The 2021 NBA season is just under a month into full swing, and already, there are multiple players who have significantly elevated their games.
While the struggles of stars like Damian Lillard, Trae Young, and James Harden have been well documented, there is a crop of young talent currently flying under the radar that deserves national recognition for the improvements that they have made.
In the NBA’s return to a full 82-game schedule, here is a list of the top five candidates to make their first appearances in the All-Star Game.
#5: Montrezl Harrell
The Washington Wizards’ sixth man is thriving in his first season with the team after being included in a package the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook. Through 11 games, Harrell is second on the team in points (18.1) and blocks (1.2) and first in rebounds (9.3) per game; a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, the Louisville product brings unmatched energy and is a major reason as to why the Wizards currently occupy the top spot in the Eastern Conference’s standings. If the 2015 Atlanta Hawks were represented by four players in the All-Star Game, then Washington should at least be able to send Harrell and Beal to this year’s game, should they finish with a similar amount of success.
#4: Miles Bridges
Once thought to be nothing more than a raw athlete, Miles Bridges has stepped up for the Charlotte Hornets by averaging a career-high 21.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for an exciting, 7-7 team. One of Bridge’s teammates could prevent him from earning a spot in the All-Star Game (more on that later), but if he continues to lead them with over 20 points per game and Charlotte can be in playoff position by the time the All-Star break rolls around, he should receive serious consideration.
#3: LaMelo Ball
The youngest of the three famous Ball brothers has made a leap this season, averaging 19.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists (ninth in the league), and 2.0 steals (tied for seventh). His flashy yet unselfish game combined with a soft touch from the perimeter (37.8 3P%) make him a must-see every time that he takes the court, and he is still just 20 years old. He may be blocking the way for his teammates, Miles Bridges, to make the All-Star Game, but there is going to be at least one representative from Charlotte if they continue to win games.
#2: Anthony Edwards
The “Ant-Man” has made surprising progress in his second season after being drafted first overall in last year’s NBA draft, posting 24.4 points per game— the 12th-most in the NBA— in addition to 6.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists. One of Edwards’ biggest flaws was that he was an inefficient volume shooter, though he has raised his field goal and three-point percentages, as well as his player efficiency rating in his sophomore campaign. With a 48-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors already on his resume, it will not take much for the Georgia product to make the All-Star team if the Minnesota Timberwolves can at least be competitive for a play-in spot.
#1: Ja Morant
Morant’s rise to superstardom is one of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA— once in the shadow of fellow draft-mate Zion Williamson, Morant is fifth in the Association at 26.5 points per game, tied for 11th in assists (7.2), and has also snagged 6.3 boards per game. The Memphis point guard is the undisputed leader of his team, leading a platoon of young players to contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference after they advanced via the play-in tournament last season. Do not be surprised if Morant wins the Most Improved Player Award, nor if he is a Most Valuable Player candidate.
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