The Plague Rolls On: Critiquing the All-NBA Teams
Mere hours ago, I asked how the public was supposed to make sense of conflicting NBA honors, and how this state of emergency was good for the league or its players. Then, like clockwork, the 2010 All-NBA teams went out. Now, I am at the point of boiling.
First, there's the tension between All-NBA and All-Star. The case for: the All-Star Game is mid-season, divided up by conference, and must contend with the totally cross-eyed fan voting. Big names are guaranteed All-Stars, almost more so if they're past their due date. That's not the same as the league's absolute best players, some of whom find their way in only as coaches' selections -- or, as has been the case for Deron Williams, don't make it in due to position bottlenecks.
Guard positions are undifferentiated, even as the league overflows with amazing pure points, while center has yet to -- as empiricism would strongly suggest -- switch itself to PF/C. On top of all that, it's All-Star appearances that are most frequently mentioned in obituaries. That's the All-Stars. All-NBA, voted on by the media, is in a weird position. The All-Star team has the most ignorant voters set the stage, and then leaves it to the most informed to both correct obvious mistakes and show off their expertise.
Right off the bat, it's hard to judge whether the presence of the coaches makes All-Star more legit, or the fan fiascoes taint the process. Coming in the middle of the year also hurts the All-Stars -- there are hot streaks and injuries to contend with -- but this comes into play less than you would think. Third-teamer Brandon Roy missed about a month in the second half of the season; Andrew Bogut was left off of the All-Star team, but ended up the third team's center. Bogut was the only All-NBA selection who didn't make the ASG.
All-NBA finds itself both intent on being smarter and more accurate than All-Star picks, and yet remains strangely hamstrung. The most glaring example of this has to be its insistence on G/G, F/F, C. For the All-Star Game, an exhibition where the audiences wants to see highlights, or at least see the players it loves best, it makes sense to ignore the finer points of defined positions. Especially when, split up by conference, there's no guarantee that talent will be evenly distributed by position.
Case in point: the East used to never has centers. The West has an embarrassment of point guard riches, while only Rajon Rondo makes a case for getting a real PG in the East's starting line-up. When it comes to All-NBA, though, shouldn't the media prove that it's a little more nuanced? Or is the whole idea that, by sticking to this format, the All-NBA selections run less risk of completely confusing, or contradicting, the heavily-leveraged All-Star plaudits? Maybe even -- and this would be the scandal of the century -- piggyback on a totally messed-up, and less selective, distinction?
You probably want some names to argue about. Well, for one, the First Team has Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade in the back court. Neither is a point guard. How about Steve Nash or Deron Williams -- the back court of the Second Team -- switch one of those slots? Or is too hard to decide between either of these pairs? I don't know, I always figured this kind of meaningful debate is what sports enthusiasts like to engage in. Not just calling Deron Williams the best point guard in the league because he's on the television at that moment.
One of my colleagues is irked about Tim Duncan, center on All-Defense, but forward here. In the real world, it's increasingly difficult to determine a position for big men. That would be the exact of opposite of guards, where we now talk frequently about experiments with playing two pure points together.
Team the Third, though, is the real Satan. I know that Andrew Bogut had a great season, and that he (along with the resplendent John Salmons) made the Bucks a playoff team. Except Chris Bosh, who did make the All-Star Game, is widely regarded as the second or third best big man in the game, and is expected to make whatever team he joins this summer into an instant contender, is really tall, too. He had a monster season and assuaged a lot of the nastier questions about his heart and will.
Joe Johnson and Brandon Roy are both excellent guards who dominate the ball and do a little bit of everything. They are franchise players and everybody loves them. Actually, the unfortunate Josh Smith might be the Hawks most important player, but it's hard to make a case for him over Pau Gasol or even the older Tim Duncan. However, neither is a point guard. Sorry. If this were a real hypothetical basketball team, the kind experts are supposed to think about and salivate over -- not just something cooked up to make fans happy -- Rajon Rondo would knock one off.
Hard decision again. But you can't make everybody happy, and make the brand of All-Star Weekend happy, and still matter to basketball. If that's the goal, these teams might as well not exist.