’ swingman on a lot of NBA teams, but alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, he embraces his role as a hard-nosed hustle player. Harden is a tremendously talented and efficient guard with an old man game and one of the better basketball IQ’s in the league. While the odds are stacked against him to make a squad in the West with the type of talent and touches needing to go around on his team, don’t put it past his ability to be in the discussion.

18. Brandon Jennings (MIL)

Brandon Jennings

I always like to say that I watched Kevin Love play high school ball in person for four years and Jennings play for four games, yet they are tied in my mind as the best prep players I have ever seen. Keep in mind that this is ahead of the likes of Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Harrison Barnes during their prep years. Jennings plays with the ball on string, honing the ability to break down defenders one-on-one and create his own shot. Ultimately needs to do a better job of playing team ball and mastering the pick and roll game and laying off the Lady Gaga, but there’s no reason teams shouldn’t fear the deer with him on board.

17. JaVale McGee (WAS)

He may be a bit of a goofball, but he’s certainly not the biggest goof on his own team. McGee has all the gifts and potential of a prized up-and coming big man; he has incredible size at seven foot, crazy length with a 7’5” wingspan, explosive athleticism and is a shot changer in the paint. His post game is raw and his shooting touch is a little off, but there aren’t many big men more naturally talented than McGee in the league right now. At the spry, young age of 23, he has plenty of time to learn how to play and thrive in the up-tempo style the Wiz are gearing towards with Wall running the break.

16. Andre Iguodala (PHI)

Iggy has been on the brink of all-stardom for a few years in the league with his versatility but has never quite made it. Unfortunately this year was a bit of a step back for him and trade rumors with his name on it were all the rage. Andre is a “stat sheet stuffer” who has averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and nearly 2 steals for his career, but has no real accolades to show for it yet. At 27, he still he has a few seasons to make a run as he enters the prime of his career, it could all just be a matter of setting.

15. Luol Deng (CHI)

Luol Deng

Deng is one of the uber-underrated players in the NBA today with his ability to fill it up, make plays and lock down on D. The only real knock on his game is that he can get slightly trigger happy from long distance, where he has been up and down through the years, but he’s a solid perimeter player who is excellent within the Bulls schematics. With Rose handling the ball all game and Boozer commanding the ball in the post, Chi-town still finds ways to get him the rock coming off ball screens and in isolations where he excels. If he can somehow get to closer the 20-point threshold while hitting close to 40 percent from three, I’d say his odds to get in the all-star game are bright on a good time.

14. DeMarcus Cousins (SAC)

Boogie” Cousins is a beast with All-NBA talent and the game to dominate if he can put his mind to it. He only played 28 minutes per game, but still impressively managed to put up 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game as a rookie. Cousins is arguably one of the top, if not the top, up-and-coming big man talent in the league. At 6’11”, 270 lb.s with his frame in paint complimented by his skill set, Cousins could be a force and both ends; emphasis on “could be.” Whether or not he ultimately will be is the big question, but he likely can’t get by on talent alone if he wants to be an all-star.

13. Rudy Gay (MEM)

Memphis had the look of a special team in the post season and could have been all the more dangerous had Gay been healthy to star at small forward. Rudy is a fantastic scorer who has thrived with his gifted natural talent and explosive athleticism, but hasn’t quite broken out into stardom. He’s on the cusp of greatness for the Grizz, and with that team starting to come into prominence, Gay will begin to command the spotlight and hopefully all-star votes for that matter.

12. DeMar DeRozan (TOR)

DeMar DeRozan (Reuters/ Mike Cassese)

DeRozan is a guy I’ve been high on ever since I got to see him star in the Nike Hoop Summit. His high school tape is incredible, but his progression with Toronto has been stunning as the Raptors seemingly found their swingman with the 9th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. DeMar does an excellent job scoring in isolation and off the pick and roll with his ability to create but has yet to really hone that long range threat. He only attempted 52 3-pointers in 82 games, making good on less than 10% of those, so it’s pretty clear where his work should be focused. Nonetheless, DeMar is an incredibly skilled scorer who his just scratching the surface of his potential.

11. Al Jefferson (UTA)

Not many can bang with the post force that is “Big Al” and win head-to-head. More than likely if they do, it’s because he doesn’t completely D up despite what his 1.9 blocks per game may have you think. He is a lazy post defender who gives up a uncontested shots to his man, but still manages to get a fair share of blocks in the paint with his imposing size and length. Offensively though Jefferson is stud, showing off a complete post repertoire with his back to the basket and a deadly face up jumper to make the D pay for playing off. Had some big 20-10 years in Minnesota but didn’t get much love (no pun intended) because they weren’t winning. Utah is stacked in the frontcourt this season with the addition of Enes Kanter, in addition to Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Mehmet Okur. Despite the depth, Jefferson will get his, as his post play is one of the Jazz biggest weapons.

10. Stephen Curry (GWS)

Stephen Curry (Photo by Rocky Widner)

Curry is one of the best young point guards in the league, lighting it up from beyond the arc at 43.9% for his career. Not only is he one of the top shooters in the leagues, but he can also drop a dime, or 5.9 per game to be exact. Curry is a complete offensive player with the ability to isolate, run the pick and roll, knock down spot up opportunities off ball and push the ball in transition. Expect to see Stephen play in an all-star game in a few years time, if that.

9. Kevin Martin (HOU)

For a non-all-star, Martin has had some outstanding seasons (although limited due to injury) in his career that didn’t result in a mid-season bid. He’s a top three player when it comes to off ball play with his ability to get open and cash in on spot up opportunities at better than 38% from distance for his career. While not the best team player or all that great of a defender, K-Mart is a player who can plug into nearly offense and score with his ability to play without the ball. He came close to getting the nod this season on a stacked Western Conference roster and could very well do it again, as he is their ‘go to’ guy on offense.

8. Brook Lopez (NJN)

From a post scorer perspective, Brook Lopez has become a weapon with his ability to face up from the high post and back down his man in the low post. It’s no coincidence that he was able to average over 20 points for the first time in his career with his shooting touch and post moves in the paint. It’s also no coincidence that his defensive production on the boards and changing shots has dropped as well, as Lopez seems to play around the perimeter more now than he ever has. While he doesn’t quite board up or defend like you would expect for a big, he is effective in his play and improving as a “pick and pop” threat with the addition of Deron Williams. There’s a good chance for Brook to nudge into a reserve spot in the Eastern Conference down the road with a full season alongside Williams.

7. Josh Smith (ATL)

Josh Smith

In terms of NBA stardom, J-Smoove is All-Leaguer on the highlight reels. However, he hasn’t quite reached it yet on the court with his tenacity to settle and be baited into taking for the perimeter jumper. He’s always played out of position in Atlanta, but his game is really very undefined as a combo forward in that set up. His inability to make shots helped bury the Hawks fate against the Bulls, as his touch from the perimeter is mediocre at best and Mike Bibby really doesn’t want a part of his touch altogether. He’s always seemed to get by on instincts, talent, hustle and athleticism (which isn’t a bad combo), but he still has a lot to be desired in terms of skill and shot making before he’s ready to be an all-star; no doubt about his ability to get there though.

6. Michael Beasley (MIN)

Beasley makes it look easy on the floor, almost too easy at times with his laidback style and demeanor. Beas is a mega talent who gets unfairly criticized for being selfish, but he does a fair job of playing team ball and setting up his man if the play is there. He thrives in clear outs, staring down his man from midrange and letting it fly for a crisp two points. It’s hard to believe that someone with his skill set and scoring ability is only 22 but he makes it work, teasing the 20 point mark this past season for the T’Wolves. Rest assured though, Beasley has too much time and talent to not make an all-star team in his career.

5. Tyreke Evans (SAC)

Monta Ellis

Evans is one the smoothest scorers in the league with a natural ability to get to the rack and finish consistently. While thrust into the predominant point guard role his first two seasons, he should benefit from getting to take a step back to his natural position at off guard with the help of Jimmer Fredette. He’s a ball dominant player, but he is also one of the few players on the Kings capable of creating offense and quality looks for the team. Evans has the build of a prototypical guard/forward with that frame and his game stacks up like a player with the makings of a perennial all-star.

4. Monta Ellis (GSW)

Former “Free Darko” blogger Bethlehem Shoals had a good take that put Monta Ellis contributions on court as a scorer into perspective, but he isn’t just that. Despite averaging over five assists in each of the past two seasons, he still is largely considered a “scorer” because he has averaged over 24 points in those seasons as well. With a usage rate of 28.2% on all Golden State possessions (among the top in the NBA), Ellis is a cornerstone of the Warriors offense that produces as such more along the lines of a “creator.” Despite that production, Ellis is still on the outside looking in. With Mark Jackson emphasizing defense as the new head coach, hopefully it lights a fire in Ellis to get more respect on that end and finally get validation as the all-star caliber talent he has been the past two seasons.

3. Eric Gordon (LAC)
Eric Gordon [Photo via Newscom

E-Go (ironic and not very fitting nickname) had a breakout year this past season with the on-court presence of Blake Griffin. With 22.3 points and 4.4 assists per game, Gordon stepped up and emerged as a legitimate swingman offensively. His keen basketball IQ paired with that explosive athleticism and ball skills produces a nearly unstoppable match up. While still 22, Eric is a gym rat who is focused on becoming a better player and it has showed year to year in his progression. One of the more underrated players in the league, mostly because of the team he plays for, Gordon is part of an LAC youth movement that will become relevant in years to come and he will get notice for it.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)

With Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin all getting the go-ahead for an all-star selection and Tim Duncan getting grandfathered in, LA was maybe the biggest snub of last year. While known for being notoriously soft in the early stages of his career, Aldridge has transformed his style of play to become more physical and aggressive around the basket, and did it ever pay off. He has always been a deadly perimeter marksman with that face up jumper, but now his back to basket game and post moves have become lethal as well. Without Brandon Roy, LA stepped up and boosted his game to the next level where he is bound to earn a spot if he can keep it up.

1. John Wall (WAS)

John Wall

While he wasn’t deserving of the accolade last year, it’s all but a guarantee that he will be in the future with his high-octane style and playmaking ability. The franchise point guard is a wizard with the ball (Pun intended this time) and is being built around to suite his “controlled chaos.” With Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee, and now Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, the Wiz can play an up-tempo that allows Wall to reward his teammates for running the floor in transition. Wall is a special talent that has All-Star and All-NBA potential that is developing before our eyes. His 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game were outstanding rookie numbers worthy of rookie of the year any other year, of course with the addition of Blake Griffin who wasn’t a true rookie in the 2010 Draft sense. Wall is poised to become one of the league’s tops players at the point and could have Washington dancing all over the competition.


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