NBA All Star Snubs: The Stats Don’t Lie

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Which players were snubbed when the selection for this year's NBA All Star game was announced? Today on the blog Adam Digby breaks down the numbers and tells us who should and who shouldn't be appearing in Houston this weekend.

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The NBA All-Star game takes place in Houston, Texas on February 17, and when the teams were announced in late January, the annual debate over who should and should not be included began almost immediately. It is a conversation that has happened every year, perhaps peaking in 1988 when Byron Scott led the title winning ‘Showtime’ Lakers in scoring, yet never received a call to represent the club at the showcase event.

Despite the selections causing these same petty squabbles every season as fans of one club proclaim ‘their’ spurned star, it is fruitless to argue the merits of the ten players voted to starting berths. That futility has even been increased this season as the league finally abandoned the role of centre from the ballots. The new change allows voters to instead select three frontcourt players ensuring their absolute favourites selected to line up at tip off.

Of course people may disagree with those names, yet the fact remains that fans will see the players they want at what is, in essence, their game. The fact we see two members of both the Boston Celtics, and the Los Angeles Lakers despite both teams being sub .500, shows that the best supported and most famous names will always manage to find their way to the top of the voting. If nothing else, the 2003 start given to a 40 year old Michael Jordan provides definitive proof that the starting fives are quite rightly a popularity contest.

Beyond The Popularity Contest

However, of real interest and a matter for genuine debate are the other fourteen players who will become All Stars after being voted on to the teams by the coaches of their conference. They were asked to pick two guards, three forwards and two ‘wildcard’ players, but were not permitted to vote for members of their own teams, thus ruling out any favouritism.

If we look first at the Eastern Conference, we can see the fan bias is quite prevalent here with both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett hardly having spectacular years for the Celtics, who sit at 22-23 and in eighth place almost by default. The coaches have opted for Miami’s Chris Bosh, Luol Deng of Chicago plus first time All Stars Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia 76ers), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls).

Whilst it is difficult to argue against the inclusion of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Lebron James, Rondo – now out injured with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and yet to be replaced – is actually equalling his career best of 13.7 points per game. Yet he is doing so whilst also playing a personal record of 37.4 minutes per outing. For the 36-year-old Garnett things are even worse with the forward averaging the lowest totals for rebounds (7.2) and assists (2.2) per game since his rookie year with the Timberwolves back in 1995. He is also shooting his second lowest field goal percentage (0.504) since arriving in Boston.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the East is the exclusion of Brooklyn centre Brook Lopez, a player who can quite legitimately claim to deserve the berth filled by Garnett. He is leading the Nets, who are currently holding onto fourth place and posting individual stats that leave the older man firmly in his wake. With 18.6 points – at a .525 clip – 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, he is outperforming the C’s veteran in every single facet of the game. His omission from the squad is inexplicable and a similar case could be made for starting Indiana’s Paul George who is posting 17.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals for the fifth seed Pacers.

It is somewhat easier to argue a case for the inclusion of the ever-popular Kobe Bryant – averaging 28.1 ppg – as he is enjoying one of the best seasons ever by a player his age. Now making his fifteenth appearance in the February classic, the Lakers great is joined by teammate Dwight Howard, the LA Clippers duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and the league’s leading scorer Kevin Durant. The coaches have opted for a fourteenth All Star appearance for Tim Duncan whilst James Harden will have the rare honour of making his debut in the event at the home of his new team, the Houston Rockets. Also added to the roster are LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers), David Lee (Golden State Warriors), Tony Parker (Spurs), Zach Randolph (Memphis Grizzlies) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder).

In recent matches Bryant has once again found a way to win, recording 39 total assists in a three game winning streak that included a hugely impressive victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even if there is a case to be made for Harden as he records career highs in points (25.9 per game), rebounds (4.4), assists (5.4), steals (1.9) and free throw percentage (.859), shaking Bryant’s grip on a starting berth is impossible.

The same cannot be said of Howard however, as the 27 year old struggles to cope with the stresses and strains of adjusting to life in purple and gold. Seemingly incapable of co-existing with Pau Gasol, he is posting his worst numbers since the 2006-07 season and is thoroughly undeserving of his spot. Contrast that with Tim Duncan who is as dominating as ever for a first place San Antonio team that has a sixteen game lead over the Lakers, or the way David Lee is performing for Golden State, and once again we see the favourite getting the nod from fans over a player who is clearly enjoying a better year.

The Steph Curry Snub

Yet none of those are the worst ‘snub’ of the 2013 All Star selection and the omission of Steph Curry is one that must be blamed solely on the coaches. He is leading an unfancied Golden State team into contention in the deep and difficult Western Conference, and is not only one of the premier perimeter players in the league, he is the best and most valuable player on his own team. Young, talented, exciting and efficient, Curry possesses all the attributes necessary to be an All Star, yet he isn’t one.

Curry and others like him, such as Clippers guard Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, will be left looking on as others take their place. Voted onto the team or not, a fourth year guard averaging 21 points and 6.4 assists per game in addition to making over 90% of his foul shots on a resurgent, winning team is worthy of inclusion. Then consider he is making over 45% of his three point shots while averaging over seven attempts per game from behind the arc, giving him over 50 more made three’s than any other player in the league and you begin to wonder how he’ll be sat at home on February 17.

As fellow Warriors guard Jarrett Jack tweeted when the coach’s lists were revealed “This is exactly why the players should vote for all star selections and post season awards nothing like the respect of your peers!” Nothing indeed.

 

The Odds: The bookmakers have decided that this year's All-Star game will be a tight affair which is reflected in the odds. Unibet are touting All-Stars East as slight favourites at 2.15, with All-Stars West at 1.70 to win, including overtime. Odds for the result at the end of the 4th quarter currently stands at 2.25 and 1.74 for East and West respectively, with the draw priced at 15.00 (all odds from Unibet).

 

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And read more of his work at ESPN.com

Tags:  NBA

Italian Football Correspondent for ESPN also contributing to In Bed With Maradona, Sports Illustrated, The Independent, WhoScored.com whilst offering insight here at bettingexpert on both Serie A and NBA Basketball