By Jackson Daignault ’18
The 2017 NBA All-Star game announced its reserves on January 26, finishing out the roster. The list is highlighted by familiar faces in Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James and Houston Rockets guard James Harden, as well as newcomers in the Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Toronto Raptors guard Demar DeRozan.
The NBA All-Star game and its fan voting practices are inefficient in truly selecting the best players from the league. Although commissioner Adam Silver has attempted to reform the selection process, it is still not enough, as fan voting takes away from the truth and results in the All-Star game becoming a popularity contest. Silver changed the system for the first time in recent history, giving the fan vote 50% of value, along with 25% from each a player and media vote. In 2016, Forbes released its rankings of value for every NBA franchise. Those franchises under 17th in the rankings were put at a disadvantage compared to those at the top in regards to All-Star game voting.
An example of this is Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who harnessed 1,528,941 fan votes, finishing second in the frontcourt of the West, nearly clinching a bid to New Orleans. Pachulia is only averaging 5.8 points and 6 rebounds per game. Pachulia was in part able to gain votes by being the only active NBA player from the European country of Georgia. However, since Pachulia plays for the 6th highest value franchise in the NBA, he was able to capitalize on the popularity and success of his team. Pachulia finished ahead of starter Anthony Davis, who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans (ranked 30th by Forbes) and Sacramento Kings reserve Demarcus Cousins (18th).
From the opposite side of the spectrum, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was snubbed of being an All-Star starter, despite averaging a triple double. As a result of fan voting that allows fans to account for 50% of the vote, Westbrook was disadvantaged because of his teams low market value. Westbrook was third in the backcourt of the West, being edged out by Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, and Harden. Curry, who previously won back to back MVP awards, has served as one of the most popular players in the NBA, on one of the most highly valued franchises. Curry has also taken a backseat to Durant, and his stats have taken a hit as he is only shooting 46.4% from the field, compared to his career average of 47.6%. Westbrook is currently chasing NBA legend Oscar Robertson as the only player to ever average a triple double. Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder were ranked 17th by Forbes, but as a result of Golden State’s high value and popularity, Curry was able to edge out Westbrook for starting point guard because of fan votes.
Big market teams, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, are first in the Eastern Conference and constantly receive national media attention. They are ranked 12th by Forbes and are represented three times in the 2017 game, via Lebron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, two of whom are starters. They often are more popular and are able to have their players selected as a result of their increasing popularity and revenue of $191 million.
Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 24.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, is the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Not to take away from the player who hit the game winning shot in game 7 of the Finals, but as a result of his teams’ success and market value, he was able to win the starting nod over players of lesser valued franchises, like Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, averaging 23.1 points and 7 assists per game. Irving 100 percent deserved an All-Star nod, but the argument can be made that he did not deserve the nod over Lowry, who is having a career year. Although the Raptors are not a small market franchise, the Cavaliers are valued higher than Toronto by Forbes and have larger fan support, allowing their players to be selected more frequently.
It is important to consider the fact that the NBA considers NBA League Pass a “Nationally Televised game.” Of the 37 “National Televised games” the Cavaliers will play a whopping 16 actual national televised games on major networks like ABC and ESPN, not on a paid platform.
However, a team like the Utah Jazz technically receives 34 “Nationally Televised games”, but only 4 of them will be on a major network. The Jazz bring in $146 million of revenue and are ranked 20th in Forbes rankings, but are disadvantaged in All Star game selection because they do not receive as much attention as the Cavaliers, or any other big market franchise.
Utah is only represented once despite being fifth in the Western Conference. Gordon Hayward is having a career year and was chosen for the game, but his fellow Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert also deserved a nod. Gobert is playing All-Star basketball, averaging 12.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, along with 2.6 blocks.
This is further proven in regards to the Golden State Warriors (6th). Although the Warriors are first in the Western conference, players like Draymond Green, although talented, did not deserve to make the All-Star game over a player like the Jazz’s Gobert. Green is averaging 10.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Although Green is very talented, the offseason signing of Kevin Durant has altered his stats, and his overall involvement in the game has dropped off. But since Green plays for a big market franchise, he is able to win votes as a result of name recognition and national attention.
A small market team like the Jazz are more unlikely to send players to New Orleans simply based on the fact that they do not bring in as much revenue and are unable to harness popularity. How much money a franchise makes should not take away from the recognition a player deserves in regards to an All-Star nod.
The Thunder and the Jazz, ranked 17th and 20th in value, according to Forbes, are just two franchises who are disadvantaged in the All-Star game. Although each team was represented at the All-Star game, they were both beaten out by the 6th ranked Warriors.
One of the biggest snubs of this years All-Star Game was Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. The 76ers are ranked 28th by Forbes. Embiid, after two injury plagued seasons in which he did not log a single NBA minute, is currently the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Embiid is averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in limited minutes, along with the fact the team is reluctant to play him in back to back games. Embiid’s 76ers are currently 14th in the Eastern Conference, and as a result have a lack of publicity as they do not have a single National Televised game. Embiid and any other 76ers player would be disadvantaged in the voting process because of the lack of publicity and lack of a fan base as a result.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Center is in a similar situation as Embiid. Coming off of his Rookie of the Year season, Towns has averaged 23 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. The Timberwolves are ranked 27th by Forbes, bringing in $146 million in revenue. The Timberwolves only will play four National Televised games this season, and as a result they do not get national attention and therefore are disadvantaged in the voting process. Once again, Towns could have pulled a spot away from Draymond Green of Golden State.
In the 2016 All-Star game, Los Angeles Lakers (2nd in Forbes ranking) shooting guard Kobe Bryant harnessed 1,891,614 votes, the most out of any player. Bryant only averaged 17.6 points per game, his lowest total since his sophomore season. Although Bryant is a sure fire Hall of Famer and one of the best players of all time, his play had seriously dropped off in his 20th and final NBA season. Of the top 25 players receiving votes in the Western conference, only two were not from big market franchises (Anthony Davis, who only played 44 games on the season, and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Enes Kanter.)
Bryant was one of the most popular players in the NBA, but was still able to capitalize on the the Lakers large revenue ($304 million), and fan base in Los Angeles.
The NBA All-Star games voting process puts small market franchises at a disadvantage because of a lack of National Television appearances and smaller fan bases. The NBA needs to continue to reform the voting processes further in order to adequately represent the best players in the NBA. Allowing fan votes results in the game becoming a popularity contest, which results in small market franchises being disadvantaged.