As my first contribution to the trout masters’ new NBA blog, I decided to publish this rant I wrote around the time of the All Star break, about an All Star selection that particularly ground my gears. As it was written back then, the stats included are only up to date as of the All Star Break. Anyway, here goes:
I’ve never been a big fan of the fan vote for the NBA All Star Team. It often leads to ridiculous and unfair selections. For example, this year, the Chris Paul and his 19.2 points and league-leading 11.1 assists per game were snubbed for the starting lineup in favor of Kobe Bryant, who has played just six games and actually told fans not to vote for him. Not to mention that Rockets’ sixth man Jeremy Lin actually received more votes than his teammate, top-ten scorer James Harden. Fans vote based on players’ reputations, not their actual performances. They vote for big names over big numbers. But I’ve never seen this as too much of a problem, because the NBA coaches’ selections of the reserves generally make things a tad more fair. For instance, Harden made the team while Lin did not. However, one selection this year has me wondering whether the coaches too value big names over good performances.
Let’s play a little game. I’ll show you the per game stats of two players, as well as their respective teams’ performances to date, without revealing the players’ names. Your job is to guess which one was a 2014 NBA All Star.
Player 1: 33.1 minutes, 15.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, .8 steals, .4 blocks, Team: 23-30, 8th in East
Player 2: 33.1 minutes, 15.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, .5 steals, .2 blocks, Team: 24-27, 7th in East
Pretty tough, right? Identical minutes and nearly identical assists and points. Player 1 has slightly better rebounding and defensive numbers, while Player 2’s team is one spot ahead in the standings. All in all, the two have pretty much the same résumé so far this season.
Ready to give up? Player 2 is the All Star – Joe Johnson. Player 1 is Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard Gerald Henderson. If I had told you that Gerald Henderson should have been on the All Star Team, you probably would have said I was crazy. I therefore submit to you that Joe Johnson was selected by the coaches based on name and name alone. The only thing that separates him from Henderson is the fact that he is a high profile player playing for a big market team and Henderson is a low profile player playing for a small market team. I thought the coaches had better sense than that.
Now that I’ve made my point, I shall continue to drive it home with a list of Eastern Conference guards less heralded than Johnson but more deserving of his All Star selection.
Kyle Lowry: 36.3 minutes, 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.6 steals, .2 blocks, Toronto Raptors: 28-24, 3rd in East
The general consensus seems to be that Lowry was one of this year’s biggest All Star snubs. And with good reason: he’s posting career highs in pretty much everything for the surprising division-leading Raptors. Lowry is scoring more points per game than Johnson even though Johnson is primarily a scorer while Lowry manages to dish out 7.6 assists a game. Not to mention Lowry’s very respectable 1.6 steals per game. I really can’t figure out a single way in which Lowry is less deserving than Johnson.
Lance Stephenson: 35.4 minutes, 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, .8 steals, .1 blocks, Indiana Pacers: 40-12, 1st in East
Along with Lowry, Stephenson seems to be the other consensus pick for biggest snub. Though the Coney Island product doesn’t score quite as much as Johnson, his rebound and assist totals put Joe to shame. Not to mention that he’s one of the most important playmakers for the Conference’s best team. In fact, Lance has been so impressive this season that Charles Barkley called Stephenson’s omission from the squad “a joke.”
Arron Afflalo: 36.5 minutes, 19.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .6 steals, .0 blocks, Orlando Magic: 16-38, 13th in East
Like Johnson, Afflalo is primarily a scorer. But Afflalo has simply been a much better scorer this season than Johnson. Afflalo has averaged 19.4 points per game, good enough for 20th in the NBA (Johnson currently sits at 47th), with a higher field goal percentage to boot (.463 to Johnson’s .438). It doesn’t help Afflalo’s case that the Magic have been so bad, but Afflalo’s numbers are better by a large enough margin to justify being ahead of JJ in the All Star pecking order.
Bradley Beal: 33.1 minutes, 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, .2 blocks, Washington Wizards: 25-27, 6th in East
Beal is scoring 2.1 more points per game than Johnson, for a slightly better team. And if that’s not enough, his rebound, assist, and steals numbers are higher than Johnson’s as well. Probably the biggest detriment to his case is the nine games he’s missed due to injury this year, but that alone shouldn’t place him below Johnson.
Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner
MCW: 34.6 minutes, 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.1 steals, .7 blocks
Turner: 35.0 minutes, 17.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, .1 blocks
Philadelphia 76ers: 15-39, 14th in East
Coming into this season, I had pretty low expectations for the Sixers’ backcourt. But MCW’s strong rookie campaign and Evan Turner’s solid contract year have me pleasantly surprised. So much so that I believe each of these guys is more deserving than Joe Johnson of an All Star spot. Both of these guys, in addition to scoring more than two points per game more than Johnson, have the all-around skills that Johnson lacks. They are both posting solid rebound and assist totals so far. Not to mention that Carter-Williams leads all Eastern Conference players in steals per game. Obviously Philly’s disastrous record hurts both of their cases, but I believe this is a similar case to that of Afflalo – the gap in individual performance is large enough to outweigh the gap in team performance.
Kemba Walker: 35.7 minutes, 18.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.3 steals, .5 blocks, Charlotte Bobcats: 23-30, 8th in East
Kemba is outscoring Johnson by more than three points per game while still dishing out a respectable 5.2 assists per game. He is also putting up respectable rebounding numbers for a point guard, and a solid steals total. In fact, Kemba is outdoing Johnson in pretty much every major statistical category. The former UConn Huskie is a big reason why Charlotte is currently in playoff position, and from an objective standpoint has a much better case for an All Star berth than Johnson.
Brandon Jennings: 36.2 minutes, 17.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.5 steals, .1 blocks
Detroit Pistons: 22-30, 9th in East
Amid a tumultuous year for the Pistons, Brandon Jennings is actually having quite a good season. In addition to his 17.6 points per game, he is second among Eastern Conference players in assists. The former Milwaukee Buck has helped Detroit stay in the hunt for a playoff spot – they’re currently just a half game behind the 8th-seeded Bobcats and just 2.5 games back of Joe Johnson’s Nets. Jennings is yet another player who would have been a more logical addition to the All Star team than Johnson.
Jeff Teague: 32.2 minutes, 15.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.2 steals, .2 blocks
Atlanta Hawks: 25-26, 5th in East
I feel like I’m repeating myself at this point. Blah blah blah, more points, more assists, better team, yada yada yada. Anyone with half a brain could look at the facts and conclude that Teague, just like everyone else on this list, has a better case for being an All Star than Joe Johnson. But apparently most NBA coaches are too preoccupied with reputations to actually look at the facts. That, or none of them has half a brain.