Analysis: It may be time to re-think NBA All-Star voting
It’s reasonable to think Chet Holmgren will be an NBA All-Star one day. He was a highly recruited high school player whose one year at Gonzaga was stellar enough for Oklahoma City to make him the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. He’s an obvious talent, an enormous talent.
And it’s terrible that Holmgren got hurt last summer and will miss the entirety of this season.
But evidently, his rehab has been going extremely well — since four NBA players say he should start next month’s All-Star Game.
That’s right. When NBA players were asked in recent weeks who should start their All-Star Game in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19, four of them said that Holmgren should, even though he has yet to make his NBA debut.
So, congratulations to everyone involved. It’s a new record: 330 different NBA players got a vote — either from themselves or their peers — saying they should be an All-Star starter. That’s 20 more than the number of players who got votes in 2021.
Keep in mind only 10 people will start the All-Star Game. There might be, at the most, 20 legitimate candidates for those starting nods. OK, let’s say it’s 30 players, even. That’s 300 less than the number of people who received votes.
That means a ton of votes were wasted, unserious, a joke.
This all started seven years ago, after almost 800,000 people stuffed the ballot boxes and nearly made Zaza Pachulia an All-Star starter. So the NBA changed the rules, going to a weighted formula — 50% is determined by fan votes, 25% by media votes, 25% by player votes.
The fans pretty much got who they wanted, as should always be the case. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum were the top seven fan vote-getters; they all were announced as starters when the list was revealed Thursday night. So did No. 9 Kyrie Irving, No. 10 Donovan Mitchell and No. 12 Zion Williamson.
No. 7 Joel Embiid didn’t make the cut, nor did No. 11 Anthony Davis.
Player votes were a big reason why Davis wasn’t a starter. Only 30 players voted for Davis among Western Conference frontcourt players, while 80 voted for Williamson. That made the difference.
But many of the 375 ballots returned by players were puzzling.
Chicago’s Lonzo Ball got four votes. Miami’s Omer Yurtseven got three votes. Jae Crowder, who is still a member of the Phoenix Suns in name only, got two votes. Denver’s Collin Gillespie and Portland’s Ibou Badji each got one vote.
Here’s what they all have in common: Like Holmgren, none has played this season.
There were other interesting — a polite way of saying odd, in this case — trends within the data. Only Jokic (58.7%), Antetokounmpo (58.7%) and James (51.5%) appeared on more than half of the All-Star ballots cast by NBA players this year.
The Phoenix Suns were hoping that guard Devin Booker would get consideration as a starter. He wasn’t close, probably in large part because he’s missed some time this season with injury.
“We know and the league knows and the players know,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “He’s the best (shooting) guard in the game and one of the best players in the game.”
Perhaps the players don’t know: Only 8.5% said Booker should be a starter.
Milwaukee’s Grayson Allen got four votes, which is one more than reigning NBA defensive player of the year Marcus Smart of Boston received. Yes, Allen has been a contributor to what the Bucks have done so far this year. He’s had his moments. He’s hit big shots. But it’s not a fine line between solid player and All-Star starter — it’s more like a crater.
There certainly could be a year where the irresponsible voting really costs somebody a spot. It won’t be this year. Certainly, arguments could be made for other players — Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, Ja Morant, Lauri Markkanen, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — as candidates to start.
They’ll all probably be All-Stars anyway.
The coaches will now decide the reserves; the votes for the starters no longer count for anything. Only the coaches’ ballots count toward the last seven All-Stars selected from each conference. And if someone has to bow out of the game because of injury, Commissioner Adam Silver chooses a replacement.
But hopefully, there will soon come a time when the players take the voting more seriously. If not, maybe the NBA needs to consider taking their vote away.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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