Shoals Unlimited: Losers Need All-Star Love, Too

Welcome to Shoals Unlimited, where Bethlehem will post a long-form piece on basketball once a week.
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↵One of the most familiar, and reviled, cliches in the quiver of writers (and lousy scouts) is the sweeping "good stats on a bad team". The logic is fairly simple, and tantalizing: Unlike in other sports, in basketball someone has to score the points, get the rebounds, and maybe, get the assists. Unless a team is beyond bad, to the point where it doesn't even belong in the league, it can boast a leading scorer with an average comparable to some stars. Mix in the age-old maxim that some players only care about stats, especially those stuck in a chicken/egg relationship with a lottery-bound squad, and you can see how such rules get set in stone. ↵

↵Never is this more problematic than around the time of the All-Star Game. Fans couldn’t care less about stats, or records, or really anything that players have done this season; they vote based on a combination of exposure, hometown loyalty and past track record. This flawed process, which gets beaten to death every year, puts all the more onus on the coaches' selection of the reserves. And that's where the "good stats, bad team" monolith can exert an influence when the situation really calls for case-by-cast examination. ↵

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↵Case in point: Danny Granger, Devin Harris, Kevin Durant and Al Jefferson. All are young players on the ascent, stars in the making, who on paper are having All-Star-worthy seasons. All also happen to play for teams below .500, albeit some of them more disastrous than others. Standard basketball thinking holds that, if Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma City and Minnesota have serious problems winning, these players' shine and shimmer might as well be a mirage. Even if we're willing to accept that Granger, Harris, Durant and Jefferson as the focal points of their respective teams, we have to dock their value because their presence isn't leading directly to victory. ↵

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↵It's understood that the MVP can't come from a losing team. Whatever MVP means (that's an argument for another day, or any sports site's web archives), we all assume that he must be able to generate wins. That's one of the criteria, and everybody knows it. But to make the All-Star roster, shouldn't the standard be that the player just not actively hurt his team's chances? That is, while MVPs win games, in putting together All-Star-like numbers our stars in the cellar only have to pass the Hippocratic test of not doing harm. ↵

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↵I don't expect any of these four to get voted in, at least in part because of a need to correct for fan shenanigans that, for instance, don't have Chris Paul in the starting line-up. But this is where the coaches have a chance to not only do the right thing by giving the next generation its due (where the fans can't or won't), by legitimating Granger or Harris, casual fans would take notice, thus giving players better shot at getting democracy behind them in coming years. ↵

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↵For this to happen, though, these coaches need to once and for all break free of the "good numbers, bad team" thinking. Watch the film. Does he hamper his teammates? Make good decisions? With a better supporting cast and coach, how many more wins would he have? The All-Star Game rewards individual accomplishment, which paradoxically, can be the deciding factor in a team win. Sometimes, there's no realistic option but taking a look at individual play alone. Has any guard been as dangerous this season as Devin Harris? Outside of LeBron, what forward in the East is really messing with Danny Granger versatility and discreet dominance? As Jefferson and Durant mature into the players we expected them to be, are they not a vital part of today's NBA landscape? ↵

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↵Dismissing these guys based on lazy, all-or-nothing judgments isn't just unfair to them, or fans who deserve to see them. It's exactly the kind of thing the league should avoid if it wants to make sure it gets the most out of its assets and really give the best and brightest a chance to show during All-Star Weekend. It's not just about making a glorified exhibition all it can be -- it's about making the league a bigger, more accepting place, not having the same five teams on television all the time, and helping fans appreciate that you can play great basketball and still come out looking like a loser. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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