When the All-Star reserves were announced, David Lee’s name was absent from the list of guys selected for the 2013-14 season.
The southpaw is statistically the second-best player on the Golden State Warriors, which could have warranted his inclusion on the All-Star squad. Lee’s combination of scoring, ball-handling, rebounding and passing from the power forward position are relatively unique.
The big man’s per-36 minutes averages are quite stellar: 20 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 52 percent shooting. It stands to reason that Lee should have had an opportunity to participate in the All-Star Game this season as a reserve given his production and the Warriors’ success.
Ultimately, it’s possible that his snub has more to do with the play of others instead of his.
Every year, there seems to be a debate over which players should have made the All-Star team. Some fans and media members end up proclaiming their outrage over the fact that one particular guy should have been selected, and it becomes a national crisis of sorts.
Typically, this type of discussion neglects two fairly important aspects (not the case for Stephenson): All-Star selections are a reflection of the guys that are playing the best basketball in the league, and the talk of who is “deserving” usually disregards who they should replace.
When we focus the discussion back on David Lee, can we unequivocally state that he has been one of the 12-best players in the Western Conference? In addition, should Lee have made the squad over any of the guys selected ahead of him?
If the answer is a negative one to both questions, it would be difficult to actually call his lack of inclusion a snub.
The Best at the Position
By my unofficial count, the best power forwards in the league this season are (in no specific order): LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and Chris Bosh.
The eye test reveals that this quintet is simply dominant. Their games offer a lot of variety on the offensive end, which makes it difficult for defenses to key in on them.
All of them can score with their back to the basket and also by facing up defenders from either the low-post area or mid-range. What’s more, they are all more than capable defenders both individually and from a team standpoint.
When we delve into the statistical profile, it confirms what the eye test suggests. They are all among the leaders in PER, and their teams generally fall apart on both sides of the ball without them.
Davis is an interesting non-selection, but a justifiable one. He has missed eight games this season and the New Orleans Pelicans are a sub-.500 team. Grantland’s Zach Lowe had him on his All-Star team, and omitted Chris Paul by virtue of injury. The coaches basically went in reverse.
Davis’ superb play this season still could have merited an All-Star berth, but coaches opted instead to go with Dirk Nowitzki at one of the big man slots.
The German is probably in the second tier of power forwards (much like David Lee), and an argument could be made that he is its headliner. Nowitzki is a top-five player in PER at the power forward spot, and his net rating (differential between offensive and defensive efficiency) is superior to Davis’.
Essentially, the evidence suggests that the best power forwards in the league made the All-Star team for the most part (Bosh made it in the Eastern Conference).
The Guys in Front
As noted above, David Lee is among the second tier of power forwards. Thus, it would have been next to impossible to include him in on the All-Star squad simply from the standpoint of his brilliance at the position.
However, coaches still could have voted him in as a wildcard choice provided that his play was superior to that of players at other positions.
For instance, there is a dearth of quality 2-guards in the Association this season, hence Lee had a chance to make it in over say a backup guard provided that his 2013-14 production was unquestionably superior.
The same logic could apply to the center position as well. However it will not hold water at the point guard spot given that it is the deepest position in the league. Indeed, several of the league’s floor generals are elite players.
In assessing Stephen Curry’s ranking in Sports Illustrated’s top-100 NBA players, we outlined that Tony Parker and Chris Paul were two of the five best players in the world. Needless to say, Lee had no shot at supplanting them.
That left him up against three players from the Western Conference All-Star team:
- James Harden
- Damian Lillard
- Dwight Howard
Harden and Howard have been the best players at their respective positions this season and might very well end up making the All-NBA 1st team. It’s not merely that they have performed well as a 2-guard and center, but rather that they have easily been two of the best players in the league so far this season.
They were projected to be top-15 players by Sports Illustrated and have not disappointed on this end. Invariably, that leaves Lillard as the candidate to overtake even though that’s not necessarily entirely accurate.
Lillard has been very good this season, but an argument could be made that some other guards (Mike Conley or Goran Dragic) could have been in his spot. Also, Anthony Davis’ production as noted above makes him a much worthier candidate than Lee.
Then there’s the fascinating case of DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie has been the second-best center in the league, and when we look at the landscape of overall big men (centers and power forwards combined) in the league, Cousins is probably in the first tier alongside guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Howard to name a few.
Thus, should either Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant miss the All-Star game due to injury, either one of these players will likely make it in as Grantland’s Zach Lowe noted:
That leaves us with three top candidates for the last remaining injury-replacement spot, assuming Davis gets one: Conley, Cousins, and Dragic. You could toss in Ty Lawson, Serge Ibaka, and Nikola Pekovic if you’d like, and Ibaka especially has made a strong late push.
In truth, Lee was never in the discussion despite his solid season and the play of the Golden State Warriors this season. Far too many guys in the Western Conference have been great in 2013-14 whereas Lee has been really good.
Perhaps next year…