2013 NBA All-Star Underdogs
Giving my most unbiased opinion, the NBA All-Star weekend (including the game) is the best All-Star event than any other of the major US professional sports. Is the NBA the most popular sport? No. Is it America’s great past time like Baseball? No. But does it have the best All-Star weekend? Heck yea! Nobody is watching the Pro Bowl. The Home Run Derby is the only non-boring event people watch with the MLB All Star weekend. And the NHL is well….the NHL.
However that is not the point of this article, so hold on to those hate comments. This article is about giving recognition to some of the NBA’s All-Star underdogs.
I understand the NBA All-Star game is about “giving back” to the fans. It’s for the fans to see the best and most exciting talents the NBA has to offer all on the same court in the same game. With that said, I totally agree and understand why the fans get to vote for the All-Star starting line ups. Once again it’s for the fans and deservingly so. Fans invest a lot of time, emotion, and money into the sport. Let’s just quickly break down what it takes for a family to attend a game. First a family has to save their hard earn money to pay for the over priced tickets. Then that family has to find and pay for a baby sitter to watch the baby that is too small to come along. Then that family has to hop in the car and fight traffic to get to the arena and pay another ridiculous amount for parking. That’s a lot of time, money and energy to attend a game and I haven’t even mentioned the over priced food, beverages, and team merchandise the parents have to get to make this event a memorable one for the kids. So yes the fans deserve to vote for and see whomever their hearts desire in the All-Star game starting lineup.
With that said, normally the All-Star starting lineup is comprised of the most “popular” players. I am not saying that these “popular” players are not All-Star worthy because they are, but there are several players in the league that “deserve” and have earned the right to be recognize as All-Stars as well. However, because they are less popular and less “flashy”, fans do not vote for them. This is where the All-Star reserve line up comes into play.
The All-Star reserve line up is chosen by the coaches. However even the coaches can sometimes fall victim to the “popularity” contest. At the end of the day it’s understandable. Even coaches are busy, well, coaching their team to really research and know all of the “under the radar” All-Star players. So every year there is still a group of guys that seem to have a tough time getting even the coaches vote for the All-Star game. Every year there are guys who are more than deserving who get snubbed for the game. I call these players All-Star underdogs.
I realize there’s only so many spots on the All-Star teams (both East and West) so there’s going to be a group of guys that are always going to be left out and “snubbed” every year. However, I argue that the players on this list either put up better numbers than some of other players that make the All-Star team and/or they have been left off the team, undeservingly, for multiple years and it’s about time they get a spot on the All-Star squad.
Raymond Felton – New York Knicks (Point Guard)
With the rise of several athletic and explosive point guards in the NBA, the classic, traditional point guards get over looked. Raymond Felton isn’t extraordinarily quick and explosive as a Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or even a Rajon Rondo, however he is a reliable floor general that can run a coaches offense smoothly and effectively. As a primary ball handler he only averages about 2 turnovers a game and shoots nearly 80% from the free throw line, so a coach can rely on him to have the ball in his hands to run the play during crunch time. In his best year, the 2010-11 NBA season, he averaged 17 points and 9 assist a game. That is an assist average more than Derrick Rose and Tony Parker, and about the same as Deron Williams and about an assist shy of Steve Nash. This year (2012-13) he is still averaging an all-star worthy stat line (for a point guard) of 17ppg and 7apg.
Last year the East All-Star team had three point guards on the roster, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, and Rajon Rondo. I know the point guard position is one of the most saturated with talent, thus making it tough for an underdog point guard to crack the All-Star team. This year could have been his best shot with multiple All-Star caliber point guards in the eastern conference experiencing significant injuries (Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving); unfortunately for Felton he is now a part of this injury list with a fractured finger. Though his injury may heal by the All-Star game the time he will miss will only stack the odds against him further.
DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors (Shooting Guard)
DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors falls victim to the classic case of playing on a terrible team. If you are on a terrible team, a team in which isn’t even located in the United States, chances are you will be forgotten when it comes to all-star consideration. Is that necessarily fair? No. Last year’s East All-Star team featured two shooting guards, Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson. Dwayne Wade is far and away superior in the eastern conference than other shooting guards; however can the same be said about Joe Johnson? In the 2011-12 NBA season Joe Johnson averaged 19ppg, 4apg, and 4rpg. This season Johnson is averaging 17ppg, 4apg, and 3rpg. DeRozan in 2011-12 averaged 17ppg, 2apg, and 3rpg. This year DeRozan is averaging 18ppg (more than Johnson), 2apg, and 5rpg (more than Johnson).
Joe Johnson has a reputation of being a superior jump shooter over many other SG’s in the eastern conference. Is that really the case here? In 2011-12 season and this season, Johnson FG% is .454 and .431 respectively. DeRozan’s field goal percentage is nearly the same (and actually better this year) than Joe Johnson at .422 and .454.
I still give Johnson the edge because he can be a more “impactful” player and I understand he has played on better teams (people reward winning) but DeRozan should get a bit more love in the All-Star conversation and don’t hold the fact he plays for the Raptors against him.
Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets (Center)
After his rookie year, Brook Lopez has definitely been putting up all-star caliber numbers. His best season was the 2010-11 season, where he averaged 20ppg. That’s better than Chris Bosh’s points per game in the 2010-11 season, his first year with the Miami Heat. Lopez is averaging 18ppg and 7rpg this year even after missing nearly all of last season. This is nearly identical to Chris Bosh’s 18ppg and 8rpg. The only real knock on Lopez’ production is his rebounding. For a starting center, 7rpg is below average. But if you are going to let Bosh off the hook in that statistical category it’s only fair if you do the same for Lopez.
Of course Lopez was out of the running last year due to injury, this year however he has played and started for a vast majority of the Nets games. Up until this point he has always fell into the “but he plays for a horrible team, if he was ‘so’ good, why is his team so bad?” category. I agree with this logic when it comes to end of the year awards like the MVP, but not the All-Star game. The All-Star selection is all about individual stats and production. Lopez now plays for a winning team (meaning a team over .500) and a pretty “popular” team, now that the Nets moved to Brooklyn, so this should give him more exposure and recognition. Couple that with the fact that Dwight Howard left and moved to western conference and Andrew Bynum has been injured, an all-star spot for big men in the east is wide open. Could this be his year?
Monta Ellis – Milwaukee Bucks (Shooting Guard)
Monta Ellis is a very clear cut example of someone who has yet to make the All-Star team due to always playing for mediocre teams (the Warriors of years past and now the Bucks). He fits both categories, big numbers and flashy explosive play. Ellis is in his 7th year. In his last three years with the Warriors (2008 through 2011) he has averaged 26, 24, and 22 points per game and 5, 5, 6 assist per game. This year with the Bucks he is averaging 19ppg, 6apg, and 4rpg. These are definitely All-Star numbers and surprising to see in six seasons of play he has yet to make an All-Star team.
What may be keeping Monta Ellis for making team? Statistically it’s his three point shooting. He has a career three point FG% of only 32% and this is below average for a shooting guard. This year he is shooting his second worst clip of his career from three at 26% (that’s really bad). The other thing is injuries. Ellis has yet to play a full 82 game season in his career and only played 64 out of 82 games in the 2009-10 season (his best statistical season). This year he has been healthy but he still plays for the Bucks. Monta may remain an All-Star underdog for the foreseeable future.
Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls (Center)
“Energy Guy”. Ask any NBA player, the term “Energy Guy” is somewhat of a back-handed compliment. It’s like telling someone “Hey Bob, you look good, you lost of lot of weight since I last saw you”. What are you trying to say? That Bob looked like a fat slob the last time you saw him? “Energy Guy” is saying a player only brings energy and hustle to the team and the game, and nothing statistically measurable. Noah does bring the energy and hustle but also brings 13ppg, 11rpg, and 4apg in the 2012-13 season. He is arguably the best passing center in the game and is shooting 81% from the free throw line, which is like 90% for centers. Noah doesn’t have to be yanked out of the game in crunch time because he can’t hit free throws (I’m looking at you Dwight Howard).
Unlike most of the other people on this list, Noah probably would have made an All-Star team by now if it wasn’t for injuries. He has the bad luck of being frequently injured the first half of a season the last few years. But like Brook Lopez, Noah is healthy this season, and with a lack of healthy all-star caliber big men in eastern conference, an All-Star selection is looking good.
O.J. Mayo – Dallas Mavericks (Shooting Guard)
O.J. Mayo embodies the concept of being an “underdog”. He has the skills and production to be an All-Star. Mayo started for the Memphis Grizzlies his first two seasons (the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons). His stat line those years are 19 and 18 points per game, 3apg, and 4rpg. Those were all-star worthy numbers. But All-Star nods, historically, don’t go to rookie and sophomore players, so this makes sense.
But what happened his 3rd and 4th year with Memphis? His numbers dipped significantly to 11 and 12 points per game. Was it injuries? Mayo played 71 out of 82 games his 3rd year and played all 66 games (shortened season) his 4th year. So what is it? Why did his numbers drop so drastically?
He got sent to the bench.
The Grizzlies made changes to their line up after much debate on who was going to be “go to guy”, Rudy Gay or O.J. Mayo. The Grizzlies went with Rudy Gay and made O.J. Mayo come off the bench. I don’t necessarily understand why when Gay’s numbers are not really better than Mayo’s. Maybe you go with Gay because he has a 6’8 frame so he can play more of that Kobe or Carmelo role (O.J. Mayo stands at 6’4)? If I was the coach I would have just started both of them since they don’t play the same position, Mayo at shooting guard and Gay at small forward. But at the end of the day Memphis wasn’t big enough for the both of them and Mayo got traded to Dallas where he is starting this year. And it’s no coincidence he is putting up numbers not seen since his rookie and sophomore years (18ppg, 4apg, and 4rpg). Unfortunately, with Dallas being under .500, Mayo will remain under the radar. I hope the only guy in the league with a name that always makes me a little hungry when I read it, can finally get some all-star love.
Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies (Small Forward)
After putting O.J. Mayo on this list it’s only now right to mention Rudy Gay. I don’t quite understand how a player that makes the U.S. World Championship Tournament team in 2010 doesn’t make the All-Star game in any of the 6 previous seasons he has played in the league, but the truth is he hasn’t. His stats speak for themselves. As the “go to guy” on a winning team, Gay has a career average of 18ppg and 6rpg while shooting 45% from the field, the same as his averages this year.
James Harden – Houston Rockets (Combo Guard)
This is only his 4th year in the league so I know there really hasn’t been too much time allotted to label the fact Harden has never made an All-Star game as being a “snub” however I do believe he should have made the team last year (I mean he was on the Team USA Olympic basketball team). Harden played a vital role in the Thunder’s success and run to the NBA Finals last year, averaging 17ppg, 4apg, 4rpg while shooting a sizzling 49% from the field. However, Harden played with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma and it’s tough playing in the shadows of such dynamic players. Voters and coaches are always reluctant to choose more than two players to the All-Star game from any one team; however the Celtics once had four players make the All-Star game in recent history (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Garnett).
Harden was traded to and now plays for the Houston Rockets. As a starter with the Rockets he is averaging eleven more minutes a game than he averaged in the three years with the Thunder. More minutes mean more opportunity to stuff the stats and that’s what he has done. Harden now averages a whopping 27ppg (top 5 in the league), 5apg, and 4rpg.
David Lee – Golden State Warriors (Center)
David Lee is the only player on this list that has been to an All-Star game but only once out of 8 seasons (the 2009-10 season). And it almost doesn’t count. He only made the team to “replace” Allen Iverson, which shows he was never officially chosen by the coaches or fans ever in his career. He still makes this list because I feel like David Lee got the “Oscar Sympathy” pick (or replacement). You know in the Academy Awards where an Actor is long overdue for a Best Actor award. The Actor should have won it for previous movies but gets it for his current movie, even though his performance was better in the previous movies. The Academy says “okay we missed this one last year; let’s just give it to the guy this year”.
The problem is and the reason why I have Lee on this list is because I fear the “Academy” (the NBA) will feel like “okay we let him have one, we don’t ever have to select him again”. He’s not a flashy player but I don’t think that should be used against him. I thought Kevin Love broke the barrier for big, athletically limited, but yet skilled white guys but I can’t help but feel that’s what contributes to David Lee being overlooked for an All-Star selection. His best year was with the Knicks in the 2009-10 season where he averaged 20ppg, 12rpg, and 4apg. He’s a consistent “20 and 10” guy and consistent 20 and 10 big men should make the All-Star team, consistently. When he was with the Knicks he played in a conference where the only real dominate big man at the time was Dwight Howard. I think a center putting up 20 and 12 is worthy of backing up Dwight Howard. The interesting thing is Dwight Howard is a 100% sure lock for an All-Star spot every year while Lee whom averages the same points per game and only couple rebounds less a game can’t even get noticed. I know Howard’s defensive superiority over Lee gives him that much more deserving recognition but I plea can Lee please be the backup for Dwight Howard in the All-Star game this year.
I know there are several more players that can be considered All-Star worthy that were not mentioned, however I feel this is a good list of players that either get completely overlooked or have been long overdue to make the team. Feel free to add a player to the list and mention why you feel he may have been snubbed from my own list of snubs in the comments section.