So, first things first: The following story, which predicts which up-and-coming NBA stars will nab their first All-Star selections at the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte, could easily take all of two words.
Simmons is going to be an All-Star. Sure, something crazy could happen -- an injury, the 76ers regressing in a major way, the apocalypse -- but barring something crazy, the reigning Rookie of the Year will become an All-Star in his second campaign. One reason is that Simmons is really, really good, despite not knowing how to shoot; Simmons nearly averaged a triple-double (15.8 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds) as a rookie. For those who love advanced stats, Simmons was 11th in the NBA in value over replacement player (ranking between Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant) and 18th in win shares (ranking between DeAndre Jordan and Stephen Curry). These are All-Star numbers. Plus, Simmons is in the East. He's going to be an All-Star. Period.
So we're leaving him off this list.
Instead, the question is this: Which (non-Ben Simmons) players will earn their first All-Star selection during the 2018-19 season?
Last year's first-time All-Stars were an eclectic bunch. Joel Embiid was the only first-time All-Star in 2018 to start the game. Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo were named as reserves. Kristaps Porzingis was named to the team as a reserve, but he missed the game after tearing his ACL. Goran Dragic was a replacement for the injured Kevin Love.
Here are the predictions from CBS Sports' NBA team. There likely could be a surprise between here and February; who last summer would have predicted Oladipo as a first-time All-Star?
I believe the budding Jazz superstar Donovan Mitchell will make the Western Conference All-Star squad in only his second season. There's an easy and obvious rejoinder to this: Out East, he'd be a shoo-in. But Mitchell is in the stacked West, and he'll have to be that much better to crack that squad. Which All-Star from last year's squad can Mitchell realistically knock off? Remember, the entire 2017-18 Western Conference All-Star team will be in the West again this year, and the conference also added two Eastern Conference All-Stars from last season in LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan.
I think he'll do it anyway. Here's why: Like any rookie, Mitchell took a bit to gain his footing in the NBA. And then he took off, seeming to pick up the NBA game at an exponential pace. In the regular season, Mitchell was remarkably consistent, averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals and shooting 34 percent from three. His ascension turned the Jazz -- a lottery-bound team at the beginning of the season, an injury-bitten team that was nine games below .500 on Jan. 24 after a loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks -- into a 5-seed in the Western Conference playoffs by April after the Jazz finished the season 29-6.
But more than his regular-season accomplishments, it was what Mitchell did in that first round of the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder that indicates an All-Star bid is coming for him sooner instead of later. By that point, Mitchell was a marked man, the singular offensive threat for a team that was built on defense. Yet Mitchell went up against one of the better defenses in the NBA and tore them up. In that six-game series, Mitchell was the best player on the floor. He averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists, shooting 36.4 percent from three and 92 percent from the free-throw line. If Mitchell's historic playoff run as a rookie can help predict what we'll see from his sophomore season, you can pencil in that All-Star selection right now. -- Reid Forgrave
Forget development -- both of these guys are All-Star talents right now. (Good) problem is, so are Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. The Celtics aren't going to get five guys on the All-Star team, even if they could all very well deserve the nod. To get four would even be a stretch. So let's settle on three Boston All-Stars being the likely number. Irving is a lock. From there, I think one of the veterans (Horford or Hayward) plus one of the young guys (Tatum or Brown) give Boston its three. So who's it going to be for the first-timer?
This is amazing that we can't guarantee both Brown and Tatum will even start on their own team and yet we're talking about them as first-time All-Stars, but that's the reality of Boston's top-level depth. Tatum, who has said he would be fine coming off the bench, proved in last season's playoffs he can be a go-to player, and in Brad Stevens' switching schemes his defense was fantastic at times. He says he's focusing on shooting off the dribble this season because he knows he won't get as many open shots as he did as a rookie, and if he develops that, he's going to be bordering on unstoppable before he reaches his 21st birthday. The numbers will be the key. Will he get enough opportunities to put up big enough traditional numbers?
Brown, meanwhile, is a flat-out stud. There isn't enough room in this blurb to talk about all the ways his game has expanded, and presumably it will continue to do so as he builds off the confidence he established as a premier player throughout last season. Personally, I think Stevens starts both Tatum and Brown, but if one does go to the bench, my guess would be Tatum. Brown's defense feels like a difference-maker in that decision. In that case, I would say Brown has the All-Star edge. But it's slight. Either way, one of these two is going to be a first-time All-Star, of that I am nearly positive. It's just impossible to say which one. -- Brad Botkin
Khris Middleton is not your favorite player. His "highlights" aren't particularly inspiring. He is neither fast nor slow, neither big nor small, and he has neither the hops nor the handles that you want to see in the All-Star Game. Nevertheless, Middleton deserves to be recognized as an All-Star-caliber player, and he felt disrespected and disappointed when he didn't get the nod last season. If the Bucks take a step forward, he'll finally get his respect.
Middleton's 20-5-4 stat line in 2017-18 was the best of his career, and the fact that the stingy Boston Celtics had no answer for him in the playoffs proved that he is capable of even more. Even if he doesn't quite sustain his Dirk-like midrange shooting -- Middleton shot 52.1 percent from 10-14 feet and 50.2 percent from 15-19 feet last season, per NBA.com -- there is reason to believe he can keep improving in new coach Mike Budenholzer's offensive system. Budenholzer is obsessed with spacing, and he empowers everybody on the court to make plays. Middleton, who can create his own shot, spot up and post up, is exactly Bud's kind of player. The signings of stretch bigs Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez have largely been seen through the prism of giving Giannis Antetokounmpo more room to operate, but their gravity should make Middleton's life easier, too. Time to get buckets. -- James Herbert
DeMarcus Cousins is likely to miss a significant portion of the first half of the season, so that leaves a big man All-Star spot open in the West -- and there's no better candidate than Nikola Jokic. Already known for his passing wizardry and uncanny ball-handling ability for a man of limited athleticism, Jokic went on a tear during the Nuggets' late-season playoff push last year, averaging 24.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists while shooting 54 percent from the field and 48 percent on 3-pointers in his final 18 games. Not exactly a defensive stalwart, Jokic also averaged 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks during that stretch. Those numbers may not be sustainable for an entire season, but he's likely to improve upon his 18.5 points per game as the 23-year-old eliminates the single-digit scoring games that were all too prevalent last season.
Denver has a pretty soft early-season schedule, facing teams like the Suns, Kings, Bulls, Cavaliers, Nets and Hawks, so it's conceivable that the Nuggets put together a pretty good first-half record, which would bolster Jokic's All-Star chances. The biggest thing for Jokic will be learning how to stay out of foul trouble -- one of the major flaws in his game so far in his young career -- but players tend to develop that knowledge and rapport with the refs as they get older and more familiar with NBA officiating. With a full season of Paul Millsap, plus the continued development of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, the exciting Nuggets could be one of the league's breakout teams this season. As their offensive engine, Jokic might secure what will likely be the first of many All-Star nods. -- Colin-Ward Henninger
Coming off an impressive second season, the conventional wisdom ahead of 2017-18 was that Myles Turner would take another leap and join the ranks of league's top young big men. Instead, it was the Indiana Pacers as a team who made a leap, while Turner took a bit of a step back. It wasn't that he was bad -- he shot a career-high 35.7 percent from 3, and had a plus-2.9 net rating differential -- but he certainly didn't become an All-Star-caliber player. When looking at a number of factors, though, it's easy to see why this could be the season Turner makes his first All-Star Game.
For one, Turner has completely transformed his body over the offseason. Through yoga and an improved diet, he's in the best shape of his young career. Plus, Turner is eligible for a rookie contract extension, and could possibly become a restricted free agent next summer, which will have him eager to have a strong season. Then, of course, there's his talent. With his ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end, while offering rim protection on the other, he's the perfect mode of big man for the modern era. Finally, in terms of actually making the ASG, there just aren't that many great bigs in the East. Pencil in Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Al Horford and Kevin Love, that still leaves at least a few spots for big men. Especially considering Kristaps Porzingis is hurt, it seems reasonable that Turner could come up and grab one of those spots. -- Jack Maloney
Brandon Ingram took a leap as large as his 7-foot-3 wingspan in Year Two of his Lakers tenure, averaging career highs in points (16.1), assists (3.9), rebounds (5.3) and blocks (0.7) per game. His minutes increased by a small margin, but his efficiency and production was up substantially from his rookie year in every relevant category as he transformed from tantalizing talent to a reliable go-to option in the blink of an eye.
Luke Walton challenged Ingram to create for himself and for his teammates more than ever last season, and it unleashed a new side of him that was lost in his rookie year. The result was a more engaged Ingram who showed off his stronger frame by getting to the basket more frequently, knocking down 3-pointers at a respectable 39 percent clip and showing off his above average court vision that's hard to come by for a player of his size. As he enters Year 3 in a new-look Lakers regime that now features LeBron James as a centerpiece, it's unlikely Ingram will serve in the same capacity as he did last season. But those habits he formed could make him a kick-ass, versatile sidekick for James in L.A., and kick-ass sidekicks for James almost always get the due they deserve. He can be an All-Star next season if he continues his progression and fits in as well on the court as he does on paper with LeBron. -- Kyle Boone