All-Star TeamsBy Kevin Pelton
Jan. 28, 2002
First off, this week, let me apologize for the tardiness of this column. A tragic confluence of four Sonics games, two UW home games, a website to run, a paper due, and some desire to have a life left me unable to write before this evening. I'd promise it won't happen again, but I know it will.
Anyways, let's get down to business. Without a lot of time to look at something interesting and new, I'll stick fairly middle-of-the-road this week with a timely discussion of who I would select for the All-Star team that seems likely to generate at least a little controversy.
I'll start with the Western Conference, since my hometown team plays in that conference and thus I follow it slightly more. The starters, as voted in by the fans:
PG Steve Francis (81 VORP)
It's pretty hard to find much fault with that group of players, though there has been some hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth in my own fair city because of the omission of Gary Payton in favor of Steve Francis. If I were doing the picking myself, I would probably objectively pick Payton myself, but that's mostly because Francis has been injured all season. There's no rule that says the voters need to pick the player who has been most productive; it's quite possible, much as it pains me to say this, that Francis has already passed up Payton. If I were doing things, I might have substituted Dirk Nowitzki (currently leading the NBA with 237 VORP) for Kevin Garnett, but that's almost splitting hairs. It's not as if Garnett is a leper or something.
For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to work with the starters as selected by the fans no matter what, so let's move on to the reserves.
With Finley currently injured and having an off-season anyway, I think there are only three players that really belong in an All-Star discussion: Brent Barry, Wally Szczerbiak, and Bonzi Wells. That's two outside shooters extraordinaire who don't play much defense and a strong all-around player. VORP narrows it down to Barry and Szczerbiak, with Wells way behind because of injuries and Portland's depth at the swingman positions. Barry and Szczerbiak are extremely close, with a point advantage, 136-135 to Barry. I'd say that because Barry is a more multi-talented player, I'd take him over Szczerbiak in one of the most surprising All-Star picks ever. The fact that he's one of my favorite players doesn't hurt.
Only two guys stand out to me as being all-star worthy out of this group, Robinson (90) and LaFrentz (103). I personally think Robinson's a center in name only, but that's a matter for another time. Robinson and LaFrentz are both good shot blockers, but Robinson's clearly a much better one-on-one defender than LaFrentz in my opinion. On that, and, again, years of service, Robinson gets the nod.
So, your Statistical Side of the NBA West All-Stars:
Now, it is true I've taken only one player from Minnesota and none from Sacramento, both of whom are near the top of the conference, but I've always viewed the All-Star game as an individual reward. Team performance should play some factor -- that also weighed against LaFrentz -- but it should not force us to pick undeserving players. Well, maybe in hindsight I might have gone Stojakovic as the third forward, but whatever.
Off to the Eastern Conference, where there is only some truth to the rumor that the fans would have done a better job of voting had they simply done it randomly. It seems as if voters lent more importance to reputation as opposed to actual performance in the Eastern Conference, but perhaps that's because the severely overrated players are in the East. The starters we're forced to take (from a statistical perspective; as a fan, I want to see Jordan just as much as anyone, of course):
PG Allen Iverson (101 VORP)
Like me, you readers out in computer-land may be saying to yourselves, "Gee, those are awfully low, aren't they?" Indeed they are, but a better analysis of how well/poorly the fans voted comes from looking at each player's rank by position. For this purpose, I flip-flopped Jordan and Carter to SF and SG, respectively, with Iverson also a SG. Here are the rankings:
Iverson: 7, SG
Technically speaking, Walker's the only 'correct' starter, but I'm not beholden to VORP by any stretch of the imagination; it's merely a piece of the information I'm interested in, albeit a simple way of comparing players. In the case of both Carter and Iverson, they're both having off seasons as compared to last year. Two weeks ago, I called Iverson the 10th-15th best player in the NBA; that assuredly would make him worthy of starting . . . for the East. Jordan is an extremely special case, and I don't really have a problem with him starting. That leaves Mutombo. I know there are a lot of people out there who think that Dikembe Mutombo is an excellent center. I just don't happen to be amongst them. Mutombo's 67 VORP makes him really only about an average starter. I'm willing to grant him quite a bit of leeway based on his defensive ability, but enough to get him to 100? I think not. There are three centers with about 110 VORP so far this season -- Chicago's Brad Miller (113), Charlotte's Elden Campbell (111), and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal (109). O'Neal's the best defensive player of the group, but he also plays a fairly significant part of his time at power forward, so I feel it fair to throw him out. Between Miller and Campbell, I'd go with Campbell, mostly because of the fact that this is probably the only time he'll have a chance to make an All-Star game, and I'd like to have that happen. He'd be my starter. To the backups.
How would I compare these two players (assuming they played similar minutes, which in reality they have)? Looking at the shooting percentages, as well as scoring averages, it occurs to me that Player B is a significantly better scorer than Player A. The higher assists and assist/to ratio tell me that Player B is likely a better distributor than Player A as well. Player A owns distinct advantages in rebounding and steals, but based on just the information I see here, I'd have to conclude definitively that Player B was a better player.
As I'm quite sure you've already figured out, this is a trick, and a dirty one. Player A is Ason (still no J, look at that ugly 36.6% from the field!) Kidd, while Player B is Andre Miller of Cleveland. Are you going to sit here and tell me you picked Player A, just by the statistics? I didn't think so. Yes, New Jersey has improved significantly this year, but Kidd is just a part of that improvement. Todd MacCulloch has shored up the center position after being signed as a free agent, Kenyon Martin has improved in his second season (as could be expected), and Kerry Kittles' return has also bolstered New Jersey. Kidd has undoubtedly improved the Nets defensively, as he is one of the league's better defensive guards. But good enough to be a better player than Miller? In my humble opinion, no.
And, of course, that's taking the leap of faith that Miller is the best point guard in the East, which is no closed book. Miller ranks second in VORP to Milwaukee's Sam Cassell (136 to 129, with Kidd incidentally at 66). I'm not convinced Cassell is the best pint in the East either. I'd say it's between him and Miller, with Kidd and Charlotte's Baron Davis fighting it out to be the third best. Of course, I could be way wrong on this, and I'm sure I'll get e-mail to that effect.
So, Miller and Cassell are two of my guards, since the starters are both shooting guards by trade. That leaves one more shooting guard. The two main contenders are Reggie Miller (171) and Ray Allen (159). Because he plays for a better team, has historically been better, and is, in my opinion, a better defender, I'm going with Allen at this spot. It does pain me to leave off Miller, who I think is rather underrated.
So, your Statistical Side of the NBA East All-Stars:
So, again a top team gets the ole' screw-gee from the Statistical Side of the NBA, in this case the New Jersey Nets. In my opinion, however, this is both fair and fitting. Why? Because, to me, the Nets' success is really based on a true 'team' effort, as they have five solid starters, but no excellent ones. And besides, they already have Byron Scott as the coach.
Thus concludes another column. Nets/Kidd fans and anyone with an idea for a future column, direct your complaints and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When he's not covering the Seattle SuperSonics for SonicsCentral.com or BskBALL.com, Kevin Pelton is crunching statistics for his weekly column at ProSportsWriters.net. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.