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Five players who deserve to be first-time NBA All-Stars in 2022

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January 11th, 2022

The 2022 NBA All-Star Game could look a whole lot different this year. Perennial selections like Ben Simmons, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving will all be watching the action from home as holdouts, injuries, and an unquenchable devotion to Covid conspiracy theories have kept them sidelined for much of the season.

Although fans may miss seeing the "Fresh Prince" and his pals in action, their absence will provide an opportunity for a new generation of stars to ascend and take their place.

We’ve taken stock of the Association’s best and brightest young talent and have selected five players who deserve to be first-time NBA All-Stars this season.

1. Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)

With all due apologies to LaMelo Ball, no point guard has been more electrifying this season than Ja Morant. The high-flying Grizzlie has become a regular on SportsCenter’s Highlight of the Night with his thunderous slams and soul-crushing chasedown blocks. Need evidence? We proudly present Exhibit A against Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley:

Even LeBron James, a master of "where the hell did he just come from?" blocks, had to applaud Morant’s efforts:

The current favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, Morant has increased his scoring average by 5.6 points from a season ago to 24.7 in 2021-22. That’s a noteworthy increase from a player who knows a thing or two about big jumps.

2. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors)

Many so-called "experts" thought the Raptors were off their rockers this summer when they drafted Florida State forward Scottie Barnes rather than find a replacement for Kyle Lowry. What they failed to notice is that Toronto already had his heir apparent in Fred VanVleet.

After years of patiently waiting in the wings, "Steady Freddy" is now flourishing as the Raptors’ lead guard. The crafty 27-year-old is posting career-highs in minutes (37.5), points (22.0), rebounds (5.0), and assists (6.7). He’s also second to only Steph Curry in 3-point field goals made per game. His vastly improved play is a big reason why the Drakes are riding a six-game winning streak and find themselves in seventh place in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.

3. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets)

The NBA All-Star Game is all about showmanship, and few players possess more razzle dazzle than LaMelo Ball. Like lightning-fast around-the-back passes? Ball's got you covered. Fancy no-look alley-oops? He practically invented 'em. Unlike his more conservative brother Lonzo, LaMelo seldom misses an opportunity to turn a mundane moment into a high-wire act.

As flashy as he may be, Ball also has plenty of substance to back up his style. The sophomore point guard is averaging 19.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game and has the Hornets firmly above .500 and in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The All-Star Game is always fun, but it would be even more enjoyable this year with LaMelo and his effortless flair.

4. Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors)

Remember when Andrew Wiggins was considered a bust? Those days are long gone, as the former No. 1 pick is excelling in a supporting role in Golden State. Now in his eighth season, the 26-year-old Wiggins is averaging 18.8 points and 4.4 rebounds while posting the best Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Share metrics of his career.

Is he the superstar scouts envisioned coming out of Kansas? No, but he’s a remarkably talented and well-rounded player who allows the Warriors’ resident stars to shine by providing additional spacing on offense and clamping down on the opposition’s top perimeter threat on D. Other players have flashier numbers, but Wiggins' willingness to sacrifice touches in favor of winning is a big reason why Golden State has the best record in the Western Conference.

5. Dejounte Murray (San Antonio Spurs)

We won’t blame you if you haven’t been watching the Spurs this season. In fact, it would be weird if you have, since San Antonio is 15-25 and on the verge of falling out of the play-in picture. However, one reason to at least check out the team’s highlights is Dejounte Murray.

The do-everything point guard is averaging 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.0 assists and has as many triple-doubles as Luka Doncic and LeBron James combined. As impressive as Murray has been on offense, he’s been even better at the other end of the court. He leads the NBA in steals per game (2.1) and is 12th in Defensive Win Shares.

The Spurs are still years away from winning another title, but an All-Star nod for Murray would be a big win for the franchise and its player development personnel.

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