This year's big NBA All-Star ballot problem
Too many great guards, too many slots for frontcourt players!
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
Morning on the Seine, Claude Monet, 1898
NBA All-Star voting opened up on Christmas Day. Given how many players missed games in December due to the COVID-19 protocols, there’s going to be a lot of dissension on who deserves All-Star honors this year … on top of the normal dissension we experience.
There’s an extra problem for voters — fans, players and media members in the first round, coaches in the second round — to deal with: there are more worthy guards than there are available slots.
At the very top of the league, forwards rule the roost with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. You have Stephen Curry in that tier, and I’d probably include both Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid there. But you get past that tier and try to gather up the top 24 players in the NBA this season, and you get a whole lot of guards who deserve slots, a few of which are dedicated to frontcourt players.
A refresher: All-Star starters are selected by a vote of fans (50%), players (25%) and the media (25%) with three frontcourt players and two guards in each conference getting the nod. The remaining seven All-Stars in each conference are decided by a coaches’ vote, with two guards, three frontcourt players and two players of any positions in each conference getting those slots.
So each conference gets 6-8 frontcourt players on the roster and 4-6 guards. The commissioner picks any injury replacements. The All-Star Game is in Cleveland this year, for what it’s worth.
Here’s my first-draft of a roster based on where we are at the start of the New Year. For the record, I don’t have a media vote but I have voted for Ben Simmons as a fan using Twitter a couple times.
Wild Cards (2)
First injury replacements: Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, LaMelo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Cole Anthony.
Wild Cards (2)
First injury replacements: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Dejounte Murray, Brandon Ingram, Anthony Edwards.
I have one frontcourt player on each roster that I would much rather leave off for another guard … but can’t due to the positional rules. I’d take Jrue Holiday over Jayson Tatum for the All-Star honors in a heartbeat this year — I almost put Khris Middleton in that last forward slot as a half-measure, a nod to Milwaukee excellence. But it should be Jrue’s spot, to the point where Fred VanVleet likely ends up out on my final (unofficial) ballot in late January. LaMelo Ball is another player that would be in serious All-Star contention if a minium of six of the 12 slots weren’t devoted to bigs.
In the West, I left Damian Lillard off due to his and the Blazers’ problems … and to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the roster, and I still couldn’t get SGA on there because of the minimum six frontcourt players rule. So Karl-Anthony Towns gets the slot instead. (I briefly considered Anthony Davis for the spot.) Assuming Paul George doesn’t play again before the All-Star break, I’m pretty sure I’d rather take any two of SGA, Dame and Dejounte Murray than PG-13 and KAT. Alas, roster rules.
The solution, as I argue every year, is to expand All-Star rosters to reflect normal NBA roster sizes. Give us 15 players on each roster with no commissioner’s choice injury replacements. Make the extra three slots position agnostic. Create the nice symmetry with the All-NBA team (15 players selected) by giving us exactly 30 All-Stars every year. Get more young, exciting players into one of the league’s biggest showcases. Give local fans a bigger chance of needing to watch All-Star.
Expanded rosters with greater flexibility in positions will solve much of these problems. Critics always argue that expanding the roster will shift the debate from the No. 12 player to the No. 15 player. Yes, that’s true. But the more inclusive you go, the weaker the arguments for players to make All-Star. It’s a different argument to have between Fred VanVleet vs. Jrue Holiday in lieu of LaMelo Ball vs. Cole Anthony.
What do you think? Fifteen All-Stars from each conference? Loosen the position rules more? Who did I miss that belongs in the conversation? (I always miss at least one player who belongs in the conversation!)
Suns 108, Celtics 123 — Still not sure what the Celtics are in total, but it’s becoming more evident that this is a really good defensive team, maybe just a tier below the Warriors, Suns and Cavaliers. That’s something!
Bulls 108, Pacers 106 — Incredible DeMar DeRozan game-winner. This is like a basketball defibrillator. Good heavens.
Knicks 80, Thunder 95 — The Knicks’ offense is so bad.
Timberwolves 108, Jazz 120 — A cool 39 for Donovan Mitchell. One of the most fun players to see detonate in front of his home crowd.
Blazers 106, Lakers 139 — Poke fun at the Lakers all you want, but LeBron is having a monster stretch right now. 43-14-4-2-2 in this one. He averaged 31-9-6 on 59/40/78 shooting in December.
Pelicans 113, Bucks 136 — 35-16-10 in 32 minutes for Giannis. Truly a basketball god.
Spurs 116, Pistons 117 (OT) — Saddiq Bey for the win.
Bulls 120, Wizards 119 — DeMar DeRozan capped off 2021 with a buzzer-beater game-winning three … and he started off 2022 with a buzzer-beater game-winning three! What an incredible back-to-back for DeRozan. Put his weekend in the Louvre. This is Disney stuff.
Clippers 120, Nets 116 — I award Brooklyn’s defense one large oof.
Warriors 123, Jazz 116 — Helluva win for Golden State on the road without Draymond Green against a basically full-strength Jazz team. The Warriors have proven it against the Suns and Jazz this season.
The Bulls didn’t play on Sunday so there’s no DeMar DeRozan game-winner here. Sorry.
Magic 111, Celtics 116 (OT) — Boston’s offense has been struggling all year. Perhaps the solution is just having Jaylen Brown go score 50. Really encouraging that so much of the scoring came at the rim.
Pacers 104, Cavaliers 108 — Alright, my patience with the Pacers has fully expired. You lose to a team starting Kevin Pangos at point guard to fall to nine games below .500, and I’m done. To hell with your +0.0 net rating. I’m through.
Heat 113, Kings 115 — 14-4 Sacramento run in the fourth led by Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox to flip this game. Sure. Beat the Heat with Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry, lose to the Mavericks without Luka Doncic. Makes sense.
Suns 133, Hornets 99 — Phoenix has been in a bit of a funk since Christmas, which aligns with Deandre Ayton’s absence. You wonder if this might break them out of it. Chris Paul had six field goal attempts and 16 assists. One of those assists to a guy the Suns PROBABLY SHOULD NOT HAVE DECLINED AN OPTION ON!
Mavericks 95, Thunder 86 — Speaking of Luka: he’s back. Dallas had done just fine without him, and the Mavericks remain locked in a dogfight to avoid the play-in. Meanwhile, Josh Giddey claimed a new record for the youngest NBA triple-double.
All times Eastern.
Rockets at Sixers, 7
Hornets at Wizards, 7
Grizzlies at Nets, 7:30, NBA TV
Magic at Bulls, 8
Pistons at Bucks, 8
Jazz at Pelicans, 8
Nuggets at Mavericks, 8:30
Heat at Warriors, 10, NBA TV
Hawks at Blazers, 10
Timberwolves at Clippers, 10:30
Alright, back at it on Tuesday. Be excellent to each other.
Hey you forgot Bradley Beal!
Let the All-Star Game reflect our age of positionless basketball, right? I'm not sure if a system where positions aren't considered at all is the solution, but a loosening of that requirement is healthy.