2011 Eastern Conference All-star Starters

Preface

I’m going to plan my own all-star team partly because I’m often bewildered by some of the recent selections (Chris Kaman, Mo Williams, Jamaal Magloire, et al.) It’s also a medium in which to compare star players who play the same position. I’m going to start in the east where both the starters and the bench players are easier to pick. (The starters are mostly obvious picks, while the bench is easier because the east isn’t as deep as the west.) I’ll ignore the actual ballot given out by the league because of how limiting it is. In particular, the center nominees for the west are ghastly.

Here’s another problem I have with past all-star selections. The point is to take the league’s best players and put them in a game to play each other, but the media and the coaches continue to emphasize “winning,” as if a single player is solely responsible for his team’s success. People say, Someone has to get the numbers on a bad team. What makes a bad team bad, and a bad player bad, is the inability to compile the numbers (scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) effectively. It is possible for a good player to be on a bad or middling team, like Garnett’s Timberwolves or Nash on this year’s Suns, when the rest of the team is terrible. It takes an awesome talent, like LeBron James, to carry a bad team. With the availability of games on TV and the internet, video clips and analysis everywhere, and miles of statistical data on players, we should be able to differentiate between poor players putting up stats on a bad team and all-star caliber players stuck on a lousy one. In fact, for the media members paid to “analyze” basketball on major networks, this is basically their job.

Rules and Guidelines

I have a few rules and guidelines I’ll try to follow. The first is what should an all-star be. What I’m thinking of is basically the MVP award — I’m looking for player value. One problem is what to do with player minutes. Should players be punished for averaging only, say, 30 minutes a game? I say they should, because it’s part of their value. Duncan is a great player, but you can no longer play him heavy minutes because of his age and injury history. The same thing applies to injuries. While missing a couple games is excusable, if you’re missing a large chunk of the first half of the season you probably don’t deserve the spot as much as a similar player who hasn’t missed a game does.

But I’ll still focus on how good the player is. I like to think of the all-star game as a place to showcase the most devastating team you can create. Sure there are no key role players, but it’s one game where you can see the best players throughout the league. For example, at the crowded forward positions in the west there will have to be some tough choices made. Nowitzki has missed a few games, but he’s playing so well on the court that a few games missed shouldn’t derail his chances. His overall season contributions are down, but his worth and skill are so high when playing that it would be a mistake to let a lesser player who hasn’t been injured have his spot. It’s a delicate balance between judging player worth from production when on the court versus minutes played.

The analysis will be partly based on advanced metrics. Some people abhor this new generation of statistics, but some kind of statistic will be used when a person is judging players, and advanced metrics give a more accurate representation of reality than box score stats. I’ve heavily used websites like hoopdata, basketballvalue and basketball-reference in my selections. I also reference stats like TS (true-shooting percentage), assist rate, PER, etc.

For reference:
http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/glossary.html

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on a superfluous pseudo-election in which millionaires play a meaningless game in winter:

Starting Point guard:

This is basically Rose versus Rondo. Some may argue for Raymond Felton, so perhaps he should be included in the discussion. In comparing the three players, Rondo is by far the best passer and Felton is ahead of Rose due to a superior assist rate and conventional analysis (watching the players.) For shooting efficiency, all three have middling rates. Rose leads with a 54.3% TS, then Felton with 53.5% and Rondo closely behind at 53.3%. But their shooting has very different contexts. Rose is the entire Bulls’ offense with a high usage rate of 30.6%. The question is how much should he shoot. His team’s TS is 53.6%, so maybe his ballhogging is not a detriment to the team, but you can’t use his teammates’ shooting woes to frame the argument that he’s a good shooter. Great shooters put up high shooting efficiencies even with terrible shooters. Rose cannot be excused.

As a segue, Rondo is the opposite — a terrible shooter on a team with outstanding shooters, which include four players with over 20,000 points for their careers, and the soon to be crowned career three point field goal leader. He’s asked to pass, not shoot. Felton is leading a D’Antoni offensive powerhouse, and he’s asked to distribute and spread the floor. Comparing the three players, Rose as a scorer is clearly superior because of how much he’s asked to do and what he’s accomplished. He’s outstanding at driving to the basket, and he’s now a decent outside shooter (37% from three) and foul shooter (80%). However, he is being compared to players with middling efficiency who are not asked to lead their teams in scoring.

An often overlooked part of the game is defense, and this is where the analysis gets interesting. Rondo and Felton are two of the best defenders at the point guard position, while Rose has made strides to become passable at best. It should be noted that Rose is playing huge minutes for arguably the league’s best defensive team, although the shooting guard he plays beside is usually a defensive role player. Rondo at times plays like the best defensive point guard in the league.

Moving forward, here’s a way to eliminate Felton. Is there anything he does better than Rose or Rondo? It’s not passing, defense or driving. He’s a better foul shooter at 87% to Rose’s 80%, and he’s probably a better outside shooter though he’s slumped with his three-point percentage down to 34, but his TS% is lower than Rose’s. I think the analysis can move on without Felton because there’s no way to argue he’s a superior player.

Let’s look at what the advanced metrics state. According to Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Rose leads at 23.01 and Rondo follows with 19.60. Taking into account minutes, Rose’s Estimated Wins Added is 9.5 while Rondo is at 4.8 since he missed a long stretch of games. PER rewards a player for shooting more often, which helps Rose. Using Win Shares, Rose again leads at 0.188 per 48 minutes for a total of 6.2 Win Shares, while Rondo is behind at 0.163 per 48 minutes with a total of 3.8 Win Shares. Win Shares do not reward a player for shooting often; it rewards a player for shooting effectively. Even with that, Rose has a clear lead.

For adjusted +/- scores, Rose has a huge +/- at 13.43 for this year and a two year +/- score of 1.19. Note that the error for the +/- score for Rose this year is 11.68 because +/- needs a huge data set to be relevant. Rondo is again trailing with a 1 year +/- of 2.64 and a 2 year of 0.34. These stats are supporting the conventional wisdom that Rose is better, although people have been saying this since Rose has been a rookie. They’ve been saying he’s an elite player for so long that they’re finally right.

Conventional analysis also says Rose has a lead. The problem with Rondo is how bad of a shooter he is. On a team like the Celtics he can get away with this, and his passing and ballhawking skills also are enough to make him an elite player. You can make the case that it’s the same for playing bad defense, that it’s tough for a team to hide a terrible defender, but Rose has turned a corner in that respect. I feel that they’re both equal in their worth because they provide different skills and weaknesses, and it’s hard to tell what’s really more valuable. Advanced stats say Rose has been better, but I think a tie-breaker is needed. Rondo missed 11 games where he left his team a hole at the 1-spot. It’s a tough call, but I think you can also use Rondo’s injury to say that Rose is deserving of the all-star starting job because he’s given more to his team.

Pick: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls). Next in line: Rajon Rondo.

Starting Shooting Guard:

This one is easy. Is there anyone who can even approach Dwyane Wade? Ray Allen is shooting spectacularly well, but he’s nearly a one-dimensional player now. Wade impacts the game in virtually every capacity: defense, scoring, rebounding, passing, shot-blocking, etc. Joe Johnson does a lot for his team, but his TS% is 51.7 and the one advantage that you could argue (passing) is too small to mean much of anything. And there’s no one else worthy of a discussion.

Pick: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). Next in line: Ray Allen, Joe Johnson.

Starting Small Forward:

This one is even easier. I can’t imagine even in a LeBron off-year that anyone is close. The Cavs won 61 games last year and 66 the year before, but after one major player change they’re on track for 15, 20 at the most. That guy must be one valuable player. The only other guy having an all-star type season is Paul Pierce because of his efficient shooting, role on the offense and tough defense, but there’s no way you could argue Paul has been better.

Pick: LeBron James (Miami Heat). Next in line: Paul Pierce.

Starting Power Forward

Most people see this as Amare’s spot while Garnett deserves serious consideration, and I think they’re right. Carlos Boozer has missed a ton of games, and his numbers overstate his value because his defense (besides rebounds, steals and blocks) is poor. Chris Bosh has been underwhelming this year, and it can’t be blamed on a lack of touches — his rebounding rate is down to 13.5 from a high of 17.7 last year. Amare is shooting much more often with a higher TS%. Josh Smith has poor shooting efficiency numbers, and Garnett is a much better defender despite his age. So it comes down to Amare and Garnett. Amare is the star of a New York squad with big scoring numbers and improved defense, while Garnett is an unselfish vital piece of a much better team. However, Garnett is averaging only 31.6 minutes a game while Amare is playing 37.2 — a huge number for a big man. Although it would be an interesting analysis to compare Garnett’s impact versus Amare’s, the minutes are enough to end the discussion.

Pick: Amare Stoudemire (New York Knicks). Next in line: Kevin Garnett.

Starting Center

This one is a blowout, but it’s not as large as one would suspect. Howard is dominating with his defense, and finally has a real post game and a bank shot. But Al Horford is having an excellent year as an undersized center who sometimes plays power forward. No other center is playing as well since Bogut missed some games and came back a terrible shooter with a TS percentage under 50. Bogut’s value lies in his defense, but Howard is also a great defender who provides a lot on offense. What Al Horford is doing well this year is rebounding and scoring efficiently with a tiny turnover rate. His usage rate of 19.2 isn’t very big considering his TS% is essentially the same as Howard’s at 59.7, because Dwight is a larger part of the offense with a usage rate of 24.8.

However, Horford is likely extremely lucky on his jump shots. He’s hitting 57% of his 16 to 23 footers, which is a percentage only an elite shooter like Nash could maintain. His 7.7 turnover rate is also a bit lucky. It’s something only a spot up shooter could do. Even with all that luck, his PER of 22.62 is below Howard’s 24.44, although he has a Win Score per 48 minutes of 0.218 and Howard has one of 0.204. But those metrics have their flaws and only point out their box score statistics aren’t too dissimilar. Given Howard’s defense and Horford’s unlikely shooting percentages and turnover rate, Dwight Howard is an easy pick here.

Pick: Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic). Next in line: Al Horford.

I’ll showcase my western starters as soon as I can write out cogent arguments for the tough picks for starting point guard and power forward.

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