"The Point Forward All-Stars" will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members.
Welcome back to SI.com’s second annual survey of the true All-Star snubs: the All-Ignored Team, comprised of the best players who failed to even make the leaderboard during the fan voting process.
This year, the NBA opened up the all-digital balloting process so that every NBA player was eligible for the vote; since Christmas, the league has released three rounds of returns made up of a top 50 leaderboard (10 backcourt players and 15 frontcourt players from each conference). Although the format of the website ballot appears to have helped steer fans towards the most deserving players, there are still a number of quality players who are being totally overlooked by the process.
As noted during last year’s inaugural edition, overlooked players bear none of the blame here. All sorts of factors – age, role, style of play, commercial visibility, market size, playoff experience, team performance --contribute to a player being undervalued in the voting process.
The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” remains enormous despite the tweaks to the voting process. The cut-off line to make the East’s leaderboard after three rounds of voting stands at roughly 28,000 for backcourt players and roughly 48,000 for frontcourt players. In the West, the leaderboard threshold is set at roughly 75,000 for backcourt players and 60,000 for frontcourt players. For perspective, players that were left off the East’s leaderboard failed to garner five percent of LeBron James’ league-leading vote total of 971,299. In the West, players who didn’t make the cut received less than eight percent of Stephen Curry’s conference-leading tally of 958,014.
Here’s a chart that shows the top 50 All-Star vote-getters. You can click here to see a full-size version of the chart, but even this smaller preview demonstrates how far ahead the top five guys (James, Curry, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant and James Harden) are from the rest of the pack. Now, consider that the players discussed below are all being squeezed into the far right section of this chart, with some even slotting below the last player listed (Bradley Beal). Hopefully, this helps illustrate how the phrase “he’s not even on the map” can apply even to very good players in a superstar-obsessed league’s popularity contest.
Click here for full-size chart
Without further ado, here’s this this year’s All-Ignored Team, comprised of 2014-15's most overlooked players in the All-Star process:
PG: Jeff Teague, Hawks
Teague is the runaway captain on this roster. He is the rare player who failed to make the leaderboard even though he has performed so well that he has a legit case to start for his conference. Atlanta’s quick, multi-talented point guard shouldn't be blamed for fuming at the polling data. Consider: Teague failed to place in the top 10 in the softest category (East backcourt), meaning he couldn’t even scrape together 28,000 votes.
DeMar DeRozan, who was injured for virtually the entire voting window, has received at least three times more votes than Teague. Former teammate Lou Williams, now a sixth man in Toronto after being dumped for virtually nothing by Atlanta in the offseason, has likely received double Teague’s tally. Jeremy Lin has received about seven times more votes than Teague even though he couldn’t hold the starting job on the basement-dwelling Lakers. Nick Young, another Lakers sub, has at least double Teague’s tally even though his season-high assist total of three is the same as Teague’s season-low. Oh yeah, Teague has easily outscored L.A.’s quirky gunner, too. As of Tuesday, the Hawks’ winning percentage (.810) is just mildly better than the Lakers’ (.286).
The best apples-to-apples, in-conference comparisons for Teague are Kyle Lowry and John Wall, both top-performing point guards who have garnered at least 14 times more votes than Teague. No matter that Teague is averaging 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals for the conference’s No. 1 team while ranking tops among East point guards in PER (22.6), second in Win Shares (5.3) and third in Real-Plus Minus (+3.5). Again, it’s hard to be any more overlooked than this.
The causes for Teague’s snubbing are common: the Hawks weren’t a major factor in last year’s playoffs, the franchise has possessed a blah identity and dealt with a shaky and scandal-filled summer, the 26-year-old Teague has taken his game to new heights this season, and he plays for a coach in Mike Budenholzer who has kept his minutes to a modest 31.4 a night while also fostering a climate where the ball is shared so selflessly that no one individual reaps the rewards. In other words, Teague is swimming upstream against past stagnancy, name recognition issues, and a stat-deflating style.
Nevertheless, Teague’s certainly doing his part to put his name on the main stage with star-type consistency and star-type highlights. Here he is with a Westbrook-ian dunk all over the Lakers.
And here’s Teague remaining calm amidst the storm late in crunch time against the Hornets, splitting a double team at the top of the key before sneaking a no-look pass through a trio of defenders for an easy Al Horford layup. Hover over the video to run the tape and witness the Tony Parker Body Double action.
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The coaches would be nuts to overlook him as an East reserve and the Hawks’ current 13-game winning streak should give him the boost he needs.
SG: Kyle Korver, Hawks
There are plenty of worthy candidates for this spot, but Teague’s backcourt mate in Atlanta might be most deserving. The knock on Korver in this discussion and in the broader All-Star conversation is that he is, technically, the fourth scoring option on the Hawks and heavily reliant upon the major players to set the table. Those are indisputable criticisms: Korver is a bona fide role player who is averaging a career-best 13.2 points, taking just eight shots a night, and benefiting from the fact that a whopping 94.7 percent (!) of his field goals are assisted.
That’s all well and good, but Korver is still making real history. His 53.6 percent three-point shooting is the highest mark ever posted by a player with at least five three-point attempts per game, and he’s poised to smash his own mark of 47.2 percent (set last year). He’s currently on track to join Steve Kerr as the only members of the 50/50/90 shooting club, and he would become the first full-time starter to ever hit those benchmarks. His .739 True Shooting Percentage currently leads the league, outpacing even professional dunkers (Brandan Wright, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert), and he’s on track for the best TS% by any player 6-foot-8 or under in league history. By the way, he’s doing all of this at age 33, a full five years removed from his first three-point shooting title. The book has been out on Korver for more than a half-decade and yet he continues to snipe at unprecedented rates.
The advanced stats paint a flattering portrait of Korver’s impact: he ranks fourth among East shooting guards in PER, second in Win Shares and first in Real Plus-Minus. His +12.5 net rating is tied with Teague for the best mark on the Hawks, and he’s done his part on a defense that ranks second in the East. Just as Korver would not be the player that he is without those above him on the totem pole, the reverse is true: without his movement and the threat of his spot-up shooting, Teague would face a smaller court and the frontline duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap would live more difficult existences.
While Teague’s performance in the fan voting is a bit flabbergasting, Korver’s is more understandable. It’s hard for most teams to get two All-Stars, much less three or four. The “role player” label is a hard one to shake, and fan voters tend to favor ball-dominant, high-usage scorers rather than perfectly refined specialists. That’s fine, the real purists will continue enjoying Korver’s quick release and Ray Allen-esque attention to mechanics all the same.
SF: Gordon Hayward, Jazz
If you wanted to construct a prototype for an overlooked player, Hayward would make for an excellent blueprint. Utah’s 6-foot-8 small forward might have earned a max contract last summer, but he’s positioned perfectly to be ignored by the fan voting process. He’s a very good all-around player (rather than a guy with a single elite dimension), he’s still a few years shy of his prime, his personality isn’t particularly polarizing, he gets lost in the shuffle of the West’s perennially loaded frontcourt group, he has never won a playoff game during his five-year career, he plays in a small market, and he plays for a Jazz team that sits in 13th place in the West standings. It’s really not that surprising that he has failed to draw 60,000 votes.
The key piece to grab onto from that laundry list of reasons he gets lost in the shuffle is that Hayward, 24, is rounding into a very, very good player, one who is averaging a career-high 19 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.3 steals. Of the 11 players in the NBA averaging 18/4/4 so far this season, Hayward and Brandon Knight are the only two who were totally ignored by All-Star voters. As of Tuesday, Hayward joined LeBron James and Rudy Gay as the only small forwards in that club of all-around producers.
There’s still work to be done, but Hayward covers a lot of bases: he’s a shot-maker, a solid pick-and-roll threat, a willing passer, a high IQ decision-maker, and a committed, energetic team player. He is the most stable piece on a young Utah team, ranking fifth in PER among West small forwards, third overall at small forward in Win Shares, and fifth overall among small forwards in Real Plus-Minus. Most tellingly, the Jazz’s offense falls off a freaking cliff whenever he leaves the court. Hayward’s on-court offensive rating is 106.6 (equivalent to No. 7 league-wise); his off-court offensive rating is 92.6 (equivalent to 29th league-wide).
A November game-winning buzzer-beater against James’ Cavaliers will stand as the highlight of Hayward’s season, and the dramatic moment nearly left him speechless. Plenty more scenes like this are sure to come.
Hayward might need to wait his turn for a few years, as Utah cobbles together enough developing parts to craft a playoff-type team, but he possesses sufficient talent to make an All-Star team at some point.
Take this play, where his instincts really to the forefront against Klay Thompson, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. Hayward sets up Thompson with a little misdirection, eventually uses the screen thanks to a quick behind-the-back dribble, draws the help defender with the threat of his shot, and then smoothly and safely executes the dump-off pass to Derrick Favors for a can’t-miss finish. He looks a bit like a quarterback staying calm and going through his progressions despite a heavy pass rush.
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PF: Draymond Green, Warriors
“You’d love to have him on your team” glue guys tend to do poorly in the All-Star voting process. That’s true even for someone like Green, who enjoys the double buzz that comes with being a key contributor on the league’s most exciting team and an impending free agent.
The NBA world is more prepared than ever to appreciate and quantify Green’s many attributes, which include versatility, toughness, and unselfishness. The 6-foot-7 Michigan State product can play either forward position, and he’s fully comfortable switching onto guards at the drop of the hat. He rarely gets happy feet when defending in positional mismatches and he displays an unusual enthusiasm for contesting and blocking jump shots. Here he is erasing a Mike Dunleavy Jr. three-point attempt. Look how far and how quickly Green travels to get the block: he starts from two steps into the paint.
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Green does well to find leverage against longer opponents when he’s defending in the post, and he is an incredibly useful help defender. He joins Josh Smith and Danny Green as the only non-bigs averaging at least one block and one steal this season, and he plays with focus and an edge that can unravel opponents.
There’s a little bit of everything in Green’s stat line – 11.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks – but it adds up to advanced stats gold. He ranks No. 9 overall in Real Plus-Minus, trailing eight likely All-Stars. He’s a top-25 performer overall when it comes to Win Shares. His +17.5 net rating trails only Curry among players averaging at least 25 minutes per game (minimum 15 games). Green put it all together in a recent blowout win over the Raptors, knocking down threes, making extra passes, blocking shots, finishing garbage plays in the paint, running the floor, and beating pressure defense with activity on his way to a triple-double.
Much like Korver, Green isn’t qualified to be a No. 1 guy, but his overall package within his current team’s context is pretty much irreplaceable. Golden State will need to back up the Brinks truck to retain Green this summer, and their ownership group and coaching staff seems savvy enough to relish, rather than fear, that fact.
C: Andre Drummond, Pistons
Drummond, Detroit’s 21-year-old center, is by far the least polished of the five players on this list, but he also possesses the most upside. His exclusion from the All-Star voting leaderboard is both understandable and questionable. On one hand, Detroit got off to an atrocious 5-23 start, Drummond’s shooting numbers and efficiency stats have dipped, and the Josh Smith fit question cloud hovered over everything.
On the other hand, Drummond is still one of only 11 bigs to average a double-double this year; he joins Zach Randolph as the only members of that group that aren’t among the top 50 vote-getters. Plus, the East’s frontcourt pool is incredibly shallow: Drummond, by default, is more deserving than the likes of Joakim Noah (injuries have significantly hampered his play), Kevin Garnett (old), and Nikola Mirotic (a Rookie of the Year candidate playing a confined role for Chicago).
This is still very much a story of “what will be” rather “what is” right now. Since dumping Smith, Detroit now has the looks of a playoff team; Drummond, an offensive rebounding and dunking machine who is improving as an defensive anchor, should get a slice of the credit for that turnaround. Check out how Drummond’s impact numbers have flipped upside down since Smith’s departure.
Before Dec. 22: Offensive Rating: 97.7 | Defensive Rating: 106.6 | Net Rating: -8.9
Since Dec. 22: Offensive Rating: 107.1 | Defensive Rating: 96.9 | Net Rating: +10.2
Drummond continues to struggle with foul trouble and currently ranks 15th among centers in PER and 11th in Real Plus-Minus, but the peaks – like this 26/20 outing against the Bucks – suggest the future holds so, so much more.
SI.com’s Rob Mahoney laid out in detail the progress Drummond has made this season and what’s still to come under coach Stan Van Gundy. Here’s betting that Drummond: 1) winds up on next year’s vote-getting leaderboard, and 2) finds a place in the All-Star Game before his age-25 season. Because, really, how many 21-year-old centers provide scoring and volume rounding, while also possessing the quickness, leaping ability, length, and timing required to come from the weakside to erase a shot at the rim in this manner?
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