Let’s actually set criteria for selecting All-Stars
Has Dwyane Wade or Kyle Lowry had a better season?
Lowry smashes Wade in win shares (6.4 to 3.1) and tops him in Estimated Wins Added (6.5 to 5.7), too. There’s value in staying on the court, and because Wade has been hobbled by knee issues this year, it’s clear Lowry, an impressive and consistent two-way contributor, has produced more.
If you desire, you can dig deeper and examine the question from other angles. It’s a worthy discussion to have.
In three months.
If voting for an All-NBA team based on the season to date, I’d pick Lowry ahead of Wade. But for the 2014 All-Star game? Give me Wade every day of the week.
Before and after the NBA announces its All-Star starters tomorrow, you’ll find numerous smart analyses about whom should be picked to the teams. But few of of those picks will be preceded by an outlined standard for the choices.
The accepted logic is that, after the fans vote for the starters, the coaches should pick the players who’ve had the best season so far. Many will pore over stats, noting why this player or that player has performed better to date.
But I just don’t see much point in debating 40-some-game samples. All-Star appearances have, erroneously, become the historical standard for a player having a top-notch season. But unless the selectors have crystal balls, that’s impossible. All-Star appearances indicate only top-notch half-seasons, and those shouldn’t count for much in the grand scheme.
All-NBA teams are a much better tool for measuring historical greatness, and I wish more would analyze those with the keen eye they turn toward All-Star selections. I understand the playoffs running concurrently interferes, but even a little more attention to All-NBA teams would make us smarter when we look back on the historical record.
That would free the All-Star game to mean something else – as it should.
Meaning of All-Star selections
The All-Star game already has a mixed significance because of the fan vote. Kobe Bryant will almost certainly get one of the Western Conference’s starting guard spots, even though he’s barely played this season and played poorly when he’s been on the court. Allen Iverson and Yao Ming won the fan vote in years they shouldn’t have even made the team.
Debating players’ all-time greatness by All-Star nods already requires weeding out the undeserving selections. It’s not a good standard.
All-Star appearances should exist in a separate spectrum.
Just break down the word: All-Star. All the stars. Keep letting fans pick the stars as they see fit. Then, let the coaches fill in the rest of the roster with the players they see as the biggest remaining stars, the best players who won’t start the game.
The system works as long as we don’t assign too much meaning to which player had a better rebounding rate between November and January.
A litmus test for arguing All-Stars
Here’s the standard I use:
Who’s the best player right now?
That’s intentionally vague, but here’s the thought exercise I use to compare players. Imagine two teams full of average players for their positions – an average starting point guard, an average shooting guard, an average sixth man, etc. These teams are exactly equal. Now, replace one starter on each of the average teams with the players you’re comparing. Whose team wins? That’s the better player.
I don’t consider how good a player’s actual team is. An All-Star berth is an individual, not a team, honor, though a player’s team’s record can indicate how good that player is individually.
I don’t consider fit, either. No player should be punished because he happens not to complement the other All-Stars in a given year. To me, the All-Star game is more about honoring the NBA’s best players than strategically forming a squad. Besides, these teams are so deep and talented, and the rules mandate a certain number of players from each position, that the rosters will work for a single Sunday, at least.
DeMarcus Cousins vs. Tim Duncan and Kyrie Irving vs. Arron Afflalo
Ability matters more than production in the given half-season, though they can be tough to separate.
Parsing DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan illustrates the dilemma. Cousins has had a better season so far, and he’s risen his game while Duncan’s production is slipping. But is Duncan merely preserving his energy for a playoff run, or is he too old to play as well as Cousins has? If the answer is the former, Duncan would be my All-Star choice. The latter, Cousins.
Kyrie Irving and Arron Afflalo provide another example. Irving started the year relatively poorly, and his season-long statistics are still weighed down by those early games. But lately, he’s shown the true player he is – a player that’s better than Afflalo, who has produced consistently between Irving’s extremes. An All-NBA debate between the two would be close, but an All-Star discussion is not. Irving has a clear edge.
What to make of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo
Injuries are a little trickier.
Rajon Rondo won’t make my All-Star team, because he’s clearly not playing at an All-Star level as he tries to find his way after such a long layoff.
Chris Paul will, because he’s the best guard in the NBA right now. He probably won’t be healthy by the All-Star game, and if he’s not, he can be replaced on the roster.
Russell Westbrook sits somewhere between. Because his expected return date is later than Paul’s – meaning Westbrook is more likely than Paul to be rusty if he is back in time – Westbrook’s injury costs him more than Paul’s. But Westbrook, at the less-than-perfect health level he’s been this season, is still a top-four guard in the Western Conference.
Ultimately, it’s up to everyone to set their own criteria for choosing All-Stars. Before making your case, though, consider which lens you believe the selections should be made through. You don’t have to choose the same one I do, but you should make a deliberate choice rather than following the crowd for the sake of doing so.
So what do my All-Star teams look like? Probably not that different than the ones you’ll see elsewhere. Typically, the best players as I define them also play the best during the season’s first half. How well someone has played so far is one of the best indicators of how good he is.
But each when the there is a difference, the latter should trump the former.
G: Kyle Lowry
G: Dwyane Wade
FC: Paul George
FC: LeBron James
FC: Roy Hibbert
G: John Wall
G: Kyrie Irving
FC: Carmelo Anthony
FC: Joakim Noah
FC: Andre Drummond
WC: Arron Afflalo
Paul Millsap (Chris Bosh, who totally slipped my mind initially)
G: Chris Paul*
G: Stephen Curry
FC: Kevin Durant
FC: Kevin Love
FC: LaMarcus Aldridge
G: Russell Westbrook*
G: James Harden
FC: Blake Griffin
FC: Dirk Nowitzki
FC: Anthony Davis
WC: Dwight Howard
WC: DeMarcus Cousins
*Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, in that order, would be my injury replacements.