The NBA discussion following the revelation of the All-Star rosters inevitably turns to who got snubbed. Every year, some deserving player gets left out of the game and fans go crazy. This year, the NBA is loaded with All-Star caliber talent and with only 24 spots available, some really good players were bound to get left out.
Let's take a closer look at the two rosters, the snubs and the participants in the Rising Stars game.
Overall, the team isn't too far off, as five of the seven reserves also ended up on my roster. Bosh, Noah, Hibbert and Paul Millsap is a really nice frontcourt, an all of those guys are deserving. John Wall is an easy pick too, and he probably deserved to start more than Irving did. However, the final two picks...
DeMar DeRozan is having a nice season. In fact. he's having a career year for a resurgent Toronto squad. I picked Aaron Afflalo over DeRozan because the production is pretty much the same yet Afflalo is doing it much more efficiently. Orlando is terrible, but that doesn't change the fact that Afflalo is having an outstanding season individually with a 20-4-4 stat line on 47 percent shooting and 42 percent from deep. However, it's splitting hairs between these two as they are both putting up big numbers and team success does play a big part with the way players are chosen.
However, DeRozan isn't even the best player on his team. That distinction belongs to Kyle Lowry. Yet, inexplicably, Lowry isn't on the team and Joe Johnson is. The same Joe Johnson that led the newest "super team," the Brooklyn Nets, to an absolutely dreadful start an is having his least productive season since his breakout year with Phoenix (although last season wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination either). The numbers aren't even close.
Lowry is considered by many people I respect as probably the biggest snub this year, and with how well he has played for Toronto since they got rid of Rudy Gay and where the Raptors sit in the East (third), I can't disagree. Johnson has been the best of the disappointing Nets crew, but that doesn't mean he's an All-Star. At this point of his career, he just isn't one. Especially with Lowry, who has the fifth most win shares in the entire NBA, sitting at home.
An if you don't feel Toronto isn't good enough to get two All-Stars (which is a bogus reason to keep a deserving player out), then Lance Stephenson deserved it more than Johnson did. Stephenson is putting up 14-7-5 on a 54.3 eFG% and is leading the NBA with four triple-doubles. He's not the headline snub like ESPN and others have billed him as, but he's a very versatile player who is bringing more to the court than Joe Johnson is right now (but not as much as Kyle Lowry).
The East was pretty straightforward, but the West is much more difficult. All of the guys above deserve to be there. It's just that the West is so stacked that there are a handful of guys even more deserving.
First and foremost, Anthony Davis has been a complete monster this season, and has picked it up even more recently with some ridiculous stat-lines. 20-10-3 and 52 percent shooting. The best shot-blocker in the league by percentage. Sixth in win shares per 48. And he's just a sophomore. Davis' individual play is on par with all of the big men that made the team, and arguably even better. When you toss in the fact that the game is in New Orleans, I'd be surprised if Davis wasn't chosen by the commissioner to replace the injured Kobe Bryant.
Suns fans, you can probably guess where I'm going next. Just because the coaches didn't pick him doesn't mean it isn't true: Goran Dragic is an All-Star. Mark Stein of ESPN and Fran Blinebury of NBA.com agree with me, as both of them had him as the biggest snub in the West narrowly ahead of Davis. You all know it, but I'll restate his case here just because I love writing about how amazing he has been.
Dragic is: 18th in points per game (8th among guards); 16th in assists per game; 13th in PER (third among guards behind only Chris Paul and Stephen Curry); 18th in true shooting percentage and 19th in effective field goal percentage (second among point guards behind Jose Calderon); 11th in offensive rating (sixth among guards); sixth in offensive win shares (third in guards behind Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul); ninth in win shares per 48. He's in the top 20 in the entire league in a whole lot of categories.
He's the driving force behind one of the most surprisingly successful teams in the league. He's one of the best finishers among guards in the entire league, shooting 53.8 percent inside the arc, and he's even brought his 3-point percentage up to almost 39 percent. He's averaging 6.1 assists, but he's also shown that when he's allowed to sit back an run the point that he can hit double digits in the assists category without a problem. He creates his looks nearly every way possible, playing both on an off the ball. He's played a great deal of the season without fellow guard Eric Bledsoe, meaning he's had a tremendous amount of responsibility to create the majority of the Suns' looks. I don't even know who the Suns' second best player is right now, and whoever it is certainly isn't on the level of guys like LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan.
If Chris Paul is unable to play in the game, Goran Dragic should be his replacement.
This rookie class has been really, really bad. Of the players chosen in the lottery, only Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke have had any sort of meaningful impact so far. Anthony Bennett is having a historically awful rookie season. Otto Porter missed a lot of time with injuries and hasn't been good since he's been back. Nerlens Noel has yet to play. Ben McLemore has struggled to make shots from everywhere on the floor. Cody Zeller is shooting 37 percent from the field. Our own Alex Len was brought along cautiously while dealing with ankle problems. That's one player (Victor Oladipo) among the tip five that has been both good and healthy enough to make the roster. Not good.
As for the sophomores, they have a few true studs in Davis, Drummond and Lillard, the best three players on the rosters. Bradley Beal is great as well. There is a good young crop of big men as well in Valanciunas, Jones and Sullinger. However, Harrison Barnes doesn't deserve to be anywhere near this roster. John Henson is one player that deserved consideration but didn't make the team.
John Henson would probably be my biggest snub and my top pick to take Barnes' spot. Miles Plumlee has made a strong case for himself, but not a strong enough case as his numbers don't warrant him being a clear choice ahead of the others. He's on par with them and could have made the team, but I actually don't have a huge problem with him being left off.
Dion Waiters was chosen for his production (14.4 points per game) but he's really hasn't been all that good. In fact, Terrence Ross and Jeremy Lamb, the two shooting guards chosen in the lottery after him, have been better.
All three guards were linked to the Suns leading up to the draft, but all three were gone by the time the Suns were on the clock. I'd take Jeremy Lamb as the best of the three right now and the most deserving guard for the Rising Stars game.
There you have it. Let me know what you think, folks.
I tried not to let my general repugnance with David Stern cloud my objectivity in providing a balanced examination of his 30 year reign as commissioner of the NBA... but in the end I failed. Plenty of people have expressed gushing praise over his vision and achievements. I am not one of those people.
David Stern will finally retire from his position as NBA commissioner tomorrow, Saturday, February 1st. He does so after 30 years on the job, to the day. When I first began to mull over the profundities that define David Stern to me I think that this quote succinctly summarized my general feelings...
David Stern is the single most important person in the history of basketball.
- Bill Walton
Actually, when I read that it emotionally scarred me in a way that closely resembles walking in on your parents... I may never see the game of basketball the same. Of course, Bill Walton is an walking caricature of hyperbole and overdramatization, but he's definitely not on an island in issuing encomiums to the exiting emperor.
David Stern is the number one force, the number one reason why the league is where it is today. That's not disrespectful to any one great player in any one era or any owner. This has to do with the leadership of one man.
- Pat Riley
The USA Today article that provided these jewels has cameos from other high profile NBA personalities, such as local legend Jerry Colangelo, who make glowing remarks.
Good for them. I disagree.
I contend that the position of commissioner was mostly just a sinecure based on timing and external factors. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is enough. Some businesses succeed because of good management and some succeed in spite of bad management. Has the NBA developed because of David Stern or in spite of him? In all earnestness, I believe there have to be at least a couple
million people who could have done just as well... and carried themselves with more grace and dignity during the process.
Why don't we look at the record...
Did he or was it just a complete matter of timing? ESPN had just started up (1978) and had a contract with the NBA (1982-84) before Stern's arrival. The NBA Finals had gotten ratings of 13.0 in 1982 and 12.3 in 1983 behind the star power of Larry "Legend" Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Just months after David was "sworn in" he was gifted the greatest golden goose of marketing this side of Tiger Woods in Michael "Air" Jordan. Did Stern make the stars or did the stars make the league? Basketball is uniquely suited to sell its prominent athletes due to their unparalleled exposure. With the growth of the media and cable television wasn't it just a formality this dynamic would establish itself?
If Stern made the game, not the stars, then why was the NBA Finals rating of 12.3 in 1983 higher than any rating since MJ retired. In fact, it's only crept over 11 once in the last 12 years. Has the NBA become more popular since Stern took over? Yes and no. In raw numbers it most certainly has, but that's mostly based on population, cable/satellite tv, market exposure, etc. The league has failed to captivate America the way it did in it's glory day... which started before David Stern did. Let's look at another sport that I think has a similar situation. Was the commissioner of the PGA responsible for the explosion in the sport's popularity or was it because of Tiger Woods?
Actually, FIBA official Borislav Stankovic opened the door for NBA players to compete in the Olympics. Here's what David Stern said about it...
The notion that the NBA wanted to redeem the 1988 loss? Patently wrong. From our view, we were stuck with playing in the Olympics. We didn't see it becoming the phenomenon that it became.
We said to FIBA that we weren't gung ho to play in the Olympics, but we would try to be good soldiers to support basketball. So they had a vote. The U.S. was against it, the Russians were against it, too. But the overwhelming vote was in favor.
To this day, Stern is still going against the grain on this subject by suggesting that NBA veterans shouldn't be allowed to participate and setting the age limit at 23. A suggestion that has rankled players that would be deprived of the privilege of representing their country. The Dream Team, which was a watershed moment in the globalization of the game, had to be practically shoved down Stern's reluctant throat. What a visionary...
On the heels of the "Malice at the Palace" episode the NBA instituted a dress code to help repair a tarnished public image. Players were associated with a rap/hip-hop lifestyle (the bad connotations thereof) and were viewed as "thugs" and "violent". While this policy has surely helped renovate the public perception of the league after the collateral damage it suffered, it was a reactive policy... not a proactive one.
The problem occurred under his watch, and still hasn't been fully repaired, but he is lauded for his damage control? Wouldn't a more impressive feat have been forestalling this snafu? Didn't the disconnection become apparent before meltdown stage? Weren't players given way too much liberty to dress however they felt to begin with? This was a job after all. Hadn't the more violent and brutal style of the game been left to the players to police for some time? This wasn't the no hand checking league we have today.
I would give Stern as much credit here as I would dole out to Bud Selig for the masterful way he looked the other way during the steroid era and then championed the clean up effort in baseball. It's not really that dissimilar of a scenario, is it?
Relocation - The Vancouver Grizzlies/Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans and Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder have all moved in the twenty first century. This type of relocation suggests instability in the league and alienates fans. The the Sacramento Kings nearly became the Seattle SuperSonics again? Musical chairs, perhaps?
The 1985 NBA draft - Was that envelope really frozen like Stern's cold dead heart?
Work Stoppages - Stern was on the job for two of them, 1998 and 2011. In the first he got his ass handed to him so bad that the owners were practically crying bankruptcy and insolvency. The commissioner has reportedly governed over a multi-billion dollar sport that couldn't turn a profit. Sounds like another gold star for the Hall of Fame plaque. The next one was protracted in an embarrassing fashion while MLB celebrated a new deal of labor peace and the NFL was able to avoid missing regular season games.
Chris Paul Trade Veto - The insanity of this ruling was stupefying.
Officiating - Consistently terrible, occasionally crooked. Does anyone else think this refuse makes the sport nearly unwatchable at times?
Imbalance - The commish has managed to create/extend a competitive nightmare in the league that allows the fewest unique championship winners of the major sports. Small market teams delight!
Finally, Stern became the essence of the pitiful figure that hung around just a little (or in this case a lot) too long. The last lockout saw Stern effectively castrated as he no longer held sway to influence the outcomes as had once been his calling card.
carefully vetted toady deputy commissioner Adam Silver takes the baton from David, which doesn't give me a copious amount of confidence that Goran Dragic may still crack the Western Conference All-Star roster as an injury replacement...
And then the coup de grace... the "vicinity of the bench" ruling that more than anything defines not only Stern's reign as commissioner, but also the nature of his character.
It wasn't just the fact that Stern levied the suspensions against Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for coming to the aid of Steve Nash, it was the way he heckled the Phoenix Suns and their fans when people had the audacity to question his decision. He was smug, arrogant and condescending.
It is probably a good thing for a commissioner to be bumptious to a certain extent. He must maintain equanimity and make confident, concrete (and sometimes unpopular) decisions. After he made his choice to uphold the letter of the law, which I still feel wasn't the spirit of the rule, he was justified to defend it. But he didn't have to rub it in our faces...
I'm sure that a fair share that have read this will think that I am spiteful, petty and small in my own right. Well, in these situations I just like to think, "What would David Stern do?" Maybe he would say this...
It's not being decided by [Robert Horry]. It's being decided by two Phoenix Suns who knew about the rule, forgot about it, couldn't control themselves, and didn't have coaches who could control them. And don't you forget it. Now, is it exactly fair? Probably not. Is it a red letter rule. Absolutely. Did it cost other players and teams their playoffs and championships? Yes. So, I guess there's no way to get the message through. Do you think next year the players will understand it?
I'm unhappy with the result. If the owners would like to change it, I'm happy to do it, believe me. I'd be very happy to do it. But to listen to the palaver that Robert Horry changed the series is just silly. What changed the series is that Amar'e and Boris ran out onto the court.
I won't ever forget it, David. You got your message through, by making an example out of us. Using the owners to deflect the discussion away from your ability to legislate the rule was disingenuous. You were the one and only person in a position to negate or defer the suspensions. But I never expected that out of you. That would have been silly.
Now the palaver over your retirement can dissipate. It's time for you to go away.
The Phoenix Suns have the league's 8th best record going into February, their best record after 46 games since the "7 seconds or less heyday". But the fans still have not noticed.
"We must be unafraid."
--rookie General Manager Ryan McDonough, May 2013, when describing his task at rebuilding the 25-57 Phoenix Suns. He proceeded to draft two of the rawest talents in the "not ready for prime time" 2013 NBA Draft, not sign a single free agent until Dionte Christmas in August, and systematically trade veterans for youth over the next several months.
"No telling how good we can be."
--Channing Frye, August 2013, after 18 months away from NBA basketball, just before he was cleared to play this season after recovering from an enlarged heart.
"I don't know why people say [Phoenix] is a bad team. They are pretty good."
"We're a hard nosed team."
--Goran Dragic, January 2013, describing the play of his team each and every night. You can count on one hand how many times the Suns have been soundly beaten this season. Maybe just two or three fingers.
"For the lack of a better word, we're just kind of stupid. We're just like, ‘We're going to win.'"
--P.J. Tucker, last night, about the Suns attitude facing the Indiana Pacers just eight days after drubbing them in Phoenix, knowing the Pacers would give their best effort last night to get some measure of revenge on their home court.
The Phoenix Suns are now 28-18 on the season, their best record at this point since before Shawn Marion was traded to Miami in 2008.
Let that sink in. This is the best 46-game mark since the Suns were in their heyday.
But do local sports fans care? Apparently not. Certainly not enough to drive downtown to cheer on the team in person.
The home arena is just 75% full on most nights. Even a nationally-televised game - the one in which the Suns pasted the league-best Pacers by 24 - didn't draw a sellout.
You can lament economy, but the tickets are no more expensive than two or three years ago when the arena sold out often. The economy was much worse then, and the team was nowhere near as fun to watch.
Highlight reel plays are made every couple of minutes this season. Sweeping dunks, big blocks, scrappy plays are the norm.
The Suns have had pretty wins, scrappy wins and gutsy wins.
The prevailing logic is that fans are late-adopters. If there's not a transcendent talent to watch, they want to pay to see a proven winner. If the Suns make the playoffs this season, the fans will come next year.
But next year won't be the same as this year. Part of what makes this year so fun for the players and the diehard fans is that there are no expectations.
The players are fearless because they're not supposed to do anything well, so why not just go ahead and play well. Why not just put up the middle finger on all those doubters.
But next year, the expectations will be there. An early-season loss to the lowly Kings will feel like a heavy burden, not a shoulder-shrug. A close loss to a playoff team will feel like a devastating defeat rather than a moral victory. A missed assignment will be a cause for finger pointing.
Enjoy this season for what it is, Suns fans: FEARLESS. UNAFRAID.
Whatever happens this season is "found money". The Suns aren't supposed to win anything. Their rookies will get better next season and the season after. Their cap space will be spent on higher-ceiling talent. More youth is on the way.
But once the season ends, so does the magic. Eric Bledsoe won't get a free pass on injuries when he's making $13 million a year. Markieff Morris will start worrying about an extension, as will his brother. P.J. Tucker will go from the league's best bargain to overpaid - either here or somewhere else.
Enjoy it NOW, Suns fans.
Cheer for the team NOW. Don't wait, or you might just miss out on a great season.