This year’s NBA All-Star Game will mark a changing of the guard of sorts, as — for the first time in a decade — there will be nine players making their first appearance in the league’s annual midseason showcase.
In addition to the three starters named to their first team last week — Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Pascal Siakam — six others were named by the league’s coaches Thursday night as reserves for the Feb. 16 game: Utah Jazz teammates Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram; Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo; Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis; and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
“I’ve been watching the All-Star game ever since I’ve been watching basketball,” Tatum said. “I’d always get Kobe’s All-Star jersey and I always had aspirations of one day being in the All-Star Game. And at 21 years old to make it a reality? I can’t put it into words. It’s a special feeling.
“I wanted to cry. I didn’t cry. I might cry later, though,” Tatum added with a laugh. “But I’m just so grateful. It’s something I’m not going to take for granted. There’s only 24 guys who make the All-Star team, so I’m super thankful and I’m going to enjoy the opportunity of the moment.”
The most recent time as many as nine players made their debuts in the All-Star Game in the same year was in 2010, when nine players also were first-time honorees, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Tatum, Doncic and Young also will be 21 or younger in Chicago next month, marking the first time since 1998 that at least three players 21 or younger will play in the All-Star Game. That year, there were four such players: Antoine Walker, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant — the latter three of whom are eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, and will almost certainly be announced as finalists for the Hall during All-Star Weekend.
In addition to the new blood, there will also be a few players with plenty of All-Star experience under their belts — led by Chris Paul, who earned his 10th All-Star selection Thursday night, and Russell Westbrook, who picked up his ninth selection, after the two of them were traded for each other this summer.
Paul’s selection marks the 11th consecutive year that the Oklahoma City Thunder have at least one All-Star, the longest such streak in the league. They take over that honor from the San Antonio Spurs, who did not have an All-Star this season for the first time since 1997.
The other players selected from the Western Conference are Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (fifth time) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (second). The remaining Eastern Conference reserves are Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who will make his sixth All-Star appearance, Heat forward Jimmy Butler (fifth) and Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons and Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (second for each).
Though the reserves were picked evenly from each conference, they’ll be put into the draft pool from which captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will fill out their rosters next Thursday on TNT’s “Inside The NBA.”
Bradley Beal expresses his frustrations in not making the All-Star team roster, but says he’ll enjoy the time off with his family.
Not only did Gobert make his first All-Star team, but he also received a $1 million contract bonus for being selected.
“When I was a kid, when I said I was going to be a professional player, people were laughing at me,” Gobert told reporters Thursday night. “Then when I said I was going to be in the NBA, people were laughing at me. Same when I said I was going to be an All-Star.”
“We’ve come a long way. My rookie year I wasn’t playing at all. But I knew if I kept playing hard every day, I knew I could become a very good player in this league,” he said. “But I don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of who I can be as a player.”
The biggest names left off this year’s All-Star rosters are LA Clippers forward Paul George, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. George and Irving have both missed a significant chunk of games with shoulder injuries, while Beal is playing on a Wizards team that is far out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m a little pissed off about it,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington on the court at after a 121-107 victory over the Hornets in which he had 34 points to go with nine rebounds and nine assists. “I know how I am, [so] I was kind of expecting it, honestly. It’s disrespectful, but the real ones know [I’m an All-Star]. I’ll just keep competing. I’m going to try to get my team in the playoffs for sure.”
Other notable near misses included Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had been an All-Star each of the previous two years.
“I’ve played with and against multiple All-Stars in this league and Devin Booker is undoubtedly an NBA All-Star,” Suns general manager James Jones later said in a statement.
“I’m not disappointed,” Brown said. “I think it’s a lot of guys that they have to choose from, a lot of guys having a good year. It is what it is. Just start gearing up your mind, getting ready for the playoffs and stuff like that. Building good habits.
“I try to use anything and everything as motivation. But it’s OK. Keep working, get ready for the playoffs — that’s a stage that you want to be on.”
Earlier Thursday, the league also announced sweeping changes to the structure of this year’s All-Star Game, including a tribute to Kobe Bryant as part of an untimed fourth quarter in which the teams will play to a target score.