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Least Valuable All-Stars: 1974-2008

Posted by Neil Paine on February 5, 2009

Barring some kind of last-minute injury replacement, the rosters are set for this month's All-Star Game in Phoenix. Much has been said and written about the various All-Star picks this season, but aside from the fans' choice of Allen Iverson (2.6 Win Shares) at the expense of someone like Rajon Rondo (6.5 WS) or Mo Williams (5.4 WS), there's not a whole lot to complain about when it comes the final picks.

That hasn't been true in past years, however. Iverson, whose WS total is the lowest among this year's crop of All-Stars, is on pace for 4.6 Win Shares by season's end -- certainly not an ideal amount for an All-Star, but more than some of the seasons you're about to see from past All-Stars. While the All-Star selection process is supposed to at least make an effort to reward superior production during the season at hand, here are the players (since 1974) who posted the lowest WS totals during their "All-Star" seasons:

Player           Year    Tm      Min     OWS     DWS     WS
----------------+-----+------+-------+-------+-------+-------
Pete Maravich    1979    NOJ     1824   -0.53    0.67    0.14
Grant Hill       2001    ORL      133    0.20    0.16    0.36
Alonzo Mourning  2001    MIA      306    0.21    0.69    0.90
Penny Hardaway   1998    ORL      625    0.27    0.79    1.07
Steve Johnson    1988    POR     1050    0.19    1.14    1.33
Michael Jordan   1986    CHI      451    1.01    0.46    1.47
Joe Dumars       1995    DET     2544    1.85   -0.12    1.72
Latrell Sprewell 1995    GSW     2771    0.87    1.19    2.07
Ralph Sampson    1987    HOU     1326   -0.19    2.34    2.14
Paul Westphal    1981    SEA     1078    1.44    0.91    2.35
----------------+-----+------+-------+-------+-------+-------

Ah, but this list isn't exactly picking out the "worst All-Stars" during that period. Notice all the low totals in the "minutes" column... Many of these players excelled during the first half of the season in question, but went down with an injury and were unable to build up gaudy WS totals (for instance, certainly no one would accuse Michael Jordan of being a bad ASG selection the year he broke his foot). So let's drop all of the players on that list who were unable to actually play in the All-Star Game, leaving us with:

Player           Year    Tm      Min     OWS     DWS     WS
----------------+-----+------+-------+-------+-------+-------
Pete Maravich    1979    NOJ     1824   -0.53   0.67    0.14
Penny Hardaway   1998    ORL      625    0.27   0.79    1.07
Joe Dumars       1995    DET     2544    1.85  -0.12    1.72
Latrell Sprewell 1995    GSW     2771    0.87   1.19    2.07
Paul Westphal    1981    SEA     1078    1.44   0.91    2.35
Isiah Thomas     1982    DET     2433   -0.16   2.59    2.43
Antoine Walker   2003    BOS     3235   -1.60   4.21    2.61
Allen Iverson    2004    PHI     2040    0.52   2.20    2.73
Shaq O'Neal      2007    MIA     1135    1.32   1.43    2.76
K. Abdul-Jabbar  1989    LAL     1695    0.90   1.99    2.89
----------------+-----+------+-------+-------+-------+-------

That's a better list of undeserving All-Stars, but I think we should also have a games played requirement -- 70 GP, perhaps? Here's the final list:

Player            Year    Tm      GP      Min     OWS     DWS      WS
-----------------+-----+------+------+--------+-------+-------+-------
Isiah Thomas      1982    DET     72      2433   -0.16    2.59    2.43
Antoine Walker    2003    BOS     78      3235   -1.60    4.21    2.61
K. Abdul-Jabbar   1989    LAL     74      1695    0.90    1.99    2.89
Norm Van Lier     1976    CHI     76      3026   -0.21    3.18    2.98
Isiah Thomas      1993    DET     79      2922    1.36    2.20    3.56
Norm Nixon        1985    LAC     81      2894    2.47    1.19    3.66
Kevin Duckworth   1991    POR     81      2511    1.35    3.05    4.40
Jason Kidd        1996    DAL     81      3034    1.76    2.71    4.46
Don Buse          1977    IND     81      2947    1.52    3.15    4.67
Joe Barry Carroll 1987    GSW     81      2724    2.11    2.58    4.69
----------------+-----+------+-------+-------+-------+----------------

Isiah Thomas is officially the king of undeserved All-Star appearances during this period, showing up twice among the 10 "least valuable" selections since 1974. #1 on the list was his rookie season, when Detroit improved from 21-61 to 39-43 -- but Isiah averaged only 17.0 PPG and shot 42.4% from the field (he did average 7.8 APG, but turned the ball over on 22% of his possessions). In fact, by WS, Thomas was just the 8th-best player on the Pistons!

On the other hand, Isiah's 2nd showing on the list (1993) is similar to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Norm Nixon's appearances -- all were formerly good (or in Kareem's case, way better than "good") players now in the twilight of their careers, getting into the ASG almost solely on reputation. And let's be honest, of all the reasons to be on this list, that's definitely the most understandable. Like Iverson this season (who, incidentally, would crack the "top" 10 if he keeps the same pace), when a player becomes an ASG fixture, it can be difficult to keep him out of the midseason classic.

But aside from Kidd (who was a 2nd-year pro still in his "Ason" phase), and Van Lier/Buse (both of whom had down years in the midst of otherwise solid careers), the rest of these guys weren't exactly perennially good players. Yes, Walker was a 3-time participant, but '03 was his final ASG appearance, the year he scored 20.1 a night on .388 shooting from the field & a .615 FT%. By the same token, Duckworth had been a semi-deserving choice in '89 (18 PPG/8 RPG), but his '91 selection (during a 16/7 season) was owed more to the Blazers' gaudy record than anything else. And Carroll was a former #1 overall pick/bust who was in his final decent season before falling into full-on journeyman status (7.8 R/36 for a 7'1" guy? Really?).

So when A.I. takes the court as a starter during the All-Star Game in a week and a half, remember that he's not the only past-his-prime guy who ever coasted undeservingly into the game on his reputation. And besides, he's not even in the top 8 when it comes to the most undeserving All-Star selections since 1974. Now, had Yi Jianlian been voted in by the fans, that would have been a different story...

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17 Responses to “Least Valuable All-Stars: 1974-2008”

  1. Scott B Says:

    This is stupid... it's called the all-STAR game, meaning it's the stars of the league, i.e. it's who the fans want to see. The point of the game is not to have "whoever is playing best", as you implicitly suggest -- so your analysis is pointless.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    Shouldn't the fans want to see the best players?

  3. Mitch Davison Says:

    This is another case of numbers overpowering reality. (Probably, since I really didn't watch many of the Pistons games in 1982 (I was 11 and cable wasn't the same, and we didn't have it anyway.) ANYWAY, all of these numbers are instructive, but it's not always possible to quantify a player's effect on a team, especially as dynamic a leader as Isiah Thomas (though he's still a pr*** in my book).

    I think that this does identify several undeserving All-Stars, but it's a flawed argument. Just because some undeserving All-Stars have undeserving statistics does not mean that ALL of the All-Stars who have great stats are deserving; nor does it mean that ALL All-Stars without great stats aren't deserving.

  4. JT in San Diego Says:

    Hey, does Isiah get extra credit for being one of the worst all-star coaches in history? I think he coached it in '03 and played Zydrunas Ilgauskas about 4 minutes in a game that went into DOUBLE OVERTIME. And his team lost.

    I agree with the previous comment. Thomas is a total pr***.

  5. John Park Williams Says:

    I remember Thomas coaching a team and not playing Paul Pierce at all in the 2nd half. Jim Gray reported from the sideline "there are some disgruntled players on the East bench, but Thomas said he doesn't give a damn" or something like that

  6. derf Says:

    This is stupid. Youre wasting time over a non-issue. That's why it's called the all-stars! It's "star", as accorded by the fans. Not some silly technical statistical jumbo-mambo. That's why it's being balanced by the supposed all-star reserves. This is where those who are not yet stars but having a great year can join the all-stars. This is their chance to prove their selection. But alas, the coaches can be swayed by "promotional' tools too. I mean, is Jameer really better than Vince Carter this year? Or is Shaquille better than Al Jefferson??? This is not a perfect world indeed...

  7. ryan Says:

    Wasn't Anthony Mason an All-Star once? Boom, why isn't he on the list?

  8. L Says:

    Neil: The fans want to see the most exciting players, not the most effective ones. For example, it's bad form to play hard defense during the All-Star game, where it is not acceptable to risk injury to the other player. It's also bad form to play hard defense for PR reasons: the fans want to see high-flying dunks and all kinds of acrobatics, not a low-percentage slugfest. Thus, the All-Star teams should feature those players who are most likely to do amazing thing on the court and have fun. The All-NBA teams should feature those players who are best at playing basketball for keeps. These are not necessarily the same players.

  9. AK Says:

    Wasnt Jamal Maglore an Allstar for the Hornets in 03 or around then? He must be the worst player to ever make an Allstar team. What about that list, just the overall worst player to play in an Allstar Game.

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    AK: That's actually a good idea for a future post, I think we'll do that next week.

    L, Derf: OK, I can buy the "it's for the fans" argument... to a degree. After all, the game is about showcasing the more exciting aspects of the league -- and unfortunately, smart basketball, unselfish play, tough defense, etc. don't sell as well as flashy crossovers and dunks (witness the low ratings of the '05 Finals, a series that I actually enjoyed).

    That said, I still think it's a little weird to advocate anyone other than the 12 best players in each conference for the ASG... For instance, a lot of guys have performance clauses in their contracts that give them bonuses for making the All-Star team. Say one of them worked hard to legitimately become one of the 12 best players in his conference, only to have an inferior (but flashier, or more popular) player take the roster slot instead of him. Is that fair?

    I just think that the All-Star selections have to be based on players' real-world production, not some kind of popularity contest. I mean, we almost had Yi Jianlian starting in the ASG. You can't tell me you'd have been okay with that.

  11. andy Says:

    this is a sweet article.
    Scott B you are a fagtard

  12. Gardenhead Says:

    The ASG is both a production and a popularity contest, and rightfully so.

    You want in? Beat THAT guy...

    As for the provess, I've only heard one suggestion that's given me pause. The idea that the coaches should make a short list that is then voted on by the fans. That would up the legitimacy of the accolade but still give the final say to the fans. On the other hand, small markets would probably get dicked over.

    I honestly don't mind the current system's selection process... At least this year...

    How can I? I'm a Blazer fan. ASG, Dunk Contest, Rookie Game. I'm totally down.

    I will throw in as a caveat however, after being a fan in the basement. EVERY TEAM IN THE LEAGUE should have some form of representation in the ASG. Iy's just good busuness.

    Whether it's The Main Event, Rook/Soph Game, the Dunk or Skills Contest, the 3 Point Thing...Hell, there were a few years where as a Portland fan, I would've taken the Stars Challenge and been very happy with it. Gus Van Sant can explode to the hole.

  13. Mike G Says:

    Isiah Thomas was made for the allstar game. He ran the break as well as anyone, and lots of guys got dunks.
    He was twice the ASG MVP - 1984 and 1986.

  14. BG Says:

    Statistics can be a lot of fun to analyze, but no one stat can judge the true value of a player. Isiah in '82 was in the process of leading the Pistons from nothing to the verge of the playoffs, and then within 5 years to the NBA Finals. To say he wasn't deserving because of turnovers, etc. is a disservice, particularly when you mention his "value" as a player - as the primary ballhandler and scorer for a terrible team, he was bound to take bad shots at the end of the 24 and turn the ball over trying to make things happen. Ultimately, he did - two titles in between Magic, Bird, and Jordan and 5 straight conference finals...seems pretty valuable.

  15. twitter_statcenter Says:

    Mitch and BG, the fact that Isiah eventually became a great player (overrated, but still great) doesn't change the fact that he had no business being in the '82 ASG. We're not sending Russell Westbrook to the ASG because he might be a Finals hero in 2013, are we?

    Yeah, Isiah scored 17 a game in 1982, but that was in a season when the average team scored 109 pts / game. Isiah wasn't in the top five in any category that year - except turnovers, where he was tied for first despite missing 10 games! Outside of the stats, I remember Laimbeer talking about how Isiah had no clue on defense his first year, but could get away with crazy risks because Detroit's big men blocked a lot of shots.

    As a Knicks fan, I'm just glad I have another good reason to dump on Isiah.

  16. porky1 Says:

    The sick thing is, AC Green didn't make any of those lists!

  17. russellkanning Says:

    As a John Stockton fan / Isiah hater ..... the hits just keep coming. He seems like a disaster.