Why Kyle Lowry Got Hosed - NBA All-Star Rosters Observations

Published: Jan 31, 2014 20:14pm EST
By mds2929, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Jan 31, 2014 @ 08:14pm EST


It can be argued that when it comes time to assemble All-Star Game rosters, doing so in the NBA is both the easiest and the hardest of the four major professional sports. The game of basketball as a concept lends itself quite well to identifying the sport's best players, as there are only five players on the court and the cream of the crop often rises to the top given the ample opportunities provided players on both ends of the floor. Unlike in baseball or football, where an off-the-radar reliever or kick returner can deliver terrific stats in an ultra-small sample size, the most talented players in the NBA either sink or swim, limiting the selection pool fairly early in the season.

On the flip side, no sport plays with as small of a roster as does basketball, which can easily lead to an inordinate amount of extremely qualified players get squeezed out due to lack of space alone. While the NBA has 15 teams in each conference, only 12 players get selected for each All-Star roster. Contrast this with MLB (15 teams, 34 roster spots per league), the NFL (16 teams, 43 players per conference pre-format change), and the NHL (30 teams, 42 total players in the most recent game), each of which have a ratio of players per team far greater than that of the NBA.

While lack of roster space is a fair reason for omission, one we'll cover when it comes to the Western Conference this season, the majority of the NBA's poor roster decisions often boil down to a pair of biases - favoring/penalizing individuals for team success rather than individual achievement and going the safe route with "proven veterans" rather than introducing new blood into the mix. While, by and large, nearly every NBA All-Star roster is solidly assembled, there are always some major head-scratchers. In 2014, the Eastern Conference coaches turned out to be the primary culprits when it came to breaking out the bad selections.

Eastern Conference Starters

G  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
G  Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
F  Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
F  Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F  LeBron James, Miami Heat

Given how amazingly well Carmelo has shot the ball of late, there are now absolutely no nits to pick with the fans' selections for the East's frontcourt, although for the first time since the official elimination of the center position from ballots, a team will field a starting lineup devoid of a true low-post big man. With the frenetic pace at which these games are played, however, it shouldn't mean much. Despite the weakened state of the guard spot in the East, one can make a case that neither Irving nor Wade merits a starting spot.

Despite having missed 13 of Miami's 45 games, Wade is actually the less controversial of the two given his extremely efficient play during the occasions in which he has suited up for the two-time defending champs. Getting to start is a bit of a stretch when compared to individuals who have played every day, but ultimately it matters little. Irving, on the other hand, has quickly drifted into Steve Francis territory as a young gun we've been told is a budding superstar, yet hasn't made the hype translate into results on the court. Despite strong individual statistics, Irving registers a fairly pedestrian 6.1 apg and is a poor on-ball defender, a huge part of the reason why disappointing Cleveland has been one of the league's worst defensive teams. This is a great format for a player with Irving's skillset, but he's in danger of quickly drifting into the realm of "being famous for being famous."

Eastern Conference Reserves

G  DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
G  Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
G  John Wall, Washington Wizards
F  Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
F  Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
F  Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F  Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

The first thing that one should notice is that the seven reserve selections come from several separate teams, a fact that is almost certainly not coincidental. Aside from the Heat (32-13) and Pacers (35-10), no other Eastern Conference club is more than three games over .500, which quite likely made the coaches reticent to give anyone other than Indiana and Miami, which have five All-Stars between them, a second representative.

The Eastern Conference's lack of post presence in the starting lineup was made up for in spades, as four true post players grabbed reserve spots, all of whom are deserving. Hibbert, the anchor of Indiana's league-best defense, and Millsap, finally allowed to prove that he was more than just a rebounding machine who feasted on reserve units in Utah, were the easiest selections of the quartet. The ever-underrated Bosh and Chicago's ferocious high-energy stopper Noah have each had extremely efficient seasons to date, and neither really has a flaw worth mentioning as reason for omission. As such, while both Andre Drummond (well on his way to becoming the next Dwight Howard) and Al Jefferson (on a ridiculous run of high-scoring and big-rebounding contests) have legitimate claims, this is more of a case of there being a glut of interior players for too few spots.

That is not the case in the backcourt, however. Wall's first All-Star bid is not only well-deserved, the Wizards' do-everything point guard probably merits the right to start, as well. The same can not be said for either DeRozan or Johnson, both of whom are inferior choices to the trio of fellow guards listed in the next section.

Eastern Conference Snubs

G  Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
G  Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G  Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

Given both play and circumstances, there was no greater snub on either side of the league than Lowry, as the veteran point guard has come into his own (16.8 ppg, 58.7 true shooting %, 7.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.2 TO per game) to be the driving force behind Toronto's surge to the third best record in the East. Now a lethal presence on both ends of the floor after beginning his pro career as primarily a defensive presence, it's absolutely baffling to see not only Lowry's teammate DeRozan get pegged ahead of him, but Johnson, as well.

Both DeRozan and Johnson have upped their scoring level of late, but each remains the epitome of empty calorie producers for their clubs. While DeRozan has started to produce a little more across the board since the trade of Rudy Gay, he still lags behind Lowry in every meaningful category and has actually shot worse than his club's point guard, making the former USC's 21.6 ppg mark more volume scoring than anything else. At least that's better than Johnson's production, though, as the Nets' veteran shooting guard still has a below-average PER for the season despite a recent run of high-scoring efforts during Brooklyn's hot streak - and that methodology doesn't factor in defense!

The reasons for Lowry being excluded are fairly simple, yet extremely unfair. As in all sports, voters and coaches tend to latch on to simple concepts like point totals or "clutch shots," often ignoring all-around contributors. Factor in that it's likely that the coaches didn't want to reward a mediocre Raptors team with two selections, as well as Lowry's somewhat negative reputation, and things become quite clear.

Afflalo is a scoring-primary guard whose season-to-date stats rate out better than either of the two poor choices, but he was never going to sniff the roster given the dreadfulness of the Magic. As for Stephenson, his improvement has been remarkable, a guy once deemed a likely bust has already posted four triple-doubles and become a key anchor during the Pacers' hot start. Given that the coaches clearly don't follow advanced metrics, odds are that he wasn't squeezed for justifiable reasons (high TO rate for a lower-usage player), but rather the fact that Stephenson would've given Indiana three reps.

Western Conference Starters

G  Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
G  Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
F  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Technically, Kobe was the worst All-Star selection, a fact that Bryant himself acknowledged when imploring voters to elect other players given that the legend has only played six games thus far this year. In typical fan voting style, Curry was the only Western Conference guard to accrue more voters than Bryant, a welcome sight after strangely being snubbed last season in favor of teammate David Lee (a situation very similar to DeRozan/Lowry). Given that Bryant is likely to miss the game (which would open up a spot) and the fact that the frontcourt selections, led by MVP favorite Durant, were impeccable, it's fair to say that these selections worked out about as well as possible.

Western Conference Reserves

G  James Harden, Houston Rockets
G  Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G  Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
G  Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
F  LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
F  Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
F  Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Let's preface by noting that none of these seven players are undeserving of their roster spots, as, unlike in the East, any quibbles here come in the form of splitting hairs. Despite missing 15 of the Clippers' 49 games, Paul remarkably still ranks fourth in the West in terms of WARP and second in PER. If he's healthy, LAC's point guard is a no-brainer. Aldridge and Harden fit that bill, as well, with the former likely to receive down-ballot MVP consideration for the second place Blazers and the latter one of the game's most electric offensive talents (despite his defensive deficiencies).

The selection of the other four players does feel a little narrative-driven however, as they are extremely comparable to the following quartet of individuals who were omitted.

Western Conference Snubs

G  Mike Conley, Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
G  Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
F  DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
F  Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Going strictly on name value alone, it's easy to see why the coaches chose the way that they did. In the backcourt, Damian Lillard is the reigning Rookie of the Year and Tony Parker a former Finals MVP on the defending Western Conference champions, with each man helming the offense of a club currently tied for second out west. Contrast that with the reputations of Conley, Jr. and Dragic, two young veterans who have often been lumped into the second or third tier of floor generals, with the disappointing Grizzlies and surprising Suns not registering as well nationally as the Blazers' or Spurs' success.

Similarly, Howard's reputation remains that of the league's top center and Nowitzki is a former MVP, with each playing big roles for Texas clubs currently inside the playoff bubble. While Cousins and Davis were elite collegiate stars at Kentucky whose games have grown by leaps and bounds in 2013-14, neither the Kings nor the Pelicans will come close to reaching the playoffs. Similar to Mike Trout getting penalized in MLB's MVP voting, the weakness of Cousins' and Davis' teammates is held against them, which is unfair.

Of the four players in, Nowitzki and Parker are the two getting extra credit not only for individual reputation, but also the likelihood that the voters did not want to see an All-Star Game without a representative from the Mavs or Spurs. On the flip side, Davis (51.9% FG, 20.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.3 bpg) and Dragic (50% FG, 19.9 ppg, 6.1 apg) are probably the more brutal snubs. Not only has Davis quickly turned himself into one of the game's top two-way big men, the contest itself is being held in New Orleans and it's always more exciting when a "hometown guy" is in the mix. Dragic has been the motor behind Phoenix's still-inexplicable turnaround from expected tankapalooza participant to potential playoff club, with his individual numbers made all the more impressive when you realize that he's shared ballhandling duties with Eric Bledsoe for most of the year.

The upshot in the Western Conference is that with Bryant's likely withdrawal and possibly Paul's, as well, there could soon open up positions for both Davis and Dragic. The same is not true in the East, with Lowry's only hope of securing the bid he so richly deserves hinging on either a surprise injury or someone like Wade opting for rest in lieu of playing. For fairness' sake, let's hope for the latter.

Statistical sources: basketball-reference.com, ESPN.com


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