[title_box title=”Vol-Stars: The past, present and future of Tennessee players in the NBA”]
For the 15th straight year, the NBA All-Star Game will be played without a former Tennessee Volunteer on either roster. Since Allan Houston’s 2001 appearance as a backup for the Eastern Conference team, not a single player that suited up for the Vols has been selected to participate in the annual showcase of the NBA’s best talent.
The first All-Star Game to feature a Volunteer was all the way back in 1952, when Paul Walther appeared in it in just the second year it was held. He was joined in the circle of NBA All-Stars from UT 30 years later, by Hall of Famer Bernard King. In the meantime, former Volunteer big man Red Robbins was making his presence felt in a competing league, being selected to participate in three ABA All-Star games in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Dale Ellis became the third former Vol to be recognized as an NBA All-Star in 1989, and the aforementioned Houston became the fourth, with back-to-back appearances in 2000 and 2001.
Currently, only five former Vols are signed to an NBA contract: C.J. Watson and Tobias Harris of the Orlando Magic, Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes of the Miami Heat, and Jordan McRae, who is on his second 10-day contract with the Phoenix Suns. None of these players stand out as obvious candidates for a future All-Star bid, but someone has to be the next All-Star hailing from Big Orange Country. Who has the best odds?
5. C.J. Watson
At age 31, Watson is the second-oldest player on an incredibly young Magic roster. Though he was an important player coming off the bench in each of the Magic’s first eight games, Watson has not played since Nov. 9 due to lingering pain in his calf. Even with age and health problems aside, Watson’s All-Star chances were never particularly high. He has only averaged more than 10 points per game twice in his career and despite being a point guard, has never averaged over 4.1 assists per game.
Watson is a valuable veteran leader and useful backup, but he will likely never be an All-Star.
4. Jarnell Stokes
Former Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes has played in even fewer games than Watson this season. After playing just two games in Memphis, Stokes was traded to the Heat, where he has been bouncing between the Heat and its Developmental League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Even during his time on the Heat roster, Stokes has only managed to get off the bench five times, averaging less than three minutes per game.
Stokes barely plays, but he is more likely to appear in an All-Star game than Watson over the course of his career due to his youth. He joined the University of Tennessee early and only stayed three years, so he is still only 22 years old.
3. Josh Richardson
After being selected by the Heat with the 40th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Richardson has managed to make more of his time in the NBA than Stokes. Appearing in 23 games so far with the Heat, Richardson even started a game against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 12. Richardson is scoring both poorly and inefficiently, with under two points per game on 24.9 percent shooting from the field, and has not contributed much else on the court. He is ranked above Stokes partially because of the fact that he is playing a lot more frequently than his teammate and partially because of this.
2. Jordan McRae
After spending most of his first year in the National Basketball League in Australia and New Zealand, McRae joined the Delaware 87ers, the D-League affiliate of his NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers. After averaging over 23 points and five assists per game with the 87ers, McRae was chosen for the D-League All-Star Game (along with Stokes). McRae was signed to a 10-day contract with the Suns after setting the D-League scoring record with 61 points.
McRae only played in six games with Phoenix before being sent back down to the D-League, but he did very well in his short time in the NBA, earning a second 10-day contract from the Suns. In those six games, McRae averaged over 11 minutes, scoring just under five points per game on efficient shooting from the field. It would not be surprising to see McRae signed for the rest of the season and continue to contribute.
1. Tobias Harris
There is only one former Vol that has been a major contributor to his team so far this season: Tobias Harris. Harris missed three games this season with an ankle injury, but has played in and started every other game for the Magic this year, leading the team in minutes per game at 32.9. None of Harris’ individual statistics stand out as particularly impressive, but he does rank in the top five on the Magic in four of the major statistical categories (fourth in scoring, second in rebounding and fifth in both blocks and steals).
One way for Harris’ All-Star odds to improve is for the Magic to improve as a team. Of the 24 players participating in this year’s All-Star Game, only six come from teams with losing records. All six of those players play at a higher level than Harris is ever likely to (John Wall, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Kobe Bryant). If the Magic can increase their win total in the next few years, Harris has a chance to be selected, especially if he can improve his passing and increase his scoring to the level it was in his first half-season with the Magic.
Though Harris stands as the most likely All-Star candidate currently in the league, it still seems like a bit of a long shot for him to make it. Of course, he still has plenty of time. Harris is only 23 years old, and has already improved greatly since entering the league.
Still, it seems likely that the next All-Star from UT is not in the NBA yet, and may not even be at the university. If that is true, fans of the university have a reason for hope. In his time at the University of Texas, coach Rick Barnes coached 17 future NBA players, including future All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant.
It has been a long time since Tennessee produced an NBA star, and it seems as if it may need to wait a bit longer to do it again.
Featured image by the Tennessee Journalist
Edited by Cody McClure