Columns, Sports

Sheehan ’12: All-Star selection in compromising position

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, February 24, 2012

As the last NBA games of the first half of the season wrap up, and we prepare for the All-Star game, I would like to point out something that has really bothered me over the past couple of years. It’s also something that applies to All-Star game selection. It’s a matter of positioning.

No, really. It is the positions that bother me.

I am sure whenever basketball first started to evolve into a refined team sport, the positions made sense. There were not as many tall guys, and they were not very mobile, so these average players were made centers. You had two forwards who hung out on the sides. One was smaller than the other, and these guys crashed the glass, shot long twos or whatever else was required of them. The smaller guy was aptly named the small forward, and the bigger guy became known as the power forward. The shooting guard was a smaller guy who could stroke the ball, and the point guard was the ball handler who ran the offense. These two guys mostly hung out at the top of the key.

My problem is that, in today’s game, an effective team does not actually function like this. The point guard and center are appropriately cast in this above description, but that is it. In the two, three and four spots, today’s NBA game has evolved past what I have just described. What separates a power forward, small forward and shooting guard? Size, obviously, but aside from that, I do not think I am going out on a limb when I say that shooting guards and small forwards tend to look more similar than small forwards and power forwards. The days of four perimeter players are long gone, and in today’s game, you want your four guy to rebound and block before you want him buttering threes. No, aside from Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson, who already have that low-post stuff taken care of, and Dirk Nowitzki, who is a former league and Finals MVP, power forwards are much closer to centers than they are to small forwards.

By that same token, shooting guards and small forwards have both developed similar roles in a game — hang out on the wings, facilitate passes between the big men and the point guard, knock down open looks and penetrate when you have the chance. If you are a great team, one of these guys is your go-to scorer or they play fantastic defense against the other team’s top scorer, like Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala or Tony Allen last year. 

My problem with the All-Star game is that it draws a big fat line between the shooting guards and the small forwards, designating them totally different positions. Are Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade really so different from Paul Pierce and Rudy Gay in play style? The only difference is who is an inch or two taller and who the other guys on the team are. That is why categorizing players’ All-Star voting based on if they are a guard, forward or center is just silly. I understand the All-Star teams are an honorary thing, and we are not trying to build real teams, but it is a shame because some guys do not get recognized for the great things they do in their position.

Fun fact: Did you know that of the guards selected to be in the All-Star game, six of the original nine were point guards? Now that Rajon Rondo has replaced Johnson, there will be seven point guards and two shooting guards at the All-Star game. Have fun, Kobe Bryant and Wade!

Another fun fact: Did you know that five of the East’s six forwards play small forward? Did you know that Roy Hibbert is on that roster over Anderson, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer because he is designated a center and those guys are power forwards? If you want to suspend your disbelief and pretend that defense is taken into consideration for the All-Star selection, I still wouldn’t pick Hibbert. He has one to two inches on the rest of those guys, but you can’t say you would rather have him than one of those four. Also, if you want proof that height does not matter as much as you might think with post players, San Antonio Spurs center DeJuan Blair is 6′ 7 to power forward Tim Duncan’s 6′ 11.

No, I think that in today’s NBA, you have a point guard, two wing players and two post players. I also think that All-Star voting should reflect that. You should have three point guards, four wing players and five post guys. Look at the All-Star teams when you suddenly impose those rules. It looks at lot more like the 24 guys in the league who are the best at their positions.

Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Rondo are our likely point guards, meaning Tony Parker’s spot is now Gay’s. When it is time to cut wings, Pierce and Carmelo Anthony — who rode the fan vote that would have gone to Wade and LeBron James in my format — are now Anderson and Smith. Hibbert’s spot likely becomes either Boozer’s or Garnett’s. If we were to enforce these rules on the West, Nowitzki and Marc Gasol would turn into Pau Gasol and Danilo Gallinari.

Maybe these new teams do not have the flashiest stats, but they are certainly the players who have done the most within their position in the NBA this year. Maybe I am taking the All-Star game too seriously.

But 15 years from now, when I am arguing with someone about Hibbert’s place in history, they are going to be able to tell me that he was an All-Star. I won’t remember his stats that season. I won’t remember the great seasons the power forwards around him had. I won’t remember that Al Horford got hurt.

I will just remember that he was an All-Star, and everything else will be lost to time. 

 

Sam Sheehan ’12 would like to remind everyone that Chase Budinger is in the Slam Dunk Contest. That is actually happening. Talk sports with him at sam_sheehan@brown.edu or follow him on Twitter @SamSheehan.