JUST IN: Exploring Rising NBA Talents and Assessing Joel Embiid’s MVP Expectations

NBA All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday, Feb. 1, in the evening but we can assume from experience that the rosters won’t be actually finalized until a handful of players withdraw with injuries and injury replacements are named. But even with 12 roster spots and a few replacements, there will be some deserving players in both conferences who are left out.

We’ll talk more about snubs later on, but for now I’m going to drop one more tier and discuss five players who almost certainly won’t make the roster even as an injury replacement but deserve to be in the conversation for their productive seasons.

Lauri Markkanen made his first All-Star team last year but could very well get squeezed out this year. That’s unfortunate because even though his scoring numbers are slightly down, he’s been just as effective as last season. He’s playing slightly fewer minutes and taking fewer shots as part of a more balanced Jazz offense. But Markkanen is still averaging 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists, shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 39.6 percent from beyond the arc and 87.7 from beyond the arc.

He’s one of the best frontcourt scorers in the NBA and has had a huge role in the Jazz’s resurgence over the past month and a half.

Allen missed the first five games of the season and it took him a bit to get back up to speed. But he’s been phenomenal of late and a key reasons the Cavaliers have been able to survive the extended injury-absences of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley.

Allen still plays a constrained role at both ends but he’s extremely effective within it. He’s averaging 15.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game, shooting 65.0 percent from the field. He’s a great pick-and-roll partner for Donovan Mitchell and has also really improved as a hub from the elbows, hitting cutters and setting up guards with dribble hand-offs. At the other end, he’s never been better on the glass and he’s continued to be one of the most effective rim-protectors in the league. The Cavs would be an absolute disaster this season without him.

Between Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Domantas Sabonis and Alperen Sengun, there’s a very good chance Holmgren is left out. He’s been a transformative presence for the Thunder, a defensive anchor and the perfect complement to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on offense.

Holmgren is 16.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 blocks per game, shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc. He’s extremely effective in the pick-and-roll, among the league leaders in drives per game by 7-footers and shooting a ridiculous 59.4 percent on those drives. At the other end, and as a rookie, he’s already one of the most impactful rim protectors in the league.

There are a lot of tremendous big men in the Western Conference but this might be the last year for a good long time that Holmgren doesn’t make the All-Star team.

Jalen Williams is the third-most player on the Oklahoma City Thunder and there’s almost no chance the Thunder are able to squeak a third player onto the All-Star roster without multiple injury replacements. But that doesn’t make him any less valuable.

Williams’ positional versatility is essential to the Thunder — according to Basketball-Reference’s position estimates he played 71 percent of his minutes as a shooting guard last season. This year, he’s played 81 percent of his minutes as a 6-foot-5 power forward. He’s playing tough defense and working as a secondary creator on offense, averaging 18.7 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, shooting 53.9 percent from the field, 45.0 percent from beyond the arc and 80.6 percent from the line.

He’s a malleable, two-way wing capable of filling multiple roles at both ends of the floor with elite efficiency and effectiveness. He’s not as flashy a star as Holmgren or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander but he’s just as essential to the Thunder’s ceiling as a dark-horse contender.

White has almost no shot of leaping onto the All-Star roster, but that says more about the depth of well-known guards in the East than anything about his play. He’s made the departure of Marcus Smart mostly a non-story, shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 15.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, all career-highs.

Stepping into a much larger role and playing a career-high 32.1 minutes per game, White has been the perfect connective tissue for the Celtics at both ends of the floor. He has the best one-off numbers of any on the roster, for the team with the best record in the league. He is definitely not the Celtics’ best player, but he may be their most important.

Joel Embiid took considerable heat for bowing out of a rematch with MVP nemesis Nikola Jokic last week, deciding late enough that the league is investigating. He also missed the subsequent game against the Trail Blazers, his ninth in the previous 17 games for the 76ers.

He returned last night against the Golden State Warriors but left in the fourth quarter after Jonathan Kuminga fell into his left knee. The injury will require an MRI and although it was the same knee that had kept him out the last two games, the 76ers have said this is a new injury.

If Embiid misses six more games he will be ineligible for the postseason awards, including MVP. He’s said that won’t factor into his decision-making about when to return but it’s hard to take anything he says about MVP at face value, especially since it seemed like that may have factored into his decision-making about whether or not to play earlier in the season.

We won’t know what’s going to happen until we hear his MRI results, but for now, he is legitimately hurt and his second-consecutive MVP is legitimately in jeopardy.


1. Offense stays undefeated: “The numbers are getting ridiculous, and the scoring explosion is not limited to individual output. Teams are putting up larger crooked numbers than ever before. In the week spanning Jan. 23-29, teams topped 130 points 25 different times. It happened at least once on six of those seven days, and six times on Thursday, Jan. 25 — which wasn’t even the night that any of those guys went for 60.” Putting the NBA’s scoring explosion in context

2. A new chapter in the story of LeBron James: “LeBron said in 2017 that he had “nothing left to prove.” That may be true, but he still has plenty left he can accomplish—and plenty more to add to his legacy. Jordan won his six championships all with the same franchise, with largely the same group of supporting players, during the same decade. That is something special that James will never achieve. But part of what defines LeBron’s legacy is his mercenary status. He won twice with Miami. He did it for Cleveland. He brought the Lakers back to glory. LeBron has won everywhere he’s gone, with different sets of teammates across different eras of basketball. There is something special about that, too.” Is It Time for LeBron James and the Lakers to Split?

3. Not your father’s No. 1 pick: “Topic won’t wow at-home viewers with vertical displays of athleticism. He doesn’t necessarily fit the common aesthetic we associate with elite guard prospects. The pull-up jumper doesn’t really exist. He is endlessly crafty, but he won’t drop a defender like Kyrie Irving. He is not your standard top pick, but with so little certainty about the other high-end prospects, it’s hard to ignore Topic’s raw production overseas. The 18-year-old began his season with Mega MIS, Serbia’s most famous prospect pipeline. He excelled against pro competition, averaging 18.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in 13 games.” 2024 NBA Draft scouting report: Nikola Topic

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