The Most Random All-Stars: Dana Barros and Tyrone Hill

The 1995 All-Star game led to two of the oddest picks, in retrospect, in All-Star history, Dana Barros and Tyrone Hill.  Barros was a 27-year old 5’11 three-point specialist.  Hill was a generic starting power forward.  How did two average(ish) role player become All-Stars and did they have any argument to make the team?  The cases for Hill and Barros were separate and distinct but the overarching theme arises from the weird Generation X kerfuffle that enveloped the NBA at the time.

In 1995, the NBA had quasi-crisis over the perception that the Generation X stars couldn’t be marketed because they lacked the gravitas of the prior mega stars Michael Jordan (who was retired at the time but would return shortly), Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird.  How did we get to that moment in time?  There were some incidents that bothered the mainstream press as follows:

The 1994 FIBA Games:  Dream Team 2 is not as well-remembered as the original squad but this group was nearly as dominant as the original MJ/Bird/Magic squad.  The difference was the new team had many younger players who were a bit more inclined to talk smack to hapless opponents.  In particular, Shawn Kemp, Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson, and Shaquille O’Neal seemed talk a little trash (and/or let out primal screams after big dunks) while wiping out other teams.  As a consequence, the team left some with a bad aftertaste about the young stars.

-Money!:  As we’ve written about before, NBA revenues were growing and these young (and more publicly brash) players were the first group to taste big contracts, as the older players were still bound to contracts based upon the much lower revenue numbers.  So, rookies were making much more money than established stars, particularly LJ’s then-record $84 million deal in 1993

-Generation X Generally:  I don’t want to shock you but the established generation tends to clash with the new adults from younger generations (no doubt there is an article out there somewhere where Joe Fulks criticized the flash young George Mikan).  While generational complaints go back as far back as time itself, the split between the 1980s writers with some Generation X players seemed more acute.  The trash talking and lack of deference to established stars (combined with the money factor noted above) was particularly irksome to some.

In the beginning of the season, Chris Webber demanded a trade during a contract dispute and coach Don Nelson depicted Webber as overly sensitive and entitled.  Webber eventually got the trade he wanted but at great cost to his image at the time (we recently re-reviewed the Webber trade and concluded that Webber’s whining was overstated and it was just a contract disputed handled terribly by the Warriors owner Chris Cohan). 

Coleman became the literal posterchild for Generation X in a January 1994 Sports Illustrated article.  The cover showed DC frowning, with his mouth agape, with the caption: “Waaaaah!!! Petulant Prima Donnas Like New Jersey’s Derrick Coleman Are Bad News For the NBA.”  DC was known for his pouty body language, missing practices, and the “whoop-de-damn-do” diatribe about missing practice.  There were clearly some legitimate complaints about DC’s dedication.  He certainly tried on the court but there was a sense he could be so much better.

In the SI article, Phil Taylor wrote: “[a] form of insanity is spreading through the NBA like a virus, threatening to infect every team in the league. Alarmingly, its carriers, pouting prima donnas who commit the most outrageous acts of rebellion, include some of the league’s younger stars. There is a new outbreak nearly every week, with yet another player skipping practice, refusing his coach’s orders to go into a game, demanding a trade or finding some new and creative way to act unprofessionally.”  Taylor went on to detail offenders Webber, DC, Latrell Sprewell, J.R. Rider, Kenny Anderson, as well as a few other egregious stories (like Chris Morris refusing to tie his shoes during practice).

The article seemed overly alarmist to me.  There were some difficult players but players miss practice and can be dicks.  Both those things happened before 1995 and after.  Nevertheless, the story cast a large pall over the NBA.

Gen X and the 1995 All-Star Game

In this environment, David Stern was peppered with questions about the state of the league and whether “petulant” players would bring it down.  Stern told the press before the 1995 All-Star game that “[t]here are 350 or so players in the NBA and, on balance, they make a consummate effort to play the game as well as it ever has been played, and as hard as it has ever been played.”  Stern acknowledged that there were some hiccups in the NBA but, as the Hartford Courant reported: “Stern lumped such incidents together and said the league was going through ‘a phase.’ He added that whenever the league has gone through a phase, it has reacted in kind and subsequently survived, even thrived.”

Stern was right.  Most of the problem players listed did fine overall in the NBA:

-Webber struggled with injuries but became a star eventually. 

-Anderson got a big deal from Portland.  He never got much better than he was as a young player but he was a respected pro.

-DC got a big contract from Charlotte.  He was never a great hustler but he was a respected veteran in Philly and Charlotte.

-Sprewell was a problem but was good enough to overcome his bad decisions most of the time.

-Rider’s bad decisions likely shortened his career prematurely but he would also get a big deal and was considered a star through 2000.

In any event, this Generation X problem was obviously more hype than substance.  Concerns about petulant players were laughable compared with drug issues of the mid-1980s and the careers that never developed as a result.  DC might’ve been a slight disappointment but do we really think that his career arc was a bigger issue than William Bedford, Chris Washburn, or Len Bias? 

The problems with Gen X were exaggerated but not totally unfounded.  Despite this fact, in this controversial time, the NBA was not going to pick any All-Stars in 1995 who might embarrass the league.  Thus we got Hill, the solid but boring PF for a solid and boring Cleveland team and Barros, who was the only scorer for a terrible Philly team.  Neither Hill nor Barros had any record of discipline issues and each was liked by his coaching staff.  So, that’s how they became All-Stars in 1995. 

With that preamble, how crazy were these two picks?  Let’s look at their stats compared with other players who were not chosen for the East team. First let’s look at the plausible forward contenders and Hill:

-Tyrone Hill: 34.2 mpg, 13.8 ppg, .504 FG%, 10.9 rpg, 0.8 apg, 16.8 PER,  .138 WS/48, -1.3 BPM, 0.4 VORP

-Derrick Coleman: 37.6 mpg, 20.5 ppg, .424 FG%, 10.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 19.0 PER, .117 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 1.8 VORP

-Horace Grant: 36.4 mpg, 12.8 ppg, .567 FG%, 9.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 16.9 PER, .169 WS/48, 2.0 BPM, 2.7 VORP

-Toni Kukoc: 31.9 mpg, 15.7 ppg, .504 FG%, 5.4 rpg, 4.6 apg, 19.8 PER, .185 WS/48, 4.3 BPM, 4.1 VORP

-Derrick McKey: 34.6 mpg, 13.3 ppg, .493 FG%, 4.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 15.0 BPM, .127 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 3.0 VORP

-Glen Rice:  36.8 mpg, 22.3 ppg, .475 FG%, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 19.7 PER, .159 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 4.0 VORP

-Dale Davis: 31.7 mpg, 10.6 ppg, .563 FG%, 9.4 apg, 0.8 apg, 16.1 PER, .140 WS/48, 0.9 BPM, 1.7 VORP

-Anthony Mason: 32.4 mpg, 9.9 ppg, .566 FG%, 8.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 14.9 PER, .166 WS/48, 1.9 BPM, 2.5 VORP

-Hot Rod Williams: 35.7 mpg, 12.6 ppg, .452 FG%, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 14.6 PER, .096 WS/48, 0.8 BPM, 1.9 VORP

Webber is left out because he missed most of the first half with an injury (not that he would’ve made it anyway for the bad PR he was suffering that was noted above).  Even without Webber, Hill’s candidacy is very weak.  He’s the only player of the group with a negative BPM and he has the lowest VORP of this large group.  The two best candidates are clearly the two small forwards, Rice and Kukoc (that Kukoc never made an All-Star team is a bit surprising actually).  Kukoc has a slight edge but either choice was defensible and both are vastly superior to Hill.  It’s not clear what rationale got Hill over either of them other than the fact that Hill’s team had more wins at the time (the Bulls were very mediocre until MJ returned shortly thereafter).

Let’s assume that the NBA wanted Hill because he was a big forward who could rebound and eliminate Rice and Kukoc.  Even then, the Hill pick makes no sense and he  suffers in comparison to the other PFs. For all his crap, DC was having a pretty good year.  Like Webber, Coleman had no shot of making the team but he wasn’t the best choice anyway.  Grant, McKey, and Mason all were having better years (we can eliminate Mase because he was also not PR friendly for different reasons).  In the end, Grant seemed like the best choice, as a star PF for the best team in the East.

Finally, we listed William’s stats because he was Hill’s teammate.  Neither were All-Star worthy but Hot Rod’s stats give a perspective that Hill wasn’t even the best Cav front court player.

Now, let’s turn to Barros and point guard competition…

-Dana Barros: 40.5 mpg, 20.6 ppg, .490 FG%, 3.3 rpg, 7.5 apg, 20.9 PER, .183 WS/48, 5.0 BPM, 5.8 VORP

-Kenny Anderson: 37.3 mpg, 17.6 ppg, .399 FG%, 3.5 rpg, 9.4 apg, 18.0 PER, .122 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 2.8 VORP

-Mookie Blaylock: 38.4 mpg, 17.2 ppg, .425 FG% 4.9 rpg, 7.7 apg, 19.2 PER, .147 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 5.4 VORP

Wow.  Barros’ team stunk but he was playing like prime Allen Iverson.  It may be one of the great fluke seasons ever but Barros’ stats merited an All-Star pick.  Mookie was actually better (if you factor in defense), played on a better team, and had more of a past track record to support his stats.  In a binary world, Mookie would be the better choice but Barros was quite defensible a pick.  The real issue is that they both deserved to make the team.

As we wrote last month, Joe Dumars made the squad, despite having one of the worst seasons of his career.  Mookie (or Nick Anderson) deserved that slot.  Still, Joe D’s class and professionalism, put him over the top in a world where Stern was under fire for the Generation X stuff.  I guess karma was on Dumars’ side, as he ended up having a nice All-Star game.  He shot 5-8 and had 11 points and 6 assists.

Epilogue: In the end, the East was destroyed by 27 points (139-112).  Hill played only 6 minutes and had 2 points and 4 boards.  Barros played 11 minutes and had 5 points and three assists.

25 years later we can look back and see that Hill was a slightly below average power forward, who had better years than 1994-95 (1996-97 was his best season).  Hill played until 2004 as a backup big man and his one All-Star pick could not be justified then or now.

Barros parlayed his star year into a big contract from Boston, who promptly turned him into a role player again.  Barros didn’t start for Boston and his usage dropped from 21.2% with Philly to a then-career low 18.3% for Boston.  Very weird that Boston paid him and never gave him the opportunity to be a star.