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Friday, January 28, 2022

Examining the NBA's All-Star Selection Process

I am not shy about criticizing media members who betray their ignorance every time they write a word and/or open their mouths, but when you look at the NBA's All-Star voting process it is evident that media members take this responsibility more seriously and handle this responsibility with more collective intelligence than either the fans or the players.

The NBA All-Star voting process has been changed several times. From 1951-60, media members selected five starters and three reserves for each conference, while the coaches selected two reserves for each conference. In 1961, the All-Star rosters were expanded to 12 players in each conference, with the media members selecting five starters and three reserves for each conference and the coaches selecting four reserves for each conference. 

Beginning in 1975, fans who attended games filled out ballots to select the starters by position for both conferences, and then the coaches selected the reserve players, with the proviso that a coach cannot vote for one of his players. In 2013, the league abandoned the traditional positional designations (two guards, two forwards, one center) in favor of designating three frontcourt players and two backcourt players.

Prior to the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, the league changed the voting process again: since that time, All-Star starters are selected via a weighted voting process in which fan voting counts for 50%, player voting counts for 25%, and media voting counts for 25%. Fans can vote early and often online without ever attending a game in person (and, quite possibly, without even seeing an NBA game). NBA coaches still select the reserves (and still are not permitted to choose their own players), but instead of the Eastern Conference playing against the Western Conference the two starters who received the most votes are designated as team captains, and they choose among the remaining 22 All-Stars to build the rosters.

In 2012, I asked Should Fans Select the All-Star Starters? and I concluded, "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." A review of the historical record shows that even on those occasions when the fans selected a player who was not a top five player in his conference that player was almost always a top 12 player; in other words, fan voting usually did not result in denying an All-Star selection to a worthy player.

One might think that including players in the voting process would make it more likely that only the best players are selected, but the sad reality is that many--if not most--players do not take the voting process seriously. How else can one explain the bizarre fact that this year 297 players received at least one player vote to be an All-Star starter? That is not an aberration, either, as the number of players receiving at least one player vote to be an All-Star starter has ranged from 249 to 310 since players were given the right to vote.

There will be 12 All-Stars selected from each conference, and perhaps an additional three to four players in each conference who are having All-Star caliber seasons, but there are not 25 players in each conference who deserve to be an All-Star, let alone 297 players in the league who deserve consideration as an All-Star starter. 

The NBA received All-Star ballots from 323 players, and only four players appeared on at least half of the ballots: Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic. More than half of the player ballots did not list Joel Embiid, who is not only a worthy All-Star starter but a serious MVP candidate. 

Kyrie Irving, who has played in seven games, received more player votes (25) than Jimmy Butler (23), who has helped lead the Miami Heat to the best record in the East. 

Ben Simmons, who has elected to not appear in a game this season despite being under contract with the 76ers, received two player votes. 

At least Simmons is an All-Star caliber player when he plays. How can you explain that Moses Wright received two player votes to be an All-Star starter? With all due respect to Moses Wright and his journey to play in the NBA, there is no way that he should be receiving votes as an All-Star starter, particularly from players who justifiably complain about media members but then forfeit their credibility by not treating All-Star voting as an important responsibility.

If the players are not going to take All-Star voting seriously then their voting privileges should be taken away before this situation gets more out of control, and we end up not just with bench players receiving votes but instead an unqualified player actually being selected as an All-Star starter.

In contrast, the media voters concentrated their votes among a select group of players, and each player who received at least one media vote is having an All-Star caliber season. 

You may wonder why I am harsher on players who make random votes than I am on fans who make random votes. For example, Klay Thompson--who just returned to action after missing more than two years due to multiple injuries--finished fourth in fan voting and 13th in player voting among Western Conference guards. The distinction that I make is that it is that it is to be expected--but not justified or excused--that some fans vote for their favorite players even if those players are not playing at an All-Star level, but the players should be held to a higher standard, particularly if they are ever going to complain about media coverage, and about media voting for the All-NBA Team and the MVP. The two players who voted for Moses Wright should be forbidden from ever complaining about media coverage of the NBA, as should the players who voted for players who have not even appeared in a game this season and the players who voted for players who are not performing even close to All-Star level.

All-Star voting is not a joke. The number of All-Star selections that a player earns is a part of that player's potential Hall of Fame resume, and a part of the historical record regarding who were the best players in a particular era. It is a shame that so many voters do not take this important process as seriously as it should be taken.

The players are also responsible for the most significant issue regarding the NBA All-Star Game: far too many All-Stars treat the game as performance art and not competition. Yes, the NBA All-Star Game is an exhibition game, but players used to take it seriously and compete, and that has not been the case for several years.


posted by David Friedman @ 10:43 PM



At Saturday, January 29, 2022 5:29:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Right on the money David. I was excited when the players received the opportunity to vote, but the results are disappointing. I generally like to hear opinions from the players on their peers. For as bad as the media is, they typically do a good job with the voting process.

I go back and forth on how to go about fixing this stuff. You will always have your aberrations, but MVP voting before the media took over in 1980 had some weird picks too (not the winners, but less than MVP caliber players receiving 1st place votes). What seems to be happening though is a backlash against years of the players being excluded from stuff like this. Some players are passive aggressively telling the league to "shove it". I think it's very immature and short-sighted however. I do like your suggestion on banning players whom disrespect the process. I don't think it would be right to punish the players whom do take it seriously.

At Sunday, January 30, 2022 12:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

From a practical and legal standpoint, the NBA cannot take voting rights away from selected players. The practical issue is that I think that the voting is anonymous, so there is no way to know how each player voted. The legal issue is that I believe that it would violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the league to let some players vote while not letting other players vote.

The Players Association should impress upon the players that the All-Star voting process should be taken seriously, but I doubt that there is any realistic way for the Players Association to compel the players to do so.

At Monday, January 31, 2022 10:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

solution: take away the anonymity from the voting


At Monday, January 31, 2022 11:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the players' voting should not be anonymous. The media voting is not anonymous. However, I doubt that the Players Association would agree to this, as it could lead to strife within the organization based on players voting (or not voting) for certain players.


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