10 of the Worst Snubs in NBA All-Star History
NBA All-Star voting is a subjective exercise that objectively drives hoop heads mad.
There's no clear-cut criteria for what defines an All-Star. It can be a popularity contest or a lifetime-achievement designation or, more often than not, a recognition handed out to the Association's top point-producers.
Even the meaning of the designation is fuzzy.
On one hand, it's simply an invitation to a wildly entertaining exhibition. If that's the case, why shouldn't fans, players, media and coaches send the game's biggest providers of entertainment?
But on the other, All-Star credentials always get thrown out while discussing a player's place in the league's history. If those selections aren't properly dispersed, they could prop up undeserving players or drag down the overlooked snubs.
Either way, the All-Star conversation always seems to create controversy, and, well, it's no different here. We'll just add to the laundry list of gripes by identifying 10 of the worst All-Star snubs in NBA history, pinpointing the players who produced the most win shares without getting an All-Star nod.
Sam Amick, Senior NBA writer for The Athletic, joins "The Full 48" to discuss top team moves before the trade deadline, Teams in most need of deals, players that may move, and All-Star Game ballot selections.
Other Statistical Snubs
Much like the All-Star selection process itself, our method of defining a metric for historic snubbery was ultimately arbitrary.
We could've gone with a different catch-all metric, more digestible traditional categories or some combination of multiple categories. But since the name of the game is winning, we thought the obvious choice was a number designed to show "an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player," as defined by Basketball Reference.
Still, we were curious—as many of you likely are—about how other categories viewed history's worst snubs. So, we've compiled a list of the top qualified all-time performers in various categories who didn't receive All-Star recognition:
- Points Per Game: World B. Free, 28.8 (1978-79 San Diego Clippers)
- Assists Per Game: John Stockton, 13.8 (1987-88 Utah Jazz)
- Rebounds Per Game: Nate Thurmond, 19.7 (1968-69 San Francisco Warriors)
- Player Efficiency Rating: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 29.2 (1977-78 Los Angeles Lakers)
- Box Plus/Minus: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 9.0 (1977-78 Los Angeles Lakers)
- Value Over Replacement Player: Charles Barkley, 7.3 (1985-86 Philadelphia 76ers)
The 1977-78 season marked the only time over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's legendary 20-year career that he wasn't named an All-Star. While his numbers were as absurd as normal, he lost nearly two months by breaking his hand while punching Milwaukee Bucks rookie Kent Benson on opening night, a shot that cost Abdul-Jabbar a then-record $5,000 fine.
The other snubs aren't as easily explained, and neither are the 10 on our win shares-driven list.
10. Karl-Anthony Towns, 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves
Win Shares: 12.7
Notable Numbers: 25.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 BPG, 54.2 FG%, 25.9 PER
All-Star accolades often arrive a year after a player makes an All-Star leap. That seems to be the case with Karl-Anthony Towns, who followed up his Rookie of the Year debut with an explosive sophomore campaign.
Even while including Towns on his 2017 All-Star Snub Team, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears noted Towns "will likely be an NBA All-Star next year."
Towns did make the cut the following season and, barring injury, could hold it for the next decade. But still, he was an All-Star force by everything other than the actual selection. By year's end, KAT was a top-15 scorer (12th) and rebounder (sixth), and he tied for second in the entire league with 62 double-doubles. He produced the seventh-most win shares and had the 16th-best player efficiency rating.
Perhaps spurred by the snub, Towns stampeded through the Rising Stars game with 24 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals on 11-of-14 shooting in only 25 minutes of action.
9. Walt Frazier, 1968-69 New York Knicks
Win Shares: 12.7
Notable Numbers: 17.5 PPG, 7.9 APG, 6.2 RPG, 50.5 FG%, 20.2 PER
This was the beginning of Walt "Clyde" Frazier's Big Apple takeover.
The fifth overall pick in 1967, Frazier was kept to part-time duties as a freshman, which prevented his stat sheet from exploding. But the New York Knicks unleashed him as a sophomore, and once the eruption started, it couldn't be stopped.
The 6'4", 200-pounder masterfully toed the line between pass-first floor general and, when needed, primary scorer. He often did his best work at the defensive end—contributions history unfortunately can't remember since steals and blocks weren't tracked then—and the Wild West's fastest gunslingers would've envied Frazier's quick hands.
"It's not only that Clyde steals the ball, but that he makes them think he's about to steal it, and that he can steal it any time he wants to," former teammate Bill Bradley said, per NBA.com.
Unflappable in any setting, Frazier calmly (and often fashionably) worked his way to his spots for smooth jumpers and zipped passes to unattended teammates before defenses could react. He was that season's 31st-ranked scorer, third-best distributor and seventh-place finisher in PER.
Following this snub, he was selected to each of the next seven All-Star Games.
8. DeAndre Jordan, 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers
Win Shares: 12.8
Notable Numbers: 15.0 RPG, 11.5 PPG, 2.2 BPG, 71.0 FG%, 21.0 PER
Had DeAndre Jordan arrived and peaked earlier, he might've snagged one of the All-Star spots previously reserved for centers. But that position was removed from ballots ahead of the 2012-13 season, and his first year averaging more than 28 minutes came during the following campaign.
His credentials were a tad tricky since he lacked big scoring numbers and became an offensive liability for his atrocious free-throw shooting. But as the anchor of a 56-win team—and its second-best supplier of win shares—and the Association's leader in rebounds, field-goal percentage and defensive win shares, Jordan made quite a compelling All-Star argument.
"I think DJ should be on the All-Star team," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters. "I think it's a travesty. ... Just one side of the floor keeps getting all of the credit, and not the other side of the floor. And the other side is more important."
That season, Jordan joined Wilt Chamberlain as only the second player to ever shoot 70-plus percent from the field. He also became just the third player to average 15 rebounds since the 2000s opened. Even if his dominance wasn't the kind most commonly associated with stardom, this was dominance nonetheless.
7. Nate Archibald, 1971-72 Cincinnati Royals
Win Shares: 12.9
Notable Numbers: 28.2 PPG, 9.2 APG, 2.9 RPG, 48.6 FG%, 23.0 PER
When Nate Archibald arrived as the 19th pick of the 1970 draft, he was a (relatively) little man entering a big man's league. Aptly nicknamed Tiny, the 6'1", 150-pounder suddenly had executives rethinking their commitments to size, and smaller guards popped up all over the basketball world.
He was both a fearless attacker and a stabilizing table-setter. He could finish in the paint or work his way to the stripe. He could stretch out a defense with his jumper even though he landed in the NBA nearly a decade before the three-point arc did. He was maybe even more devastating as a distributor since his scoring threat demanded extra defensive attention, and his vision would punish teams for showing it.
"He looks like a high school kid and plays like a superstar," Jerry West told Sports Illustrated's Barry McDermott in 1973. "One step and he's at full speed and gone."
The 1971-72 season was Archibald's precursor to making history. In the very next year, he'd become the first (and still only) player to lead the NBA in both scoring and assists during the same season. This campaign, he'd settle for second in points and third in dimes, plus second in offensive win shares, fourth in PER and sixth in total win shares.
He'd eventually make six All-Star appearances (winning MVP honors at the 1980-81 edition), but this should've been his first. The league essentially admitted as much by naming him an All-NBA second-teamer.
6. John Stockton, 1987-88 Utah Jazz
Win Shares: 14.1
Notable Numbers: 14.7 PPG, 13.8 APG, 3.0 SPG, 57.4 FG%, 23.2 PER
Remember when the phrase "pure point guard" used to get thrown around a lot? Well, if you ever encountered someone who was unfamiliar with the definition, you could just point them in the direction of John Stockton, and they'd totally understand.
He played the position as if he were programmed to run an NBA team. He was the proverbial head of the snake at both ends of the floor, and it showed in his astronomic assists and steals numbers. The next player to seriously threaten his standing atop each all-time leaderboard will be the first.
"There absolutely, positively, will never ever be another John Stockton—ever," longtime Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone said, per NBA.com.
The league figured that out with time. Starting in his fifth NBA season, Stockton became an All-Star regular and eventually a Hall of Famer. But his ascension started a year before the league took notice.
The 1987-88 season, his first as a full-time starter, launched him into the NBA orbit. He took home his first assists title and landed third in steals per game. He held the fourth spot in win shares and the seventh in PER. He snagged an All-NBA second-team spot and finished 10th in MVP voting.
He was an All-Star by every measure but the official designation, and in terms of win shares per 48 minutes, he was never more valuable throughout his career.
5. Horace Grant, 1991-92 Chicago Bulls
Win Shares: 14.1
Notable Numbers: 14.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 57.8 FG%, 20.6 PER
If you're looking at Horace Grant's stat line and feeling a bit underwhelmed, then you solved the puzzle of this snub job. But for those digging deeper than traditional counting categories, his case is ironclad.
He was the third wheel of a 67-win powerhouse Chicago Bulls team in the middle of a three-peat. He was an elite defender and the interior complement to the powerful perimeter tandem of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Grant was almost a perfect role player. He stayed within his lane on offense and was rewarded with a career-best field-goal percentage that season. He relentlessly attacked the glass and corralled the third-most offensive rebounds. Altogether, his accomplishments added up to the fourth-most offensive win shares and eighth-highest offensive box plus/minus.
He was even more of a force on defense, where he had the quickness to chase players around the perimeter and the muscle to bang on the low block. He could change a defensive possession with a rejection or a theft, and he routinely ended them with timely rebounds. He wound up sixth in defensive box plus/minus and eighth in defensive win shares.
The Bulls were dominant enough to warrant three All-Star selections, and Grant was the no-doubt choice. He paced the team in DBPM and trailed only Jordan in BPM and WS.
4. Rudy Gobert, 2016-17 Utah Jazz
Win Shares: 14.3
Notable Numbers: 14.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 66.1 FG%, 23.3 PER
The 2016-17 season saw the return of the Utah Jazz as a Western Conference power. Not coincidentally, it also witnessed Rudy Gobert's rise as a defensive juggernaut.
A 7'1", 245-pound package of impossibly long arms and unfair agility, he's the ideal counter to any offensive attacks. Challenging him at the rim is just begging for trouble. In 2016-17, he led the NBA in blocks and bettered all volume bigs in opponents' shooting at the rim. But launching from distance often does little more than let him feast on the glass. That season, he snatched the fifth-most defensive boards of anyone.
His offense also ticked up a notch, too. He came into the campaign with career averages of 7.2 points on 57.5 percent shooting. Now weaponized as a pick-and-roll screener (96th percentile), he nearly doubled his scoring output and added almost 10 percentage points to his conversion rate.
Utah's similar spike from 40 wins to 51 had everything to do with Gobert's growth. The Jazz had an elite plus-8.3 net rating with him and a dismal minus-4.1 mark without. His plus-435 raw plus/minus was 11th-best, or highest among everyone who wasn't a Golden State Warrior, a Los Angeles Clipper or LeBron James.
The NBA recognized Gobert as an All-Defensive first-teamer and All-NBA second-teamer, but the defensive dominance did nothing to sway All-Star voters.
3. Rudy Gobert, 2018-19 Utah Jazz
Win Shares: 14.4
Notable Numbers: 15.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 2.0 APG, 66.9 FG%, 24.6 PER
This might've been the best version of Gobert to date. But for our purposes, it's the worst kind of double-dip. He's the only player with multiple appearances on this list, and each happens to sit inside the top four.
The snub was even less forgivable than the first. His defense was as dominant as ever, and by season's end, it would net him his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. He also claimed All-NBA third-team honors and fetched an MVP vote for the first time.
But none of this changed his All-Star fate. Even if most subscribe to the theory that defense wins championships, folks still don't think it commands that kind of respect.
"For all the kids watching, you're basically telling them that defense doesn't matter, that winning doesn't matter," a dejected Gobert told reporters after learning of his omission.
Objectively, Gobert landed somewhere among the sport's top 15 players last season. He was credited with the second-most win shares and sixth-highest box plus/minus. ESPN's real plus-minus had him 16th overall, best on the defensive end and ninth in RPM wins.
Few players make a bigger imprint on their team. At some point, that needs to be reflected in an All-Star selection for the big fella.
2. Chet Walker, 1971-72 Chicago Bulls
Win Shares: 14.5
Notable Numbers: 22.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 50.5 FG%, 21.8 PER
Unfamiliar with Chet "The Jet" Walker? It's fine if you are considering his NBA career ended in 1975.
He was the 12th overall pick in the 1962 draft and a double-digit scorer in all 13 seasons he played. He never missed the postseason and captured a championship with the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. He made seven All-Star appearances and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
He was durable, defensive-minded and dangerous in the open court. He was a relentless finisher at the basket, a silky shooter off the catch and a regular at the free-throw line.
He was also one of history's worst All-Star snubs in 1971-72, a season directly preceded by two All-Star trips and directly followed by two more. That year, he set a career high in field-goal shooting, matched his personal best in points per game and served as the second option of a Bulls team that posted a pristine 57-25 record.
Throughout the league, Walker was a top-20 scorer with the fifth-highest PER and the fourth-most win shares. Eight different teams had multiple All-Stars that season, but the Bulls, who had the third-best record, only sent Bob Love to the festivities.
1. Dirk Nowitzki, 2000-01 Dallas Mavericks
Win Shares: 14.6
Notable Numbers: 21.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 47.4 FG%, 38.7 3P%, 22.8 PER
Before blossoming into an all-time elite, Dirk Nowitzki needed a minute to get his feet wet.
That should've been expected. The ninth overall pick in 1998, the 20-year-old suddenly found himself in a new country and essentially at a brand new position since he revolutionized the forward spot. The lockout-shortened schedule didn't help matters, and he never got in a groove.
But he sparked to life as a sophomore, then officially left the launching pad in Year 3. The 2000-01 season, his last as a non-All-Star for the next decade, saw him simultaneously crack the top 20 in points, rebounds and threes. He was a 7-footer with handles and a jump shot, and both he and the Dallas Mavericks were learning just how lethal that combination could become.
"He started to see how good he was and how good he could become and he started to take his approach to another level," former teammate Nick Van Exel told CBS Sports' James Herbert in 2019. "... He got kind of a fire inside of him to where he was a little bit different. He was a little bit nastier. He was a little bit more I'm going to cut your head off."
The Mavs followed Nowitzki's lead, skyrocketing from 40 wins to 53. The 7-foot sniper was credited with the second-most win shares, the fourth-highest true shooting percentage (60.1) and the 12th-best PER.
He was already a certified star, even if it inexplicably took the league another season to recognize him as such.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.