A Case For The All-Star Game


Last week the starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game were announced.  With the elimination of the Center category the biggest surprise was Kevin Love being voted a starter over Dwight Howard.  Everything else went as most people predicted, Kobe fans remained delusional, Kyrie Irving got the start based more on the adulation he’s received as Uncle Drew than for his play on the court, and Lebron led everyone in votes.  The five starters out west are Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Kobe Bryant.  And in the Eastern Conference the starters are Lebron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, and Dwyane Wade.

A young Grant Hill and Jason Kidd at the 1996 All-Star Game

So with the starters set, players and their teams have gone about making YouTube videos and even starting full multimedia campaigns to get their ticket to New Orleans paid for by the league.  There is Dwight Howard’s Center for Save The Centers video, Lance Stephenson’s Sir Lance-A-Lot hype video, DeMar DeRozan receiving All-Star support on Twitter from Dwayne Wade, Ty Lawson’s “This Is Pepsi Center” ad that parodies Sportscenter, and the Timberwolves “Bruise Brothers” campaign in order to get Pekovic on the All-Star roster.  My all time favorite though is still Rudy Gay’s “Most Interesting Man In The NBA” video.

Everyone wants to hang with these guys All-Star Weekend

This is slightly off-base, but I’d love for the NBA players and people in the respective teams’ PR departments to go to work for political campaigns.  They’d make the fall election season infinitely more enjoyable.  Just imagine Hilary with an over-the-top Scottish accent doing a parody of the Dewar’s post apocalyptic commercials starring Claire Forlani or Christ Christie and Marco Rubio saying “totes mcgoats” as they recreate the Sprint ads staring James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell.  The other quick point I want to make regarding NBA player campaigns is it’s stuff like this that leads NBA players to receiving a majority of the endorsement deals that are out there for athletes in the United States.  Despite being the third most popular sport in the United States a majority of the athletes you see in ads are basketball players.  The NBA does the best job of recognizing that they are nothing more than a form of entertainment, and because of that allow themselves to ham it up in front of a camera.  Opposed to the NFL where the players only seem to find their way into the main-stream media through negative press and MLB whose executives believe that they are doing God’s work by playing their game for fans and take themselves entirely too seriously.  I’m digressing way too much though, so back to my original reason for this post.

On Thursday the reserves will be announced, at which point everyone with a computer or in front of a t.v. will discuss which players were wrongfully left off the roster.  Players like John Wall, Roy Hibbert, and Chris Bosh are probably the safest bets to make the Eastern Conference squad, while from the Western Conference Lamarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and James Harden look to be the safest picks.  Since there are only a total of 24 spots some players and their fans are bound to be disappointed.  In Philadelphia if Thad Young or MCW don’t make the team fans will be upset.  Same goes for Paul Milsap and Jeff Teague fans in Atlanta, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry fans in Toronto, Lance Stephenson fans in Indiana, Aaron Afflalo fans in Orlando, and I’m sure the millions of fans within Evan Turner’s head will be upset as well if he is left off the roster.  Out west the competition for seats on the bench is more fierce.  Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Mike Conley, and Serge Ibaka have all been a part of the discussion.  From all of the articles I’ve read there are two names I have hardly seen discussed, if at all.

So lets start with a blind test.  Here are the numbers for five players from the same conference competing for spots on the All-Star team.

Player GP MIN FGM FGA FG% 3FGM 3FGA 3FG% FTM FTA FT% REB AST TOV STL BLK PTS PER
Player A 42 37.8 8.3 18.5 44.9% 3.3 8.4 39.5% 4.2 4.9 85.8% 4.6 9.3 4.2 1.9 0.2 24.1 23.16
Player B 40 38.6 7.2 16.2 44.4% 2 6.2 32.1% 7.4 8.7 84.8% 4.9 5.5 3.7 1.3 0.6 23.7 21.08
Player C 45 35.9 6.6 15.8 41.7% 3 7.1 41.9% 4.6 5.1 88.7% 3.6 5.6 2.3 0.7 0.4 20.7 19.08
Player D 44 33.3 6.6 14.8 44.5% 1.9 5 38.5% 4.7 5.5 86.0% 2.8 6.3 2.8 1.4 0 19.8 21.37
Player E 41 34.8 6.9 14 49.5% 1.3 3.6 37.4% 4.3 5.5 77.4% 3.4 6.1 2.8 1.4 0.2 19.4 21.40

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Take it in.  Process it.  And here is the big reveal.

Player A

Player B

Player C

Player D

Player E

Yes, how about that.  Players D and E are the Kings Isaiah Thomas and the Suns Goran Dragic.  For the rest of this post though we’ll look at what Thomas has been doing this season since Dragic has gotten some publicity concerning his inclusion in the All-Star game, and as my friend Tanner pointed out, “people in the know are aware of the season Dragic has been having.”  Case in point, when you google “Goran Dragic all star” a couple articles from the local Arizona papers appear at the top of the page stating a case for the PG/SG.  When you google “Isaiah Thomas all star” there is not a single link on the first page stating the case for the scoring point guard to be on the All-Star team.

The 5’9″ third year point guard from Washington University that was the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2011 draft is having a superb season.  With just two days remaining before the 2014 All-Star Game reserves are selected Thomas has a higher PER (21.37) than both Damian Lillard and James Harden, in addition to John Wall, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, and Kyle Lowery.  Thomas’ PER of 21.37 ranks 20th in the league overall and 6th among guards.  His 44.5%/38.5%/86.0% slash line is almost identical to Stephen Curry’s, (44.9%/39.5%/85.5%) who many smart basketball writers have crowned the most feared shooter in the NBA.  The one area where Curry has a significant advantage over Thomas is his assist numbers.  But after taking a closer look using the SportsVu data you can see that Curry’s assist numbers are somewhat inflated due to the number of excellent shooters he’s plays with on a nightly basis.

Below is a graph of the SportsVu passing data.  I limited the player pool to players that have played at least 20 games this season and average at least 4 assists per game.  The resulting number of players from the filters was 49.  One of the many things the SportsVu cameras track is the number of assist opportunities created by a player.  It’s defined as “passes by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist.”  Once the player makes the pass the outcome of the shot is obviously out of his hands, similar to how a pitcher has to rely on the defense behind him to make a play when he forces a ground ball or pop up.  In baseball the advanced stats used to measure this are BABIP, DICE, or CERA.  The goal of these stats is an attempt to take luck out of the equation while also singling out the pitcher’s ability independent of his teammates.

Because this is only the first year the SportsVu cameras have been used league wide there isn’t enough of a history to determine the average number of assist opportunities that are converted.  But, we’ll make due with what we have as of now.

Rank Player GP MIN AST PG Passes PG Total AST FT Assists PG Secondary Assists PG Assist opportunities PG Points created by assist PG Points Created by AST Per 48 Min % of AST Converted
1 Andre Iguodala (GSW) 33 33.3 4.7 33.8 155 0.4 1.3 7.6 11.2 16.1 61.84%
2 Tyreke Evans (NOP) 37 25.6 4.3 29.7 158 0.3 0.6 7.2 9.9 18.6 59.72%
3 Mario Chalmers (MIA) 38 29.2 5.1 52.3 193 0.5 1.4 8.7 11.3 18.6 58.62%
4 Lance Stephenson (IND) 42 35.8 5.3 39.5 221 0.5 0.8 9.3 12.1 16.3 56.99%
5 Nicolas Batum (POR) 45 35.9 5.6 53.6 252 0.5 1.1 9.9 12.9 17.3 56.57%
6 Manu Ginobili (SAS) 41 24.1 4.5 29.5 186 0.6 1.1 8 10.8 21.4 56.25%
7 Dwyane Wade (MIA) 31 33.2 4.7 36.4 147 0.4 0.9 8.5 11 15.9 55.29%
8 Jrue Holiday (NOP) 34 33.8 7.9 60.6 268 0.9 0.7 14.3 18.2 25.8 55.24%
9 Stephen Curry (GSW) 41 38 9.3 58.8 381 0.6 1.7 16.9 21.1 26.6 55.03%
10 Michael Carter-Williams (PHI) 34 34.9 6.7 60.2 227 0.5 1.5 12.2 15.7 21.7 54.92%
11 LeBron James (MIA) 43 37.2 6.5 49.4 278 0.5 1.3 12 15.7 20.2 54.17%
12 Steve Blake (LAL) 21 32 7.7 61.9 162 0.5 1.6 14.3 17.7 26.5 53.85%
13 Chris Paul (LAC) 34 34.9 11.2 73.3 380 0.9 2.2 20.9 25.3 34.8 53.59%
14 Russell Westbrook (OKC) 25 33.1 7 52.2 174 1 1.8 13.1 16.2 23.5 53.44%
15 Mo Williams (POR) 44 24.7 4.8 42.3 212 0.4 0.8 9 11.3 22 53.33%
16 Jeremy Lin (HOU) 36 30.7 4.2 45.2 151 0.5 0.8 7.9 10.2 15.9 53.16%
17 Kevin Durant (OKC) 45 38.4 5.2 37.7 233 0.6 0.6 9.8 12.1 15.1 53.06%
18 Joakim Noah (CHI) 42 33.8 4.1 60.1 171 0.5 0.5 7.8 9.3 13.2 52.56%
19 Monta Ellis (DAL) 46 36.7 5.9 47.1 272 0.5 1.2 11.3 14.1 18.5 52.21%
20 Josh McRoberts (CHA) 45 30.4 4.1 67.7 184 0.5 0.7 7.9 9.1 14.4 51.90%
21 Brandon Jennings (DET) 42 36.2 8.2 62.8 343 0.9 1.4 15.9 18.2 24.1 51.57%
22 Deron Williams (BKN) 27 30.5 7.1 61.3 193 0.9 1.9 13.8 17.3 27.1 51.45%
23 Trey Burke (UTA) 33 31.2 5.7 60.5 187 0.3 1.1 11.1 13 20.1 51.35%
24 Kyle Lowry (TOR) 43 36.5 7.6 70.3 327 0.6 1.5 14.9 17.5 23 51.01%
25 Ricky Rubio (MIN) 44 31.7 8.2 69.3 362 1.1 2 16.1 19.2 29 50.93%
26 Damian Lillard (POR) 45 36.1 5.6 63.8 254 0.6 1.3 11.1 13.6 18.1 50.45%
27 Kyrie Irving (CLE) 41 35.3 6.2 55.7 256 0.5 0.9 12.4 14.1 19.2 50.00%
28 Jordan Crawford (TOTAL) 44 29.2 5.3 52.4 234 0.4 1 10.7 12.5 20.5 49.53%
29 Jose Calderon (DAL) 45 31.6 4.7 63.7 210 0.5 1.4 9.5 11 16.8 49.47%
30 Greivis Vasquez (TOTAL) 41 21.8 4.5 41.8 186 0.5 1 9.1 10.2 22.5 49.45%
31 Mike Conley (MEM) 40 34.8 6.2 66.8 248 0.9 1.7 12.6 14.1 19.4 49.21%
32 John Wall (WAS) 43 37.2 8.5 72.8 365 0.8 1.9 17.3 20.4 26.3 49.13%
33 Raymond Felton (NYK) 28 32.7 5.5 59.9 154 0.1 1.1 11.2 12.9 19 49.11%
34 James Harden (HOU) 40 38.8 5.5 42.6 220 0.6 0.9 11.2 13.1 16.2 49.11%
35 Tony Parker (SAS) 40 31.4 6.3 58.7 252 0.6 1.7 12.9 14.8 22.5 48.84%
36 Eric Bledsoe (PHX) 24 33.6 5.8 53.5 140 0.7 0.8 12 14.2 20.3 48.33%
37 Kevin Love (MIN) 43 36 4.1 60.9 177 0.7 0.7 8.5 9.6 12.8 48.24%
38 Reggie Jackson (OKC) 46 27.7 4 40.3 186 0.5 1.1 8.3 9.4 16.3 48.19%
39 Ty Lawson (DEN) 41 35.9 8.9 58.2 365 1.1 1.5 18.5 21.4 28.6 48.11%
40 Jeff Teague (ATL) 41 32.9 7.4 57.6 303 0.7 1.7 15.4 17.3 25.3 48.05%
41 Jordan Farmar (LAL) 22 20.8 4.7 41.2 104 0.5 1 9.9 11.6 26.8 47.47%
42 Isaiah Thomas (SAC) 43 33.6 6.3 58.4 271 0.7 1.1 13.3 14.6 20.9 47.37%
43 Goran Dragic (PHX) 41 35.1 6.1 54.1 251 0.7 1.2 12.9 15.6 21.4 47.29%
44 Brandon Knight (MIL) 36 30.8 4.6 56.4 164 0.4 0.8 9.8 10.6 16.6 46.94%
45 Kemba Walker (CHA) 42 35.9 5 76.9 212 0.5 1.4 10.7 11.7 15.6 46.73%
46 Jameer Nelson (ORL) 42 34.1 6.7 56.1 282 0.9 0.9 14.7 15.6 22 45.58%
47 Kirk Hinrich (CHI) 35 30.2 4.7 59.7 166 0.5 1.7 10.4 11 17.4 45.19%
48 Gordon Hayward (UTA) 40 36.4 4.9 50.1 196 0.6 1.4 10.9 11.7 15.4 44.95%
49 D.J. Augustin (TOTAL) 33 24.5 4.6 49.6 153 0.8 1.5 10.6 10.6 20.8 43.40%

A half of a season’s data to go off of produces a median percentage of assist opportunities converted at 50.93% and a mean of 51.19%.  With that in mind you can see that Curry’s assist numbers are aided by the fact that he has strong shooters around him.  Now if we take each players assist opportunities per game and multiple it by the average number of assists converted (51.19%) you get assist numbers that are slightly different.  Curry’s assist per game would go from 9.3 down to 8.7 while Thomas’ would rise from 6.3 to 6.8 ranking them 4th (2nd in league presently) and 13th (16th in league presently) respectively in assists per game.  Admittedly my method is somewhat simplistic and I’m sure a Curry fan could make a case that I’m manipulating the numbers to aid my argument, but I still think there is a strong case to be made for Thomas’ All-Star credentials.

Another way to put Thomas on a more even ground with his competition is to look as Thomas’ numbers per 36 minutes.  As of today Thomas is averaging 33.3 minutes per game, compared to Curry, Harden, and Lillard who are all averaging at least 36 minutes per game.  Here is what Thomas’ stat line looks like per 36.

PER 36 MINUTES
Name FGM FGA FG% 3FGM 3FGA 3FG% FTM FTA FT% OREB DREB REB AST TOV STL BLK PTS
Isaiah Thomas 7.1 15.9 44.50% 2.1 5.4 38.50% 5.1 5.9 86.00% 0.8 2.3 3.1 6.9 3 1.5 0 21.4

To argue that Thomas shouldn’t be considered because he hasn’t led his team to enough victories is somewhat silly since nobody has a problem with Kyrie Irving or Carmelo Anthony making the team.   Irving and Anthony have lead their teams to a .364 and .386 win percentage respectively.  Thomas and the Kings current win percentage is .341, but have also had to play in the much more difficult Western Conference.  Furthermore, since Thomas was inserted into the starting lineup on December 9th the Kings have gone 10-16.  Still below .500, but significantly better than their 5-13 record before Thomas was named the starting point guard.  Some of the Kings most recent success could be attributed to the addition of Rudy Gay, but at the same time Thomas deserves extra points for finding a way to satisfy both Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, while also averaging almost 20 points per game himself.

Before Thomas was named the starter the Kings were averaging 97.9 points per game, 43% FG%, 33.4% 3FG%, 23 FTA per game, and a 78% FT%.  Since then they are averaging 105.1 points per game, 46% FG%, 34.9% 3FG%, 28 FTA per game, and a 76.1 FT%.  Their 105.1 points per game from December 8th through today ranks 9th best in the NBA, ahead of the Houston Rockets and just a tenth of a point behind both the Heat and the Warriors.  With Thomas starting the Kings have also become one of the more fun teams to watch in the NBA.  On any given night Thomas will make a “DVR rewind” pass, lead a one man fast break, or slice through all five defenders on his way to the basket as if he’s just taken Gummiberry Juice.

Unfortunately for Thomas, because of his size he’ll never be an elite defender.  The basketball gods blessed him with loads of talent, but decided to pass on giving him even average height for an NBA point guard.  However, when discussing who should make the All-Star team rarely is it mentioned that Harden, Curry, Lillard, or Irving are all below average defenders.  What’s separates Thomas from other diminutive scoring guards like fellow UW alum Nate Robinson is his efficiency on offense.   Thomas’ defensive shortcomings are easier to accept with a 44.5%/38.5%/86.0% slash line as opposed to Robinson whose best statistical year came during the 2008-2009 season when he played 30 minutes a game for the Knicks scoring 17.2 points per game and dishing out 4.1 assists per game to go along with a 43.7%/32.5%/84.1 slash line.  If he can bring his turnovers per game down just a little bit more, as he continues to grow as a player, it’ll be hard to keep him out of the discussion of best point guards in the league.

The purpose of this post is not to find fault with the accomplishments of Curry, Lillard, or Harden.  The point of it is to shine some spotlight on the vertically challenged point guard in Sacramento who is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch.  Being well short of average male height myself I have to do my part and stand up for the short crew.  The last player 5’9″ or under to make an All-Star team was Calvin Murphy of the San Diego/Houston Rockets in 1979.  Murphy’s lone all-star appearance is also the only time someone 5’9″ or under has made an all-star team.  It’s been 35 years since Murphy’s all-star appearance.  The people are ready to root for a new “little guy.”

Isaiah Thomas 2014 All-Star!

All stats and info courtesy of basketball-reference.com NBA.com and Wikipedia, so thanks guys.

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