Normally, the conversation surrounding All-Star “snubs” takes place after full rosters are announced in any sport. On Thursday, the NBA announced only the 2017 starting lineups for both the East and West and, in something of a rare twist, the outrage machine got a very early start. This time, those screaming were actually right.
The frontcourt selections on both sides were quite reasonable. The East’s trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James was the consensus choice across the board and each player earned the nod with lights-out play throughout the campaign. In the West, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard were virtual locks, with Anthony Davis garnering the nod in a (slightly) controversial pick.
At the time of the selection, the Pelicans sit with a 17-26 record, but Davis sports incredible numbers (28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game) and the likes of Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gobert should (hopefully) be recognized with deserved reserve nods. Plus the game is in New Orleans, so Davis getting to start in front of his home crowd is cool.
However, the backcourts were not as clean. In fact, they were flatly wrong. Russell Westbrook is the first player in NBA history to enter the All-Star break while averaging a triple-double that includes a 30-point scoring average.
Naturally, he was left off the quintet of players who will represent the Western Conference to start the game in New Orleans, with Stephen Curry taking the reins. In the East, the “snub” was far less noticeable to a casual observer, but it was a case of the wrong member of the Toronto Raptors garnering the honor, with DeMar DeRozan set to start ahead of backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.
Fan voting was partly to blame for both outcomes, but both are amiss with what has taken place. Yes, Curry is the reigning two-time MVP and one of the best players in the NBA. His production, though, has slipped a substantial amount with Durant in the mix, and Curry’s numbers (24.6 points, 6.1 assists per game, 39.7 percent from three) look positively pedestrian when compared to that of Westbrook.
There is always the argument that Curry’s team success (the Warriors are the best team in the NBA) should buoy him to some degree, but in this case, the statistical argument for Curry is virtually non-existent and Westbrook’s singular dominance has been one of the bigger stories of the 2016-2017 season.
Choosing DeRozan over Lowry is certainly less outrageous, but it’s still a case of poor judgement. In the same breath, Lowry should probably earn the No. 1 overall spot among Eastern Conference guards (Kyrie Irving topped fan voting to grab the other spot that probably should have gone to Boston’s Isaiah Thomas) for his outstanding play. The Raptors are incredible even when Lowry plays with full bench lineups, while Toronto’s overall effectiveness wanes considerably when he leaves the floor and DeRozan takes the mantle as the central figure.
DeRozan is averaging a robust 28.2 points per game for the season, but much of that number can be attribute to an early-season barrage that likely aided in his selection. Since then, Lowry (who happens to own nearly a 10-point advantage in true shooting) has simply been the better player on both ends of the floor.
The Western Conference “snub” had as much to do with popularity as anything else, with James Harden earning his way on to the starting unit alongside a player in Curry that has arguably been the best in the world over the last two-plus seasons. In the East, it appears to be a simple case of raw numbers carrying more weight than they probably should in today’s NBA landscape. What makes it even more interesting is that the statistically superior player lost the metaphorical battle in the West, while a throwback vote for a top scorer buoyed DeRozan in the East.
Westbrook and Lowry will almost certainly make the NBA All-Star team when the reserves are announced in the coming days and in the end, none of this really matters in terms of legacy or overall respect. It is still fair to point out that the best five options in both conferences did not make the cut and, somewhat sadly, that is business as usual when it comes to All-Star voting.