The 2014 NBA All-Star Game will be unlike anything the hoops world has ever seen before.
The starting lineups, announced during a special edition of NBA Tip-Off on TNT Thursday, feature four first-time fan selections...and not a single traditional center.
This All-Star crop is younger and smaller than recent versions, yet every bit as exciting as the game's greats that came before. The league hasn't changed, so much as it's evolved.
And us fortunate fans have clearly taken note.
No More Centers
The writing was on the wall.
Last season marked the first time in league history that position designations were dropped for frontcourt players on the All-Star ballot. Rather than choosing two forwards and a center, fans had their pick of any three "frontcourt" players.
History was made again this season as forwards claimed all of the available frontcourt positions, leaving NBA centers out in the cold—and not very happy about it. Per the Chicago Bulls' Nazr Mohammed:
The fact that there are no centers in either starting five is easily the most jarring thing coming out of this announcement. Even in a downsizing league, you would think the fans could have found one starting spot for a traditional 5.
Truth be told, they almost did.
Houston Rockets big man Dwight Howard (653,318 votes) fell fewer than 8,000 votes short of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love's total (661,246), via NBA.com. Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert claimed the fourth-most votes among Eastern Conference frontcourt players, although the gap between his total (524,809) and Carmelo Anthony's (935,702) was significantly larger.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey blamed a flawed system for Howard's exclusion:
The numbers don't exactly agree with the executive. If Love wasn't the one selected, the stat sheets say that honor should have fallen to Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
|A Statistical Analysis of the West's Final Frontcourt Spot|
Aldridge's Blazers (32-11) also sit 3.5 games higher than Howard's Rockets (29-15). Howard might be the best center in the league, but that title doesn't carry the same weight it used to.
It's important to remember that we're only talking about starting the world's greatest pickup game. Howard and Hibbert are no-brainer selections for the All-Star reserve squads (to be announced Jan. 30 on TNT), with fellow 5's Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins possibly joining them as well.
Still, the fans were tasked with selecting the six top frontcourt players and came back with a center-less list. If the face of the league hasn't changed, its body sure has.
The hoops world knows all of these names, but it had never previously recognized them like this.
This will be Curry's first taste of the All-Star Game, although you wouldn't know it by the support he drew from the voters (1,047,281). Only LeBron James (1,416,419), Kevin Durant (1,396,294) and George (1,211,318) garnered more votes than the sharpshooter.
"It's kind of just a surreal feeling,'' Curry said, per Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports). ''Just when I saw my name it was a real emotional kind of experience and glad my wife and daughter were here to watch it with me."
Curry was perhaps the biggest snub from last season's festivities, but his current sizzling stat line (23.5 points, 9.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals) made him an easy choice this time around.
Love, who has made two previous All-Star appearances, managed to overcome a disappointing start by the Timberwolves (20-21) thanks, in large part, to numbers that seem transplanted from generations past:
George, an All-Star for the second straight season, is the least surprising selection of this group.
Offensively, he does just about everything well. He's a dynamic scorer (23.3 points) with the ability to hit from long range (39.0 three-point percentage) and the athleticism to finish plays at the rim. He's an impact player both as a passer (3.4 assists) and a rebounder (6.2).
At the opposite end, he's a pivotal piece of the league's stingiest defense (93.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). He'll welcome the toughest perimeter assignment and rarely lose that battle.
Plus, the guy throws down dunk-contest slams during the middle of regular-season games.
Irving is also making his second straight trip to the midseason classic. While his Cleveland Cavaliers (15-27) have struggled, the former No. 1 pick has done what he can to get them out of that hole.
He sits inside the top 15 in scoring (21.7, 12th) and has the third-best assist average (6.1) of that group. With yo-yo handles and range well beyond the three-point line (where he shoots 38.8 percent for his career), he has explosive offensive potential (see: five games with at least 37 points this season).
He also might have had the best game film from last season's All-Star weekend.
They might be rookies when it comes to All-Star starts, but these are four of the game's best.
Tremendous Shape for the Future
Is there anything more exciting than transcendent talent?
Yes, actually. Transcendent talent with the potential to become something even greater:
This group of 10 starters is only the beginning.
We haven't even mentioned young guns like Damian Lillard (23 years old), Anthony Davis (20), John Wall (23), James Harden (24), Lance Stephenson (23), DeMar DeRozan (24) or Serge Ibaka (24) yet—all of whom could be joining the All-Star fun as reserves.
The NBA landscape is changing; franchise centerpieces are rising all over the map.
The All-Star Game is a way to celebrate these blossoming ballers.
Fortunately, the party doesn't stop there. We have the rest of this season, and plenty more to follow, to appreciate these gifts from the basketball gods.