Is the 2014 All-Star class a strong one?
The common assumption seems to be that it's a rather weak group of players, as the Western Conference had so many notable snubs, while the Easter Conference coaches must've struggled to find seven reserves who actually deserved a trip to New Orleans.
But is that true?
To answer the question, I'll be looking at each All-Star class in the last 25 years, including this one. Dating back to 1988-89, that's 25 total, since the 1999 game never was played due to the lockout that severely shortened the season.
It's important to approach this task in objective fashion, though.
History alters how we perceive players. While we can look at a roster and think about the careers of the players involved, it's much more difficult to remember the season in question. And we're looking at individual seasons, not the careers of the players who make up these All-Star rosters.
For that reason, I'm using the same methodology that was used while determining the best All-Star starting fives of all time, just expanded to include all 24 players in a class. Worth noting is the fact that I didn't analyze players who were injured, but rather I omitted them entirely and substituted in their replacements, just as coaches did when the games were played.
To find the lineup score, all you have to do is add up the win shares per 48 minutes of all players on the All-Star roster. Conferences don't matter, of course, and starters and reserves are weighted equally.
Win shares are by no means the perfect stat, but they're the best counting metric at our disposal, as they account for both offense and defense to some extent.
So, before you advance to the rankings themselves, where do you think 2014 will check in? Is it really as weak as advertised? Will it even earn a spot in the top 10?
Note: Data was drawn from Basketball-Reference.com and compiled on Feb. 11.
It helps to have three players who are putting up otherworldly numbers.
In 2013, such was the case, thanks to the presences of James, Durant and Paul. The MVP led the charge, putting up 0.322 win shares per 48 minutes, but the other two superstars were well clear of the field as well.
Oh, and that field was quite strong until you get to the bottom.
As you'll learn throughout the countdown, the bottom is just as important as the top. It's of paramount importance for the worst All-Stars to be high-quality players, especially because there are 14 reserves and only 10 starters.
There were plenty of first-time players in this class, and two guys just weren't able to justify their selections.
Holiday is one, though he was playing far better for the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of the season. It was the latter portion that saw him wear down and allow his efficiency to plummet. The other was Luol Deng, who earned fewer win shares per 48 minutes than all but five All-Stars in the last two-and-a-half decades.
Eastern Conference Starters: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade
Western Conference Starters: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul
The 2012 class was brimming over with quality players, even if James hadn't yet ascended to that otherworldly level he reached in 2013.
It's all about the reserves. Just read through those names and you'll find a bunch of established players. There aren't any one-and-done All-Stars present here, and that's usually a good indicator of depth. While it's certainly possible for a one-time selection to be in the midst of a great season, it's statistically more unlikely.
Only five players—Nash, Bryant, Deng, Rondo and Williams—failed to top 0.15 win shares per 48 minutes.
Compare that to 2013, when nine players weren't able to meet the same benchmark. That's a big difference, and it helps make up for 2012's relative weakness at the top of the class.
Eastern Conference Starters: Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade
Eastern Conference Reserves: Ray Allen, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Antawn Jamison, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace
Western Conference Reserves: Carlos Boozer, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Amar'e Stoudemire, David West
Now we bounce back to a class that was just absolutely stellar at the top. When you have multiple reserves who are producing incredible numbers, you're going to be in pretty solid shape.
Although Paul was having one heck of a season, he was only barely the top dog when it came to our relevant stat. That's because Stoudemire and Billups were both having vintage years.
STAT was in the middle of his run of offensive excellence with the Phoenix Suns, taking advantage of the high-paced system to average 25.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 59 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Billups had the best shooting season of his career.
Playing for the Detroit Pistons, "Mr. Big Shot" connected with frequency from all parts of the court, allowing him to post a career-high true shooting percentage of 61.9. Doing so while averaging 17 points and 6.8 assists per contest gave him one of his best offensive seasons ever.
James, Nowitzki, Bryant, Pierce, Duncan, Howard and Bosh all posted at least 0.2 win shares per 48 minutes as well, giving the 2008 class a staggering 10 players on the right side of that mark.
2012 and 2013 each had six.
Eastern Conference Starters: Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal
Eastern Conference Reserves: Gilbert Arenas, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, Jermaine O'Neal, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Ben Wallace
Western Conference Starters: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming
Western Conference Reserves: Ray Allen, Manu Ginobili, Rashard Lewis, Shawn Marion, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar'e Stoudemire
It was all about the big guys in this class.
Of the nine players who earned at least 0.2 win shares per 48 minutes, six of them played either power forward or center—Garnett, Nowitzki, Duncan, Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal and Ming.
But let's talk about the small guys as well.
These are not players small in stature, but rather they are the reserves who made up the ends of the benches for the Western and Eastern Conferences.
Each of the three featured classes thus far have included at least one player who failed to earn even 0.1 win shares per 48 minutes:
- 2013: Jrue Holiday (0.055)
- 2012: Deron Williams (0.099)
- 2008: Jason Kidd (0.097) and Dwyane Wade (0.082)
But this class doesn't have a single one. Jamison was the least valuable member of either conference's roster, and he just barely made the cutoff.
We're moving into the realm of classes that tend to be strong at the top and strong at the bottom. It's obviously an important combination.
Eastern Conference Starters: Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade
Eastern Conference Reserves: Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Western Conference Starters: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul
Western Conference Reserves: Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
This is another one of those classes where you look at the rosters and just wonder where the weaknesses are.
Joe Johnson? Ray Allen? Manu Ginobili?
From top to bottom, both conferences are filled with marquee players who hadn't yet fallen too far out of their primes. There isn't much reliance on reputation here, and remember, the fan vote is an easy way for a lineup to quickly fall out of contention with the selection of just one undeserving player.
If you had to pick one player as the weak link in the chain, it would be Johnson, though.
Even he wasn't having a particularly un-All-Star-like year during his penultimate go-round with the Atlanta Hawks. After all, he was averaging 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, although his efficiency took a step backward.
It's not so much the depth of this class that makes it special, so much as it's the depth of quality in the starting lineups and the first players off the bench. The last reserves in aren't particularly wonderful, but players like Garnett, Westbrook, Love and Horford do the trick in the middle of the 2011 crop.
Eastern Conference Starters: Charles Barkley, Joe Dumars, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Bernard King
Eastern Conference Reserves: Brad Daugherty, Hersey Hawkins, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Ricky Pierce, Alvin Robertson, Dominique Wilkins
Western Conference Starters: Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, David Robinson
Western Conference Reserves: Tom Chambers, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Duckworth, Tim Hardaway, Terry Porter, John Stockton, James Worthy
For the first time in this article, we're going back before the turn of the century—back to a time when Michael Jordan was in his prime.
As you may have guessed, that's a big deal.
M.J. was absolutely dominant during the 1990-91 campaign, averaging a league-best 31.5 points per game to go along with the 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists he posted each contest.
The combined result of everything was 0.321 win shares per 48 minutes, which remains the No. 6 mark of all time. Among players eligible for this article (everyone who played from 1988-89 through this current season), only LeBron James' 2012-13 season was more impressive.
Not only did Jordan excel, but Robinson, Barkley and Magic Johnson all earned more win shares per 48 minutes than every single player on the 2011 All-Star rosters.
The bottom of this class—King (near the end of his career in 1991 and utterly unaware on defense), Duckworth and Chambers—was thoroughly uninspiring, but the top more than makes up for the bottom's lackluster nature.
Eastern Conference Starters: Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
Eastern Conference Reserves: Ray Allen, Danny Granger, Devin Harris, Joe Johnson, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce, Mo Williams
Western Conference Starters: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Chris Paul, Amar'e Stoudemire
Western Conference Reserves: Chauncey Billups, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O'Neal, Tony Parker, Brandon Roy, David West
Once more, it's all about the top.
James was the headliner in 2009, and he put together one of the few seasons that could actually rival what Jordan did in 1990-91. King James averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game with the Cleveland Cavaliers, enjoying the numbers he could put up in what essentially amounted to a one-man offense.
However, he's not the only standout.
Paul posted one of the finest seasons by a point guard in NBA history, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 11.0 assists and 2.8 steals per game. Each of the last two numbers led the NBA.
The 0.292 win shares per 48 minutes earned by CP3 beat out everyone but M.J. from the '91 class, and the gap between him and the rest of the '91 rosters was quite large. James essentially cancels out Jordan, but it's CP3 who pushed this squad slightly over the top.
Also helping was the bottom of this group—just not by much.
Eastern Conference Starters: Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade
Eastern Conference Reserves: Chris Bosh, DeMar DeRozan, Roy Hibbert, Joe Johnson**, Paul Millsap, Joakim Noah, John Wall
Western Conference Starters: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Chris Paul*
Western Conference Reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker
As Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz wrote while predicting that the Western Conference would emerge victoriously from New Orleans:
The Eastern Conference has been the butt of jokes in NBA circles for its historically poor showing during the first half of the 2013-14 season. Aside from the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers sitting atop the conference, only the upstart Toronto Raptors and gritty Atlanta Hawks have a record better than .500.
Nothing about that is incorrect, but it would lead you to believe that we're in for a weak All-Star class this season. In fact, I'm guessing many of you are shocked to see the current class ranked so high when you've been inundated by anti-Eastern Conference sentiments throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
However, three things move the 2014 squads up near the top of the rankings.
First, the NBA is constantly getting deeper due to the influx of talent, which overrides whatever players decline or leave the Association. The players on the ends of the All-Star benches may not seem like great players compared to the superstars, but they're still valuable.
Secondly, the Western Conference is just ridiculously good this season.
Nine players in the All-Star Game are earning at least 0.2 win shares per 48 minutes, and seven of them play in the league's stronger conference.
Finally, let's not forget about Durant.
The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has been on quite a tear ever since Westbrook was injured. You could make a serious argument that he's having one of the best seasons of all time. It'll be tough for him to maintain his numbers during the second half, but his current pace has him earning 0.326 win shares per 48 minutes.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1971-72 season is the only campaign ever to beat that number.
Those three reasons all combine to produce what is almost assuredly the most surprising class in the top 10.
*The starter who will be replacing Kobe Bryant has not officially been announced, but I'm projecting Chris Paul steps into the starting five.
**For what it's worth, replacing Joe Johnson with Lance Stephenson or Kyle Lowry would have moved 2014 into the No. 2 spot.
Eastern Conference Starters: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas
Eastern Conference Reserves: Joe Dumars, Kevin McHale, Reggie Miller, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Dominique Wilkins
Western Conference Starters: A.C. Green, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, James Worthy
Western Conference Reserves: Rolando Blackman, Tom Chambers, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Johnson, Fat Lever, Chris Mullin, David Robinson
It's hard to find a weak link in the 1990 squad, though it would've been even stronger if Green hadn't been inexplicably voted in by fans and Blackman wasn't made an injury replacement for Karl Malone.
This lineup might have had a chance to move up to No. 1, though you'll find out there's a rather significant gap that needs to be overcome.
There were five players having absolutely fantastic seasons during the 1989-90 campaign—Jordan, Magic Johnson, Barkley, Robinson and Stockton. If you remove the "absolutely" from the previous sentence, you'll get to add even more players.
In fact, Worthy checked in at No. 16 in this class for win shares per 48 minutes. If you time-warped his season into the current one, he'd be the No. 12 player in a similar set of rankings. The 2014 class is already a deep one, but "deep" doesn't even begin to describe the 1990 crop.
When guys like Olajuwon, Bird and Thomas are in the bottom half of the class, it's a pretty darn good one.
Remember how LeBron James recently said during an NBA TV interview, as relayed by ESPN, that his "easy three" selections for the "Mt. Rushmore" of basketball were Jordan, Magic and Bird?
It should say something that all three are present.
Eastern Conference Starters: Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade
Eastern Conference Reserves: Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Richard Hamilton, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace
Western Conference Starters: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Steve Nash
Western Conference Reserves: Ray Allen, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker
It's hard to find a weak link in the 1990 class, but it's possible.
That changes in 2006, because it's a foolhardy mission if you try seeking out someone who really doesn't belong.
According to win shares per 48 minutes, McGrady—who was having a strangely inefficient season for the Houston Rockets—was the least valuable player in either the Eastern or Western Conference. He was still earning 0.112, which would have beaten three players from the 1990 class.
Even with Bryant, James, Nowitzki, Wade and Garnett squarely in the midst of their primes, the top of the 2006 class isn't superior to the ones boasted by the other groups of players in the top five of these rankings.
Each of the other five top classes can claim a player having a transcendent season, but Dirk's 2005-06 campaign—which rates at the top this particular year—can hardly be considered anything more than excellent.
It's the depth of the lineup and the lack of flaws at the bottom that does the trick for 2006.
And talk about a gap between No. 1 and No. 2.
2006 checks in ahead of 1990 by 0.174 win shares per 48 minutes. That's larger than the gap that exists between the players in 1990 and the 2013 class, which is the caboose of the top 10.
You're already seen the top 10, but now let's run through each of the All-Star rosters that have taken the court over the last 25 years:
- 2006 All-Stars, 4.609
- 1990 All-Stars, 4.435
- 2014 All-Stars, 4.429
- 2009 All-Stars, 4.421
- 1991 All-Stars, 4.405
- 2011 All-Stars, 4.373
- 2005 All-Stars, 4.364
- 2008 All-Stars, 4.322
- 2012 All-Stars, 4.29
- 2013 All-Stars, 4.278
- 1996 All-Stars, 4.277
- 2010 All-Stars, 4.258
- 2000 All-Stars, 4.226
- 1997 All-Stars, 4.195
- 1993 All-Stars, 4.189
- 2003 All-Stars, 4.173
- 2007 All-Stars, 4.091
- 1998 All-Stars, 4.044
- 1994 All-Stars, 4.03
- 1989 All-Stars, 4.018
- 2001 All-Stars, 3.976
- 1992 All-Stars, 3.966 (Magic Johnson hadn't played that season)
- 2004 All-Stars, 3.938
- 1995 All-Stars, 3.84
- 2002 All-Stars, 3.672 (No replacement was named for Karl Malone)