January 22, 2015

All-Star Starter

For the first time since the 2007-2008 season, the Washington Wizards have a player in the NBA All-Star Game in consecutive years. Last year, John Wall came off the bench in New Orleans to pace the Eastern Conference in the mid-season classic victory and this year he's going to be in New York hopefully helping the East win again. Oh, he also managed to walk off with the Slam Dunk Contest win last year. Not bad for a couple of nights in the Big Easy. In case you were wondering, Caron Butler was the last Wizard to post back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2007 and 2008.

Now, John being in the All-Star Game again is not really much of a surprise. His numbers are not that much different from last year (shooting percentage, assists, rebounds and steals are all up while total points, three point shooting percentage are down and unfortunately turnovers have increased along with other positive metrics) when I feel he was clearly deserving of a spot. But the Wizards ARE a whole lot different, sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 29-14 record as opposed to a 20-20 record last year, and I believe team success should inform All-Star selections. While I'm not putting the team's improvement squarely on John's shoulders, he's clearly the guy who makes everything go for the Wizards.

What IS a surprise to me is that John is an All-Star STARTER, joining LeBron James, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony as the East's starting five. Not that I don't think he deserves to start in the All-Star Game. He totally does. Way more than last year's starter at point guard in Kyrie Irving (ignore the All-Star Game MVP that Irving won last year). Right now, I wouldn't trade John for any guard in the NBA. In fact, I might not trade him for any player in the NBA. This doesn't mean I think he's the best player in the NBA by the way; it means I wouldn't trade John and the next four years on his current deal for someone possessing superior skills now and diminished skills four years from now.

So why does it surprise me that John is a starter? Because I've always considered the All-Star Game starters, who are voted in by fans, to be the most popular players on the most popular teams in the NBA regardless of individual talent, team success or even, in some cases, playing time. Last year, Kobe Bryant was voted a starter despite playing in only six games. Clearly Kobe couldn't be one of the best players in the NBA in just six games. Sometimes the fans' choices are clearly baffling. I find it interesting that Kevin Durant finished outside the top three in frontcourt voting in the West this year; maybe his popularity is not as resilient as Bryant's.

My opinion here is that John is not one of the most popular players in the NBA and I'm pretty sure that the Wizards, despite their very very recent success, are not one of the most popular teams in the league. Now I'm basing this almost exclusively on jersey sales (I mean, why not, right?). Last week, the NBA released their list of the top 15 selling jerseys and John's jersey (or collection of home, away and alternate only-worn-on-Wednesday jerseys I guess) is not on the list. Of the ten starters voted into the All-Star Game by the fans, four (John, Kyle Lowry and the two Gasol brothers - Marc's starting for the West) are missing from that list. I guess I'm surprised the three of them are starting also then. I do think the pendulum has swung here a bit. Kyle Lowry finished ahead of Kyrie Irving (he was behind on the first two public releases of voting results) and rocketed past Dwayne Wade since the third public release of the voting results presumably based on Toronto's early season success. That's encouraging.

On the other side of the Kyle Lowry coin, no Atlanta Hawk finished in the top 10 guards or frontcourt voting and Atlanta is clearly the class of the East in the first half. I'd be willing to bet that the Hawks fall far into the bottom 20 of the NBA teams in popularity, just like the Wizards do. The NBA released a list of the top 10 teams in terms of merchandise sales last week when they released the jersey sale numbers. Not surprisingly, the Wizards are not on the list which leads me to believe the franchise, just like John, is not that popular. The attendance and enthusiasm or lack thereof at Verizon Center lead me to the same conclusion. I'm surprised John got as much love as he did. Maybe it's all those day after day after day Tweets that I and other Wizards fans sent in. Maybe we have quality if not quantity.

Anyway, despite all the rambling above, congratulations are in order for John. We haven't had an All-Star starter on the team since 2007 (Gilbert Arenas). Now we just have to wait for the reserves to be announced. Based on Carmelo Anthony taking a spot undeservedly and no Hawks being voted as starters, there are precious few spots for other Wizards. Maybe you can make an argument for Paul Pierce or (dare I say it?) Nenê but I don't see those guys making it. You have to add Chicago's Jimmy Butler, two or three Hawks (I'm thinking Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and maybe Al Horford or Kyle Korver, but not both) and call me a conspiracy theorist but I have a feeling Kyrie Irving and Chris Bosh are going to somehow sneak on the team. That leaves one spot left. We are second in the conference, why can't we have it? I'm not holding my breath but why not? Congratulations, again, John! D.C. is lucky to have you.

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