By the nature of how the rosters are chosen, the NBA All-Star Game can be something of a popularity contest. Will the 2023 game in Salt Lake City, Utah, prove to be different?
Starters are voted on by a combination of fans, media and other players, while reserves are chosen by a vote of the league's coaches. Outstanding performance matters, but reputation matters nearly as much and can result in some players struggling to break through to get honored.
Take last year's game, for example. Of the 24 players initially named to the All-Star rosters, 20 of them had been All-Stars before. The game featured seven first-time All-Stars, but three of those were selected as injury replacements, which are chosen by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Still, there's room every year for someone to make his first All-Star game entirely on merit. In fact, just three seasons ago, the 2020 All-Star Game featured nine first-time All-Stars, some of whom -- like Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum -- have become perennial selections and are likely to be playing in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19.
As for who could follow in their footsteps as first-time All-Stars, there is no shortage of candidates. Let's look at the five players with the strongest case for making their All-Star Game debuts in 2023.
When the Pacers traded All-Star Domantas Sabonis for a package led by Haliburton last season, the thought was the 22-year-old guard could eventually become an All-Star. Few expected it to happen this quickly.
In his first full season with the Pacers, Haliburton is leading the league in virtually every key shot-creation marker. His passes lead to more than 26 shots per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking, which is most in the league ahead of perennial All-Stars such as Denver's Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia's James Harden and Phoenix's Paul. His league-leading 10.9 assists per contest generate a whopping 28.9 points per game for Indiana, which is also the top figure in the association.
Haliburton has also become an elite shot creator for himself, with 76% of his shots this season being unassisted. Among the top 50 most active unassisted shooters this season, Haliburton ranks third in efficiency, per Second Spectrum, with a 58.3% effective field goal percentage (the NBA average is. 49.1%), trailing only Curry and Mitchell, who also are perennial All-Stars.