If the NBA wants its increasingly tangential All-Star game to retain any credibility, it must reduce the impact of fan voting on the game’s starters. Lonzo Ball is averaging 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game with a 12.17 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) for the bottom-five Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers is posting 25, 6.5 and 4.8 with a PER of 22.82. Ball received more than 27,000 more votes than Lillard. Meanwhile, fellow Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma outvoted Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns in the league’s first returns of fan voting, despite Towns’ scoring four more points per game with a PER nearly nine points higher.
More than that, statistics aside, any rational basketball fan could not in good conscience say that Lonzo Ball is anywhere near as good as Damian Lillard, let alone better, and likewise with Kuzma and Towns.
This stems from years back, when former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming would be among the top five in voting without stepping on the court due to injury, simply from his large fan base in China.
The NBA already made strides by reducing fan voting for All-Star starters to 50 percent; however, this clearly is still too high, as starting in the All-Star game remains a popularity contest rather than the meritocracy it should be.
I understand the NBA’s hesitation to strip the fans of too much of their voting power. However, if number of All-Star game appearances/starts continues to remain a part of distinguishing NBA careers, people who pay more attention to LaVar Ball off the court in Lithuania than Lonzo Ball on the hardwood should have a minimized role in dictating who receives the honors. I commend the NBA for the steps it’s already taken to address this issue, and maybe the solution is a simple as a reduction to 35 percent — so fans still retain the largest single proportion of voting among the three pools but don’t dominate the overall share.
Players haven’t proven to be any more professional, as Tyler Zeller (averaging 7.5 points per game for the bottom-feeder Brooklyn Nets) received four votes, while no-names like Tyler Cavanaugh, Marvin Williams and Lance Thomas also received votes.
The bottom line is that coaches and the media should have more of a say in the All-Star starters voting, as they have clearly shown to be the most apt at rewarding players when deserved. Last year, Zaza Pachulia of the Golden State Warriors would’ve been named an All-Star starter had the fans had 100 percent control as in years past. However, when it came time to vote in the remainder of the team, the coaches didn’t get Zaza anywhere close – which is the way it should’ve been.
The NBA receives far less outrage about its administration than its MLB and NFL counterparts. However, this still remains an issue that needs to be resolved if the league desires for its superstar weekend to maintain some merit, rather than the country’s – and in some cases the world’s – biggest popularity contest.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu.