Posted by Neil Paine on February 12, 2009
After a post last week devoted to identifying the most undeserving All-Star selections of the past 35 years, we thought it would only be fair to flip it around and look at the players with the best seasons that didn't garner ASG nods. This is a considerably easier process than picking out the "worst" All-Stars using Win Shares, because in that endeavor we had to filter out players whose production was limited due to injury. In this case, though, we can simply look for the highest single-season WS totals by players who failed to make an All-Star roster. So without further ado, here are the 10 best seasons by non-All-Stars since 1973-74:
10. Cedric Maxwell, BOS, 1980 (12.2 WS)
"Cornbread" is definitely one of the most underrated players ever -- during his 8 years in Boston, Maxwell scored 16.2 P/36 (15th among Celtics with >500 G), grabbed 7.8 R/36 (12th), had a TS% of .637 (1st), and played a big role in 2 Boston championships (he was the MVP of the '81 playoffs). Yet despite Celtic fans' appreciation of his accomplishments (his jersey was retired by Boston in 2003), Max wasn't heralded by fans across the country, and consequently he was never named to the All-Star team. 1979-80 was a classic example of Maxwell being underrated: he scored "only" 16.9 PPG that year, but he did it on just 9.4 shots/game, leading the league with a .609 FG%; he also grabbed 8.8 RPG, played tough defense, and averaged 18.2 PPG/10.0 RPG (with a .634 FG%) in the playoffs. According to Win Shares, Max was the 3rd-most valuable player in basketball that season, with his 12.2 mark ranking him even higher than teammate Larry Bird. Unfortunately, selfless, team-oriented play like that doesn't always pay off in the AS selection process... but in Maxwell's case it paid off where it counted: the Celtics' "W" column.
9. Adrian Dantley, 2 teams, 1978 (12.2 WS)
Dantley, the quintessential well-traveled scoring machine, made six All-Star Games between 1980 and 1986, but his early years were plenty impressive as well. He won Rookie of the Year in 1977, finishing with 20.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 9.8 Win Shares. He would improve on those numbers in his 2nd season, despite being traded twice in a 3Â½-month span; in 1978, AD posted 21.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, & 12.2 WS, good for 3rd in the league. Still, Dantley was more notable at that time for his many teams than his many points, and consequently he was passed over in favor of several veterans despite having a far superior season.
8. Reggie Miller, IND, 1997 (12.2 WS)
Recently, we had an FAQ post on Miller's chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, and many fans came out in force to champion Reggie's cause. Unfortunately for Miller, that legion of supporters couldn't convince the league's 29 coaches to give him a reserve spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star roster in 1997. Miller had been an All-Star in 1995 & '96, but the Pacers fell from 50+ wins to 39 in 1997, and the voters held him responsible. Never mind the fact that Miller had one of the best seasons of his career in 1996-97, or that his teammates, who had combined for 19 OWS in 1996, slipped to 10 OWS the following year. Reggie would return to the ASG in '98, but the plain truth is that he shouldn't have been forced to take a 1-year hiatus in '97.
7. Terry Porter, POR, 1990 (12.2 WS)
In spite of his status as one of the steadiest, most dependable PGs in the game throughout his 17-year career, Porter only made the ASG twice (1991 & 1993). In 1990, he had the 2nd-best season of that long career (ranking 8th in the NBA with 12.2 WS), and was one of only 2 players (the other being Magic Johnson) to average at least 17.5 PPG & 9.0 APG with a TS% of .595. Porter's game was rock-solid all-around: he was 6th in Assist Rate and 7th in ORtg while scoring 18 P/36, averaging 2 Stl/G, and logging 35 MPG for the league's 4th-best defensive team. But when it came time to announce the All-Stars, veterans Rolando Blackman and Fat Lever received the call at guard over Porter despite posting inferior numbers and playing for inferior teams.
6. Kenny Anderson, POR, 1997 (12.5 WS)
Mr. Chibbs had one crazy roller-coaster ride of a career, fluctuating from a disappointment early in New Jersey to a somewhat undeserved All-Star later as a Net, then to a trade to the Hornets, and after that to a surprisingly great PG during his lone full season in Portland (heck, he was even able to make J.R. Rider look good). Anderson averaged 17.5 PPG and shot for a career-high .540 TS% that year, but more importantly he was 8th in the league in assists, had the 2nd-lowest TO% of his career, and was 12th among qualified players in Pure Point Ratio; he also was 7th in the NBA in steals and played more than 3,000 minutes for the 7th-best defensive team in basketball. It was a tough year for guards in the West with John Stockton & Gary Payton producing bushels of wins, but Anderson's play should have at least garnered him some recognition.
5. Kevin Johnson, PHO, 1989 (12.6 WS)
I'm convinced KJ is one of the most underrated players in NBA history (Hall of Fame, anyone?). The man is 7th all-time in assists per game, one of the most efficient scorers ever, he combined with Charles Barkley to lead the Suns to the Finals in 1992-93... and yet he only made the All-Star roster 3 times in his storied career! This trend of career-long snubbage started early for Johnson: in 1988-89, KJ had settled into Phoenix after a midseason trade from Cleveland a year earlier, and he was liking his new digs -- he averaeged 20.2 PPG, finished 2nd in overall assists, was 12th among qualifiers in TS%, 6th in pure point rating, and 13th in offensive rating (118.3, while using 23.6% of the Suns' possessions). But he still couldn't get into the ASG. Alex English and Dale Ellis had nice seasons in '89, but there was really no excuse for overlooking KJ that year.
4. Reggie Miller, IND, 1991 (12.7 WS)
Hey, there's a familiar name! As we mentioned in his Hall of Fame FAQ, Reggie only visited the ASG five times... but he also had a number of snubs that should taken into account. An All-Star in 1990, Reggie was even more efficient in 1991, as his ORtg soared to a staggering 129.6 and he posted a freakish .650 TS%. Yes, his scoring average dipped 2 PPG, but that's because he took almost 2 fewer shots per game; he still drew fouls at an insane rate for a jump-shooter, scored more than 1,850 points, made the 5th-most threes in the league, and played in a career-high 82 games. The fact that Rickey Pierce, Hersey Hawkins, & Alvin Robertson got into the midseason classic in 1990-91 and Miller didn't is just messed up.
3. Horace Grant, CHI, 1992 (13.8 WS)
The 3rd wheel on the runaway freight train that was Chicago's 1st 3-peat, begoggled PF Ho-Grant was rarely given his due after people got done doling out attention to MJ and Scottie. Never was this more true than in 1992, when Grant scored only 14.2 PPG but averaged a double-double every night, shot 58% from the floor (.618 TS%), rarely turned the ball over, created points on 66% of his possessions, and posted a monstrous ORtg of 132.2 (!!!). Grant's low scoring totals were due to the fact that there were very few leftovers after Jordan (32.4% of Chicago's FGAs when on the court) and Pippen (23.8%) were finished dominating the ball on offense -- HG only got to take 15.3% of the Bulls' shots when in the lineup. But he was incredibly efficient and did a lot of the dirty work that helped Chicago win a ridiculous 67 games that year. A legacy pick like Dominique Wilkins is nice, but in reality Ho Grant deserved some love for what he brought to the World Champion Bulls.
2. John Stockton, UTA, 1988 (14.4 WS)
The Pasty Gangsta was still a New Jack back in '88, at least when compared to the upper echelon of Western Conference PGs like Magic Johnson and Lafayette Lever, so it took a while for his awesomely efficient, underrated game to catch on with the All-Star voters (he wouldn't make his first ASG until 1989, his 5th year in the league). Still, it seems kind of weird to put together an All-Star lineup and not feature a guy who averaged 15 PPG on a .645 TS%, was 4th in the NBA in FG% (as a point guard, people!), led the league in assists per game by a rather wide margin, was 3rd in steals per game, and was one of the best defensive guards in the league. I mean, come on, we like Alvin Robertson as much as the next guy, but what in the name of Xavier McDaniel were they thinking that year?
1. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL, 2001 (14.9 WS)
Dirk was a bit of a bust as a rookie in '99 -- he had trouble adjusting to the culture in the U.S. of A. and the physicality of the NBA, and consequently he barely scraped past 40% from the field & turned the ball over once every 5 possessions. Fast-forward to 2000, though: after an offseason spent working hard with Holger Geschwindner, Dirk was suddenly Dirk, popping fadeaways over guys, knocking down silky-smooth threes, being an insanely efficient scorer on offense, etc. And he would continue that progress into 2001, when he averaged nearly 22 PPG and finished the year 8th in the league in 3-pointers, 7th in made free throws, 4th in TS%, 4th in ORtg, 3rd in offensive Win Shares -- heck, even 6th in defensive boards. Meanwhile, the Mavs were finally getting their act together too, following up on a promising 31-21 finish to 2000 with 53 wins, the franchise's best mark in 13 years. Unfortunately, Dirk's game was still unsung in those days, and bigger names like Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace got to play in the league's showcase game instead of the 7'0" German. Nowitzki would get his revenge, though: he hasn't missed out on an ASG since (that's 8 straight, counting 2009) and won the 2007 NBA MVP award... plus he stands tall on this list, as the most deserving non-All-Star of the past 35 years.