Should Fans Select the All-Star Starters?Every year around this time, the NBA All-Star starters are announced and someone--often it is Charles Barkley--delivers a rant about how terrible it is that the fans choose the All-Star starters. The All-Star voting process is obviously subjective even during a normal season--balloting begins shortly after the season starts and long before a significant sample of games have been played--and that process is even more subjective during this season because of the truncated yet overstuffed 2011-12 NBA schedule. Many fans no doubt vote for their favorite players as opposed to objectively choosing the two best forwards, two best guards and the best center in each conference but even granting the inherent limitations and fallibility of this process the actual results were hardly terrible: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade will start for the East, while Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul will start for the West. One could quibble that Chris Bosh and Kevin Love should have been chosen over Anthony and Griffin respectively but starting in an All-Star Game is a subjective honor (unlike, for instance, the distinction between making the All-NBA First Team and the All-NBA Second Team or the All-NBA Third Team) and when we look back at a player's career we do not consider how many times he started in an All-Star Game but merely how many times he was selected overall; as long as the fans choose five players who are worthy of being ranked among the top 12 players in each conference there is not a problem, because the league's coaches will fill out the roster by selecting the other seven All-Stars.
It is interesting to look back at the history of fan All-Star voting, specifically in terms of the players who have most often been the leading vote getters since the fans began selecting the All-Star starters in 1975. A total of 10 players have been the leading All-Star vote getter at least twice:
Michael Jordan: 9 (1987-93, 1997-98)
Julius Erving: 4 (1978, 1981-83)
Vince Carter: 4 (2000-2002, 2004)
George Gervin: 2 (1979-80)
Magic Johnson: 2 (1985-86)
Grant Hill: 2 (1995-96)
Kobe Bryant: 2 (2003, 2011)
Yao Ming: 2 (2005-2006)
LeBron James: 2 (2007, 2010)
Dwight Howard: 2 (2009, 2012)
Looking at that list, it is clear that the fans really have not done that badly at all. Being the leading vote getter is not just merely a product of popularity nor does it necessarily mean that the fans considered that player to be the best player in the league at the time; one must also consider the competition (or lack thereof) in a given season at a particular position: Dwight Howard won the overall 2012 vote in a landslide because the Eastern Conference is almost totally devoid of legit All-Star caliber centers. The same is true to an even greater extent regarding Andrew Bynum in the Western Conference; Bynum has performed solidly--and actually stayed healthy--so far this season but his numbers (and, more importantly, his impact on the game) do not measure up to standards set by the great players who have been All-Star starters back when the NBA actually had several legit back to the basket centers roaming the paint.
Most of the leading vote getters listed above were truly elite players during the years they received the most votes. Jordan's credentials do not even need to be mentioned. Erving won the 1981 regular season MVP and he made the All-NBA First Team each of the four seasons that he topped the fan voting. Carter's popularity as an exciting dunker clearly helped him in the balloting but he also made the All-NBA Third Team in 2000 and the All-NBA Second Team in 2001. Carter likely would have made the All-NBA Team again in 2002 if injuries had not limited him drastically in the second half of the season (i.e., after the All-Star balloting had taken place); it was more than a bit of a stretch for Carter to be the top vote getter in 2004 but he still deserved a spot on the squad. The high scoring George Gervin was undoubtedly a fan favorite but there was also a lot of substance to his game: he made the All-NBA First Team in both 1979 and 1980 and during that era he was a perennial MVP contender, finishing second in MVP voting in both 1978 and 1979 and ranking third in MVP voting in 1980. Like Jordan, Magic Johnson's credentials do not need to be explained to even a casual fan. Grant Hill's popularity undoubtedly helped him gain votes in 1995 as a rookie but he also proved to be an excellent player that season, setting the stage for his All-NBA Second Team selection in 1996. Kobe Bryant was an All-NBA First Team member and top five MVP candidate both of the years that he led the fan voting. Yao Ming is widely regarded as a beneficiary of the Chinese vote via the internet but by 2005 the West was largely devoid of legit All-Star caliber centers (Shaquille O'Neal had just been traded from the L.A. Lakers to the Miami Heat and the remaining top West bigs were really power forwards, not true centers); in 2006, Yao was one of the league's few 20 ppg-10 rpg performers and he made the All-NBA Third Team. Both LeBron James and Dwight Howard have been fixtures on the All-NBA First Team for several years.
The All-Star selection process is not perfect--no system designed by humans is perfect--but it works pretty well: fans are provided the opportunity to vote for the All-Star starters not with the expectation that they will provide definitive rankings of the top five players in each conference but rather with the expectation that they will select the five top players in each conference that they most want to see perform in the All-Star Game; it is then up to the coaches to fill out the rosters with the remaining top seven players in each conference.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:22 AM