With the All-Star ballot officially open, the Starting Five make the case for potential first-time All-Stars.
Liam Santamaria: Jimmy Butler
By turning down Chicago’s four-year, $40 million extension offer, Jimmy Butler wagered heavily on his own ability to have an outstanding season.
Now, less than two months down the track, he’s arguably the leading candidate for the Most Improved Player Award and is on pace to make his first NBA All-Star appearance.
As they say in the classics, always bet on Butler!
A Tom Thibodeau favourite, Jimmy Buckets leads the NBA in minutes and ranks seventh in win shares, trailing only likely All-Stars Anthony Davis, Steph Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry.
Already an elite defender, Butler worked hard on his offensive skills over the summer; further developing his low post game and consistency from the perimeter.
The results have been impressive with the 25-year-old scoring 20.8 points per game to lead the Bulls.
In fact, Butler ranks 13th in the entire league in scoring and only one other Eastern Conference guard (the resurgent Dwyane Wade) is scoring more.
While Butler’s usage has increased, so has his efficiency. His field goal percent has improved to an impressive .484 and he is knocking down 80 percent of his 8.3 free throw attempts per game.
In addition, Butler’s true shooting percentage of .597 ranks above any other All-Star calibre Eastern Conference guard, bar none.
Unfortunately, there exists a lag effect when it comes to All-Star selections.
Players typically play at an elite level for a few years before they are recognised for their achievements.
In recent years, it has resulted in Steph Curry missing out in 2013 as well as Kyle Lowry watching from home earlier this year.
Hopefully the lag effect won’t impact Butler’s selection as one of this season’s Eastern Conference reserves.
Jimmy Butler bet on himself – soon it will be time to collect.
Tommy Greer: Kyle Lowry
There is no doubting that Kyle Lowry deserves his first All-Star nod this season.
After getting snubbed last year I believe the coaches and voting public will finally give the bulldog point guard the go ahead, having put the dreaded All-Star lag behind him.
Lowry led the Raptors to a surprising third place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.
This year, however, people are no longer surprised and last season’s career-highs in points and assists are now becoming expected stat lines.
Injuries to both Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo last season opened the door for guards in the East and their return makes the All-Star selection that bit more elusive for the point guard beyond the border.
Rajon Rondo has already notched up three triple doubles this season, however, his lack of team success and scoring will make it difficult for him to get the nod.
Rose has sat out eight of Chicago’s 23 games thus far and, although he has shown some glimpses, is not yet back to his MVP self. Meanwhile, Lowry just keeps on keeping on, averaging close to 20 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
Over eight categories so far this season there are only five Eastern Conference players, total, that rank higher in production (LeBron James, John Wall, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Jeff Teague).
If you subtract field goal percentage there are only three (LeBron, Wall and Kyrie).
Lowry averages more points than Wall, more assists and rebounds than Kyrie and has led his squad to an impressive 18-6 start; good enough for top of the Eastern Conference.
You would have to think the coaches will have a hard time fencing him out of the All-Star game this year.
To find out who Leigh Ellis and the other #StartingFive members believe should become first-time All-Stars, click here.
This article first appeared on NBA Australia.