I typically do not watch or pay much attention to the NBA All-Star but I do get somewhat interested in who gets elected and chosen. This year was particularly interesting. According to ESPN.com, the starters are:
-G: Allen Iverson
-G: Dwyane Wade
-F: LeBron James
-F: Kevin Garnett
-C: Dwight Howard
-G: Steve Nash
-G: Kobe Bryant
-F: Carmelo Anthony
-F: Tim Duncan
-C: Amare Stoudemire
As many have noted, the All-Star elections inherently flawed because of the rigid positions assigned to players on the ballot. Per ballot classifications, Duncan must be a forward when he is really a center and, conversely, Stoudemire must be considered a center when he is more of a forward on most teams. This caused us to miss out on Dirk Nowitzki as a starter (TD could’ve and should’ve been slotted to center). In the East, KG has certainly been good enough to make the team but Chris Bosh has been significantly better and healthier. Of course, the long-term stars get a benefit of the doubt from fans in these types of votes. The real silly choice though was Iverson, who has been barely average when he has played (his Philly stats are 33.5 mpg, 14.8 ppg, .444 FG%, 2.9 rpg, 4.5, apg, 14.7 PER). But this is the nature of the beast. The NBA election is designed to feature the players the fans want. This is the primary goal. If AI is the choice, however misguided on merit, I don’t have a problem with it.
As for the reserves, here’s how I would go with reserves:
-G: Rajon Rondo: Has been the best point guard in the East so far, when you account for his excellent defense. As an aside, the East points have been weak as a group, with Devin Harris struggling and Gilbert Arenas probably out for a while.
-G: Joe Johnson: Best shooting guard in the East, non-D-Wade Edition and JJ stands over his competitors as much as Rondo, who have also been pretty weak (teammate Jamal Crawford is actually playing as well as any shooting guard behind JJ right now).
-G: Derrick Rose: This should really be Andre Iguodala but the NBA usually likes to take an even number of guards and forwards. Rose has been playing played better lately and is fun to watch both of which give him a plausible argument to make the team.
-F: Paul Pierce: Pierce is ostensibly tied with Gerald Wallace in terms of production. Pierce’s ability to score and his past history of success are the tie-breakers in my mind. Danny Granger and Antawn Jamison were both good but Granger was hurt for almost half the season so far and Jamison can’t defend at all and missed about ten games.
-F: Josh Smith: Smith is in his own category right now. A devastating athlete and shot blocker, he has scored well but his PER (21.7) doesn’t do him justice. If you account for his defensive presence, Smith is the best forward in the East outside of Bosh.
-F: Chris Bosh: If you buy his classification as forward, Bosh has been incredible so far. He should clearly be starting right now but a bench slot will have to do for now.
-C: Al Horford: Horford’s numbers haven’t been incredible. Still, the only other centers in the East with higher PERs are Brook Lopez and David Lee (and Andrew Bogut is not far behind). In choosing All-Stars, I am not a big fan of choosing players based upon the record of their teams. It isn’t Lopez’s fault that the Nets are abysmal but when the stats are close, team success is a factor to consider. Indeed, separating these four centers isn’t easy. Lee isn’t a great defender and Bogut missed some time with injuries but this is really a dartboard type choice. I’ll go with Horford, the most complete and healthy player of the three, but Lopez should eclipse all these guys pretty soon.
-G: Chris Paul: CP3 is the best point guard in basketball, though picking Nash over him to start is not a miscarriage of justice. Interestingly, the West has four point guards (Paul, Nash, Billups, and D. Williams) better than the best point in the East (Rondo).
-G: Brandon Roy: Roy is the best two-guard outside of Kobe out West. His only real competition is Manu Ginobili, who hasn’t been healthy enough to challenge for the spot (Roy plays 12 more minutes a game and has played in four more games total, all with slightly better rate stats too).
-G: Deron Williams: The race between Williams and Billups is basically a dead heat. Billups has missed a few more games, which is my tie-breaker.
-F: Kevin Durant: Durant is as good as Carmelo Anthony right now and clearly deserves to be on the team. We should also take this opportunity to give some credit to Corey Maggette. He’s not an All-Star but Maggette is putting up strong numbers (22.4 PER) and is a very useful player. A contender would be well-advised to try to poach him from Golden State, who sometimes will give away players for no apparent reason.
-F: Dirk Nowitzki: The best power forward in the West. Dirk isn’t as good as he was in the mid-2000s but is still deadly.
-F: Zach Randolph: Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph are very close stat-wise but Randolph has played in nearly double the games. There is no way I’d take Gasol over Randolph going forward but for the first half, Randolph has been more productive. In the same vein, Kevin Love’s rate stats are also quite impressive (but he has also missed a ton of time with injuries).
-C: Andrew Bynum: As in the East, we have plenty of center candidates to choose from. In addition to Bynum, Marc Gasol, Nene, Al Jefferson, and Chris Kaman all are about as good so far this year. I see Bynum as the best combination of offense/defense but have no problem with any of the choices.
-AI and BJ: We also mentioned that Iverson’s 14.7 PER with Philly (14.9 overall) might be the worst of an All-Star starter. For what it’s worth, B.J. Armstrong was elected as starter in 1993-94 and ended up with a 14.5 PER for the season (14.8 ppg, .476 FG%, 2.1 rpg, 3.9 apg). We assume Iverson will end up with better numbers than B.J. did but this is not a given.
-Best to Never Make the All-Star Game: Every year around this time we all discuss the best players never to make an All-Star team. We remember the names that are bandied about. Derek Harper usually sticks out and the leader in this field, though Sam Cassell was in the discussion until he finally made an All-Star team in 2003-04. John Hollinger examined this issue back in 2003 (before Cassell made the All-Star team) and found the best historical candidates were Cassell, Derek Harper, Ron Harper, Eddie Johnson, K.C. Jones, Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Byron Scott, and Rod Strickland. Were these guys ever legitimately snubbed from All-Star team? Let’s take a look…
-Derek Harper: From 1985-86 to 1990-91, Harper played on an All-Star level. He could score and was an excellent defender. His misfortune was playing behind Magic Johnson and John Stockton most of that time. Harper probably deserved to make the team in 1985-86 and 1986-87. At that time, Stockton wasn’t yet a star and the West took no backup point for Magic. The most frustrating instance had to be 1985-86 when the game was in Dallas and Harper’s backcourt mate Rolando Blackman made the team an the team had no backup point.
-Ron Harper: Harper was a prolific scorer but has little to complain about in terms of All-Star recognition. Harper only had one remarkable full season (1988-89 when he had a 19.8 PER) but he wasn’t going to start over Michael Jordan. Harper did miss the team in favor of Mark Jackson (who was the third point guard behind Mark Price and Isiah Thomas), when Jackson was good but not great. Still, this is not a huge slight.
-Eddie Johnson: Johnson had a long productive career but never really had a huge peak. His best year was also 1988-89, when he put up a 19.0 PER and scored well off the bench for the Suns. But the West already had James Worthy, Clyde Drexler, and Chris Mullin coming off the bench. EJ had no place on the team. The odd thing about the 1988-89 Western All-Stars is that they added Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was pretty much done but made the team as part of his retirement tour), Mark Eaton, and Kevin Duckworth on the bench. Three centers plus Hakeem and absolutely no backup point. Where’s Stockton?
-K.C. Jones: Jones just didn’t belong on an All-Star team. He was a great role playing defender but he couldn’t score (career high 9.2 ppg during the run and gun 1962-63 season). That’s not going to cut it in a conference with Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy and Hal Greer.
-Drazen Petrovic: Petro’s premature death was a sad story and you had to think he probably would’ve made the All-Star team in 1993-94 if he had still been alive and played around the same level (averageish guards B.J. Armstrong and John Starks made that team). I do vividly remember reports of Petrovic’s anger over missing the 1992-93 team when he scored 22 ppg and Joe Dumars made it for a struggling Pistons’ squad. In fact, Petrovic destroyed Dumars when they met in February 1993. As was reported in the New York Times on February 10, 1993: “Then there was the battle between All-Star Joe Dumars, one of the best shooting guards in the league, and Drazen Petrovic. Like Anderson and Coleman, Petrovic wanted to show the fans a little something extra after being snubbed for the All-Star team. Often criticized for his defense, Petrovic held Dumars to zero points. That’s right, zilch. It was the first time since his rookie season (1985-86) Dumars was held scoreless. ‘People say I can’t play defense,” said Petrovic, who had 13 points. “I just wanted to go out there and prove some things.’” Despite this inspired play, Petro wasn’t better than Dumars in 1992-93. Dumars scored more and was a better defender and passer and this was not a really bad snub.
-Arvydas Sabonis: Sabonis was always under appreciated because of his unathletic look and the fact that Portland kept him on a short leash minutes-wise. Sabonis was so good in his limited minutes, however, that he probably merited an All-Star pick at some point between 1995-96 and 1999-00. The real problem was that the West was so filled with Hall of Fame centers (Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajwuon, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan) that it’s hard to say that Sabonis was truly jobbed unless one expected that the West should take three of four centers.
-Byron Scott: I was pretty surprised that Scott, a very good player for a dynastic team in Los Angeles, never got an All-Star birth. Usually Celtics and Lakers make the All-Star team if they play well at all. Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos have made the team. Hell, A.C. Green even started one year. On merit, Scott was only All-Star level briefly (in 1987-88) but he had significant competition at the two guard (Fat Lever, Alvin Robertson, and Clyde Drexler all made the team).
-Rod Strickland: Strickland absolutely played like an All-Star for much of the 1990s but he couldn’t make the teams. While the point slot was quite competitive (Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, John Stockton), Strickland played as well as most of them at one point or another. The real problem was that Strickland had extracurricular problems that sabotaged his candidacy. Had he been a model citizen, Strickland certainly would have made the team in 1994-95 and possibly every season from 1992-93 to 1998-99.