Fans recently voted in their starters for the NBA All-Star Game in February and, as usual, there were some questionable decisions.
One player you could make a case for is Kevin Durant – possibly the best player in the league. Durant has played incredibly well when he’s been on the court, but considering he’s missed more than half of his team’s games, I didn’t have a big problem with him not being named as a starter.
Overall, I think the Eastern Conference selections were fine. A few guards such as Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, or Jeff Teague could have fit, but the picks of John Wall and Kyle Lowry work just as well for me. Wall still has turnover issues, but also leads the league in assists and steals. Swapping out Pau Gasol in favor of Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic also is a move that could be justified, but it’s difficult to argue too strongly for that, too.
In the Western Conference, however, fans didn’t get it right. Two players missed the cut when they should have been included.
Topping the list of this year’s snubs by the fans is the Houston Rockets’ James Harden. At 27.3 points per game, Harden leads not only his conference, but the entire league, in scoring. Since joining the Rockets three years ago after a backup role in Oklahoma City, his game has flourished and he has become one of the league’s best players. This season, Harden is having his best year yet.
Those aforementioned 27.3 points per game are a career-high, but so are his 5.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists. Harden is shooting a solid 45 percent from the field despite being the focal point of the offense, and his 89 percent from the free throw line are a career-best, too. His team is also playing well, and currently the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, is only 1 1/2 games back of 31-12 Memphis for the No. 2 spot.
As disappointing as the choice to pass on Harden was, it’s even more frustrating to see the person the fans chose over him – Kobe Bryant.
The Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry was also selected to start in the backcourt, but that was understandable given the year he is having. Nominating Bryant over Harden is the one that raises eyebrows.
Bryant’s selection isn’t unexpected, of course. Fans (as they have the right to do, by the way) have voted him purely on what he’s done in his career and certainly not in this season. That has happened for years and this is hardly the first time we’ve seen something as irrational as this.
At 22.3 points per game, Bryant is averaging the fewest number of points since his third season in the league in 1999-00. Worse still is that he’s become a completely inefficient player, averaging only 37 percent from the field. To put that into perspective a little, he’s never shot below 41 percent in his entire career. Even in the early days when Bryant was still honing his game and hoisting up questionable shots, he was still making considerably more of them than he is this year.
That he isn’t the same player he was five years ago, of course, isn’t his fault since Father Time has caught up with him. What Bryant hasn’t done, though, is adjust his game to the point where he’s doing less offensively. On a lackluster team, instead of doing less, he’s been trying to do more. A good example of that is his work beyond the arc, where he’s still hoisting up more than five three-pointers per game, despite the fact that he has connected on fewer than 30 percent of them (one of the worst averages of his career).
The good news is that Harden should still start the game since Bryant is expected to miss the game with an injury. Still, that doesn’t make up for the fact that fans slotted him above Harden, which is borderline criminal.
Cousins has been nothing short of dominant this season in Sacramento and also deserved a spot on the starting lineup. In the Western Conference, he ranks second in both scoring (24.2 points – tied with Anthony Davis) and rebounding (12.6) per game, and is third in each of those categories in the entire NBA. His 9.5 defensive rebounds per contest top the league, and he also averages about 1.5 blocks and steals per game as well.
The big knock on Cousins, of course, is the fact that the Sacramento Kings aren’t in serious contention for the playoffs, sitting nine games back from the final spot. However, there’s only so much that he can be held responsible for that and, in the end, is it really all that fair to penalize a player that is near the top of his league in both scoring and rebounding that much? Plus, the fans didn’t penalize Bryant, who has played on an even worse Lakers team.
The Cousins snub is a bit tricky since it means bouncing either Marc Gasol or Blake Griffin as Anthony Davis is pretty untouchable (even though, technically, Cousins averages the same amount of points as Davis and more rebounds per game). Even though Gasol and Griffin are having legitimately good seasons and are playing on better teams, however, Cousins has simply been better.
The good news is that both Harden and Cousins will undoubtedly make the roster when coaches make their picks in a few days. However, it is still a bit unfair that neither was voted as a starter in a year they clearly deserve it.