He’s just a rookie. It’s preseason. Perhaps it’s a prisoner-of-the-moment situation.
But San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama turns heads on a nightly basis, similarly to the last rookie (Blake Griffin in 2010-11) to earn a nod in an NBA All-Star Game. Coincidentally, the last player the San Antonio Spurs drafted No. 1 overall (Tim Duncan in 1997-98) also made the All-Star Game as a rookie. That’s not to say Wembanyama awaits a similar fate, but he certainly already fits into the mix as a darkhorse candidate of players poised in 2023-24 to make their first NBA All-Star appearance.
Here are 5 notable players who haven’t been selected for an All-Star Game yet but may have their best chance this year (listed alphabetically by last name).
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
The rising second-year man now eyes a postseason berth, so expect the reigning Kia NBA Rookie of the Year to pick up right where he left off in leading Orlando to a 29-28 finish after a 5-20 start.
His case: History is on Banchero’s side, considering five of the last six Rookie of the Year winners helped lead their teams to the playoffs in Year No. 2. Banchero wants to improve consistency and 3-point shooting for his sophomore campaign, and what better way to do that than to spend time over the summer in the lab working with two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant?
His roadblock: Frontcourt competition in the Eastern Conference remains stiff with so many 2023 All-Stars still in the mix such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, and Bam Adebayo.
2. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension provides the perfect opportunity for Bane to showcase his leadership and deadeye accuracy from 3-point range.
His case: Think about the trajectory of Bane’s career. He’s increased scoring, field goal percentage, assists, and rebounds in every season leading up to a critical 2023-24 campaign for the Grizzlies as they look to finally make some noise in the playoffs. The career 42.5% 3-point shooter has produced All-Star-worthy numbers in each of the last two seasons, but Morant’s absence could lead to a brighter spotlight on Bane.
His roadblock: He’ll put up the numbers, just like last season for stretches with Morant out of action. If Bane doesn’t make the cut, he’ll be considered a snub in a Western Conference full of elite guards.
3. Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets
The new player-participation policy likely won’t affect Bridges’ candidacy, as the rising two-way player rarely misses games.
His case: A lockdown defender, Bridges showcased elite scoring prowess after last season’s trade, averaging 26.1 points per game once Brooklyn unleashed the 27-year-old. The return of a healthy facilitator such as Ben Simmons could help Bridges take his game to another level due to the increased touches he’s sure to receive, not to mention it’s likely the Nets will rely on him to provide the bulk of Brooklyn’s scoring punch.
His roadblock: In Phoenix, Bridges typically guarded the opponent’s best player and the same will be expected in Brooklyn along with increased responsibility on offense. Can Bridges handle such a workload for an entire season?
4. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
After being snubbed from last year’s All-Star game, Jalen Brunson has what it takes to earn his 1st nod in 2024.
An All-Star snub in 2022-23, Brunson enters this season poised to make the All-NBA team after averaging a career-high 24 ppg, 6.2 apg and shot a career-best 41.6% on 3-pointers in 2022-23. That’s not to mention the added momentum of a strong summer on the international stage he enjoyed, too.
His case: The undisputed catalyst of a Knicks squad coming off its first postseason appearance since 2020-21, Brunson will have the support of the fans in the country’s largest media market, which should play big in voting. He started off slowly last season but increased his scoring average by 7.6 ppg in January. This season, expect the 27-year-old to hit the ground running given the team’s lofty expectations.
His roadblock: As New York’s best player, Brunson should expect opponents this season to devise more game plans solely focused on minimizing the point guard’s impact.
5. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray is ready to prove his All-Star level status as he enters the season without injury setback.
After what we witnessed in the 2020 NBA bubble, it’s surprising Murray hasn’t yet played in an All-Star Game. But, the defending champion is finally fully healthy from the 2021 injury that derailed his ascension.
His case: Murray made the wise decision to withdraw from the FIBA World Cup to focus more attention on recovery after Denver’s NBA championship run. That should help the 26-year-old start fast in 2023-24, two seasons removed from his 2021 knee injury. Murray ranks as one of just four players to have averaged 26 points, seven assists, and five boards in a title run.
His roadblock: Overall team success should help, as well as playing alongside a former two-time Kia MVP in Nikola Jokic. The glut of talented guards in the West will be Murray’s most significant obstacle.