Once again, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are All-Star captains.
Once again, the fans — mostly, anyway — got who they wanted as the game’s starters.
And once again, too many NBA players made a mockery of their vote to decide which colleagues should start the league’s showcase exhibition.
It’s time for the NBA to take the vote away from the players. It’s clear too many don’t want the job.
While fan voting pretty much set the tone for who will start Feb. 16 in Chicago, an AP analysis of the numbers shows that 380 players took part in the voting. The players, like the media and fans, voted for three frontcourt players and two guards apiece from the Eastern and Western Conferences.
A look inside those numbers reveals a growing concern.
Antetokounmpo — the league’s reigning MVP — got the most player votes, with 258. That means 67.9% of players who voted thought he was worthy of an All-Star start. More importantly, that means 32.1% of players who voted thought he should either come off the bench or not be an All-Star at all.
James didn’t appear on 38.2% of the player ballots. If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, it’s Antetokounmpo and James have been among the three best forwards in their conferences this season.
Sounds reasonable, but apparently it’s not obvious to their peers.
James and Antetokounmpo were the only two starters who got more than 50% of the vote from their player peers. Put another way: 52% of players didn’t think Anthony Davis should be a starter, 56% didn’t vote for Luka Doncic, 59% didn’t vote for Kawhi Leonard, 62% didn’t vote for James Harden, 67% didn’t vote for Joel Embiid, 70% didn’t vote for Kemba Walker, 72% didn’t vote for Pascal Siakam and a whopping 83% of players didn’t vote for Trae Young.
If there can be two days of outrage and counting over Derek Jeter getting 99.7% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America for inclusion into the Hall of Fame — missing a unanimous selection by one measly vote — then there should be some outrage for this.
The Pro Bowl is less than ideal, given that players who made the Super Bowl aren’t taking part and neither are plenty of other players who could be on the field in Orlando this weekend. The NHL All-Star game this weekend is missing Alex Ovechkin. The latter innings of baseball’s All-Star Game are usually featuring players who most fans didn’t vote for, because the starters’ evenings have long been over.
And the NBA’s All-Star game gets ripped most every year for being a no-defense exhibition.
It’s doubtful any of that will change. The days of Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse at home plate in an All-Star game are over.
But that doesn’t mean NBA players shouldn’t take the vote seriously.
The players made their voice heard in some cases. Fan-pick Kyrie Irving wasn’t named a starter; Walker got that nod instead — based on player and media voting.
Irving or Walker can be a legit debate, but some player voting was comical.
— Zion Williamson got two votes, which on the surface doesn’t look so bad; after all, he was the No. 1 overall pick last season. Consider, however, that the two votes were cast before he made his NBA debut on Wednesday.
— Tacko Fall — the 7-foot-5 Boston center who has spent most of his rookie season in the G League — got seven votes from players. He has appeared in four games.
— Justise Winslow, who has missed most of Miami’s season, got one vote. So did Heat teammate KZ Okpala, which is one more vote than he has NBA points.
— Thanasis Antetokounmpo got six player votes. Kostas Antetokounmpo got five, a big number for someone who hasn’t scored yet this season. Perhaps players got confused. Perhaps those votes were supposed to go to Giannis. Who knows.
— Bol Bol got a vote. He hasn’t played yet. Miye Oni got a vote. He’s made three scoreless appearances. The list of ‘this-guy-got-votes?’ goes on and on and on and on.
In all, 292 players got at least one vote from their peers. That’s a new record, three more than the ridiculous number set last year.
The system changed four years ago after 768,112 people voted for Zaza Pachulia in 2016 and nearly made him a starter. Pachulia’s “candidacy” was fueled by social-media influencers and many votes from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, his homeland.
The NBA was right to act then and change the rules, going to a formula where starters get picked in a system where fans make up 50% of the vote, media 25% and players the other 25%.
Change the rules again.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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