The NBA All-Star voting process is always an exercise in futility.
It turns into a popularity contest, often at the expense of players who either deserve to be rewarded for the work they've done while flying under the radar or who need to be recognized while playing in a small market.
But while it's frustrating, it's also fun.
The infuriating part is watching as your favorite player fails to earn a sufficient number of votes. Even if you know he isn't going to make the team, you still want to feel like he's getting credit for his stellar play.
The fun part is laughing at the hilarious decisions that are made by voters. That's what I'm focusing on here by predicting the five biggest snubs and surprises that will emerge when the first All-Star ballot results are made public.
For the purposes of this article, a snub is exactly what you'd expect: a player who doesn't receive nearly as many votes as he deserves. They're the guys who make you go, "Wait, people know they can vote for him, right?"
A surprise is the opposite, as the player in question is drawing far too much attention. They're the ones who make you exclaim, "How in the world did he get so many votes!?!"
Don't worry. There are plenty of each.
There always are.
Those two are deserving All-Star candidates, but so is Matthews. There's just one problem.
His name doesn't appear on the ballot.
That's right. Matthews can only get votes as a write-in candidate, which is pretty much a travesty. He never would have earned enough votes to actually go to the game, but that's irrelevant, as he at least should have generated a few for his fantastic start to the season.
While playing stellar perimeter defense, the 27-year-old shooting guard has averaged 16.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He's also shooting 52.9 percent from the field, a scorching 48.3 percent beyond the arc and 78.3 percent at the charity stripe.
Those are numbers that certainly point toward representation on the ballot. Excluding the write-in selections (which should turn up in bunches thanks to upset Portland fans), Matthews is unquestionably going to receive fewer votes than Jamal Crawford, Steve Nash, J.J. Redick, Ricky Rubio and Greivis Vasquez.
And that's just among the Western Conference guards...
Kobe Bryant does not deserve to be an All-Star this season.
There. I said it. There's no taking it back at this point.
All-Star selections may be a popularity contest, but they're still supposed to honor the players who actually played well during the season in question. A historical body of work shouldn't make an impact when selecting a 2013-14 All-Star.
It's an award mired in the present, even if the voting comes—in my opinion—far too early in the season.
Thus far, Kobe has played in two games. Two. That's it.
During those games, the Los Angeles Lakers have gone 0-2 with losses to the shorthanded Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns. The Mamba himself has averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 40 percent from the field.
He's barely played, and he certainly hasn't put up All-Star numbers. Yet he's going to draw votes because he's Kobe [insert word I can't write here but certainly isn't "Bean"] Bryant.
This isn't what it's about.
Arron Afflalo hasn't gotten much recognition during his red-hot start to the season, and that'll inevitably carry over to the first results from the All-Star voting.
Not many people voluntarily watch the Orlando Magic, even when nothing else is on. It's an understandable decision, especially in recent days, but it's also an unfortunate one. After all, it's impossible to witness Afflalo's transition from inevitable trade fodder into a potential All-Star without tuning in to a Magic broadcast.
He's becoming the player everyone once thought he could become.
You know, back when he was with the Denver Nuggets and sparking debates about who had the brighter future, himself or James Harden. I kid you not. There was once a serious conversation in the Hoops-Nation community forums about which player was more valuable.
Afflalo is finally starting to live up to the outdated hype, but he's also putting a new spin on the tree-in-the-woods question.
If a player averages 21.4 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting when no one is watching, did he actually average 21.4 points per game?
I vote yes. The All-Star votes will inevitably—and unfortunately—point toward no.
Newflash: Michael Carter-Williams hasn't kept up with the ridiculous—and impossible—expectations that he set for himself at the start of his rookie campaign.
Remember when he debuted against the Miami Heat and proved all the doubters wrong, at least for one game? That seems like a long time ago, and MCW has predictably declined since then.
In fact, he's now averaging 17.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and a league-best 3.1 steals per game. Great numbers for anyone, much less a rookie. But his 40.8 percent shooting from the field—driven by a serious regression to the mean from downtown—and 3.7 turnovers per game do put a damper on the output.
MCW should still be the prohibitive favorite for Rookie of the Year, even with his knee holding him to just 15 games played thus far, but he doesn't deserve to be one of those rare rookie All-Stars. Despite that, he became one of the NBA faithful's golden boys after his promising start to the season, and he's still trendy enough to entice quite a few into voting.
He'll be one of the leading write-in candidates, even though that's wasting a vote that should be spent on a more deserving guard.
Ty Lawson was handed a heaping plate of responsibility just prior to the 2013-14 season.
Not only was he going to be running the show for Brian Shaw, who would inevitably be changing things up from how George Karl designed the offense he'd grown comfortable in, but he also had to do it without Andre Iguodala. The versatile swingman who departed for the Golden State Warriors took on a lot of the ball-handling duties, and those now fell to Lawson.
Well, he hasn't disappointed. In fact, he's exceeded the expectations by a rather large margin while asserting himself as one of the NBA's more dominant point guards.
Lawson is averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 assists per game, and he's doing so while adding another 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals on a nightly basis. The speedy point guard is using pick-and-roll sets more effectively than ever before thanks to his newfound penchant for changing directions and bursting into the lane with a zig-zag pattern.
If you watch the Nuggets, you'll see how Lawson controls everything when he's on the court. The offense is his baby, and he makes sure that it's as well nurtured as can be.
He's blossomed into one of the league's best point guards, but he still doesn't get much national attention. Maybe NBA fans are biased against short players or something.
There's only one member of the Brooklyn Nets who deserves to get any All-Star consideration, and his name is Brook Lopez.
The big man has been a dominant offensive force for this underwhelming New York-based team (wait, that's not specific enough), but he's not the biggest name on the team. That honor would belong to either Deron Williams, Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett.
Not a single member of that trio belongs in the discussion.
Pierce missed time with a broken hand, and he's been ineffective even when healthy. KG looks like a shell of his old shelf, and he's been scarily unable to make an impact on the defensive end of the court. Williams was great in his return against the Boston Celtics, but he's suited up only 10 times all season.
Well, D-Will has suited up far more often than that, but he was wearing an actual suit when he did so.
Due both to the popularity of this team and the household-name status of the players who comprise the aforementioned trio, someone is going to end up with a lot of votes. And it's a shame, because those votes could be better served in support of someone who actually deserves to play in the midseason classic.
Plus, there's always a chance that Pierce or KG could crumple into dust if asked to play one extra game.
Just as Ty Lawson has done with the Denver Nuggets, Mike Conley has flown under the radar for the Memphis Grizzlies while becoming "the man."
Take a look at his usage rate, assist percentage and turnover percentage over the last three seasons, courtesy of Basketball-Reference, and you can see just how far the southpaw has come as the leader of the offense:
Last year, Conley struggled with more responsibility. This year, nothing could be further from the truth, as the Ohio State product is touching the ball more, turning it over less and creating offense for his teammates with astounding frequency.
On top of that, Conley is averaging a career-high 17.6 points per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field, which is also the best mark he's posted since joining the Association. As if that wasn't enough already, he's sweetening the deal with only 1.9 turnovers per game.
Conley has turned into one of the Western Conference's best floor generals, but you'd never guess it based on the lack of discussion he generates around the league. You hear about plenty of other players before him, and he's the true forgotten member of the elite class.
Something tells me that'll lead to far too few votes.
Carmelo Anthony deserves to be on the All-Star team.
That's abundantly clear thanks to his 25.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He's been getting a lot of criticism this year as the New York Knicks struggle around him, and I'll continue to be one of his staunchest defenders. 'Melo is trying to play unselfish basketball, but the futility of the offensive options around him and their tendency to pass the ball right back to him is forcing him into that "hero ball" mentality.
But despite defending him, I'd never argue that Anthony deserves to be a starting frontcourt member for the Eastern Conference.
Not this year. Not when LeBron James, Paul George and others are waiting to take those spots. Hell, Andre Drummond and Roy Hibbert deserve starting spots before one is handed out to this particular volume shooter.
But Anthony plays in the biggest market there is: New York. And the votes will flow in accordingly, especially when compared to the Indiana Pacers, who get passionate in small doses.
If you're an Indiana fan, there's no point in trying to deny it. I'll just point to the embarrassing attendance numbers, and we know you don't want to go there.
Yep, we're going with two members of the Orlando Magic in our "surprise" section.
Nikola Vucevic joins Arron Afflalo, simply because too few people have tuned into Magic games for them to recognize the amount he's improved. This third-year big man has developed into an unquestioned stud at his position, and that's not going to change anytime soon.
Averaging 14.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, the USC product continues to look like a major draft steal. Or trade steal, if you're the Magic. He's also shooting 54.4 percent from the field while blocking and stealing the ball 1.1 times apiece.
Only 10 players in the NBA are putting up those defensive numbers, per Basketball-Reference, and it's an impressive list of versatile defenders. Therein lies his biggest improvement, as he's slowly becoming less of a liability on the less glamorous end of the court.
Vucevic deserves more credit than he's getting, which—quite frankly—isn't much at all.
But hey, at least he appears on the ballot!
Kyrie Irving in no way deserves to be an All-Star this year.
You can point to his 20.5 points per game while trying to make your case, but there's so much more working in favor of my argument. Let's run through it:
- All-Stars who specialize in scoring don't get held scoreless in any one game.
- His assists per game are only up to 6.0.
- He's shooting 40.7 percent from the field.
- Irving's PER is down from 21.4 (both in his rookie and sophomore season) to 17.4, which is only slightly above the league-average mark of 15.
- He has just 1.0 win share this season. According to Basketball-Reference, 132 players in the league are beating that total.
- "Defense" is still a foreign word.
Points don't necessarily equal value. Rudy Gay has learned that the hard way, and Irving is quickly going to lose his fan-favorite status if his scoring doesn't start leading to wins.
Right now, you're looking at the most overrated player in basketball.