The start of a new NBA season is a joyous time for fans. The NBA is full of new faces, young talented players with clean slates and their whole future ahead of them. It’s better than Christmas for Basketball mainliners. A good test of how an elite Rookies season is going is the All-star game in February. Make the cut here in your rookie year and greatness surely lies at your feet.
What NBA Rookies have made the All-star Game? Since the turn of the century only 2 players have made the NBA All-star game as a Rookie, Yao Ming in 2003 and Blake Griffin in 2011. In total, between the All-star games introduction to the NBA in 1951 and 2023 45 players have featured in the All-star game in their rookie season. The number of Rookies selected to the NBA All-star game has dwindled significantly over the years.
Table showing NBA Rookie All-stars by decade
The number of NBA Rookies playing in the All-star Game has fallen dramatically over the years. Partly because the league has become denser with talent and partly because the NBA has altered the selection process. Specific rule changes in 1970 started the drop off. Until 1973, each NBA team had to be represented with at least one player and a maximum of three players at each year’s All-star game. This was a dramatic change and the 1970’s started to see a decline in Rookies being selected. A second rule change moving the selection process over to a fan vote ahead of the 1975 game further cemented this trend. Fans were first given the opportunity to vote for NBA All-Star starters during the 1974-75 season. The seven reserves for each team were picked by each conference’s respective head coaches.
The NBA All-star game was first introduced in 1951.The first 24 NBA All-Star Games up until the rule changes for 1975, saw a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters select each Conference’s starting 5 and 3 bench players. NBA Head Coaches then selected the final 2 spots until 1961 when the All-star roster grew from 10 players to 12 players, from then the coaches selected the final 4 players for each conference’s roster.
The 1980’s bucked the trend of Rookie participation in the All-star game declining and the numbers jumped back up. This wasn’t a permanent reversal and was 100% due to the quality of the players entering the league. In particular the 1980 NBA All-star game alone saw Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Cartwright selected, the 1985 edition saw Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon debut as debutants. Other names to make the ASG in their first season from the 1980’s were Isiah Thomas, Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing.
The 1990’s saw only elite talent who would become household names making the All-star game as NBA Rookies. The list is short, but distinguished:
David Robinson 1990
Dikembe Mutombo 1992
Shaquille O’Neal 1993
Grant Hill 1995
Tim Duncan 1998
Yao Ming started in the 2003 All-star game for the West. He did this despite playing in the same conference as Lakers star Shaquille O’neil who was about to win his 3rd title in 3 years, combined with 3 Finals MVPs. This was due to the huge fan votes that poured in from the Asian population and particularly his fellow Chinese compatriots. The giant Chinese center came second in voting for the West with 1,286,324 votes, edging out Shaq who had 1,049,081. Shaq was selected to play as a reserve.
Blake Griffin was selected as a reserve for the 2011 All-star game in his Rookie season. The highflying power forward was drafted a year earlier in 2009. He had been selected with the first overall pick by the LA Clippers after playing 2 years in college with the Oklahoma Sooners. He came into the league with a big reputation, however on the eve of his debut a stress fracture was found in his knee which would ultimately rule him out of his rookie season. When he returned to action for the 2010-11 season he was “as advertised” claiming the ROTY award after being selected to the All-star team. Griffin is currently the last rookie to be selected to the NBA All-star game.
Full list of NBA Rookies who made the All-star team:
|NBA Rookie All-star||Team||Rookie Season||All-star Year||Rookie of the Year?|
|Larry Foust||Fort Wayne Pistons||1950-51||1951||NA|
|Bob Cousy||Boston Celtics||1950-51||1951||NA|
|Paul Arizin||Philadelphia Warriors||1950-51||1951||NA|
|Don Sunderlage||Milwaukee Hawks||1953-54||1954||–|
|Jack Molinas||Fort Wayne Pistons||1953-54||1954||–|
|Ray Felix||Baltimore Bullets||1953-54||1954||Yes|
|Frank Selvy||Baltimore Bullets||1954-55||1955||–|
|Bob Pettit||Milwaukee Hawks||1954-55||1955||Yes|
|Maurice Stokes||Rochester Royals||1955-56||1956||Yes|
|Tom Heinsohn||Boston Celtics||1956-57||1957||Yes|
|Elgin Baylor||Minneapolis Lakers||1958-59||1959||Yes|
|Wilt Chamberlain||Philadelphia Warriors||1959-60||1960||Yes|
|Jerry West||Los Angeles Lakers||1960-61||1961||–|
|Oscar Robertson||Cincinnati Royals||1960-61||1961||Yes|
|Walt Bellamy||Chicago Packers||1961-62||1962||Yes|
|Terry Dischinger||Chicago Zephyrs||1962-63||1963||Yes|
|Jerry Lucas||Cincinnati Royals||1963-64||1964||Yes|
|Luke Jackson||Philadelphia 76ers||1964-65||1965||–|
|Willis Reed||New York Knicks||1964-65||1965||Yes|
|Rick Barry||San Francisco Warriors||1965-66||1966||Yes|
|Wes Unseld||Baltimore Bullets||1968-69||1969||Yes|
|Elvin Hayes||San Diego Rockets||1968-69||1969||–|
|Lew Alcindor (Kareem)||Milwaukee Bucks||1969-70||1970||Yes|
|Geoff Petrie||Portland Trail Blazers||1970-71||1971||Yes|
|John Johnson||Cleveland Cavaliers||1970-71||1971||Dave Cowens (co)|
|Sidney Wicks||Portland Trail Blazers||1971-72||1972||Yes|
|Alvan Adams||Phoenix Suns||1975-76||1976||Yes|
|Walter Davis||Phoenix Suns||1977-78||1978||Yes|
|Magic Johnson||Los Angeles Lakers||1979-80||1980||–|
|Bill Cartwright||New York Knicks||1979-80||1980||–|
|Larry Bird||Boston Celtics||1979-80||1980||Yes|
|Buck Williams||New Jersey Nets||1981-82||1982||Yes|
|Kelly Tripucka||Detroit Pistons||1981-82||1982||–|
|Isiah Thomas||Detroit Pistons||1981-82||1982||–|
|Ralph Sampson||Houston Rockets||1983-84||1984||Yes|
|Hakeem Olajuwon||Houston Rockets||1984-85||1985||–|
|Michael Jordan||Chicago Bulls||1984-85||1985||Yes|
|Patrick Ewing||New York Knicks||1985-86||1986||Yes|
|David Robinson||San Antonio Spurs||1989-90||1990||Yes|
|Dikembe Mutombo||Denver Nuggets||1991-92||1992||Larry Johnson|
|Shaquille O’Neal||Orlando Magic||1992-93||1993||Yes|
|Grant Hill||Detroit Pistons||1994-95||1995||Yes|
|Tim Duncan||San Antonio Spurs||1997-98||1998||Yes|
|Yao Ming||Houston Rockets||2002-03||2003||Ama’re Stoudemire|
|Blake Griffin||Los Angeles Clippers||2010-11||2011||Yes|
The full list of NBA Rookies who made the All-star game holds a host of legends from the past. We have compared it to the list of players who won Rookie of the Year (ROTY) to see if any obvious narratives can be seen.
Rookie All-stars and the Rookie of the Year Award
Our first big takeaway is this. Not all Rookies who make the All-star game win Rookie of the year. The ROTY award was introduced to the NBA for the 1953-54 season and was won by Ray Felix of the Baltimore Bullets. Felix did indeed make the All-star game in his rookie year, he was joined by fellow Rookies Don Sunderlage (Hawks) and Jack Molinas (Pistons). This was a trend for the early years of the All-star game and ROTY awards. In total 28 NBA ROTY have appeared in the All-star game in their rookie season. They have however often been accompanied by other Rookies, who they ended up defeating in the ROTY race. 11 Rookies have appeared in the All-star game alongside the eventual winner of the ROTY trophy. So of the 45 Rookies to appear in the All-star game, 28 won ROTY and 11 featured alongside their classes ROTY. That leaves 6 rookies to feature in the All-star game who fit neither of those categories.
The first 3 Rookie All-stars who neither won Rookie of the year or featured in the game alongside a future ROTY are, Larry Foust, Bob Cousy and Paul Arizin, and are all from the first All-star game in 1951, before the ROTY trophy was introduced to the NBA.
The final 3 have more interesting stories.
In 1971 2 Rookies made the All-star game and coincidentally 2 rookies shared the ROTY award. Geoff Petrie of the Trail Blazers appeared in the ASG and would go on to win ROTY. However it was John Johnson of the Cavaliers who made the All-star game ahead of ROTY co-winner Dave Cowens. Although Cowans shouldn’t have been too upset as Johnson only played 2 minutes, registering just 1 assist. Cowans would go on to be the 1973 NBA MVP and win 2 titles with the Celtics, appearing in 8 Allstar games. Johnson would appear in just 1 more All-star game, although he did win a title with the Sonics in 1979.
In 1992 Dikembe Mutombo was selected for the NBA All-star game after an impressive start to his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets. After leaving Georgetown, Mutombo was drafted 4th overall. The 7ft2 shot blocking machine was well known from his NCAA days and partnership with Alonzo Mourning. He was selected to the All-star game as a reserve. Number one overall pick Larry Johnson would rally in the second half of the season and win Rookie of the year. Both rookies had put up impressive resumes on bad teams destined to miss the playoffs.
In 1995 Grant Hill was co-rookie of the year with Jason Kidd. Hill made the All-star game, Kidd didn’t. Kidd had rallied late in the year so when the all-star selections were made he wasn’t the household name he would become. Despite being taken 2nd, one place higher than Hill, Kidd had more to prove to the fans as his game wasn’t as nearly as flashy as Hills. Similar to Mutombo and Johnson before them, both rookies would impress on bad teams. Kidd with the Mavericks and Hill with the Pistons.
So while not every ROTY will have been selected to the All-star game, being selected as a rookie is a good indication a player will go on the win ROTY.
Has the “one and done” era stopped NBA rookies making the All-star game?
There is something to be said for the theory that the one and done era has reduced the amount of NBA rookies ready to be selected to All-star games. After all only 24 players are chosen to play in the All-star game each year and the selection process is rigorous:
“In 2016-17, current players and media joined the fans in the voting process. Fans account for 50 percent of the vote to determine the starters, while players and media account for 25 percent each. Once votes are tallied, players are ranked in each conference by position (guard and frontcourt) within each of the three voting groups. Each player’s score is calculated by averaging his weighted rank from the fans, players and media. The two guards and three frontcourt players with the best score in each conference are named starters. Fan votes serve as the tiebreaker for players in a position group with the same score.”
In the early years of the NBA it was expected that players would complete 4 years of College before entering the NBA draft. In 1971 the US Supreme Court ruled against this in Haywood vs the NBA and declared that it was illegal to make players wait 4 years after high school to enter the NBA Draft. As a resolution the NBA allowed players to come straight from high school as long as they provided evidence of financial hardship to the league. Several players took advantage of this, but it was still common for players to play at College for at least 2 years before declaring for the draft. In 1995 Kevin Garnett declared himself eligible for the draft and the floodgates opened. Players were able to enter the draft straight from highschool, and commonly did, to mixed success. One of the last big names to do this was Lebron James in 2003. In 2006 the NBA instituted a rule that still stands through 2024, that players must be at least 1 year clear of high school before they can enter the NBA. This became known as the “One and Done” rule as most players would play just the single year at college before declaring for the draft.
If we trace this brief timeline against the volume of Rookies making the All-star game we can see how it correlates. Prior to 1971 no high school players entered the NBA. In fact players usually played all 4 years at college, entering the NBA having received 4 years of elite NCAA level coaching and approaching the ages of 22 or 23. During this period we see the majority of the 45 rookie all-stars appearing. In fact after 1995 when it became common for elite high school players to come straight to the NBA, there have only been 3 rookies who made the all star team. Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and Blake Griffin. Duncan, played all 4 years at Wake Forest, Yao Ming was 22 and had played pro-basketball in China and Griffin played 2 years in college and did a further year as an injured NBA player, learning the ropes and growing into his role as an NBA star.
No players joining the NBA straight from High School have made the NBA All-star game in their rookie season.
Who is the youngest ever NBA All-star?
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is the youngest NBA All-Star. He was 19 years and 169 days old when he was selected to his first All-star game on February 8, 1998. He wasn’t a rookie however, having been drafted straight out of high school in 1996. Kobe was selected to 18 All-star games, winning All-star MVP 4 times and following his tragic death having the All-star Game MVP trophy named after him.
Was Lebron an All-star as a Rookie?
Lebron James entered the NBA to great fanfare straight out of high school, being chosen first overall by the Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft. He did not make the 2004 All-star game, which would have been his rookie year. He had to wait until his second season and was selected for the 2005 All-star game, grabbing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Lebron James is still active in the NBA and has made 19 All-star games in his 20 year career. So far, the only year he has missed out on being an All-star was his rookie season in 2004.
In his Rookie season Lebron narrowly missed out on making the All-star game as a starter. The table below shows the East Conference votes ranked in order, regardless of position.
|Position Rank||Player||Votes||Position||East Rank|
|4||Metta World Peace||405,326||F||11|
Lebron sits 7th in the table. Ultimately he was listed as a Guard that season where he ranked 4th behind Iverson, Mcgrady and Kidd. Even if he had been listed as a forward he would have missed out to Vince Carter and Jermaine O’neil. Like all things Lebron though, he came mightily close to achieving something never done before.
Will Victor Wembanyama make the 2024 All-star Game?
French sensation Victor Wembanyama was selected first overall in the 2023 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. He is 7ft4 with an 8ft wingspan. He can handle the ball, protect the paint, run pick and roll, splash 3’s, play defense and… well anything else that is possible to do on a basketball court. Providing he stays injury free he is going to have one of the greatest NBA careers of all time. BUT! Will he be able to make the NBA All-star game as a Rookie?
“The NBA modified its voting process before the 2012-13 season to eliminate the “center” designation and replace it with three “frontcourt” spots. Previous ballots allowed a voter to select two guards, two forwards and a center.”
This means that Victor Wembanyama who plays in the West has 3 opportunities to get into the All-star team. While he may be seen as a Centre, he has actually been deployed as a Power Forward by the Spurs in the majority of his minutes to open up his Rookie season. Either way, he is a frontcourt player.
In order to be one of the 3 Western starters he will need to beat out some talent in a vote that is 50% fans, 25% players and 25% media. His main competition comes from the following host of elite NBA talent.
●Chet Holmgren (also a rookie)
●Jarret Jackson Jnr
●Karl Anthony Towns
If he doesn’t make that cut, he’d be relying on the coaches to choose him ahead of the host of names on that list. Getting voted in is his best chance.
If Victor Wembanyama does make the All-star game he will be just 20 years and 45 days old when it tips off Indianapolis on 18th February 2024. Not quite as young as Kobe was, but an impressive achievement nonetheless.