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The 5 NBA players most likely to make their first All-Star appearance

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Ben Simmons seems like a certainty, but which other players could join him on the All-Star team for the first time.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, there are first-time NBA All-Stars. Some of these players, like the Anthony Davises and Karl-Anthony Townses of the past, are those destined for greatness that just require a little seasoning and growth before reaching that level. Some, like Victor Oladipo and Kemba Walker, grind for years until the stars align. Some (who will go unnamed) find themselves the beneficiaries of good timing and other players’ unavailability.

So who are the candidates to be first-time All-Stars this season? We looked at the Eastern and Western talent shifts, the close calls from recent years, the trajectories of the league’s young stars, and the teams most likely to rise (or at least to provide a platform for attention-grabbing talent and production). We came up with five potential first-time All-Stars and about 10 serious honorable mentions.

There’s a strong probability that only a couple of the new-blood All-Stars will get the nod. If the NBA keeps its segregated conference voting static, those new All-Stars will likely come out of the East.

But you never know. Sometimes, young talent is just undeniable.

Devin Booker

Booker’s season might begin late due to surgery on the pinky of his shooting hand, and the Suns will likely be awful again.

But Booker’s talent and production is undeniable. He was a dark-horse injury replacement All-Star (even in the West) last season. If the Suns are less embarrassing and Booker’s numbers continue to improve, he will deserve serious consideration from coaches to make the reserve squad.

What’s he up against? A West backcourt field that includes Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, and DeMar DeRozan, plus candidates like C.J. McCollum, Donovan Mitchell, and — if Lakers fans get hyped in the open vote — Lonzo Ball. It’s a tough field in the West.

Ben Simmons

Simmons has a much easier fight ahead in the East, and almost made the All-Star team as an injury replacement as a rookie. (Goran Dragic got the spot instead.) The 76ers are good enough to command two All-Star nods in the East, and Simmons is one of the most important players in the conference. In fact, we should just pencil Simmons in for the All-Star Game.

This list is full of potential first-time All-Stars, but Simmons feels almost certain given his excellence, the Sixers’ prominence, and the East’s dearth of stars.

Nikola Jokic

Like Booker, Jokic is facing an ultra-tight West field, though the frontcourt is a little easier. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis are going to be the starters barring catastrophe, with Paul George, Butler (if he’s listed at forward), Karl-Anthony Towns, and Draymond Green in the mix to soak up spots.

Jokic has two things working for him: he’s a true center, of which there are few to call on for All-Star duty (especially with DeMarcus Cousins unlikely to play until January or later), and he should be the best player on what should be a good Nuggets team. Jokic has gained a lot of respect around the league, and goes into this season with some momentum after Denver’s playoff near-miss last year.

Khris Middleton

Middleton is a really strong two-way player who puts up surprisingly good scoring numbers. If the Bucks get really good next year under new coach Mike Budenholzer, Middleton is the obvious choice for Milwaukee’s second All-Star with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Do people realize how good Khris Middleton is? Let’s start telling everyone. Starting with the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

Aaron Gordon

No offense to Gordon, but there are three or four West players who would be above him on this list if not for the talent crunch out there. If the NBA decides to open up the All-Star rosters to the top 24 players regardless of conference, Gordon’s odds go way down.

That said, the Magic have a(nother) new coach in Steve Clifford, who did shepherd Kemba Walker to All-Star (and near All-NBA) status in Charlotte. Gordon has a new contract and could even have moved on to a new team by the time the actual All-Star Game comes around.

If ever there were a time for Aaron Gordon to become an All-Star, that time is now.

Honorable Mentions

Jayson Tatum: He’s hurt by the fact that Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will probably be All-Stars, and Al Horford might get the nod over him. But still, Tatum is on the board here.

Donovan Mitchell: Mitchell is one of the most exciting players in the West and has the benefit of being a star on a really good team. He might not be the Jazz’s best player — it’s him or Rudy Gobert — but he’s the most likely All-Star. That puts him in the mix, even in the West.

C.J. McCollum: It’s hard to leave McCollum off this list. He might be a favorite over Booker given team quality and Booker’s injury.

Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and Steven Adams: If voters decide they want a real center after Towns in the West, one of these three could get the nod over Jokic, depending on the narratives around their teams.

Reggie Jackson: If the Pistons are awesome, Jackson is the favorite for a third Detroit spot on the All-Star roster, and might even sneak past Andre Drummond for No. 2. The world wants to adore Reggie Jackson!

Otto Porter: This might take a couple of injuries or disappointing starts, but he has the analytics juice, so this is on the table.

A Laker To Be Named Later: The Lakers are going to be much improved, and if they are on track for a top-3 seed, there will be a push to have a second Laker at All-Star with LeBron. Who? I have no idea. No one has any idea.

Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell: What if the Nets are finally good? This is what happens in that case.

Literally Any High-Scoring East Guard or Wing: If a surprise young East wing or guard breaks out, and if the NBA doesn’t change the voting rules, said surprise young East wing or guard could well become a first-time All-Star. Step right up, Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Tim Hardaway, Jr., or — dare I say — Trae Young.