Kyle Lowry, Arron Aflalo, Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson each had a better case to make the All-Star Game than Joe Johnson, who was voted in as a reserve this week by NBA coaches. His inclusion must go down as the most baffling in modern All-Star memory.
At this stage in Johnson’s career, he is a one-dimensional scorer who is not particularly good at that one dimension. At 15.7 points per game, he is 53rd on the league’s leading scorers list – just slightly ahead of Gerald Henderson, Carlos Boozer and Dion Waiters – and ranks just 141st in PER.
Arron Afflalo, who plays the same position as Johnson, is having a career year surrounded by far less talent and is better in every facet of the game – he is a better defender , more active on the glass and a more efficient shooter who is 16th in the league in scoring at 20.0 points per game.
Kyle Lowry, if you ask Raptors fans, is having a better, more impactful season than teammate DeMar DeRozan, who made the squad. Lowry has been perhaps the best point guard in the East since the Rudy Gay trade, and has helped lead the 25-21 Raps to third in the East. “The coaches don’t know a damn thing about our team,” summarised one fan succinctly. Al Jefferson meanwhile is a top 20 scorer and top 10 rebounder who has led the 21-27 Bobcats to one more win than the Nets.
The Nets still have a losing record at 20-24 – one of the 12 worst in the league – and have heavily underachieved with a roster featuring no less than six former All-Stars, so the coaches cannot claim that they are rewarding winning here. If that was their aim, Lance Stephenson would have been the obvious choice.
Stephenson leads the league-best Pacers in assists, minutes and field goal percentage, and is second in scoring and rebounds. He stamps his impact on games all over the court and already has four triple-doubles so far this season. Moreover, he wears the iconic-in-2000 And1 Tai Chi Mid shoes, calls himself “Born Ready,” doesn’t bother wearing warmups for pre-game intros, recorded an All-Star campaign video in a ridiculous wig, and routinely does things like THIS on the court. Simply put, he is my idol. And he belongs in the All-Stat Game somehow, some way.
Statistically, Johnson does not stack up with Afflalo, Lowry, Big Al or Lance:
42 games, 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 44.3% FGs, 38.6% 3-pt FGs, 14.9 PER.
43 games, 20.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 47.0% FGs, 42.0% 3-pt FGs, 17.6 PER.
45 games, 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 43.5% FGs, 40.1% 3-pt FGs, 20.2 PER.
38 games, 19.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 blocks, 48.6% FGs, 21.5 PER.
44 games, 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 49.9% FGs, 34.4% 3-pt FGs, 15.9 PER.
The last guard to be voted in by the coaches whilst averaging under 16 points and under 3 assists was the Detroit Pistons’ Gene Shue in 1957/58 – when the league consisted of just eight teams.
A 19-year-old Kobe Bryant was voted in as a starter by the fans in ‘97/98 with averages of 15.4 points and 2.5 assists – he was not even starting for his own team at the time – but did light up the Garden with two spectacular dunks and a behind-the-back dribble and running hook shot.
Iso Joe will provide no such highlights in New Orleans; six times previously he has been named an All-Star and he is still yet to have a memorable All-Star moment.
Though coaches tend to get the All-Star reserves right more often than not, there have been other somewhat questionable selections over the years. Here are my most memorably questionable inclusions of the past two decades, but every one of these gentlemen had a more water-tight All-Star case than Johnson:
Mehmet Okur, ‘06/07 – 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 18.1 PER. Okur was the second representative (alongside Carlos Boozer) for a Jazz team that ended January at an impressive 30-17. Mitigating circumstance: Okur was not among the coaches’ original selections for the squad; he was later named as an injury replacement for the injured Steve Nash.
Jamaal Magloire, ‘03/04 – 13.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 16.5 PER. Magloire was the second representative (alongside Baron Davis) for a Hornets team that was 26-21 at the end of January. Mitigating circumstance: each squad had to include at least two centers at that time, and he was a top two center in the East.
Anthony Mason, ‘00/01 – 16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 17.4 PER. Mason was the lone representative for a Heat team that stood at 28-18 at the end of January. They had to have someone on the squad.
Chris Gatling, ‘96/97 – 19.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 23.9 PER. Gatling’s Mavs were a miserable 14-28 at the end of January, but Gatling was admirably efficient (53% FGs) despite the lack of talent around him. Only Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal matched his field goal percentage whilst shooting at least 13 times a game that season. Regardless, Dallas traded him in a package deal for Shawn Bradley just 10 days after All-Star weekend.
Alas, the Nets will have no such luck trading Iso Joe should they desire to. He has two years and $49 million remaining on his contract after this one.
Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of things? On the surface, no – the All-Star Game is generally a sloppy, forgettable affair and the voting for its participants will be of no interest to fans a month from now.
There is a less trivial side to the process though. When it comes to reviewing a star player’s career, the All-Star appearance count is inevitably one barometer used to determine his impact and legacy. In some small sense, it matters that Oscar Robertson, Moses Malone and Isiah Thomas made 12 All-Star Games apiece – it helps validate their brilliance and longevity to those who never saw them play.
Joe Johnson, thanks to lazy and categorically incorrect decision making, now has more All-Star appearances to his name than Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Chris Mullin, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Pau Gasol. There is something wrong with that picture.
Meanwhile, in the other conference…
There were also questionable calls out West. I argued that DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis should have made the squad over Damian Lillard and Dwight Howard – based on ability, statistical accomplishments and straightforward historic precedence. I stand by that.
I reiterate: no healthy player with Boogie’s 23/11/1 averages has ever missed the All-Star Game other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in ‘77/78, who missed 20 of the first 21 games that year after breaking his hand on Kent Benson’s face in the season opener.
Moreover, Davis is 5th in PER (26.8) and Cousins is 6th (26.6). No player has ever put up a PER of 25+ over 64+ games (a pace they are both comfortably on target to meet) and not been selected for the game.
Yes, Davis has missed 8 games due to injury, but Chris Paul has missed 14, and he still made the squad.
And speaking of Paul, it would have been so much fun watching Boogie coexist with the flopper against whom he holds a strict no-handshake policy and of whom he recently stated: “I don’t respect a cheater.”
NBA coaches robbed us of that opportunity with their birdbrained ballots. Maybe next year they will pay more attention.