By Ben Golliver
Following years of complaints about the unnecessarily complicated semantics of its All-Star ballots, the NBA will reportedly modify its voting process to eliminate the "center" designation and replace it with three "frontcourt" spots, according to an NBA.com report. Previous ballots allowed a voter to select two guards, two forwards and a center, but did not distinguish between point guards and shooting guards or small forwards and power forwards.
The league will announce Wednesday a change to its All-Star ballot that will, for the first time, allow fans to vote for three undefined "frontcourt" players instead of having to vote for two power forwards and a center. With more and more teams playing smaller than in the past, the definition of "center" was becoming increasingly difficult -- not to mention finding enough quality big men for whom to vote.
The league decided to make the change after the NBA's Competition Committee agreed to the move at its meeting last month, VP of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson said Tuesday evening.
"It makes sense," Jackson said. "It made sense to our Competition Committee. Having a center is the only specific position that was singled out on the ballot. It just seemed a little outdated and didn't represent the way our game has evolved. By the same token, it also affords the same opportunity, if you have two good centers in a given year, pick 'em both. They both can be selected. Which is impossible right now."
The NBA, as expected, officially announced the change Wednesday.
What changes here? A voter who previously would not have been allowed to vote for Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, because all three are listed as forwards on the ballot, will now be able to vote for all three as "frontcourt" players. Last year, a voter would have been forced to select two of those three forwards and then a center from a pool that included the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum and the Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, among others.
How likely is this rule change to impact things this year? That's difficult to determine, as we can't know for sure how much voters favor forwards over centers if given a choice between the two. Last year's voting numbers, though, suggest that this rule change probably won't have a major impact in 2013.
Earlier Tuesday, The Point Forward put together our preseason All-Star team selections, using last year's rules. Very little turnover in the starting lineups was expected. Three 2012 East starters -- Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James -- and four 2012 West starters -- Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin -- were all selected to start in 2013. In addition, 2012 East center Dwight Howard and 2012 West center Andrew Bynum were selected to replace each other after switching conferences following an offseason trade. The only 2012 starter who wasn't projected to return as a starter in 2013 was Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who is currently rehabilitating from a serious injury.
It's unlikely that this rule change will alter expectations in the West. Howard was the overall leading vote-getter last season, with more than 1.6 million votes, and Durant (1.34 million) and Griffin (876,000) surpassed any of the other eligible forwards and centers on this year's ballot by more than 400,000 votes. Those three are virtual locks to start in this year's game.
Things aren't really that much more interesting in the East, although there are a few more scenarios to consider. Based on last year's numbers, James (1.36 million) Anthony (1.04 million) and Bynum (1.05 million) would be the top three "frontcourt" players selected this season. They would earn admission in a landslide margin, as no other forward or center on the East ballot earned more than 400,000 votes in 2012. No matter how the voting rules work, James and Anthony are almost surely untouchable due to their star power and visibility. It's possible, though, that Bynum could see his voting tally fall off substantially now that he's not playing for the Lakers. Should he start his first season with the Philadelphia 76ers slowly, or find himself bothered by knee problems, it's not inconceivable that someone like Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (367,000 votes last season), Heat forward Chris Bosh (324,000 votes last season) or even Bulls center Joakim Noah (236,000 votes last season) could sneak in to give him a run for his money.
Even if this rule change doesn't produce a drastically different landscape immediately, it's less complicated, more fair and and more thoughtful than the previous system. It's also, potentially, a first step towards what would be a truly radical future reality: fans voting on five starters without any positional delineations. Things would really get interesting then.