When we consider the snubs for this year’s all-star roster, look beyond the statistics. We are entering an era in the NBA where there is a greater emphasis put back into winning. This is a good thing for the league.
While the starters are selected by a voting process that consists of 50% of the fan vote and 25% each from players and media, the reserves are picked by the coaches. It’s less of a popularity contest and more about what players that season have gotten the respect of the opposing coaches. It feels more like a true acknowledgement of the season you, and your team, are having.
And when you consider the perspective of a coach, stats are nice, but the best stat is winning percentage. What are you doing to impact winning? That is what is getting rewarded.
So while it may be outrageous to think the likes of Devin Booker (27.1 points per game) and Bradley Beal (28.8 points per game) are left out of the game — barring a late injury replacement — you need only to look at the success of their team.
The Suns got off to a 7-4 start and had us thinking maybe they were ready to start winning in the West with Booker, in his fifth season, leading the way. But the Suns (20-28) have been a very inconsistent team. So while Booker’s 51/36/92 shooting percentage slash line (FG/3P/FT) is very impressive, it hasn’t led to winning.
That’s not his fault, of course, but you wonder when Booker gets frustrated by this and starts putting pressure on the franchise to upgrade the talent around him. This will be four straight seasons that the sharpshooter has put up over 20 points per game and yet was not selected for the all-star team.
Beal’s case is historic. His 28.8 points per game is the highest average by a player who was not selected to the all-star game in over four decades. He is most likely the first choice for an injury replacement if needed, but the two-time all-star was already feeling a way about being left off the original roster.
“It’s disrespectful,” he said.
Once again, all you have to do is look at where the Wizards are in the standings to understand why Beal is on the outside looking in. Washington is 17-31, which is 10th in the East. That may be only 3 ½ games back of a playoff spot in the woeful East, but it’s still 14 games under .500.
When you look at the players who were selected, you’re seeing that all but two — Damian Lillard (Portland) and Brandon Ingram (New Orleans) — are on teams with winning records.
Lillard’s team is in 9th in the West and there’s no doubt the Blazers (23-27) have been a disappointment this season after reaching the Western Conference Finals last year. But he’s had a prolific season and is in a stretch of dominance that can’t be overlooked. After posting his third 50-point performance over the last six games in Saturday’s win over the Jazz, Lillard’s averaging 29.8 points per game. And the Blazers are winning lately because of his efforts.
Ingram is the one case that stands out because while his stats are nice (25 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists), the Pelicans are 20-29 and 12th in the West. In fact, they’re currently behind Booker’s Suns in the standings.
However, what the coaches likely see is how Ingram has emerged to lead New Orleans from a terrible 6-22 start to winning 14 of their last 21. They are four games out of a playoff spot and with the return of rookie Zion Williamson, there’s a belief that Ingram and the Pelicans could be a playoff contender by season’s end.
Other players the coaches rewarded include Domantas Sabonis (18 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists) who has been fantastic in leading the resilient Pacers (31-18) without Victor Oladipo. Chris Paul (17 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) isn’t putting up gaudy numbers, but his impact on winning with the Thunder (30-20) is undeniable. And then there is Kyle Lowry (19.6 points, just 41% shooting), who also doesn’t have great numbers but is a major reason why the Raptors sit second in the East (35-14).
Winning matters. It’s a good message to send and standard to uphold in a league that over the last decade fell too much in love with statistics.
Speaking of rewarding winning, Karl-Anthony Towns is putting up a career-high in points (27 per game) and averaging 11 rebounds per game with a fantastic shooting slash of 51/40/80 and was not in consideration for his third straight all-star nod. Why not?
Well, for one, Towns has only played in 31 games so far because of a knee injury. But mostly because when he has played, the T-Wolves have been pretty bad.
In fact, Towns hasn’t walked off the court a winner in two months. The last win he got to celebrate in uniform came Nov. 27 at San Antonio. He has since played in 15 games — with a 15-game injury hiatus in between — and lost every game.
Minnesota (15-33) is in the midst of its second 11-game losing streak of the season. As with Booker, you have to wonder when Towns starts putting pressure on the Timberwolves organization to build a better team around him.
Two seasons ago with Jimmy Butler and a veteran-laden roster, the Wolves made the playoffs. But since then they traded Butler, fired Tom Thibodeau and have sunk back into the lottery with a duo of Towns and Wiggins who both put up big numbers, but it doesn’t result in winning.
There have been whispers about 2015 NBA Draft classmates Towns, Booker and D’Angelo Russell wanting to join forces somewhere, but with each signing massive contract extensions, it would be a hefty luxury tax bill for the acquiring teams. Would Minnesota or Phoenix make that kind of an aggressive move to try to win in the star-laden West?
Or will these guys have to find a team in the East?
As we try to move forward after mourning the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, the discussion now evolves into how we can best memorialize his legacy. Some celebrities have promoted the idea of changing the NBA logo to a silhouette of Bryant, but I can’t see that ever happening.
The NBA logo, which debuted in 1969, is a silhouette of Jerry West and while the league has never acknowledged that is is, indeed, West. There are a lot of legal complications about changing the logo, which include image rights — which West does not receive — and, of course, rebranding something that is a global icon.
But that hasn’t stopped the energy of over 3 million people who, in five days, signed a petition to change the NBA logo to Kobe’s likeness.
A more likely move by the NBA will be to name a significant award after Bryant, who is universally recognized as one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the game and yet also one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. Kobe was a symbol of inclusion, which extended into the women’s game as a result of coaching his daughter, Gianna, who also perished in that helicopter crash.
The league has title sponsors for their season awards, with MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year owned by Kia Motor Cars, so to add Kobe’s name to MVP would get lost in the corporate title.
One suggestion offered by Mike Breen, the voice of the NBA and the Knicks, that I feel has the best energy is to create an award that is similar to the NFL’s Man of the Year award. It has been given since 1970 to honor players for their excellence on and off the field. The NFL added Walter Payton’s name to it 20 years ago after the Hall of Fame running back died at the age of 45 from a liver disease.
For NFL players, this is a personal and prestigious award and one that, since 2017, is displayed on the player’s jersey with a patch that is a silhouette of Payton. The player has that patch on his jersey for the remainder of his career.
A Kobe Bryant Man of the Year award could serve the same function: to honor a player for his excellence on and off the field, one who helps do exactly what Kobe said to LeBron James in the last tweet he ever posted: “move the game forward.”
The player would get a patch sewn on his jersey of some likeness to Kobe. It should be voted by the players, coaches and the media.
And, yes, the first recipient should be LeBron.