10 Most Unlikely All-Stars in NBA History
The NBA has honored plenty of players with All-Star selections throughout the history of the league, but there are always a few names that make you stop and scratch your head.
And then there are a few that leave you utterly dumbfounded.
Those are the ones we're interested in here. When you see the names of these 10 players, you certainly don't think "All-Star" before anything else. Well, you might with Kyle Korver, but that's only because he was just named to the squad as the injury replacement for Dwyane Wade.
We're not looking for the worst All-Stars of all time. Plenty of mainstays in the midseason classic have submitted campaigns that certainly aren't worthy of induction.
Instead, we want to focus on the players who were the most unlikely to make the team.
The Narrowing-Down Process
This is an admittedly subjective methodology, but it's worth discussing how the field was whittled down.
Obviously, there have been plenty of All-Stars over the course of NBA history, so it's quite important to eliminate plenty right off the bat. Since we're talking about the most unlikely selections of all time, I'm automatically going to exclude all players who have made more than one squad. Even if they're strange inclusions a few times, the very fact that they achieved multiple selections means they shouldn't be considered the "most unlikely."
That drops us down to 129 players once Kyle Korver's addition as an injury replacement for Dwyane Wade is finalized. And that's still too many.
The next cut entailed removing players who didn't play enough to have chances at more selections, whether that's because they had short careers in the 1950s or because injuries ruined them during a later portion of NBA history. Only counting those who suited up at least 500 times, we're down to 111, which is still too many.
Our third cut removed players whose selections came before the NBA-ABA merger. After all, the All-Star Game simply wasn't as exclusive before the Association expanded so drastically.
In 1976, there were 24 All-Stars (excluding injury replacements) for just 18 teams, meaning there were—on average—1.33 All-Stars per organization. Going back even further, there were 20 All-Stars on the 1960 rosters despite the fact that the league was only comprised of eight teams. That's 2.5 per team.
This year, there are 24 All-Star spots for 30 teams. See how different things have become?
Knocking out the pre-merger players brings us down to 84 candidates for the 10 featured spots. I'm also subjectively removing a number of players here because they most assuredly fit the star profile in their day or are still young enough to garner future consideration.
From there, the players who are the most unlikely are the ones whose one selection flies in the face of their overall career numbers to the greatest extent.
Years Played: 1976-86
All-Star Year: 1976-77
Career Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.7 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 8.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 3.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.1 PER
Technically, Don Buse defies our criteria, as he was a member of two All-Star teams throughout his career. However, one of those appearances came while he and the Indiana Pacers were part of the ABA, and we're only concerned with the affairs of the NBA.
The 6'4" guard from the University of Evansville made an immediate post-merger impact, though. During his inaugural season at the sport's top level, he led the Association in both assists and steals, which was surely the reason he gained entry into the midseason classic. It couldn't possibly have been his scoring doing the trick, as he averaged a mediocre eight points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from the field.
Buse quickly proved himself a flash in the pan.
Once the NBA adjusted to him and gained a working scouting report, he was just never the same. His minutes declined when he joined the Phoenix Suns the very next year, and he never averaged more than 50 cents worth of dimes again.
In fact, Buse finished his NBA career with a total of 10.7 win shares. Last season alone, 13 players reached that mark.
Years Played: 2003-15
All-Star Year: 2009-10
Career Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 14.8 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 16.5 PER
Chris Kaman has never fit the All-Star profile.
Even when he averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the Los Angeles Clippers, he was relying on his size and funky, ambidextrous scoring game. Though he was putting up big numbers, it was still surprising whenever his game-end box score was revealed.
"Kaman has been indispensable to the Clippers' limited success this season," ESPN Los Angeles' Kevin Arnovitz wrote about the big man back in 2010. "He leads the team in scoring and is the focal point of the Clippers' offense (he's the team leader in usage rate, the percentage of possessions used by a player). The Clippers are also winless in the six games Kaman hasn't been in uniform..."
Interestingly enough, however, the Clippers were only 2.7 points per 100 possessions better when Kaman was on the floor that year.
Still, he got credit due to a perfect convergence of factors. He was on a team willing to make him the featured player, and he received that opportunity right in the midst of his prime. On a squad more competitive than the 29-53 Clippers, that never would have happened.
And for that matter, it never did at any other point in Kaman's ongoing NBA career.
Years Played: 1980-1993, 1994-95
All-Star Year: 1987-88
Career Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 12.4 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 7.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 12.4 PER
When James Donaldson made the All-Star squad in 1988, he did so with one of the more nondescript statistical lines the exclusive game has seen in quite some time. Since '88, 328 players have managed to average at least seven points, nine rebounds and one block per game with a player efficiency rating on the right side of 12, so this isn't exactly something unique.
Granted, Donaldson was quite efficient (55.8 field-goal percentage) and rarely turned the ball over. But is that really All-Star worthy? Maybe this was the NBA's equivalent of Andy Dalton playing in the Pro Bowl, with one player after another bowing out of the competition due to injury.
That's not really the case here, however. Donaldson was replacing Steve Johnson, who was the only player to miss the 1988 contest for the Western Conference. And interestingly enough, we'll come back to Johnson later.
As Jeff Wade once helped explain for ESPNDallas.com, the bid wasn't because he was a star but rather because he filled a need on a very competitive Dallas squad:
This is the dude who was so massive that Daryl Dawkins dubbed him the 'American Tourister' because his head was as big as a suitcase and the Mavs were a team desperate for 'quality' size. And he gave them what they needed—he actually made the All-Star Game in '88, the same year the Mavs took the Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference finals.
He wasn't one of the best centers in the league, but his presence shored up a massive weakness and helped the Mavs become one of the league's best teams.
As you might expect, Donaldson never sniffed the All-Star Game again, retiring nearly a decade later with only the one selection on his resume.
Years Played: 1993-2006
All-Star Year: 2000-01
Career Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 14.1 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.9 blocks, 16.5 PER
Was Antonio Davis a quality player throughout his NBA career? Sure, and he was rewarded for his lone double-double season with an All-Star selection. But he was far from a star during most campaigns of his professional tenure, only averaging double figures in any major category five times.
In fact, Davis lucked out. Had he played a decade later, he would have filled in a minor role, as there's much more of an emphasis now on offensive efficiency than there was during his prime years.
Offensive box plus/minus (OBPM) is a relatively new metric that looks at how many extra points a team scored per 100 possessions with the player in question on the court, as compared to what it would produce with a league-average contributor filling the spot. The 1998-99 season was literally the only one in which Daniels had a positive mark, and that's not even when he made the All-Star squad.
Fifty-one All-Stars throughout NBA history have had negative career OBPMs, and most of them were positive contributors on the defensive end of the floor. When adding in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), only 14 have worse net impact than Davis.
He needs to write a thank-you card to the early 2000s.
Years Played: 1977-79, 1980-92
All-Star Year: 1983-84
Career Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.3 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 2.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.0 PER
It's easy to make a case that Rickey Green deserved credit for his 1983-84 season.
After all, he averaged 9.2 assists per game, led the NBA in thievery and provided an efficient scoring boost by shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 82.1 percent from the charity stripe. There's no denying he was a valuable player, even if his Utah Jazz barely finished above .500 that year.
But Green is included here because the rest of his career was largely forgettable. Outside of a four-year peak in which he put up numbers that are similar to his 1983-84 marks, Green struggled to stand out. He never averaged more than 11.7 points per game after that short-lived prime, and his assists never again climbed above 6.7 per contest.
After making the All-Star squad, he couldn't earn even seven win shares during a single season. This season, nine players—James Harden, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, Damian Lillard and Marc Gasol—are already past that total.
And we're not even to the break yet.
Years Played: 1991-02
All-Star Year: 1996-97
Career Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.6 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 23.9 PER
Chris Gatling deserves a ton of credit for his remarkable 1996-97 season with the Dallas Mavericks. But where in the world did it come from?
The energetic big man had always been an efficient player, scoring in small doses for whichever organization was rostering him at the time, but that campaign came out of nowhere. And as soon as the next season began, he was never the same. Apparently, a trade that sent him from Dallas to the New Jersey Nets shortly after the 1997 All-Star break just didn't suit him particularly well.
If there's any indication of how un-All-Star-like he was throughout his career, it's hard to do better than looking at the many transactions in which he was involved.
In 1995-96, Gatling was traded from the Golden State Warriors—who originally drafted him at No. 16 in 1991—to the Miami Heat. He lasted less than a season before signing with the Mavericks, who traded him before his first campaign with the team was finished. And that was his All-Star year!
After 78 games with the Nets, he requested a trade and was shipped off to the Milwaukee Bucks. One season after that, he played for both the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets, thanks to the fourth midseason deal in five years.
He was the definition of a journeyman. One ridiculous, All-Star-worthy run isn't going to change that.
Years Played: 2003-present
All-Star Year: 2014-15
Career Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.2 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 15.6 PER
What a strange journey for a man who, per Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, is now the fourth-oldest first-time All-Star in NBA history.
When Kyle Korver was coming out of Creighton in 2003, he was drafted by the New Jersey Nets and essentially traded for a copy machine. Technically, he was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers for cash, but the spare money after paying for NBA Summer League expenses was used to purchase that piece of technology.
Since then, Korver has played for a number of teams and established himself as a three-point shooting specialist. Even during his best season prior to this one—the 2006-07 campaign with the Sixers—it would have been laughable to suggest that he deserved All-Star consideration.
But now, the way we're looking at value has changed. It's easier to recognize the benefits of his gravitational pull, and he's had a bigger impact on the Atlanta Hawks' success—especially on offense—than any other player on the roster.
Korver may not have traditional All-Star numbers, but he's had that level of impact now that he's honed his stroke to near perfection. Not only is he leading the NBA in true shooting percentage, but he's on pace to submit the league's first 50/50/90 season.
Even if he deserves to be included, which is partially due to the dearth of elite talent in the Eastern Conference, it's strange that the basketball community is now changing its view on value. And based on the largely forgettable numbers Korver has submitted throughout his career, it's weirder still that he's the poster boy for the change.
Years Played: 1975-85
All-Star Year: 1977-78
Career Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.0 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 14.3 PER
If you saw that a player dropped 15.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game with a below-average PER, you'd probably be unimpressed, yawn and then move on to the next factual tidbit. And I couldn't blame you, because that's really nothing to write home about, even if you also knew the player was named to the All-Defensive squad during the year in question.
Nonetheless, Lionel Hollins made the 1978 All-Star Game with those numbers. He wasn't even an injury replacement, as the Western Conference representatives were completely healthy during the midseason break. The guard earned a career-best 5.2 win shares during that season, and it was the No. 61 mark in the NBA.
Needless to say, the 60 players in front of him didn't all make the All-Star squad.
It probably helped that he was on a 58-24 Portland Trail Blazers squad, helping his team earn victories alongside Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. But even on that squad, five other players—Walton, Lucas, Bob Gross, Tom Owens and Dave Twardzik—earned more win shares.
Considering this was the best season of his career, it shouldn't be all that surprising that Hollins is retroactively being considered an unlikely All-Star.
Years Played: 1981-91
All-Star Year: 1987-88
Career Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 15.3 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 14.9 PER
During the 2014-15 season, there are no fewer than 31 players averaging at least 15 points and five rebounds per game. All of them are having impressive seasons, but it's not as though each one deserves to make the All-Star roster, even if many of them are exceeding those averages by rather significant margins.
Well, those numbers were good enough to get Steve Johnson in during the 1987-88 campaign, though injuries kept him out of the game itself, forced him to be replaced by James Donaldson and ultimately limited him to 43 appearances. And to be fair, he was actually averaging 17.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the field when he went down with the initial ankle injury.
Johnson, a quick low-post player without much confidence on the defensive end, was at his best after injuries to Sam Bowie moved him to center. And he recognized that his All-Star selection was more a reward for his two years of production in that role than his so-so 1987-88 numbers.
"I really made the All-Star Game from the year before," Johnson told The Oregonian's Jason Quick, referring to his per-game averages of 16.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in '86-87. "And then I started (the 1987) season well. But I knew my ankles were a ticking time bomb."
Even if he was rewarded for a two-year stint, it's still hard to rationalize the All-Star tag next to his career-long efforts. Johnson earned a total of 26.9 win shares throughout his NBA tenure, and that's a mark that's only barely higher than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's single-season record from 1971-72 (25.37).
Years Played: 1995-2011
All-Star Year: 2000-01
Career Per-Game Stats: 7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.4 blocks, 14.3 PER
All-Star Year Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 3.7 blocks, 16.3 PER
"[Theo] Ratliff had a career year in '01—and 3.7 blocks per game is impressive—but Theo Ratliff? An All-Star? True to form, Ratliff, who played just 50 games in '01, sat out the game due to injury," Daniel O'Leary wrote for the New York Daily News while arguing that Ratliff was a dishonorable mention for his worst-All-Stars-of-all-time competition.
Throughout his career, the injury-prone big man consistently established himself as a dominant rejection artist, but he never did much else. The 12.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game he averaged during his All-Star season—which, again, was shortened by injury—actually both remained high-water marks for his career until he retired a decade later with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nothing about him ever screamed "All Star!"
"Great Specialist!" perhaps, but nothing more than that.
Honorable Mentions: B.J. Armstrong, Tom Gugliotta, Tyrone Hill, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Charles Oakley, Scott Wedman, Lonnie Shelton, Mo Williams