The 2021 NBA All-Star Game has come and gone.
With this season's All-Star festivities in the rearview mirror, we shift our focus to the crop of young players who made a strong case for their first-ever All-Star appearances, yet fell just short of achieving that goal. While they may have missed the cut this season, they will surely be back in the mix this time next year.
Take a look at your 2021 "One Year Away" All-Stars.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Had it not been for Toronto's uncharacteristically slow start to the season, VanVleet may have been an easy selection for his first-ever All-Star bid this year. Clearly the most deserving member of his team that is now hovering around .500 and firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, you could even consider VanVleet a snub for this year's roster even with the increasing level of talent in the East.
VanVleet is averaging 20.1 points, 6.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, all of which are career highs. His 58 total steals also rank second in the league, as the undrafted guard is making a strong case for an All-Defence selection at season's end.
Watch EVERY BUCKET from Fred VanVleet's career-night!- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 3, 2021
54 PTS | 11 3PT | 3 STL | 3 BLK#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/6iWG2g6Bfk
At 26 years old, VanVleet still has plenty of time to cross "All-Star" off of his career checklist, especially as Toronto continues to turn over the keys of the franchise to the NBA champion guard. When next year's All-Star ballots come around and VanVleet has shouldered even more responsibility for his team, it may be nearly impossible to leave him off the roster for a second consecutive season.
Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons
Grant's All-Star case was strong this season but his team's conference-worst 10-26 record prevented him from cracking the roster.
Nearly doubling his prior career high in scoring, averaging an impressive 23.4 points per game in his first season as the go-to guy in Detroit, Grant has been the front-runner for Most Improved Player of the Year. Add to it that he's averaging 5.3 rebounds, a career high 2.9 assists and 1.1 blocks, and that's a well-rounded stat line that warrants the consideration Grant received.
But with the East All-Star selections as crowded as they've been in recent memory, the Pistons forward will have to hope he can duplicate his first-half performance this time around next year. At just 26 years old, Grant should return to the conversation.
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
While it would be a stretch to say that Ball was a near-All-Star this season, his production as a starter was All-Star calibre and there is no reason to doubt that the 19-year-old will work his way into consideration next year.
Ball was promising in his first 20 games as a reserve, earning a starting spot once the Hornets began to deal with some injuries. The Rookie of the Year front-runner took advantage of that opportunity and elevated his play to a level that made it impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup. In 15 games as a starter, Ball has averaged 20.7 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals while shooting a much-improved 46.4 percent from the field, 44.9 percent from 3-point range and 84.6 percent from the free throw line.
If the returns from that 15-game sample size are any indication of how he'll play the rest of this season and beyond, Ball will have plenty of All-Star bids in his near-future.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Many expected Murray to make the leap to an All-Star following his insane run during the 2020 NBA Playoffs in the bubble, yet the prolific scoring guard got off to a slower than expected start this season.
His averages of 21.8 points, 4.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game may not jump off the page, but aside from his assists average, all of the aforementioned are still career highs. And yet, with the Nuggets only six games over .500 after their run to the Western Conference last season, especially with Nikola Jokic playing at an MVP level, there wasn't much of a case for Murray to make the All-Star team this season.
However, if the Kitchener, Ontario native had ramped up his play the way he has lately, he certainly would have been in the mix. He's averaged 30.0 points, 4.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals over the last nine games, scoring 25-plus points in five contests, which also included a 50-point outing.
We're starting to see Murray take the form of the player we saw in the bubble last summer.
Blue Arrow is 𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐊.- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 20, 2021
🎥 | EVERY bucket from Jamal's 50-piece! #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/wpuYOwmMKN
At just 24 years old, as he continues to make improvements to his game with a young core around him in Denver, Murray will have plenty of All-Star opportunities in the near-future. It may come a year later than expected, but Murray should find himself right back in the All-Star conversation next year.
De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Fox's All-Star campaign ramped up when the Kings were riding their season-best stretch of seven wins in eight games from the end of January into the start of February. There's no better time than that to state your All-Star case, but Sacramento has since fallen off a cliff, which, in return, diminished Fox's chances.
Nonetheless, the 23-year-old guard still made a strong push, averaging a career high 23.0 points per game to go with 7.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
In only his fourth season, playing in the loaded Western Conference has withheld Fox from All-Stardom, but as the electrifying young guard continues to improve, it's easy to see him becoming a multi-time All-Star.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Gilgeous-Alexander may have had the quietest All-Star campaign of any player this season, but just because it was quiet doesn't mean the case wasn't there. The third-year guard continues to improve each season he has been in the league, now thriving as the cornerstone of Oklahoma City's franchise.
Averaging 23.2 points and 6.2 assists per game while shooting an efficient 51.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3 are all career-best marks for a player who has fully taken the reigns now that Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder have moved on.
At only 22 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander's upside is through the roof and the better the roster gets around him, the better SGA will be in the future.
While he missed out on his first-ever All-Star bid this season, it's coming sooner rather than later for the Canadian guard.
Christian Wood, Houston Rockets
Wood was one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason and the 25-year-old forward made the Rockets front office look great by playing very well prior to suffering an ankle injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the first half of the season.
Had it not been for that ankle injury, Wood may have earned himself an All-Star bid with averages of 22.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 55.8 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc - all of which, of course, are career highs for the rising star playing on his first significant NBA contract.
Wood had Houston playing competitive basketball prior to his injury, despite trading away James Harden. Since the versatile forward's injury, the Rockets have lost 13 consecutive games, furthering just how vital Wood's production had been.
He may have missed the cut for this year's All-Star team due to injury, but if Wood can replicate that production in the first half of next season, those are undeniably All-Star numbers.
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