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.

Anatomy of Futility: Charting the Hawks' 20 Point Half

Rare is the game that is more enjoyable to watch already knowing the result, but that was certainly the case for last night’s Hawks/Bulls tilt at the United Center.  Since I’m based on the West Coast and don’t leave my day job until 7, my normal M.O. for Bulls home games is to record and watch when I get home.  But this time, a rote check of Twitter revealed the halftime score: 48-20!  As incredible as that score was, it became even more so as I watched the Hawks score a perfectly respectable 13 points in the first 6 minutes of the game.  I became more incredulous as I did the math and realized the Bulls somehow allowed only 7 points in 18 minutes of NBA basketball against a Hawks team that still ranks a reasonable 18th in offense* even after this debacle.

*I’m now using “offense” and “defense” rather than “offensive efficiency” and “defensive efficiency”.  We’re beyond thinking offensive prowess is ranked by points per game, right?

How does a team allow (or score) only 7 points in 18 minutes on 34 possessions?  And was it more the Hawks’ ineptitude or Bulls’ brilliance?  

As one might suspect, this putrid result was equal parts great defense from the Bulls and horrible offense from the Hawks.

I charted these 34 possessions as follows*:

  • 4 forced turnovers
  • 6 unforced turnovers
  • 6 shots blocked
  • 5 forced misses due to good defense from the Bulls
  • 6 bad shots
  • 3 missed open shots
  • 3 decent shots
  • 4 baskets/shooting fouls totaling 7 points

*These add up to greater than 34 possessions since the Hawks attempted multiple shots on some possessions.

While some bad luck is necessary for a prolonged drought of this magnitude, it wasn’t like the Hawks were missing open shots left and right.   Even had they made every truly open shot they took it would only have netted an additional 8 points.  The Hawks committed unforced errors (either turnovers or bad shots) 12 times in the 34 possessions.  The Bulls essentially stopped them (via blocked shot, forced turnover, or good defense forcing a difficult shot) another 15 times.  The Hawks only succeeded (i.e., a good shot, made FG, or shooting foul) 7 times.  Another 3 times they got reasonable but not easy shots, basically a neutral result in terms of expected points per possession.

Despite the Hawks inability to score, I would not describe the offense as particularly poor in a schematic sense.  While Larry Drew could serve to rein in a few of the bad shots, the Hawks were able to get some nice opportunities near the rim off screens and deep postups.  But they were continually thwarted by the length of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Carlos Boozer even chipped in a block on a strip move.  Promising close chances for Hawks power players Ivan Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford repeatedly resulted in blocks, turnovers, or missed layups, due largely to excellent individual and help defense by Chicago.

On the perimeter, the Bulls succeeded in forcing largely contested jumpers.  Even the Hawks’ reasonably open chances were almost invariably long twos, an inefficient proposition for nearly everyone on the Hawks’ roster aside from Al Horford.  In typical Thibodeau fashion, the Bulls allowed only four 3 point attempts among the 34 possessions, only two of which were open shots by good shooters.

Offensively, the Bulls only had 3 live ball turnovers during this stretch.  On a related note, the Hawks only got two fast break attempts, both of which they missed.  A key to the Bulls’ effective defense was the fact that the offense did not put it in compromised positions.

Ultimately, this nearly unprecedented stretch of futility was a deserved consequence of the efforts on both sides.  A great defensive effort by the Bulls coupled with the Hawks repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot resulted in a stretch of basketball only a mother (or a 90s Knick fan) could love.

For the truly masochistic, my charting of each possession is below the break.