Brook Lopez May Be the Biggest All-Star Snub Ever

Edit:  Looks like Rob Mahoney at the Point Forward beat me to a lot of these points.  Stupid day job!

Much digital ink has been spilled of late on All-Star “snubs.”  These opinions run the gamut from extolling the fairness of this year’s selections to lamenting the injustice that Jamal Crawford did not make the team.  All-Star reserves are chosen by the coaches, and perhaps unsurprisingly for a group that values winning above all else, the most egregious All-Star snubs usually eschew better players on teams with worse records to reward worse players on winning teams.  While this is an injustice, it may well give us more watchable basketball to skew the selection process in favor of players on winning teams.*

*If anyone has doubts about how much it means to make the All-Star team for the first time, a look at Joakim Noah’s reaction upon being selected should dispel them.

We can't believe you didn't make it either Brook.

But even that justification cannot explain why Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez did not make the All-Star team.  In fact, there is a very good argument that Lopez may be the biggest All-Star snub in NBA history.  He currently sports a PER over 25.  Only two players have ever finished a season with a PER over 25 (minimum 1000 minutes played) and not made the All-Star team:* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1977-78 and Magic Johnson in 1980-81.  Even these omissions of two all-time greats were justified.  Kareem missed two months of the season after punching Kent Benson in the first game of the year**, while Magic suffered a knee injury and only played in 37 games all year.

*Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone both finished with PERs over 25 in 1999, when there was no All-Star game.  I refuse to refer to that season as 1998-99 when they didn’t start play until February due to the lockout.

**This was also the year that Bill Walton was at his absolute apex before his terrible run of injuries started late in the season.

A 25 PER is an artificial cut-off, you say?  Let’s expand the list to those above a 24 PER.  Hakeem Olajuwon  was injured in 1990-91 after Bill Cartwright broke his face with an elbow.*  Pau Gasol in 2006-07 played for a dreadful Grizzlies team that finished 22-60 after winning 49 games the year before.  2004-05 Andrei Kirilenko played for a 26-56 Jazz team.  Manu Ginobili in 2006-07 and 2007-08 was a pretty big snub, but the West was loaded with great wing players those years and Ginobili didn’t play a ton of minutes.  Arvydas Sabonis in 1995-96 only averaged 23.8 minutes a game and 14.5 points, and missed the team in favor of David Robinson, Olajuwon, and Dikembe Mutombo.  (The apparent lesson if you want to avoid an All-Star snub: Don’t be foreign.)  Considering the overall team and conference context, Lopez’s snub this year in favor of Kevin Garnett, Joakim Noah, and Tyson Chandler seems the worst of these.

*As Sam Smith wrote in the Jordan Rules, Cartwright was so famous for his elbows that Bulls assistant Johnny Bach drew tombstones on the bench for each player he knocked out.  After the Olajuwon incident, the league unsuccessfully pressed Cartwright to wear elbow pads.

By PER, at least, Brook Lopez had the best performance of any player to play most of the first half of the season and not make the All-Star game.  But perhaps PER under rates Lopez’s contributions?  Au contraire.  Pretty much any possible evaluation supports the premise that Lopez has been really really good this year.  At the time the teams were selected the Nets were 3rd in the Eastern Conference, and did not have another All-Star selected.  The Nets ranked 6th in offense at the time, despite the fact that every major non-Lopez scoring option on the team has had a disappointing year offensively.  Prognosticators generally expected the Nets to win within 41 and 50 games this year, and their current pace has them at the high point of that range.  Moreover, the few games Lopez missed due to a foot injury coincided with the Nets’ worst stretch of the season--the one that got coach Avery Johnson fired.  Finally, Lopez’s outstanding impact is also seen in his on/off court numbers.  The Nets score 4.6 points per 100 possessions more with Lopez on the court, and give up 4.9 less.  

All of these factors aside, it is quite clear that PER overstates Lopez’s contributions.  He has been nowhere near the 4th best player in the league, where he is currently ranked by PER.  The main issue is that Lopez has only played 48% of the Nets’ total minutes this season.*  Another is that the Nets rank only 19th in defense despite the fact their main perimeter players Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, and CJ Watson all carry average or better defensive reputations.  While Lopez helps the Nets defensively compared to his sieve-like backups, he has still been unable to provide the outstanding big man defense that could propel the Nets into the upper echelon of defensive teams.  It should also be noted that this is the first year Lopez has reached anywhere near this level of performance, although if one extrapolated his first two years’ performance rather than his last two injury- and illness-riddled years this year was not at all unfathomable.

*Although he still ranks 11th in Equivalent Wins Added, which essentially translates a player’s PER into the number of wins produced based on his playing time.

            Despite these warts, it is unprecedented for a player of Lopez’s impressive statistical profile to miss the All-Star game.  It will be interesting to see in future years whether Lopez’s reputation catches up to his statistical performance, or his statistical performance regresses to his reputation.


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