The NBA All-Star Reserves were announced last night on TNT. Anthony Davis was notably absent from the proceedings. His name was not discussed until the 13 minute mark of TNT's telecast by Ernie Johnson after Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal discussed the All-Star merits of DeAndre Jordan, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and others. Evidently the selection criteria for Shaq and Chuck are to be on a winning team, first, last, and all positions in between. Which is a great idea. I fully support an Indiana-Oklahoma City exhibition to celebrate winning. But as long as they want to call it an "All-Star Game", shouldn't the participants, be, you know, All-Stars?
Tom Ziller of SBNation encouraged fans and writers alike to eliminate emotion as much as possible in discussing the results yesterday morning:
But consider this a plea. In making those arguments, understand that there are valid reasons to honor all stripes of All-Stars. No narrative is more deserving. This is why I personally support using stats as much as possible in deciding any award -- it helps strip out the feels, which can tug in any direction based on the quality of the argument being presented.
I intend to do just that. But first, a few words from both Ziller and Grantland's Zach Lowe on the selection:
Kyle Lowry, Arron Afflalo, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson are your official East snubs. Anthony Davis, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins and Goran Dragic get your sympathy in the West. There should be at least one injury replacement for Adam Silver -- starter Kobe is unlikely to appear -- and chances are Davis is the choice, primarily because All-Star Weekend is in New Orleans.
That would open up two spots, but removing those two guards would not require the insertion of even a single additional guard. The West would still have the required four guards in Stephen Curry, James Harden, Tony Parker, and Damian Lillard. And if two spots do open up, Davis is a very strong bet to snag one of them. He is fifth overall in Player Efficiency Rating, and though he’s predictably struggled at times to pick up the nuances of Monty Williams’s system on defense — Davis is freaking 20 years old — he’s still a net positive on that end.
Now we can begin.
Anthony Davis is an All-Star
Period. End of discussion. He is an All-Star because he is one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference, one of the 5 best "frontcourt" players, etc. However you would like to classify it; if we are making a roster with 12 slots from the Western Conference, Anthony Davis needs to be on that list. It has nothing to do with the game being in New Orleans, with the expectation that he might be an MVP candidate in the next couple years or that he might be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate as early as whenever Monty Williams decides to join the rest of the NBA schematically.
Anthony Davis = All-Star.
I discussed his ascendance here to begin the month; Oleh expanded on that case here and here. At the time I was concerned about comparing Davis to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Others, notably Michael McNamara of Bourbon Street Shots, often compare Davis to David Robinson. I shy away from that (for now) mostly due to age, in Robinson's ROOKIE season he was 24. Davis will be 24 in league years (age as of February 1st) in the 2017-2018 season; even Eric Gordon's contract expires before then. On Twitter yesterday comparing Davis to other 20 year olds happened like this...
UHH, GUYS. http://t.co/bp8eREYwsx— Brian Schroeder (@Cosmis) January 30, 2014
All of that hyperbole is useful in describing how excellent Davis is compared to other 20 year olds in NBA history. The issue at hand is comparing Davis to "frontcourt" reserve candidates, those already selected (was Davis snubbed?) and those likely to be picked as a replacement for Kobe Bryant (is Davis the most deserving non-All-Star right now?). In order to make the following data easily digestible, I have limited my pool of applicants to Davis, the three reserves selected ahead of him (Nowitzki, Aldridge, Howard) and DeMarcus Cousins.
No, I have not included Tim Duncan. Because if newly-minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver considers selecting Duncan, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich might bite the poor man's head off. Pop is probably already lobbying OKC head coach Scott Brooks to keep Tony Parker's minutes to a minimum as it is. Last year Popovich, then the West All-Star coach, played Tim Duncan only 8 minutes.
I pulled information from a wide variety of sources. Basketball Reference for all per game, TS%, PER (Player Efficiency Rating), Win Shares, Offensive and Defensive Ratings. Synergy Sports for possessions and points per possession (both offensive and defensive). Box Score Geeks for Wins Produced. NBA Stats for opponent FG% at the rim and contested rebound %. You can intrepret this information as you desire, but on its face it tells me Anthony Davis is an All-Star and that he has not been selected to this year's All-Star team is a failure to fully understand his contributions.
|Anthony Davis||DeMarcus Cousins||Dirk Nowitzki||LaMarcus Aldridge||Dwight Howard|
|PPP - Allowed||0.79||0.80||0.82||0.87||0.82|
|Opp FG% @ Rim||44.5%||53.6%||51.3%||50.3%||47.3%|
|Contested REB %||44.9%||34.4%||30.1%||28.4%||37.8%|
When I was researching this piece I was surprised to find that Dirk absolutely belongs on the All-Star team. Initially I had expected I would want him off first in favor of Anthony Davis but that is not the case. What I was shocked to find is how tenuous LaMarcus Aldridge's candidacy is when you dig into the numbers. It basically boils down to volume on offense and being on a winning team. He is one of the least efficient scorers (True Shooting Percentage, wow), one of the worst defenders (Points per Possession by far the worst of the group), and his rebounding is the most inflated by uncontested rebounds (high five to Robin Lopez for being excellent at boxing out). As Michael McNamara said, Aldridge is the same player he has been the past four years. The difference now? He's doing it on a better team.
Circling back to Anthony Davis. Anthony Davis. Wow. 4.8 stocks (Steals + Blocks) per game. The next highest total on this list is 3.0. More of his rebounds are the contested variety. He allows the lowest percentage at the rim defending among the group. He allows the fewest Points Per Possession defending on all possessions. He ties Nowitzki and Aldridge for Win Shares. He crushes all comers for Wins Produced.
The idea that this was a close race and there are a lot of deserving All-Stars makes for great, relatively uncontroversial television: there were a lot of deserving performances, we can't give everyone an award, don't worry a lot of these guys might retire soon, we had to reward teams that won a lot of games, etc.
There are a number of ACTUAL rewards for being on a good team already baked into this thing they call sports. A playoff berth, a chance at a divisional championship, a conference championship, and even the NBA championship. This is the definition of competitive sports -- the goal is to determine who the good teams are and to reward them appropriately. With extra games, banners, trophies and a number of end-of-the-season awards.
The All-Star Game, in contrast, is supposed to reward individual greatness, players who excel beyond their peers. Being on a winning team should not be an overwhelming factor. Being a player based in the host city (as the AD selection rational is spelled out by many) should not even be in consideration. Instead, take a novel approach and reward the twelve best players in the conference by calling them All-Stars.
In every sense of the definition, Anthony Davis should be an All-Star.