The Cleveland Cavaliers are 8-13, giving them the ninth best record in an abysmal Eastern Conference. They sit a half-game behind the Chicago Bulls for what would be the eighth seed if the season ended today. The Cavaliers have underwhelmed all season; they lack any cohesion on offense and have not performed as consistently on defense as the front office would’ve liked to see under head coach Mike Brown. Despite this, the Cavs’ starting point guard, Kyrie Irving, will likely earn his second straight All-Star Game appearance, his first as a starter.
The NBA released the first standings for All-Star Game balloting on Thursday. The usual suspects had the highest vote tallies: LeBron James and Kevin Durant lead their closest challengers by over 100,000 votes. For the Eastern Conference’s backcourt, Dwyane Wade leads with 396,279 votes, followed closely by Irving with 365,712 votes. While Wade may not be the most deserving candidate this year, he is still one of the most popular players in the league and the second best player on the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Irving is arguably less deserving than Wade. However, it seems likely he will maintain his starting spot; Derrick Rose is in third place, but he won’t play again this season, and Irving has almost triple the amount of votes as fourth place John Wall.
Irving leads the Cavaliers in scoring and he’s tied with Klay Thompson for 18th in the NBA in scoring with 20.5 points per game. He’s also averaging a career high six assists per game. However, his rebounds and steals per game are down from his career averages. Furthermore, his shooting percentages are extremely mediocre, barely making 40% of his shots from the field. Advanced stats don’t help Kyrie’s case either. Through 21 games he has a career low 17.5 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and his win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) is .067, well below the .125 he posted in each of his first two seasons.
When placing Irving’s numbers against Wall’s, likely the only player who could challenge him for the starting spot, his case looks even shakier. Wall has played spectacularly, building off his hot second half last season, and his Wizards have the sixth best record in the East. Wall averages 19.6 PPG on 41.3% shooting, 9.1 APG, 2.2 STLPG, and 4.4 RPG. He has posted a PER of 20.9 and a WS/48 of .143, both career highs. Wall has never made an All-Star game, but he will certainly receive the nod this season, even if he’s not voted in as a starter. Earning the starting spot, however, would be a nod from NBA fans recognizing his great start.
It’s not especially problematic that Irving will likely start for the East. Kobe Bryant has played all of two games this season, but has the third highest vote total in the league with 500,000 votes, giving him a huge lead in the Western Conference backcourt. The NBA All-Star Game, like in all other sports, is a popularity contest. The fans want to see their favorite players shine in this glorified pick-up game. If anything, Kyrie’s high vote total is a testament to how popular he is. In only his third season, he’s likely going to start his first All-Star Game, clearly becoming one of the league’s bona fide superstars. Despite his struggles this season, that’s an achievement in itself.