The NBA announced Thursday the starting lineups for the 2014 All-Star Game, set for New Orleans on Sunday, Feb. 16.
While there were many familiar names among the starters, who were selected by a fan vote, there were more than a few surprises. Here's a quick rundown of the winners and losers from the starting lineups.
Biggest Winner (East): Paul George, Pacers
"Exploding onto the scene" doesn't accurately capture the insane rise of George's profile compared to last season. Consider this: In 2013, George didn't place on the final leaderboard for the Eastern Conference's top vote-getters, meaning he drew less than 63,000 votes. Some of the players who out-drew him: Andrew Bynum (didn't play a game for the Sixers), Shane Battier, Monta Ellis, Jason Terry and Brandon Jennings.
This year? The only players to earn more votes than George were LeBron James and Kevin Durant. George's tally of 1.2 million ranked third-most among all players, besting the likes of perennial fan favorites Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant (who has been injured for most of the season). A lot has happened for George over the last 12 months -- an All-Star appearance, a deep run in the playoffs, an awesome reverse 360 windmill during a game, etc. -- but to draw something like 20 times more votes in 2014 compared to 2013 is just insane.
Although Curry's leap wasn't quite as impressive as George's, it's still jaw-dropping. Last year's biggest All-Star snub drew 97,000 votes in 2013, placing ninth among West guards behind the likes of Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio. This year? Curry pulled in a cool one million votes, ranking fourth overall and tops among the West guard crop. Yes, he had some help thanks to injuries suffered by Bryant and Chris Paul, but that's still a 10-fold increase year over year. There will be no snubbing this time around for Golden State's sharp-shooter.
Biggest Loser (East): Roy Hibbert, Pacers
The NBA switched its All-Star ballot format to eliminate the "center" designation last year, lumping in traditional centers with small forwards and power forwards in a catch-all "frontcourt" designation. That didn't play a huge role in 2013, as both Kevin Garnett (often used as a small ball center) and Howard secured starting spots. This year, though, the 10 starters don't include anything resembling a traditional center. The East's frontline includes three small forwards (James, George and Anthony) and the West's includes one small forward (Durant) and two power forwards (Griffin and Kevin Love).
Although Hibbert received significantly fewer votes than James, George and Anthony, he easily outpaced the rest of the East's centers (the next traditional center, Joakim Noah, had less than half of Hibbert's vote tally). Under the old system, he almost certainly would have been a runaway starter. He would have deserved it, too, serving as the backbone of the league's best defense on the league's best team.
Howard was in much the same boat. He was edged at the end of the voting process by Love, but he received 100,000+ more votes than any other traditional center in the West. The 2014 game will mark the first time Howard hasn't started in an All-Star Game since 2008.
"It's a house election right now with centers gerrymandered out," Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted Thursday, standing up for his center.
The ballot change was designed to protect against weak picks and reward the most popular players. Does the game suffer from no centers in the starting lineup? Probably not. Do Hibbert or Howard really lose here, considering they are sure-fire reserve selections? Not really.
Winner (East): LeBron James, Heat
Not that trivialities like this mean very much to James, but he stands as 2014's top overall vote-getter, taking the title back from Bryant. He also barely held off Durant, who is gunning for his MVP title, by roughly 20,000 votes, barely more than one percent of his total.
Winner (West): Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Bryant might not have finished tops overall but he drew more than 988,000 votes, or more than 164,000 votes for each of the six games he appeared in this season. His availability for New Orleans is still unclear -- he advised fans not to vote for him -- but his global appeal is as clear as ever.
The real snubs come once the reserves are announced, but an ideal starting lineup for the East would have featured Hibbert over Anthony, reflecting the relative merits of the Pacers and Knicks.
Even though their individual numbers are pretty comparable, inserting Wall instead of Irving based on Washington's stronger start was probably the way to go.
The easiest call is swapping in Parker for Bryant, as the former is again captaining one of the league's premier teams while the latter has been watching from the sidelines. A Durant/Aldridge/Howard frontline is a more ideal set-up positionally and would reward Aldridge's career year, the Blazers' strong start, and Howard's positional dominance. That's no real knock on either Griffin or Love, who are both worthy selections.