Four players set for All-Star debut

Published February 7, 2023, 11:00 AMYoyo Sarmenta, Polo Bustamante

Gilgeous-Alexander, Haliburton, Markkanen, and Jackson Jr. are ready to make a splash in their first All-Star Game appearance.

One of the most exciting things about the annual NBA All-Star game is the entry of new stars participating in the league’s celebration of the best players. Getting named an All-Star is earning recognition from fellow players, fans, media, and coaches who all vote in the yearly process. It’s a badge of honor that you belong in the league’s cream of the crop. 

This year, there will be four players who will make their mark as newcomers in the All-Star game. Amid all the discussion about who should be the starters or who got left out, there is endearingly special about players who are recognized for the very first time. In a lot of ways, this is their birth as certified stars in the league. Let’s take a closer look at the four players set to make a name for themselves in Utah:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC Thunder

As of writing, there are only seven players in the league who average at least 30 points per game. You have Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even more impressive, SGA is in the top five. He’s scoring better than the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. 

In his fifth season, Shai has taken the leap. He’s averaging a career-high 31.0 points on an efficient 50.8 percent shooting clip, 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks. From being a quiet contributor in his rookie season with the LA Clippers to his first few years with the rebuilding Thunder, he has come into his own. A good indicator of how he’s blossomed into a scorer and has earned the respect of his peers and officials is his free throw shooting. He goes to the line 10.3 times and shoots at an incredible 91.1 percent. 

SGA has the complete package offensively. Watching him operate is like seeing a DeMar DeRozan or a Dejounte Murray – smooth, calm, and composed with the basketball. He doesn’t get rattled in double teams or when he’s up against a bigger foe. Specifically, watch him in close games and observe how he dissects defenses. He takes his time, gets to his spot, and flat-out performs. 

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

When the Indiana Pacers traded for Haliburton in exchange for Domantas Sabonis, they went all-in for their future. It’s not every day you trade an established All-Star center who’s perfect for the modern NBA for a young up-and-coming guard. But credit the Pacers for their foresight. A year after the trade, Haliburton is now an All-Star.

The 22-year-old is averaging a double-double with 20.0 points while leading the league in assists with 10.3 It’s not often you see a 6-foot-5 guard lead the dime-dropping department but he’s that good. He uses his tall frame and insane court vision to see plays before they happen. He’s no Nikola Jokic or Luka Doncic but he has his own way of navigating through traffic and finding open teammates. He’s savvy and deceptive with his movements. Because of his tall build, he can go into the lane against smaller guards, jump, and find a wide-open Buddy Hield in the corner. 

Imagine Haliburton when he hits his prime. He’ll be a tall point guard who will have the skill set and veteran smarts to outwit opponents. In the meantime, enjoy his first All-Star game and expect some nifty passes to his fellow stars. 

Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz

Die-hard Chicago Bulls fan and former NBA.com Philippines writer Chuck Araneta has a love-hate relationship with Markkanen. During his time with the Bulls, Markkanen was a soft, inefficient big man who did nothing but score. He bid Markkanen good riddance when he was traded by the Bulls last season.

Then something happened in the offseason. Markkanen showed up at the FIBA Eurobasket 2022 and was neither soft nor inefficient. He did everything for Finland – scoring, rebounding, passing, flat out dominating. He finished the tournament averaging 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.

Markkanen carried over the momentum he had from his stint in the Eurobasket to his new team, the Utah Jazz. In the first few games of the season, he showed a marked improvement from his previous seasons in the league. He was averaging a little over 22 points on more than 50 percent shooting from the floor. That could have been attributed to the fact that he was playing with a rebuilding team. Surely he was going to regress back to his normal self… right?

Wrong. Markkanen only improved from there. He averaged 26-8 in December, and an even better 28-9 in January. For the season, he’s putting up 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Not far from his Eurobasket numbers. 

There’s no denying it anymore. Even if the game wasn’t happening in Utah, Markkanen would still make it to the All-Star game with how he’s played this season. Is that enough to convince you now, Chuck?

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

I reluctantly drafted Jackson Jr. to one of my fantasy teams. The truth is the pick I wanted was selected ahead of my turn and I panicked. It totally slipped my mind that JJJ was going to miss the first month of the season. And even if he played to start, I still didn’t want him on my team because he’s one of the most inconsistent big men in the league.

At his best, Jackson Jr. is a daily double-double threat who could average four swats easily. Unfortunately he’s also shown in the past seasons that he’s a fouling machine that gets into trouble with misplaced aggression. He can get into foul trouble early in the game, which then negatively affects his rhythm once he checks back in.

This season, Jackson Jr. has learned to control himself on defense and that has resulted in him being able to curb his fouling tendencies. He’s still averaging 3.3 fouls per game, but that number is the lowest in the five seasons he’s been in the league. Because of that, Jackson Jr. is able to stay in the game and create an impact defensively. In the 35 games he’s played, he’s averaging 3.3 blocks per game, a number that would lead the league if the minimum games played requirement was met.

Just like with me and my fantasy team, there’s a lot of doubt as to why JJJ should be part of the All-Star player pool this season. But he’s also shown a lot of reasons why he should make it. Coaches have taken notice of Jackson Jr.’s impact with the Grizzlies, that’s why they voted him in as a reserve. They’re the second-best defensive team in the league, averaging the second-most blocks per game. A large part of that is because of Jackson Jr.