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Monday, January 22, 2018

Examining the 2018 NBA All-Star Game Voting Process

The NBA All-Star Game has steadily declined in quality for many years, as I have noted in my game recaps from 2016 (Westbrook's Intensity Stood Out in Otherwise Desultory All-Star Game) and 2017 (The NBA All-Star Game Has Become a Farce). Last season, the NBA attempted to shake things up by tinkering with the voting process; beginning in 1975, fan voting determined the Eastern and Western Conference starting fives but the 2017 voting process included participation from all active NBA players and selected media members. The fan voting was weighted at 50%, while the player and media voting was weighted at 25% each. Adding input from the players and from media members was supposed to make the process more serious.

The NBA used the same voting process this season but added a new wrinkle: the two players who receive the most overall weighted votes will be deemed team captains and will choose the lineups for their respective teams by selecting among the eight remaining voting leaders (based on positions--frontcourt or guard--and conference), plus the seven reserves from each conference that will be selected by the coaches (and announced on TNT on Tuesday night). LeBron James, who led the overall voting for the fifth time in his career (2007, 2010, 2014, 2017-18), and Stephen Curry will be the team captains. The other eight 2018 All-Star starters are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and James Harden.

My take on the fan voting is that even though the fans don't always select the five best players in each conference to be starters the fans rarely vote in a player who does not deserve to be an All-Star. Starting in the All-Star Game is a ceremonial honor and the most important thing is that the 12 best players in each conference make the team. The coaches select the reserves, so if a deserving player is not voted as a starter he will still most likely receive All-Star recognition.

Fan voters are supposedly either biased or uninformed but after two years of having the media and the players vote as well we can plainly see that many of the players are either biased or view the process as a joke. I do not want to single out specific players as not being All-Star worthy but I feel comfortable saying that there are not 73 legitimate All-Star frontcourt candidates in the East--but 73 Eastern frontcourt players received at least one vote from their fellow NBA players. Only seven Eastern frontcourt players received at least one media vote: James, Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Andre Drummond and Kevin Love. The fans gave at least one vote to 139 different Eastern Conference frontcourt players. As much as I have often been critical of the analysis provided by many media members, as a whole the media seems to be more reliable, informed and unbiased than fans or players regarding All-Star selections.

The combined voting process produced a reasonable list of 10 All-Star starters. One could argue that Embiid is not in the lineup regularly enough to merit selection (he has already missed nine of Philadelphia's 42 games) but he has been very productive during his limited time on the court. Embiid was third in both fan and media voting but the players ranked him fourth (with Kristaps Porzingis third).

James narrowly finished behind Antetokounmpo in the player voting (226-220) and TNT's Charles Barkley had an interesting take on this: he said that James is a "drama queen" and that many of James' fellow players are tired of this. Barkley did not elaborate on this point but I think that one of the annoying aspects of James' personality is that despite being the best player in the game he always seems to be complaining that he does not have enough help to win. James has played on stacked teams for most of his career and he has spent at least the past seven or eight years playing a major role in his team's personnel decisions, so at some point he needs to be more accountable for the results and less apt to blame others.

Irving and DeRozan were consensus choices among fans, players and media as the top two guards in the East and it is difficult to argue with that.

In the West, the players and the media chose Durant and Davis 1-2 by a wide margin in the frontcourt. The players chose Cousins third by a wide margin over LaMarcus Aldridge, while the fans picked Draymond Green second (he was seventh among the players and sixth among the media), Davis third and Cousins fourth (Aldridge finished eighth in fan voting). The media tapped Aldridge third and Cousins fourth. Cousins edged Green by weighted score in the overall balloting.

Durant should be number one by any reasonable metric: individual statistics, team success, skill set. Davis and Cousins are both tremendous individual talents but even playing on the same team they do not seem to have much impact in the win column. Aldridge and Green do not post the gaudy individual numbers that Davis and Cousins do but Aldridge is the best player on the West's third best team while Green is a major contributor to the best team in the league.

The headline news in the West is that the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, finished third in the overall guard voting. Westbrook ranked third among the players and the media but just fourth among the fans. Curry won the player and fan voting while finishing second in the media voting. Harden won the media vote while finishing second in the player voting and third in the fan voting. I believe that by the end of the season it will once again be clear that Westbrook is the best guard in the league but Westbrook got off to a slow start (by his lofty standards) as he deferred too much to his new teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Meanwhile, Curry and Harden are putting up great numbers. The irony is that Westbrook is one of the few current players who takes the All-Star Game seriously, while Curry has lied down on the court in an All-Star Game instead of playing defense and Harden rarely plays defense even in the games that count.

The oddity in the West guard voting was Manu Ginobili, who ranked second (!) in the fan voting and a distant eighth in the player voting but did not receive a single media vote. Ginobili is averaging 9.1 ppg and 2.7 apg, which is a good quarter for Curry, Harden or Westbrook. It is baffling that Ginobili, a fine player in his day, received a single vote from anyone.

Each of the 10 starters deserves to be an All-Star, while worthy candidates such as Westbrook and Porzingis will surely be selected as reserves by the coaches. It will be interesting to observe the drama and politics associated with the James-Curry drafting process but I am not convinced that this will result in a more serious or competitive All-Star Game; unless/until most of the players take this event seriously, it will not regain its former luster.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:34 PM

20 comments

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20 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 23, 2018 1:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fans aren't necessarily supposed to choose the top 5 players in each conference. However, I agree they rarely choose anyone to start who doesn't deserve a spot on the team, regardless if that player is worthy of starting.

It's also not a matter of how many players were selected to start by fellow players/fans, it's a matter of who came out on top. You can't really argue with any of the selections. Still have to wait to see who the coaches choose, but so far, excellent choices as usual. Embiid didn't miss that much time either and has played very well, I'm not sure who deserves to replace him as a starter.

James again is underachieving with a stacked team. Crowder is just the latest example of a player playing much worse than James, too.

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2018 2:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

I look forward to being annoyed when guys like Kevin Love and Ben Simmons make the team over Goran Dragic.

If it were up to me, I'd fill out the East with:

3 frontcourt: Horford, Porzingis, either Drummond or Harris (haven't watched a ton of Pistons this year, not sure who matters more)
2 guards: Oladipo and either Wall or Beal (same situation as Detroit; haven't watched a ton. Gut says Wall, though)
2 wildcards: Dragic & Kyle Lowry

West:
3 frontcourt: Lamarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, either Towns or Griffin (can't decide how much I think missing games should matter)
2 backcourt: Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook
2 wildcards: Klay Thompson, Jokic or George (ambivalent between the two)

 
At Tuesday, January 23, 2018 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazingly decent picks this year, Nick. The East finally respectable this year. They finally maybe have at least 12 AS worthyish players. I am a bit confused why you list extra guys for the frontcout/backcourt spots, but then those extra guys aren't listed for the last 2 WC spots.

Horford might make it because BOS is in 1st, but he really isn't AS caliber anymore. But, not sure who else to put there. Maybe Drummond/Harris both potentially, but giving a current lottery team 2 AS seems really odd and hard to justify it. Howard shouldn't be an AS, and his team isn't good even with fringe AS Walker, but he might have a case here, too. Beal is putting up big-time numbers and carrying the slack from Wall's missed time. If it's between them for the 2nd bench guard, which seems right, the other has to be included in a WC spot. There's 18-20 guys in the East with cases, it's going to be hard for Dragic, who has a case, to make it, especially when he was better last year.

The West stacked again. Clearcut AS normally Griffin, Paul, Leonard(hurt), and Lillard all will have a hard time making the team and probably won't. Though I'd take Griffin over Aldridge or Green. A few other guys might deserve a little recognition and have cases and maybe make it in the East, but not in the West.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2018 1:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that James is "underachieving with a stacked team." James is a great player who has accomplished a lot but many media members give him a pass for orchestrating questionable personnel decisions and then making other players the scapegoat.

NBA Radio's Frank Isola recently made an excellent point that James could have immediately squashed all of the nonsense being said about Kevin Love but instead James was too busy congratulating himself in the third person on social media BEFORE he scored his 30,000th career point. As Barkley said, James is a drama queen.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2018 1:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Dragic finished 13th among East guards in the player voting (receiving just seven votes), he finished 15th in the fan voting and not one media member chose him. The coaches had an opportunity to select him as a reserve and they did not do so. You and I agree about many things and overall I think that your All-Star selections are reasonable but you are a member of a very small minority who thinks that Dragic should be an All-Star this season.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2018 1:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Throughout his career, Horford has had an impact on winning that is greater than his individual numbers might suggest at first glance and this season is no exception.

Perhaps a "case" for Dragic could be made but a better case could be made that Miami has a great coach, many very good players and no true All-Star.

 
At Friday, January 26, 2018 12:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horford's a good player still, but not really AS caliber, though I'd say he's near AS caliber. He's not a top 24 player in the league and would have no chance if he played in the West. There's more reasonable choices in the East this year, but still not 12 good choices. Couple that with him playing East's best team as its current 2nd best player, he's almost obviously going to make the team.

I think the voting results are a bit misleading and not accurate for Dragic, but they are telling in a way. Nobody, other than maybe the coaches(not sure where he ended up on their list), think he's very close to being an AS even in the weaker AS conference. Landing in 13th place is one thing, but only receiving 7 total votes tells us a lot what his peers think of him. And most of those votes are probably from his teammates. But, these votes are for starting the AS game, and Dragic clearly isn't that close to a top 2 guard in either conference. The coaches excluding him for just making the team is much more telling. I suspect he was one of the next 4-5 guys though.

 
At Saturday, January 27, 2018 1:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I think winning should matter enough that a top-4 team in either conference warrants an All-Star, and historically they do (the last time a top 4 team didn't have one was 1993). Dragic certainly does not (this season) have the statistical profile of a traditional All-Star, but he is clearly Miami's most important player and has kept the team in contention despite extended absences from both its second (Hassan Whiteside) and third (Dion Waiters) best players, as well as injuries to most of their role players (McGruder has yet to play, while both Johnsons and Winslow have missed at least 8 games).

If the Heat were an 8 or 9 seed I wouldn't be annoyed. But they're a strong 4 seed, and only 1.5 games behind the Cavs (who have 2 All-Stars) for the 3rd seed. I fail to see where Love, a one-way player on an underachieving team with a much better #1 option (Lebron) making his life easier on offense, ranks as an All-Star over somebody like Dragic.

I do not think he deserved to be a starter this year (Irving and Derozan are both having career years for better teams, and Oladipo has been spectacular), so I'm not terribly upset with his voting-as-a-starter results. I would be curious to see how close he came with the coaches, though. I don't think John Wall or Bradley Beal has been meaningfully better than he has this season, despite the luxury of playing together, and I'm a bit surprised they both made the team (though I expected Beal would and of the two he deserved it more).

TL;DR: Miami's record ought to warrant an All-Star, and Goran's been their best player. I also don't think that Kevin Love or John Wall has been a better player than Goran this year, even if they perhaps rack up more counting stats.

I agree that Spoelstra is a great coach. So is Brad Stevens; does that mean Al Horford (who, like Dragic, has a much bigger impact than his boxscore suggests) be written off on that account?

 
At Monday, January 29, 2018 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stat if true about top 4 team not having an AS. But, MIA is only 2.5 games out of the 8th spot, too. They have a bunch of quality players, and nobody screams out AS on that team. Dragic is in his 10th season and 31 and never made the team, while this season is maybe only his 3rd best career season. Lowry/Horford aren't that good of picks for AS, but given that they're the 2nd best players on teams outperforming James' stacked CLE, it makes sense when there's no other good picks.

Love is almost averaging a strong double-double with 18.6/9.6 while having a TS% of .613 to Dragic's meesly .527. I seriously doubt James is making life that much easier for Love as Love's game has regressed since joining CLE overall, mainly because of James. Love averaged 26/13 in his final season in MIN. He made the AS team 3 straight years when healthy in MIN, while it took him 3 years to make his first AS team in CLE.

 
At Tuesday, January 30, 2018 7:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Is the stat that you cited based on being a top-four team at the All-Star Break or a top-four team at the end of the season? Miami may still be a top-four team at the end of the season but Miami may also be a seventh or eighth seed by that time.

Love is valuable as a scorer, rebounder, passer and floor-spacing three point shooter, so I am not sure that he was the last player selected by the coaches.

All of that being said, if there is a case for Dragic making the All-Star team this season you probably stated it as well and concisely as it could be stated.

 
At Tuesday, January 30, 2018 7:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with your take on Love.

It is interesting that even though James has won three championships and made seven straight trips to the Finals it seems like players have to sacrifice a lot of their individual games to play alongside him. Wade, Bosh, Love and Irving all had to give up a lot of their games in order to play with James, while the same was not true of players who played alongside the greats from previous eras such as Kobe, Duncan, MJ, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Doc, etc. James is a so-called "pass-first" player who is going to score his 25-30 ppg regardless and everyone else is going to have to sacrifice shot attempts.

 
At Tuesday, January 30, 2018 10:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea, it's weird how certain players are portrayed. Kobe was the new cool kid for a couple of years in the league, but that quickly changed and a lot of people couldn't fathom anyone challenging Jordan's legacy. James has almost always been loved. Kobe actually barely averaged more shots/minute than James has.

But, I don't know if I'd include Jordan on this list necessarily. I'm sure he made others better, but looking at some of the better players he played, it's not quite true. His team went from 57 wins in 1993 to 55 wins in 1994. Pippen was a better individual player without him. Grant/Armstrong made their lone AS teams in 1994 without Jordan, too. Jordan also basically ran a solid player, Dennis Hopson, out of the league. Jordan had phenomenal teams during most of his career, but Pippen was really the only other star he played, who knew he was nowhere close to Jordan's level and content on being #2, while he wasn't a big shot seeker either, but knew he was clearly the 2nd option and would get plenty of opportunities still. Plus, Pippen didn't know any better being the top guy on a bad team or non contender like Bosh, Irving, and Love, before then joining up with an elite player.

 
At Tuesday, January 30, 2018 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

The stat is at the All-Star break. Last team was the 1993 Nets, who also got snubbed (Drazen was awesome that season).

I think the fact that Love is a net-negative on defense with marginally better offensive numbers (but I'd argue significantly less overall offensive impact) on a team with the greatest player in the conference that is a whopping 1.5 games ahead of Dragic's team of cast-offs, injuries, and G-leaguers makes the team over Goran is pretty silly, but it seems like where we most differ on the blog is when discussing one-way players, so I'm not shocked that we disagree here as well.

I'm also skeptical of John Wall making it in over Dragic, as this season his defensive effort has evaporated, his offensive efficiency is poor, and he's surprisingly become something of a second option behind a much-improved Beal (and his team trails Dragic's in the standings).

Those are the only two current selections I really object too, though I always side-eye way-out-of-the-playoffs selections like Porzingis, regardless of their (stellar) individual numbers slightly.

I also think Dragic is having a better season so far than Kyle Lowry (though the margin has shrunk some since the selections with a recent Dragic slump coming off a knee injury, but that can't factor into All-Star choices anymore than who eventually wins the Finals can), but the Raptors are great so far and Lowry is their second best player, so I can't really fault the selection... but he's in there because winning matters, and so should Dragic be.

 
At Wednesday, January 31, 2018 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see where MIA is at the AS break first. They could be anywhere in the 3-8 range. Still 2 more weeks of games. Dragic doesn't even lead his team in minutes either. MIA has a bunch of guys producing. What you say about Love is more a detriment to James not being able to lift his team more than it is to Love as I've mentioned previously. Just like last night when James was just the 3rd best player against a depleted DET team that is sub .500, plus he's getting outplayed by Stanley Johnson. Love had nothing to do with that, especially since he left early with an injury.

You're right winning should be better, but I credit the everyone involved in the voting process, especially the coaches(since Dragic has no chance of being voted in a starter) to look past the wins/losses and find the best 12 players possible. It's not perfect, and the top 2 teams usually get rewarded a bit more. MIA isn't a top 2 team, won't be, and isn't far away from the 8 spot either.

 
At Thursday, February 01, 2018 3:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick can celebrate now. Huge Dragic party! Dragic #15. How many more ECF players are going to bow out?

 
At Thursday, February 01, 2018 5:13:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

While obviously being selected as the second injury replacement isn't quite the same as being voted in initially, it certainly suggests that Dragic was pretty close either way. That JVG, Wade, and ultimately Adam Silver all championed his cause suggests, too, that I'm far from alone in recognizing that he's a lot more than just his stats.

It's an odd coincidence--or, more facetiously, message from the basketball gods-- that the two guys who got injured to allow Goran in were also the two guys he should have made it ahead of anyway.

Hopefully Miami will be relatively healthy (beyond their now traditional season-long loss of a top 3 starter in Waiters) down the stretch; I think a healthy Miami team could put a scare into, and potentially even upset, Toronto or Cleveland in the second round.. and they tend to give Boston a bit of a scare every time they play, too. I don't think they're a Finals team, but they're certainly a fun playoff team that should produce quality chess matches against any of the top teams.

 
At Thursday, February 01, 2018 5:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dragic is #14-my bad-I counted something wrong. I seriously doubt many coaches are taking Dragic over either Love or Wall. I wonder how their voting totals ended up. Plus, there's a few other guys having some solid seasons in the East. If Griffin had been in the East longer and apart of the coaches' voting, I bet he'd have been an original member of the team.

Dragic has a -3.7 net rating, while Walker is +5.8. I don't buy into these types of stats much, but I know Nick does. Actually not looking too good for Dragic.

 
At Thursday, February 01, 2018 6:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I am not sure that the choice was a binary one between Love and Dragic but if it were I would give the edge to a big who scores, rebounds, shoots the three and passes over a pg who averages about 17/5. Particularly in today's game, it is easier to find a 17/5 pg (or create one through style of play) than to find a big as versatile as Love.

I am not opposed to Dragic making the team as the second injury replacement. Dragic is having a solid season for a team that is exceeding expectations and the East is not overloaded with players who are having great individual seasons.

 
At Thursday, February 01, 2018 6:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that it would be unwise to make All-Star selections primarily based on team standings in the East, because the standings are indeed very much in flux.

Dragic is a solid choice as the second injury replacement but I don't see it as a huge injustice that he did not initially make the team.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2018 3:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going back, MIA only #8 in East at the AS break, and #9 DET is only 1.5 games behind them. Dragic made the AS team luckily, even with several guys pulling out. But, if he didn't, he wouldn't have fit the 'top 4 team has at least one AS trend,' as I suspected.

 

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