There was a significant change to the All-Star ballot this year; after years of voting for two guards, two forwards, and a center, you now simply vote for two guards and three frontcourt players.
The move was controversial, mostly because people wondered if centers would be ignored by voters, who could now vote for a court of three small forwards, three power forwards or anything else their hearts desired. The balance was, at least in theory, being thrown off.
Of course, there was a good reason for this move; the center position had gotten considerably weaker over the past few years, with the only reliable elite player at the position being Dwight Howard. Andrew Bynum has frequently demonstrated his ability to do great things, but his long string of health problems hangs over his head. Al Jefferson can fill up a stat sheet like nobody’s business, but defense his not his forte and his teams don’t tend to win a very high number of games. With all this taken into consideration, it just didn’t seem like there were enough big names to fill out an All-Star ballot at the 5 spot, so the NBA opened up the position to the threes and fours of the world.
The thing is, if you’ve followed the NBA this year, you know there is a lot more quality play at the center position than most people realize. In the Eastern Conference, Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah are both playing the best basketball of their careers. Noah in particular has become a more complete player, contributing on offense as well as defense, and becoming a much better free-throw shooter. He’s also significantly improved his passing and feels like a threat for a triple-double on a nightly basis. There’s no way the Chicago Bulls would be where they are without Noah. While Luol Deng has the seniority and acts as the team’s leader, Noah has picked up his game a ton this year, which has allowed them to compete without Derrick Rose. For that, he should be rewarded with his first career All-Star selection.
Chandler deserves to make it, too. He’s been knocking down alley-oop dunks all year, while playing his same brand of top-notch defense. His ability score at the rim prevents opposing teams from being to double-team Carmelo Anthony, which is a big part of why Anthony’s scoring is so high this year. The case against Chandler is that his offense, while efficient, is also very limited. This is true, but Chandler is a great player because he knows his limitations. he knows there are certain plays he won’t be able to make, and he doesn’t try to make them. He just does what he knows he’s good at, and he gets a little better at it every year. After 12 years in the league, he’s never been given a chance in the all-star game. Considering how important he is to the New York Knicks, it would be nice if he was rewarded with a trip this year.
It’s unfortunate that the success of Noah and Chandler, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ poor record, might mean there’s no room left for Anderson Varejao. He’s also having a great year, becoming the league’s best rebounder and attacking the basket with a ferocity never seen in the past. If the Cavaliers were a good team, or even a not-quite-as-horrible team, he’d be voted in without a second thought. As it stands, Varejao may find himself on the outside looking in, but that doesn’t mean he’s not having an all-star caliber year.
As for the West, there’s guaranteed to be at least one center represented, thanks to the presence of Dwight Howard. Howard has not been his usual self this year, looking dominant one night and listless the next. Still, his numbers are more than good enough that he will almost certainly be a starter and while he hasn’t been as breathtakingly powerful as usual, he’s still earned it.
But will he be the only true 5 from the West to make it? Not if the voters are paying attention to the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, who is having the best season of his career, even after having made the All-Star game the year before. Gasol is arguably the best free-throw shooting big man in the game, which makes it nearly impossible to contain him at the rim. His scoring averages aren’t amazing, because he knows he can distribute the ball to teammates like Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, but when he wants to score, he usually does. The fact that he’s becoming one of the best passing big men in the league certainly doesn’t hurt either. His stats aren’t jaw-dropping, but he may the most complete center in the league, and it would be a crying shame if he were left of the ballot.
So, take heed, all-star voters; just because you don’t have to vote for centers doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The death of the 5 spot has been greatly exaggerated, and there are still many capable centers in the league. Hopefully, the new voting system won’t stop the fans from recognizing their excellent work.
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