Kyrie Irving doesn’t deserve to be a 2014 All-Star starter

Feb 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Eastern Conference guard Kyrie Irving (2) of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a dunk in the first half of the 2013 NBA all star game at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik S. Lesser/EPA-Pool Photo USA TODAY Sports

Many Cleveland Cavaliers fans were excited by the notion that Kyrie Irving would most likely be named a 2014 All-Star starter following the first two rounds of vote collections made by you, the fans. The totals showed that although Kyrie was still behind Miami Heat shooting guard Dwayne Wade in Eastern Conference frontcourt voting, he was still thousands of votes ahead of Washington Wizards point guard John Wall. So on Thursday night when the starters were announced for each respective conference, it came to no surprise to the Wine & Gold faithful that Kyrie was named to his second straight All-Star Game and, in fact, named a starter next to Wade, LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony for the first time in his three-year career.

Being a fan-driven event it’s hard, most of the time, to argue for or promote players who “should” be starters. The average modern-day NBA fan would much rather watch someone, much like Kyrie, dazzle on the court than “show off” their knowledge, awareness and fundamentals of the game. That kind of play is better showcased during the playoffs, where sound teams like the San Antonio Spurs have had success season after season after season because of their discipline, experience and on-court smarts.

They might not always be awarded–like All-Stars are in regards to being selected to represent their conference as one of the top talents–with the Larry O’Brien trophy, but that grand prize only rests in the hands of one collective team at the end of each year. So most of the time the players with the highest basketball IQs don’t receive any shine at all if they’re not popular enough or appealing to the eye because 1. Their teams aren’t good enough to make it into the postseason and 2. Fans aren’t interested in seeing that type of basketball being played at the ASG.

Leading up to the ASG final vote for starters, fans could use the hashtag #NBABallot via Twitter to show their loyalties to players who probably should deserve to play in the ASG but don’t come close to being selected, as I saw most of my colleagues do during the weeks and days leading up to Thursday night. But most of the time this tactic is to no avail. But at this point the game already is a pretty uncompetitive contest that is the final event of All-Star weekend, and most of the pizzazz and pop happens on the days and contests leading up to the final showdown between East and West stars.

TNT tries each year to add extra hype to All-Star weekend by awarding points to each conference for victories in these competitions, but in the end all does any competition between East and West really hold any significance until early June? The obvious answer is no, which is why I have been thinking of some sort of solution to please both sides of fandom: Those who want their jaws to drop when watching the ASG and those who want to see players who, without a doubt, warrant a start on the East and West rosters.

To get back to why I started writing this piece, I don’t think that taking away some voting control from the fans will draw that many viewers away. Also, it would be very interesting to see how many fans actually watch the ASG and who vote to have their favorite players represented in the matchup between East and West. What I want to happen, however, is to see players who deserve to start get the opportunity to. And, also, for their to be some system of rules implemented to keep players who have seen very little time on the court (i.e. Kobe Bryant, who said after being selected as a starter on Thursday for the West: “My feeling is you’ve got to reward the young guys.”) in a given season not be selected or asked to participate in the game, but this, of course, does not concern Mr. Irving.

But what does is how he was selected over Wall and (maybe?) Kyle Lowry as one of two frontcourt starters representing the East. Here is how the final vote totals looked for the Eastern Conference frontcourt via nba.com:

1. Dwyane Wade (Mia): 929,542

2. Kyrie Irving (Cle): 860,221

3. John Wall (Was): 393,129

4. Derrick Rose (Chi): 359,546

5. Ray Allen (Mia): 250,909

6. Rajon Rondo (Bos): 174,654

7. Lance Stephenson (Ind): 148,382

8. DeMar DeRozan (Tor): 131,228

9. George Hill (Ind): 129,533

10. Deron Williams (Bkn): 126,423

Kyrie received more than double the votes than Wall (2.2 times more to be exact). But, uh, this is a pretty strange list. For starters, let’s point out the obvious players who should be omitted because they have missed a boatload of games this season: Rose (10 GP), Rondo (5 GP and just returned) and (not so much) Deron Williams (26 GP). The only other player I have a problem with being on this list is Jesus Shuttlesworth, and his fifth-place finish in the voting has mostly to do with his popularity amongst fans (Good Guy Ray, as I call him). Stephenson, DeRozan and Hill are all worthy candidates of making the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, but they’re not starting material compared to the rest of the field. Wade has played in 31 games, and in those games he has looked great; much better than he looked a year prior efficiency wise (don’t let his PER being down fool you, it’s still above 21). So, amongst shooting guards (even though the voting isn’t done this way), I would say that Wade is one of three deserving candidates: DeRozan and Arron Afflalo being the other two.

And here comes my problem with Kyrie starting at point guard: As stated above, I think Wall is the more deserving point guard to start over Irving, but, I also think that he should in fact be a reserve guard on the squad. But another point guard that I would throw into the mix is Kyle Lowry. So let’s look at some numbers:[1]

 

PER

TS%

AST%

SPG

TOV%

ORtg

DRtg

Kyrie Irving

20.0

52.2

34.3

1.3

11.4

108

109

John Wall

20.0

52.2

39.6

1.9

15.7

106

104

Kyle Lowry

19.6

57.7

34.8

1.5

13.5

121

104

So the numbers are relatively close, except for the fact that Lowry has a much more efficient offense in Toronto than what Irving and Wall have to work with in Cleveland and Washington respectively. The most concerning statistic here regarding Irving though? The defensive rating. We all know how porous Irving’s defense has been throughout his time on the Cavaliers. But most people like to turn the other way when Irving gets hot from long range or brings his team back in the fourth quarter during clutch time, which wouldn’t be the case most of the time if Coach Brown’s defensive prowess was really having an impact on this team. So this season, which featured a sluggish offensive start to the season for Irving, fans were easily upset when Uncle Drew began the year shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 30 percent from three over the first 19 games—up until a career-worst performance in Atlanta when he shot 0 of 9 from the field and was pulled after 20 minutes. From that point on, however, Irving hit somewhat of a turning point, leaving many to forget about his sub-par start despite the team’s continuing struggles to win basketball games. Over the past 22 games, Kyrie has shot 45.6 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three, both higher than his career averages of 45.0 percent and 38.8 percent respectively. What has been consistent over his 40-plus games this season is his health (he’s only missed three games because of injury) and his lackluster defensive game. Jason Lloyd quite possibly had the best take I’ve read on Irving this season, leaving some somewhat harsh, but very true, words in a recent column about the All-Star starter:

He is 80-193 with the Cavs, and certainly that isn’t all his fault. The Cavs didn’t give him much help the last couple of years. That was supposed to change this season, only it hasn’t. If he is truly the leader, then Irving has to own some of that.

Instead he doesn’t have to because 860,221 people voted for him. That’s about 56,000 more votes than Chris Paul received for this All-Star game, which is astonishing since Paul plays in Los Angeles and is widely (and rightfully) regarded as the NBA’s best point guard. That’s where Irving is trying to get, but he won’t as long as journeymen like D.J. Augustin and the like continue tormenting him. And starting in the All-Star game only re-enforces the misconception Irving is blameless in all of this.

Something I’ve been repeating almost ad nauseam on this site regarding Irving is his inability to show consistent effort on both sides of the ball when the point guard counterpart looking at him from across the court isn’t in his same class as him. And Lloyd is absolutely correct; Augustin is the best example at exposing this flaw in Irving’s mental and defensive game. It’s hard to point at the player who can be your most reliable scorer each game as the reason for the team’s struggles in year three of the Irving rebuilding process, especially when that player has shot up to the level of NBA popularity that Kyrie has. When you see more-deserving guards who are actually delivering wins to their teams like Lowry and Wall are doing for the Raptors and Wizards this season, it makes you question whether or not they should be heralded over Irving because of it.

But, as far as Wall and Irving go, if you take a look at some easier-to-read statistics, it’ll have you more convinced that Wall should be the man representing the East in the frontcourt with Wade:

Wall: 20.0 PPG, 8.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 42.3 FG%, 32.5 3P%, 84.1 FT%

Irving: 21.5 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 42.7 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 84.1 FT%

And, as I mentioned above, what is even more important is where these teams stand in the Eastern Conference, and that is something that can’t be pushed aside. While the Raptors, Bulls, Wizards and Nets are neck and neck right now for spots four through seven in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers still sit outside of the playoff picture with a 16-28 mark, putting them five games back of the Nets. The Wizards have still yet to make it over .500, currently standing at 21-22, but have only hit a couple of snags this season (two four-game losing streaks). And although both top-5 picks for Cleveland and Washington haven’t panned out at all through the first half of the 2013-14 season, the Wizards have managed to breed a healthy relationship between Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal with a consistent starting five. The Cavaliers, however, have had a lot of trouble balancing Irving and Dion Waiters together and have not had much success putting together a cohesive starting five.

So, whether you disagree with my reasoning on why Wall should have been selected over Irving to play in New Orleans, there’s an easy way for this debate to be settled in the future. I feel like this is something that can be avoided, thus putting players down a peg when they dazzle early on and fizzle after they earn accolades early on in their career.[2] Of the top-selling jerseys in the NBA in 2013, nine of the 10 starters selected for the ASG were in the top 14. Which is why, when you leave it up to the fans, popularity trumps players with a more team-oriented style of play. If we allow experts to choose who gets to go to the ASG as starters, I think we’ll finally be awarding those that are long overdue for their recognition as a top-tier talent. My pitch is simple and probably has been offered up before, but I’m not sure if it has been in this same exact light:

1. Allow a select group of writers from the Pro Basketball Writers Association (I was thinking one representative from each big market newspaper covering one of the 30 teams) and the 30 coaches to vote for player’s to be selected at each position (PG, SG, etc.). For each selection by a coach or reporter, a player will receive five points toward their total, and those who post the highest totals amongst their respective position will be selected as an All-Star starter.[3] Then, after that voting is done, they would then vote on two frontcourt members and two backcourt members to act as reserves on the roster.

2. The three remaining reserves will be voted on by the fans, so that there is still incentive for them to be involved with All-Star weekend if they feel like the only reason they watch is to see their favorite players represented.

So to wrap this up, I doubt something like this will be implemented in the near future. There is no stake like there is in the MLB for the victor of the All-Star Game. It is merely for the fans, but when there is some importance put on how many All-Star games a player makes when players are up for consideration to be voted into the Hall of Fame, I think it should be done in the fairest manner that’s possible. Wall will use being snubbed as a starter this year along with not being selected in the pool of players being pondered for Team USA in the World Championships this summer as motivation to improve his skill set and to push his team toward the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. On the flip side, Kyrie will have an uphill battle trying to end the four-year playoff drought in Cleveland. Despite all of the accolades he has earned early on in his career, nothing from this season has showed me that he is capable of doing so.


[1] PER = Player Efficiency Rating

TS% = Shooting Efficiency (taking into account, two-point, three-point and free throw shooting)

AST% = Assist Percentage (field goals a player has assisted on)

SPG = Steals Per Game

TOV% = Turnover Percentage (turnovers per 100 plays)

ORtg = Offensive Rating (points a team scores per 100 possessions when on court)

DRtg = Defensive Rating (points a team allows per 100 possessions when on court)

[2] I do not think this is the case with Damian Lillard, who has been more humbled because of the good situation he came into in Portland and the amount of eyes that were on him at Weber State compared to how many people were drooling over Kyrie despite only playing a hair over 10 collegiate games.

[3] Journalists and coaches couldn’t vote for players on their respective teams, however.

Topics: All-Star Game, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving

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