Should the All-Star Game be Rewarding Players on Winning Teams?
Can someone please explain to me what the All-Star game is all about?
Humour me at the very least.
Do we pick the game’s best? Do we pick the game’s most entertaining stars? Or do we pick guys simply because they have played good basketball on an elite team?
Because we know how much we love to reward players on winning teams, right?
So, let’s break this down.
There are 15 rosters spots across 30 NBA teams. This means, there are right around 450 players in the league (not including the G League). Of the 450 players, 24 make the NBA All-Star game and for the sake of using a pretty whole number, let’s just say 30 players get the nod after taking injury replacements into account. That is 6.7% of NBA players who crack the All-Star roster annually.
So for such a limited and exclusive group, why are there no set guidelines for what it takes to be dubbed an All-Star?
Why does Karl-Anthony Towns get in for incredible numbers, albeit suiting up for a sub-.500% team, but Victor Oladipo makes the team amidst a down year riddled by injury?
Let’s make things perfectly clear.
If the Indiana Pacers were not fourth in the East, but 11th, much like the Minnesota Timberwolves, is there really any doubt that he wouldn’t make the All-Star team? Averaging 18.8 points on a putrid 42.3-percent shooting from the field and a pedestrian 34.3-percent from long range. Oladipo was rewarded for being on a winning team, while Towns was rewarded for being a top player in the League.
Now, it may just be me, but the fact that coaches rewarded players on winning teams seems so dumb to me, especially with the advanced statistics that are available today. The concept of Win Shares should completely eliminate the need to reward players on winning teams, and to simply reward players for their high level of play independent of their team’s incompetencies.
Win Shares are player statistics which look to adequately divide the credit for a team’s success amongst the team’s players. Win Shares is further split into Offensive and Defensive Win Shares.
Basketball Reference does a good job at describing both. Offensive Win Shares incorporates points produced, offensive possessions, and marginal offense per player as well as marginal points per win. Defensive Win Shares utilizes defensive rating and marginal defense per player, as well as marginal points per win. Once both Offensive and Defensive Win Shares are calculated, they can be added to provide a player’s total Win Shares.
Like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in baseball, Win Shares may be one of the best evaluators of a player’s effectiveness and contribution to their team.
With the existence of a stat like Win Shares, a team’s record should not be the thing that pushes the needle. Hell, even stats like points per game shouldn’t matter as much as they used to.
Put it this way, D’Angelo Russell is averaging 19.7 points per game on a winning team (the Brooklyn Nets are 28-26 and sitting in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs), but has a Win Shares of 3.3 for the season. He is also averaging 7.7 makes out of 17.5 field goal attempts per game. That’s a fairly average 43.9-percent shooting percentage and in the absence of a Caris LeVert, Russell simply is tasked to shoot the ball more.
Now, I’m not saying 3.3 Win Shares is bad, but Pascal Siakam is not an All-Star and is in the league’s top-20, accumulating 5.9 Win Shares – on a winning Toronto Raptors team might I add. Russell may be known more for his offensive abilities to the casual fan, but boasts an Offensive Win Shares of 1.8 compared to Siakam’s 3.8 – a fairly large margin.
Now, I can go off on a tangent discussing how Siakam is one of the NBA’s best kept secret, but the fact is simple. Sports are advancing at a torrid pace and while analytics are being incorporated to build many teams, they should be factored into the choosing of All-Star players.
There is no reason to make biased decisions or flip-flop between arbitrary guidelines to make All-Star selections. Numbers exist and numbers don’t lie.
Rudy Gobert is second in the NBA in total Win Shares at 9.3, yet he is not an All-Star. That’s a better mark than Giannis Antetokounmpo (9.1), Paul George (8.5), and Nikola Jokic (8.3), all three of whom are All-Stars and considered contenders for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.
On the surface, it may seem like players such as the Greek Freak and Paul George are far more valuable than Gobert, but in a league revolving around shooting and spacing, Gobert is exactly what every team craves. He is a defensive anchor and one of the top two or three defensive players in the NBA, while setting the key screens to free up shooters on the offensive end (with the ability to roll to the basket for easy scores).
Screening and lateral quickness are not the sexy attributes that’ll get you noticed, but in an analytically-driven world of sports, the value for players such as Gobert are now booming.
So why are they not as valued when it comes to All-Star selections?
What are we really doing here, NBA?