by Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
Tonight will kick off NBA All-Star weekend, an event that will draw thousands of fans to New Orleans and millions more to their televisions, as the league’s greatest players go head to head in a game that has no real reward but bragging rights.
This year, players were selected based on a new voting metric that splits the votes three ways. Fifty percent of the vote would be up to the fans, 25 percent to the other players in the league and the last 25 percent to members of the media. The lucky few selected will forever bear the title “All-Star,” a designation that will go on to define their career’s legacy. So is it really smart to leave such a big responsibility to the fans?
The All-Star game itself is a meaningless exercise, not to say that it’s not a lot of fun. Ignore the defense, let the players have fun and show off, give the fans what they love and bring in the all-important revenue for the league. Just don’t act like the All-Star title should be used as an actual measurement of a player’s status.
In its current format, All-Star voting is a pure popularity contest that runs the risk of excluding good players in order to put a fan favorite on TV. Case in point: the Golden State Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia.
Basketball-Reference.com is one of the Internet’s largest basketball statistics databases. Of the dozens of stats they track, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is “a measure of per-minute production” that ranks a score of 15 as average. This season Pachulia has a PER of 15.8, 68th among the league’s qualifying big men. Players ahead of him include rotation players like Cristiano Felicio, Tobias Harris and Golden State teammate David West.
How did a center that’s averaging less than six rebounds per game earn more votes than anyone else in Western Conference Frontcourts? The answer is nationality. Pachulia hails from the country of Georgia, a former soviet state of 4.4 million people that sits between Europe and Asia. Pachulia is the NBA’s only active Georgian, a fact that the people of his homeland take very seriously. “It’s such an overwhelming situation,” Pachulia said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “You’re not talking about a couple of thousand (votes). There’s hundreds of thousands…the whole country’s involved in it.”
Meanwhile, Utah center Rudy Gobert didn’t even crack the top 10 in fan voting. This comes despite a PER of 22.1 and more points, assists, blocks and rebounds per game than Pachulia.
What’s the answer for determining a true All-Star? Obviously, the league is not going to scrap the entire fan vote and jeopardize the moneymaker that is All-Star Weekend. At the same time, the All Star title is a lot more hollow if stuffing the ballot box is all it takes to get a player selected. Weighting who starts based on player and media voting is a good step, Zaza was left on the bench after those votes came in, but it’s not all that could be done.
Long term, making separate accolades for the media and fan votes would be a better way of judging player’s legacies. The always unapologetic NBA great Charles Barkley didn’t sugarcoat his thoughts about fan voting during a rant on Inside the NBA. “The fans get it wrong every single time,” he said.
While he can be blunt, this year’s voting might give him some credibility. Leave the fans to vote on selecting players they want to see play in the East vs. West game, and let media, players and coaches decide who really is All- Star caliber.