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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NBA Allows Their Stars to Shine

This article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 2/14/07; it has been updated to include statistics from the 2007 All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star Game showcases the most supremely talented players in the sport in a format that more closely resembles a "real" game than the All-Star Games in other sports do. The NFL Pro Bowl has a laundry list of alternate rules pertaining to permissible formations, in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game you may only get to see some players take one swing of the bat (if they pop up or ground out) and in the NHL’s All-Star Game--well, viewers are still trying to find that one. The NBA All-Star Game is not played with the same ferocity as a playoff game--no All-Star Game is--but in recent years we have seen big comebacks and some strong defensive plays, which would not be the case if the players were just content to run up and down the court.

All-Star statistics do not have the same cachet as regular season and playoff numbers but it is interesting to look at which players have excelled in the midseason classic. Each era of NBA history has a few players who have performed particularly well in All-Star competition. The first NBA All-Star Game was held in 1951. George Mikan, the NBA’s first dominant player, had already been in the league for several seasons by then but he participated in the first four All-Star Games before he retired. He was the game’s top scorer and top rebounder in two of the first three contests, winning the MVP in 1953.

Bob Pettit dominated All-Star competition in the late 1950s and early 1960s and it would not be a stretch to call him the greatest performer in NBA All-Star Game history. He won a record four All-Star MVPs while being the leading scorer six times, the top rebounder on four occasions and even twice having the highest assists total. He is one of only four players who have led an All-Star Game in scoring, rebounding and assists at least once each and the 12 times that he was a category leader is the best such total in NBA history; Pettit is the only player who led in all three categories in the same game (25 points, 16 rebounds, five assists in 1959). He ranks second in career All-Star Game scoring average (20.4 ppg) and fourth in career All-Star Game points (224).

Bob Cousy was also a strong All-Star performer during that era, leading in assists four times and scoring once while winning two All-Star MVPs. He set a single-game record of 13 assists in 1951 that was only bettered twice in the next 32 years and he still ranks third in career All-Star assists.

Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson took the torch from Pettit and Cousy in the 1960s. Robertson led in scoring three times and in assists five times, a record that stood for two decades until Magic Johnson broke it. Robertson won three All-Star MVPs and his single-game record of 14 assists lasted from 1961 until Magic had 16 in 1983. He is the career scoring average leader (20.5 ppg) and for many years held the career points record with 246 (he now ranks third). Chamberlain dominated the boards in All-Star competition, setting the career rebounding record with 197 and leading in that category five times. He still holds many regular season scoring records--including his famous 100 point game and 50.4 ppg average in 1961-62—but surprisingly only led the All-Star Game in scoring one time. Chamberlain made the most of that performance, though, scoring an All-Star Game record 42 points on 17-23 field goal shooting in the 1962 contest. Chamberlain’s East team lost 150-130, so the West’s Pettit (25 points, 27 rebounds) won the All-Star MVP that year. Chamberlain won his only All-Star MVP as a rookie in 1960.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens and Elvin Hayes dominated the glass in All-Star competition between 1970 and 1980, combining to lead the game in rebounding in 10 of those 11 seasons. Abdul-Jabbar played in a record 19 All-Star Games (and was selected to an additional one) and understandably ranks at or near the top in most career categories. Oddly, he never won an All-Star MVP despite ranking second all-time with 251 career NBA All-Star Game points.

Julius Erving joined Abdul-Jabbar, Hayes and Pettit on the exclusive list of players who led an All-Star Game in scoring, rebounding and assists at least one time each. Erving won two NBA All-Star MVPs, including one in his first appearance in 1977 when he was honored for his game-high totals of 30 points and 12 rebounds despite playing on an East squad that lost 125-124. Only two other players have won an All-Star MVP despite playing on the losing team (Bob Pettit in 1958 and Magic Johnson in 1990). Erving ranks fifth in career NBA All-Star Game points (221) and fourth in career NBA All-Star Game scoring average (20.1 ppg). He also scored 100 points in five ABA All-Star Games and his combined total of 321 All-Star points ranks first all-time.

Magic Johnson is the NBA All-Star Game’s king of assists, ranking first in total assists (127; Isiah Thomas is second with 97) and single-game assists (22) while leading in assists a record seven times. In his two All-Star MVP performances (1990 and his swan song in 1992), Johnson led in both scoring and assists and he trails only Bob Pettit with his nine times as a leader in the three main categories (scoring, rebounding and assists).

Michael Jordan won three All-Star MVPs. He posted the only triple double in NBA All-Star Game history (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in 1997) and ranks first in NBA All-Star history with 262 career points and 37 career steals. Jordan led in scoring five times, including a 40 point outburst in 1988 that trails only Chamberlain’s 1962 output.

The player who has most dominated a single All-Star Game category in recent seasons is Tim Duncan, who has led in rebounding six times, breaking Chamberlain’s career record of five. Duncan won his only All-Star Game MVP in 2000 when he had 24 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in a 137-126 West victory. No one has led the All-Star Game in scoring in consecutive seasons since Allen Iverson did it in 2000 and 2001. Iverson is also the last player to lead in assists for two years in a row (2004-2005) since John Stockton did it in 1993-94.

Jason Kidd has led in assists three times, Allen Iverson has done so twice and Steve Nash did so in 2002. Sadly, none of those players appeared in the 2007 All-Star Game due to injury. The only recent assists leader who played in Las Vegas is none other than Kobe Bryant, who had the most assists in 2001 and 2006. Bryant won his first All-Star MVP in 2002 by producing 31 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 135-120 West win--and he came up with a virtually identical stat line in Las Vegas (31 points, five rebounds, six assists) to claim the All-Star MVP in a 153-132 West rout.

NBA All-Star Game Single Game Leaders

"Three Tool" Players
Player...Points...Rebounds...Assists
Bob Pettit...6...4...2
Kareem Abdul Jabbar...1...3...2
Julius Erving...4...1...1
Elvin Hayes...1...3...1

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead
at least once in all three categories.

Overall Category Leaders
Player...Points...Rebounds...Assists...Total
Bob Pettit...6...4...2...12
Magic Johnson...2...0...7...9
Oscar Robertson...3...0...5...8
Wilt Chamberlain...1...5...0...6
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...1...3...2...6
Julius Erving...4...1...1...6
Michael Jordan...5...0...1...6
Tim Duncan...0...6...0...6

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead at least
six times in any combination of categories.

Category Leaders
Player...Points
Bob Pettit...6
Michael Jordan...5
Julius Erving...4
Oscar Robertson...3

Player...Rebounds
Tim Duncan...6
Wilt Chamberlain...5
Bob Pettit...4
Dave Cowens...4
Elvin Hayes...3
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...3
Moses Malone...3

Player...Assists
Magic Johnson...7
Oscar Robertson...5
Bob Cousy...4
Dick McGuire...3
Nate Archibald...3
John Stockton...3
Jason Kidd...3

Note: List includes all players who led or tied
for the lead at least three times in each
respective category

posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 AM

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