Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and the 10 biggest 2021 NBA All-Star Snubs

 Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and the 10 biggest 2021 NBA All-Star Snubs

The NBA announced its list of 14 All-Star reserves for this year’s game in Atlanta on March 7. There were perhaps more deserving candidates this year than ever before, which means there were plenty of worthy candidates left out.

This year’s snubs could make a solid argument that the NBA should expand its All-Star teams to at least 13 players from each conference — the number of active players in each team’s lineup — and maybe even to a 15-man roster. That would throw a wrench into the league’s historical context, and even at 15 there would be players on the bubble.

The question with snubs is always: Which selections would you take off this year’s list of All-Stars?

Has Nikola Vucevic done more for the 12th-place Orlando Magic than Domantas Sabonis has for the fourth-place Indiana Pacers? Is Chris Paul more deserving than Phoenix Suns teammate Devin Booker? Are Zach LaVine’s numbers for the 14-win Chicago Bulls emptier than Khris Middleton’s on the 18-win Milwaukee Bucks? Those are questions for the 30 head coaches who made the reserve picks as the NBA’s standings changed from day to day.

All that said, these 10 players submitted All-Star-worthy campaigns that may have earned them selections in years past. Some of them might even get the recognition they deserve if injuries or excused absences make more room.

Western Conference

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

24.7 PPG (50/38/85), 4.3 APG, 3.8 RPG

Booker’s scoring has dipped slightly from last year, but sharing the floor with Paul has also helped improve his efficiency. There are few players whose shot you feel more confident in when it leaves his hand. An All-Star injury replacement for Lillard last year, Booker left no doubt of his status with a 31-5-6 average for the 8-0 Suns in the bubble. It is only the sheer number of worthy candidates in the West that left his candidacy on the bubble this year.

Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

16.4 PPG (45/41/82), 5.6 APG, 3.4 RPG

Conley is the best active player never to make an All-Star Game, and he might be the best ever not to appear in one. The narrative to get him in was stronger than ever this year, because his case was as legitimate as ever, and he may be running out of chances at 33 years old. His per-game plus/minus of 11.2 is the NBA’s best by nearly two points, ahead of Rudy Gobert, and Utah’s 25-6 record is impressive enough to warrant consideration for a third All-Star.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

22.8 PPG (51/41/78), 6.5 APG, 5.2 RPG

No player has enjoyed a quieter All-Star-worthy campaign than Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder were supposed to be on the short list of teams vying for the NBA’s worst record, but his performance as a lead scorer and playmaker has lifted them from the basement. OKC has its blue-chip talent from the trades of Westbrook, George and Paul, and now it is on general manager Sam Presti to use all the draft picks from those blockbuster deals to build around him.

Other notable exceptions: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans; Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies; Christian Wood, Houston Rockets.

Eastern Conference

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

20.5 PPG (51/43/90), 6.0 RPG, 5.7 APG

After two straight All-Star nods, Middleton continues to quietly carve out quite a legacy. It should not be so quiet, considering he plays alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo on a contender, but such is the life of a silent assassin in Milwaukee. Middleton missed a 50/40/90 season by .003 field-goal percentage points a year ago, and he is .005 shy from the free-throw line this year, while also increasing his workload both as a facilitator and in late-game situations.

Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

19.6 PPG (57/33/85), 9.4 RPG, 5.5 APG

If you needed more evidence of Adebayo’s All-Star worthiness after last season’s run to the Finals, let his production this season serve as further justification. He is hovering around a 20-10-5 average, something only Hall of Fame big men (and Chris Webber, who should be in Springfield) have accomplished. The Heat have struggled to keep their heads above water in the East, but Adebayo has kept them afloat in the absences of a number of his teammates.

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

19.3 PPG (44/16/85), 7.8 RPG, 7.6 APG

Butler missed three weeks in the NBA’s coronavirus-related health and safety protocol, and his scoring is down from last season (to a concerning level from distance), but he proved his mettle on last year’s Finals run. He is among the hardest workers in a league full of them, and his other numbers are a reflection of his impact on the game beyond scoring. There is no doubt he is one of the 24 best players alive, and even in a down year he is worthy of a selection.

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

21.5 PPG, (53/36/71), 11.6 RPG, 5.7 APG

Another member of the 20-10-5 club. It is a testament to the evolution of the big man position, and Sabonis’ game may be the most refined of the bunch — perhaps unsurprising, given his Hall of Fame bloodlines. He has been the fulcrum for everything the fourth-place Pacers do, and they have not missed a beat since trading Victor Oladipo. Indiana is Sabonis’ team now, and there are worse places to be than building around a 24-year-old two-time All-Star.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

26.9 PPG (44/38/89), 9.5 APG, 3.9 RPG

The Hawks remain outside the playoff picture looking in, despite numerous intended upgrades to the roster over the past year, and Young bears some responsibility for that, particularly on defense. He is still one of the most thrilling offensive players in the game (eighth in scoring and third in assists), and the All-Star Game is supposed to be fun.

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

20.1 PPG (41/38/89), 6.6 APG, 4.4 RPG

The last time the Raptors did not have an All-Star is 2013. Their rough start in Tampa Bay during this pandemic-impacted season certainly threatened that streak, but they have risen to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and VanVleet has been their most consistent contributor. His numbers, while remarkable, fall short of others on this list, but let us never forget to appreciate that an undrafted guard has put himself in this conversation.

Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

21.9 PPG (49/42/87), 5.4 RPG, 3.7 APG

Hayward’s max contract from the Hornets drew plenty of criticism, but it turns out he was the perfect player for their development. He is as malleable a player as there is in this league, and this season has served as a nice reminder that he can still command the game at an All-Star level. Hayward has been both a primary option and a stabilizing safety valve on a roster replete with young, inconsistent talent, and Charlotte is in the playoff discussion as a result.

Other notable exceptions: Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers; Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards; Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors.

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