Ranking the Best Players to Never Start an NBA All-Star Game
The annual talk of NBA All-Star starter snubs is complicated enough as is, but this year's discussion could be tougher to suss out than ever before.
No longer will starting nods be doled out by the fans alone, which had been the case since 1975. Instead, those votes will count for 50 percent of the process, with players and media accounting for another 25 percent apiece. That split has made selecting starters for the Eastern and Western Conference squads juuust a bit more byzantine, which figures to trickle down into a more convoluted debate over who should (and shouldn't) have been picked and why they weren't (or were).
Any deserving players who get left out would hardly be the first. Comb through the annals of All-Star history, and you'll find a heftier helping of Hall of Famers and comparable talents who never got the kind of love at the ballot box that you might imagine.
But rather than sort through all those old box scores yourself, check out our 12-man roster of the best All-Stars who never started, picked for this list according to career accomplishments and listed alphabetically.
Guard: Ray Allen (1996-2013)
Ray Allen will forever be remembered for his lethal shooting stroke.
In Boston, he was the one curling off screens from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and turning Rajon Rondo's passes into assists en route to a championship. In Miami, his epic score-tying shot in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals stands not only as a career-defining moment, but one of the most clutch makes the NBA has ever seen.
But before Allen was the league's all-time leader in three-point makes, he was one of the game's elite scorers. He rose to prominence alongside Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson with the Milwaukee Bucks, staked his claim as a perennial All-Star with the Seattle SuperSonics (R.I.P.) and averaged 20 points or more in eight straight seasons before he ever donned a Celtics jersey.
That consistent talent earned Allen each of his 10 All-Star appearances. But not one of those came courtesy of a fan vote, which ties him for the most all-time without a start.
Even Allen's early star turn as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee's He Got Game couldn't secure enough fan support. Then again, with radiant superstars like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter capturing imaginations during his heyday, it's easy to see how the machine-like Allen fell short in popular support.
Guard: Chauncey Billups (1998-2014)
Chauncey Billups may well be remembered as the Dennis Johnson of his era (more on him later).
He was a steady floor general with a defensive bent throughout his career, which was punctuated by Finals MVP honors to cap the Detroit Pistons' championship run in 2004.
But Billups bopped around the NBA before he found a home in the Motor City. He moved from Boston to Toronto to Denver to Minnesota before settling in Detroit, though he didn't earn his first All-Star nod until his fourth season as a Piston—after consecutive Finals appearances.
That began a run of seven straight selections spanning three more Eastern Conference Finals appearances in Detroit and one with his hometown Denver Nuggets. All that team success couldn't vault Billups, who never averaged 20 points or more during a given season, past scoring stars like Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade in the East or MVP contenders like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant out West.
Nonetheless, if any one player will be remembered and rewarded from those mid-2000s Pistons teams and their defensive-minded, egalitarian approach, it's likely to be Billups.
Center: Bob Lanier (1971-1984)
Today's basketball fans might know Bob Lanier better for his cameos in NBA Cares commercials. But for more than a decade during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Lanier was one of the NBA's more fearsome forces in the middle.
He was named an All-Star seven times during an eight-season stretch with the Detroit Pistons wherein he averaged 23.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals. He added an eighth nod in 1982 when he shot 55.8 percent from the floor while chipping in a more modest 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The individual high point of Lanier's playing career came in 1974 when he piled up 24 points and 10 rebounds during the All-Star Game in Norfolk, Virginia, en route to MVP honors.
As a contemporary of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's back when Detroit was in the Western Conference and of Artis Gilmore's after Milwaukee moved to the East, Lanier had little choice but to do his best work off the bench on the game's star-studded midseason stage.
Forward: Kevin McHale (1980-1993)
There will be plenty of green to come, but this list wouldn't be complete without Kevin McHale.
The taskmaster in charge of the NBA's foremost low-post "Torture Chamber" first played in the All-Star Game when he was the Boston Celtics' (and the league's) Sixth Man of the Year. He kept collecting nods as he worked his way into the starting five and didn't stop once he returned to the Garden pine late in his career.
By the time foot problems did him in, McHale had appeared in seven All-Star Games, been named to six All-Defensive squads and taken home three championship rings.
His vital role on those historic Celtics teams of the 1980s wasn't enough to push him past the likes of Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley and his own teammate, Larry Bird, among Eastern Conference forwards.
But none of those standouts struck as much fear into the hearts of foes with their back to the basket as McHale did during his heyday.
Guard: Dennis Johnson (1977-1990)
The late, great Dennis Johnson went from Finals MVP for the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 to starring for the Phoenix Suns during the early 1980s to standing out as a defensive stopper for the Boston Celtics later that decade.
Yet, not once along the way, through five All-Star selections for three different teams across two conferences, did D.J. get his due as a starter in the midseason showcase.
Out West, it was David Thompson, Paul Westphal, Magic Johnson and George Gervin who garnered the most fan love at guard. In the East, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas and Sidney Moncrief kept Johnson on the bench.
All told, Johnson's credentials were plenty worthy of the Hall of Fame: His two All-NBA selections, three titles and nine All-Defensive nods speak to what a special leader and spectacular perimeter pest Johnson was during his playing days.
Forward: Gus Johnson (1964-1973)
Gus Johnson is as far of a throwback as you'll find on this list.
His entire pro career came and went before the advent of All-Star fan voting. He spent his first nine seasons with the Baltimore Bullets—now known better as the Washington Wizards—and won his lone championship with the Indiana Pacers before they escaped the collapsing ABA to join the NBA.
During Johnson's era (i.e., the 1960s into the early 1970s), you could star at power forward if you were 6'6" and 230 pounds, as he was. But he still might have made it today: Those measurements compare closely to those of Golden State Warriors standout Draymond Green (6'7", 230 pounds).
The late Johnson was more of a bruising scorer and rebounder than a gap-filler for the Bullets. He poured in 18.6 points, 13.0 boards and 3.6 assists during his first All-Star season, then averaged 18.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists during a stretch of four straight selections between 1968 and 1971.
But those were the days when fellow Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Willis Reed and Billy Cunningham patrolled the paint for the Eastern Conference. Next to title contenders like them, Johnson, for all his production, had to settle for being an All-Star sub five times.
Guard: Tony Parker (2001-Present)
Few point guards in NBA history—All-Star starters and otherwise—can match Tony Parker's sparkling resume.
The fleet-footed Frenchman has won four titles with the San Antonio Spurs and been named to four All-NBA teams. In 2007, he was awarded Finals MVP after torching the Cleveland Cavaliers for 24.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting (57.1 percent from three) during San Antonio's four-game sweep.
Parker's regular-season exploits earned him six All-Star nods but never enough votes to start. It didn't help that his career peaks coincided with the primes of other all-time guard talents out West.
During his first crescendo (2005-09), Parker had to contend with Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson (Denver Nuggets version) on the ballots. By the time he'd returned to prominence (2011-14), Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and James Harden had burst onto the scene. Through both, Kobe Bryant was all but guaranteed to dominate fan polls as well.
At 34, Parker's days of playing in the All-Star Game are likely done. But his ability to shoot (47.9 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three) and distribute (4.8 assists) have kept him relevant during the dawn of the post-Tim Duncan era in the Alamo City.
Forward: Paul Pierce (1998-Present)
Who else in NBA history racked up 10 All-Star nods without a single start? Look no further than Ray Allen's Beantown teammate, Paul Pierce.
The Truth's issue in that regard wasn't unlike Allen's. If it wasn't Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter or LeBron James blocking him at the ballot box, it was one of his own Boston Celtics teammates.
During the early 2000s, it was Antoine Walker, not Pierce, who got voted in by Gang Green's supporters. By the time the C's returned to prominence later that decade, Kevin Garnett became Boston's cornerstone among All-Star starters. In between, the Celtics fell so hard into the tank that Pierce was no longer so visible nationally.
None of that stopped him from notching four All-NBA selections, a championship ring and a Finals MVP to boot. Nor could all the All-Star accolades Pierce does (or doesn't) have compare to his standing as the No. 2 scorer in Celtics history.
Forward: Dennis Rodman (1987-2000)
Personality-wise, Dennis Rodman had all the flair to be an All-Star starter.
That is, later in his career.
He wasn't yet the Rodman the world came to know (for his flamboyant off-court exploits) when he was an All-Star for the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and 1992. Back then, he was merely The Worm, a slippery, squirming rebounding machine who joined Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn in the dirty work that made the Bad Boy Pistons such a powerhouse of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That role might've kept Rodman from the shine he needed to start—not that his talents portended him doing so. He never averaged more than 11.6 points in a season, and he finished at 8.8 and 9.8 points, respectively, during his two All-Star seasons. Numbers like those paled in comparison to the explosive stats posted by Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Dominique Wilkins at forward during Rodman's prime.
On the other hand, Dennis The Menace's excellence in cleanup duty would have made him a shoo-in selection by his peers and coaches. During his first All-Star season, he nabbed 9.7 rebounds per game while coming off the bench for nearly half the campaign. In his second, he led the league with 18.7 boards as a full-time starter in Detroit.
By the time Rodman was done, he'd racked up seven consecutive rebounding titles, two All-NBA selections, eight All-Defensive nods, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and five championship rings—plenty to have him enshrined in Springfield in 2011.
Center: Wes Unseld (1969-1981)
Ever wonder how Kevin Love came by his middle name (Wesley) or his eye-popping outlet passes?
Both of those are legacies that Love's father, Stan, passed down from his NBA teammate, Wes Unseld.
Though undersized for a center at 6'7", Unseld still managed to light up the league as a rebounder and low-post passer for the Bullets—first in Baltimore, then in Washington. He was the key to the lone title banner hanging in the Washington Wizards' home arena, earning Finals MVP honors in 1978 while carrying the Bullets to back-to-back championship series appearances during the late 1970s.
Those title credentials came after Unseld had already played in his five All-Star Games. As great as he was for his size, Unseld could never quite outshine the East's pre-eminent centers of his day, like New York's Willis Reed, Boston's Dave Cowens and Bullets teammate Elvin Hayes.
Even so, Unseld's exploits were more than enough to merit enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
Guard: Jo Jo White (1970-1981)
Jo Jo White was a stalwart of the generation that extended the Boston Celtics' dominance beyond Bill Russell's retirement. He was the primary point guard on squads that featured three other Hall of Famers in John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Don Nelson.
The NBA didn't extend the power to vote for All-Star starters to fans until 1975. By then, White had already garnered four nods from sportswriters and sportscasters. Neither constituency, though, saw fit to bump White ahead of legends like Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Pistol Pete Maravich.
Had White come equipped with a more imaginative nickname than Jo Jo, perhaps he would've gotten to start ahead of any of the aforementioned monikers during one of the seven All-Star Games in which he played.
None of that mattered when White was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, less for his All-Star exploits than his two All-NBA selections, two titles in Boston and Finals MVP honor during 1976.
Forward: Jamaal Wilkes (1975-1986)
Jamaal Wilkes was an All-Star across eras.
His first selection came in 1976, when he poured in 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds as Rick Barry's sidekick with the Golden State Warriors—the year after they won their most recent championship before the team's title run in 2015. His other two were earned as one of Magic Johnson's chief running mates during 1981 and 1983, when he trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in scoring on the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers.
Wilkes' funky shooting form followed him from UCLA to the NBA—and certainly set him apart from his peers. But for all its uniqueness and effectiveness (he hit 49.9 percent from the field for his career), Wilkes was never tapped to start in the All-Star Game, in part because he played alongside other greats.
Barry got most of the shine in Oakland. Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar were the big draws in L.A., with Maurice Lucas, Alex English and Adrian Dantley outpacing Wilkes among other forwards on the ballot.
For someone who won three titles, earned two All-Defensive selections and took Rookie of the Year honors during the mid-1970s—a noted down period for talent in the NBA—it's remarkable that Wilkes, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2012, wasn't more revered among those who kept the league afloat.
All stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.