The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

It’s The All-Star Game

I think the source of a lot of the “but THIS guy should be an all-star!!!” arguments is a confusion over what the all-star game actually is- a comment on the ability of players (1), or a spectacle (2), or somewhere in between (3)? In theory it’s the first of these, in practice it’s trying to be the third, and in reality it ends up as the second. Argument as follows:

– Idea: there is no one exact measure of player value at present. Even the best extant ones either ignore defense (PER), or have major sample size issues (adj. +/-).

– Thus: there is simply no exact cut off for the 12 best players in each conference (or 15, or however large the rosters are these days; I legit don’t know), or the 2 best centers, or etc. You can broadly distinguish which guys are reasonable selections and which are not; anything beyond that is asking for more than the data allows. It’s not baseball (yet).

– Idea: people still believe in all-star games as meaningful measures of player value. This is why there are arguments over the team selection, and why number of all stat games made comes up in hall of fame breakdowns or all-time best lists.

– However: the basic structure of the game’s organization mitigates this idea. So long as you have fan voting, you’re going to get what might generously be called non-expert selections (Allen Iverson), and what might non-generously be called ludicrous bullhonkey.

– Additionally: the fact that the game is divided by conference has a very pernicious effect on the idea that the game is a measure of quality. It is VERY common to get logjams of quality at certain positions in each conference, and as a result there are players who would stroll into the side in the other conference who end up stuck watching the game from home (or an expensive hotel in the Bahamas; pity them not)

– Additionally: the all-star ballot has many issues. No matter how many times they say it, Tim Duncan is not a power forward.

– Additionally: this in fact brings up another of the issues with using the game as a measure of quality- it’s not a selection of the 24 or 30 best players in the game, it’s a selection of the 2 best players at each position in each conference, plus three stragglers of unknown portfolio. This takes no account of positional depth.

– Thus: the game is by definition as presently constituted an attempt at (3). The issue of fan voting is one of those problematic areas which is more or less freely acknowledged, with the coaches’ selections there as a partial theoretical counterweight.

– However: every year, there’s inevitably a long series of breakdowns in the teams. Guys get hurt and guys get “hurt”, and by the time the game actually tips off it’s all but a random selection of the top 50 or so players in the league plus the occasional selection from outside that group, randomly bisected by conference, based on imprecise metrics and the vague suspicions of coaches who have their own biases and agendas, plus the frankly awful voting of fans.

– Additionally: there’s the common issue of all-star frame shift, similar to the frame shift you get with golden gloves voting in the majors- guys end up being voted onto or selected for the team one year or so after they first deserve it as it takes time for their success to sink in, become known, and “seem real”, and guys tend to also hang around one or more years after they no longer “deserve” to go due to a combination of name recognition and the inertia of ingrained opinions.

– Additionally: guys who rock for bad teams are denied due credit due to the shiftlessness of their teammates, and guys whose value is disproportionately tied of in defense often get random credit based on how closely their reputations correlates with their actual ability.

Thus: at the end of the day, the all-star game basically means nothing. It’s clearly not (1), there’s far too many flaws for me to consider it even a half-decent go at (3), which leaves it as (2)- wich is by no means a bad thing, so long as you don’t expect it to be one of the other options. Frankly, givne the limits fo statistical knowledge, it probably can’t be (1) if it tried, and would need a giant overhaul to be (3). If you enjoy watching it (and some years I do) it’s fun if somewhat overshadowed by the skills competitions, and that’s great; but it simply doesn’t say much at all given the colossal number of flaws with the selection process about the best NBA players. At best, it can reduce the debate down to those who are reasonably good enough to be considered elite and those who are not, and some years it can’t even do that if the fans take it into their heads to vote based on name recognition for guys having bad or injury-plagued years. Personally this doesn’t really bother me because I’ve accepted that the game is for the fans who care and says little about the players themselves, and that’s what I’d advise for anyone angry about the selections this year who’s not an agent trying to market their client as an all-star. At the end of the day you’re basically watching a pick-up game involving some really talented guys, and that’s about it.

And for the record, David Lee is a defensible selection. Not a must-have, but in the realm of reasonable. As a Knick fan I can’t say I’m thrilled to see him there, however; all it can do is boost his market price.


February 12, 2010 - Posted by | The NY Knicks

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