The Rotation: What Makes an All-Star?
The Rotation is a weekly study on the NBA by one of our All-Star voices. In rotation this week is Brett Pollakoff.
The starters for February's All-Star game were recently announced, and we'll find out who the coaches will name as the reserves later this week. Every year though, it seems that there's a heated discussion about how the fans screwed up the voting, how some player got snubbed, or what the criteria should be for judging someone to be an All-Star in the first place. It's time to put a stop to as much of that as possible.
The way we can do this is by clearly defining the roles of the starters and reserves, and figuring out what the game should mean to the fans, the league as a whole, and the players themselves. Let's begin with the starters, and a discussion of the fan voting process.
As you're no doubt aware by now, the NBA allows fans from around the world to vote for the players that they want to see the most participate in the All-Star game. There are two ways that people can accomplish this: they can punch physical ballots at their local arena (as many as they like, even if it's more than 22,000), or they can simply head to NBA.com and cast their online vote -- again, as many times as they want to. And you know what? I don't have a problem with any of it -- which brings me to my first rule for selecting All-Stars.
The starters for the game should continue to be voted on by the fans, even if they occasionally get it wrong. Hear me out on this one. What is the All-Star game, anyway? It's a mid-season exhibition where fans want to see their favorite players -- who, for the most part, are usually the game's biggest and brightest stars. So what's wrong with putting those big names in the starting lineup, even if one or two of them don't deserve to be there? I say there's nothing wrong with it, and in fact, it will help attract more casual fans to tune in and watch.
This season, for example, Allen Iverson was voted into the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference. Now of course, if he was still in the West, he would have finished third in the voting behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, and we wouldn't even be talking about this. But after being traded to the Pistons earlier this season, Iverson is firmly in the Eastern Conference, and was able to bring those votes he received while still in Denver with him.
Forget the fact that staunch Pistons' supporters freely admit that AI shouldn't be starting. I would argue that Iverson's name recognition in the lineup is going to do a lot more for the game's ratings than if someone more deserving that casual fans aren't that familiar with (like Joe Johnson, for instance) actually received the starting nod.
That's not to say there isn't a place for the players that are most deserving of All-Star status, because there is: that's why we have reserves. And here's where, if the league wanted to get really smart, they would put players in these spots that meet the following criteria: they play at an All-Star level, but aren't household names because they're on bad teams or play in smaller markets.
Quite simply, the NBA should use the exposure of All-Star weekend to market its lesser known stars to the casual fan. Now, I'm not proposing that players that don't deserve to be there get to go simply because they play for teams like the Pacers or the Timberwolves. It's the opposite. The bona fide stars on these teams deserve to go much more than a third or fourth player on one of the league's top teams does. In fact, there should be no more than two players from any one team allowed in the All-Star game.
Just because a team has players that are future Hall-of-Famers doesn't mean that
they all need to go to the All-Star game every year. I'm going to use the Celtics as an example here: Kevin Garnett was voted in as a starter, and Paul Pierce is a lock for one of the reserve spots. That's enough. Ray Allen has been strong for the team this year, but we can probably find more deserving players that don't play for the defending champs, can't we? Joe Johnson, Devin Harris, and Jameer Nelson are some names that immediately come to mind as better choices. And don't even start with Rajon Rondo.
Besides the fact that four players from a single team is unconscionable, when someone who's a Celtics fan is making the case for Rondo and concludes that ultimately, he probably shouldn't go, then you know what? He shouldn't go. (Plus, there's video evidence that clearly shows he's not yet an All-Star.) Rondo's solid, but not elite -- and just because he starts for a team with one of the top records in the league doesn't mean that he deserves a spot in the All-Star game.
If you think I have an anti-Celtics bias, fear not: Andrew Bynum shouldn't go to the All-Star game either, no matter how many players get injured. Besides the fact that he'd likely be the third Laker to make it (Pau Gasol should be sitting next to Kobe on that flight to Phoenix), he's only played well recently, and the league should focus on players that are more deserving, especially if they play in say, Minnesota (like Al Jefferson) instead of Los Angeles.
Let's get back to those small market players. In order for the league to maximize the weekend's exposure and showcase their lesser known players, we have to come to terms with something: The argument that players who put up big numbers on a bad team shouldn't be considered for the All-Star game is complete nonsense. This one seems like a no-brainer to me, but Kenny Smith passionately argued otherwise with Chris Webber and Gary Payton on TNT's halftime show the night that the starters were announced. The notion that players on losing teams like the Pacers' Danny Granger or the T'Wolves Al Jefferson have an easier time putting up big numbers because there's no pressure on them is completely ridiculous, and in fact, it's the opposite.
Because these players are "the man" on their respective teams, their opponents are doing everything they can to try to shut them down and make somebody else beat them. No one's playing the Pacers and saying, "let Granger get his 40, he's not going to beat us by himself." Teams are game-planning their entire defensive scheme around slowing Granger, and thus, when he drops 37 and hits a game-winner, it's arguably more impressive than if one of the Celtics' big three does it, because defenses can't just focus on one of them like they can on Granger.
It's more difficult to put up big numbers on a bad team, not easier. And that's why these guys deserve to be All-Stars more than the third or fourth best player on a winning team.
I think that covers just about everything: we let the fans put the big names in the starting lineup, the league places more of a focus on small market All-Stars to get them exposure on a national stage, we don't saturate the game with three and four players from the league's best teams, and we throw out the notion that big numbers by players on losing teams aren't important. By making the criteria for selecting players to the All-Star game more clear cut and purposeful, we can avoid all of the debate and hysteria that has historically followed the announcements of the lineups, and the game itself can have a positive impact for the league that lasts a lot longer than those three days in February.
What All-Star discussion would be complete without my picks for who the reserves should be? If you've gotten this far, you should have a good understanding of why I'm selecting the following players, so no explanations will be included. If you're unclear about one of my choices, hit me up in the comments and we can continue the discussion.
G- Joe Johnson
G- Devin Harris
G- Andre Iguodala
F- Paul Pierce
F- Danny Granger
F- Hedo Turkoglu
C- Chris Bosh
G- Chauncey Billups
G- Tony Parker
G- Brandon Roy
F- Dirk Nowitzki
F- Pau Gasol
C- Shaquille O'Neal
C- Al Jefferson