The NBA announced its All-Star reserves on Thursday night, thus finalizing the Eastern and Western Conference rosters that will take the court in a couple weeks in New Orleans. While many deserving players made the cut, there were several equally worthy guys stuck on the outside looking in.
The fiery tradition of arguing over All-Star snubs often has a way of outweighing the interest in the actual game, and this year should be no different. Some of the snubs this time around are of massive proportions. Seriously, Anthony Davis should have been a lock with the season he’s having and with the game happening in New Orleans where he plays. Adam Silver’s first important job as commissioner will be to fix this when he picks a replacement for the injured Kobe Bryant.
While you could easily make the case for about a dozen different players that should’ve made it, there are two point guards in particular that stand out for having stepped up their game to an All-Star level this year, while dragging their respective teams that no one believed in into relevance and playoff contention.
Missing the Point on Two Point Guards
Of course, the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Suns’ Goran Dragic are no strangers to lineup controversy. The two will forever be connected due to the year and a half they played together in Houston and fought each other for point guard minutes.
Lowry was the starter for the Rockets at the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, but he missed a month late in the season because of a sports hernia and torn abductor muscles. While he was out, Dragic, a perennial backup at the time, seized the opportunity, put up respectable numbers, and led the Rockets on a late push to make the playoffs. Lowry eventually came back, but Dragic kept the starting job until the end of the season. Things got tense as both players tried to show that they deserved the keys to the team and ultimately the Rockets fell short of the playoffs.
Houston went into the 2012 offseason with a very difficult decision on their hands. They had two starting-caliber point guards and neither of them would be happy coming off the bench. Lowry was under contract, but had developed a strained relationship with Coach Kevin McHale over losing his starting job. Dragic was an unrestricted free agent and had increased his value around the NBA to the point that the Rockets would likely be unable to pay him what he was worth, nor would they want to just to have him be part of a point-guard platoon with Lowry.
Ultimately, the Rockets decided to blow it up and lost both guards. They traded Lowry to the Raptors for a future first-round draft pick (which the Rockets later used in the James Harden trade) and let Dragic walk when he signed a four-year contract with the Suns. Since then, both point guards have flourished for their new teams, no more so than this season. They might not be All-Stars this year, but they've certainly acted like they are.
The Down-low on K-Low
Lowry had a relatively slow start to the year, playing on a Raptors team that let the ball stick a little bit too much on offense and had yet to find its defensive identity. He averaged a respectable 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals, and 2.2 three-pointers per game over that stretch, but his .407 shooting from the field wasn’t exactly making him a strong All-Star candidate. His bid was actually non-existent at that time, when you consider how his Raptors started the year with a thud, opening up with a disappointing 6-12 record in a weak Eastern Conference.
Of course, as we all know by now, all that changed when Rudy Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings. The Raptors have enjoyed a resurgence as of late, flipping the script entirely with an impressive 18-9 record since the trade. They went from having the 16th-best defensive rating (102.1), the 19th-best offensive rating (101.0), and 18th-best net rating (-1.0) to being 11th on offense (106.0), 5th on defense (99.6), and having the league’s 5th-best net rating (6.4). The turnaround has been a total team effort, but Kyle Lowry has undeniably been the most valuable cog in that machine.
Since the trade, Lowry has posted averages of 18.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, and 2.8 three-pointers per game, while shooting .455 from the field, .431 from downtown, and .792 from the line. He has impressively raised his season numbers to the point where he is now among the league leaders in many important advanced stat categories, especially those that measure a player’s overall efficiency and impact on his team.
Lowry currently sits at eighth in the league in assists per game and ninth in assist percentage (35.4). Previous concerns over whether or not he had what it took to be a starting point guard in this league and an effective floor general seem like a distant memory. He currently sits at sixth on our NBA Player Rankings with an impressive nERD of 13.2. That also places him third among all Eastern Conference players and first among Eastern guards.
Presented without comment: Joe Johnson is currently 82nd on our rankings with a nERD of -0.7.
K-Low has been one of the most effective players this season (particularly on the offensive end), ranking fifth in offensive rating (121.7), fourth in offensive win shares (5.3), fifth in total win shares (7.3), and sixth in win shares per 48 minutes (.216). He’s first among Eastern guards in every single one of those categories and only trails All-Star staples LeBron James and Paul George among all Eastern Conference players on either list.
Lowry’s omission from the Eastern All-Star squad might be one of the biggest oversights in years. All the numbers point to Lowry being the most effective guard in the East and possibly one of the best players in the entire NBA this season. This is certainly not to detract from his teammate DeMar DeRozan’s selection, but the Raptors currently sit at third in the East with a record of 24-21 and the case could certainly be made that they have warranted two All-Stars. If one of the Eastern Conference All-Stars suffers an injury between now and All-Star Weekend, Lowry should be the first in line as an injury replacement.
Meanwhile, out West, Dragic and the Suns have been enjoying a surprising season of their own. With a record of 28-18, the Suns have already crushed the win total of 19.5 that Las Vegas’ over/under odds had them pegged at to start the season (they beat it on January 4th, for what it’s worth). That record has them at sixth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference; a feat that exactly no one even came close to predicting before the season started.
Dragic has led his team through big changes and a pessimistic outlook to help them to become one of the most competitive teams in the NBA this year. This season was viewed by practically everyone as a rebuilding year for the Suns. The talent pool was considered rather weak, no one expected Dragic and other ball-dominant guard Eric Bledsoe to be able to co-exist, and most people were just keeping an eye on the future and all the upcoming draft picks that the Suns had managed to accumulate for the 2014 Draft.
To say that the Suns have turned their fortunes around ahead of schedule would constitute as one of the biggest understatements of the year. Their net rating of 4.1 is the eighth-best in the league, due to the strength of their potent offense (eighth in offensive rating at 106.7) and serviceable defense (12th in defensive rating at 102.6). The Dragic and Bledsoe experiment was proving to be a complete success, until Bledsoe went down with a meniscus injury and subsequently needed surgery to start 2014.
Once it was determined that Bledsoe was going to miss a large chunk of time, people began to once again count out the Suns as playoff contenders. Dragic has responded with a vengeance, keeping his team afloat with a respectable 9-7 January record during the absence of one of the team’s best players. Over that span, Dragic has posted All-Star-caliber averages of 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.8 three-pointers per game, while shooting the lights out at a clip of .522 from the field, .460 from deep, and .747 from the line.
This run has helped raise his season numbers into elite territory as well. His 22.0 player efficiency rating has him at 13th in the NBA, but more importantly at third among Western guards (and guards in general for that matter), trailing only Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. He is second in the NBA among point guards in both true shooting percentage (.600) and effective field goal percentage (.549), behind only Joe Calderon (who incidentally shoots roughly two-thirds as many shots as Dragic and shoulders far less of the offensive load for his team).
Dragic’s nERD of 9.8 has him at 12th on our NBA Player Rankings and once again at third among Western guards. He’s eighth in the league in assists per game (7.4), 18th in scoring (19.9 points per game), and 11th in offensive rating (118.8). He’s sixth in offensive win shares (5.0), 11th in total win shares (6.1), and ninth in win shares per 48 minutes (.196). I hate to sound like a broken record, but the only Western guards that place ahead of him in either of those three telling categories are (you guessed it) CP3 and Steph Curry.
The Western Conference is absolutely loaded with talent this season and it was inevitable that there would be some huge snubs when the rosters were announced. While former All-Stars like Tim Duncan and David Lee are among the first names that come to mind for many people, Dragic is making his case as one of the players out West who was perhaps most deserving of a spot and his first All-Star nod. There will inevitably be a player selected to replace the injured Kobe Bryant on the Western squad in the coming weeks and if Adam Silver decides to go guard-for-guard instead of the Anthony Davis route, Dragic should be next in line.
Another year, another controversy over the All-Star selections. It’s certainly a good problem to have that the league has so many talented guys that they don’t fit on two 12-man rosters, but we arguably have to get better at choosing who goes on these squads. At the very least, we need to find a method that is less refutable and brings more credence to the selection honor that goes on a player’s career résumé.
Last week, I discussed what it would be like if the All-Star teams were chosen by an advanced metric, like our own nERD algorithm (here are the East and West results of such a practice, if you’re interested). It may not be a perfect method yet (our squads left Dragic off as recently as a week ago, but he has leapfrogged James Harden and Damian Lillard since that time), but at least the selections would have statistical proof to back them up. Now we’re stuck talking about how much human error on the part of the fans and coaches has, in a way, constructed two teams that are arguably not representative of this year’s best and brightest stars.
I simply don’t want to live in a world where guys like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic aren’t All-Stars and Joe Johnson is (at least not this season). In any case, we’re in for superb second halves from each of these former teammates, as they both look to prove just how wrong we have all been about them.
Stay tuned for numberFire’s Bryan Mears and his take on the snubbing of two other deserving All-Stars.