Brace yourselves. - USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Hawks have consistently put at least one player in the All-Star game for the past six seasons, but that streak is in danger this season.
In checking the temperature and the NBA All-Star game weather map, it may be that this nice little run is coming to an end.
Let's count the reasons why.
1. Joe Johnson is a Brooklyn Net
It's not that Joe Johnson put up eye-popping, he's-got-to-be-included numbers at any point except his first inclusion in 2006-07. Joe was always a big, scoring fish in the small pond that was/is the NBA shooting guard. Even last season we made the case that Joe was the second best shooting guard in the East, meaning his representation was secure, and it was.
Now, that easy pick is gone to New York state, as is the All-Star representation that came with him.
2. No more guaranteed center spots on the roster
As the NBA changes, so went the requirement to carry centers on the NBA All-Star roster. It was this requirement, as well as his handsome good looks and everyday workmanlike demeanor, that got Al Horford to two all-star games.
Horford was the second best center for those two seasons, behind Orlando's Dwight Howard, and would have certainly made it again last season if not for the injury suffered in Indiana early in the year. Coincidentally, the player who took the Horford spot on the roster was Pacer center Roy Hibbert, who should probably save every copy of that game for the same reasons.
Not that Al wasn't worthy, but his numbers and play would not overcome other more prolific scoring frontcourt players, as the name currently goes. Now that Al is in the bucket with forwards and not just the shallow pool that is centers, there's much less chance to get his name called.
3. Nobody is (statistically) standing out
Hey, the Hawks have played great, and their record and standing in the Eastern Conference should usually guarantee somebody from the club getting a nod to come on to the exhibition.
Who are they going to pick?
Remember, I am not talking about people who study advanced statistics like my brethren on Twitter. The folks who fill out the all-star roster don't look at such value-driven stats. So how do they choose? Glad you asked.
They like statistical outliers mostly --- preferably in the easy to locate area of scoring points per game. Need to find the most undeserving All-Stars in the NBA annals? Well, first look at the center position, to be honest. THEN, look at points per game and you'll find that once somebody jacked up enough shots to bolster that stat, they got recognized.
Take Johnson's inclusion on the 2007 AS team. He played for a team that had been bad, on their way to a 30 win season, but he was on his way to a 25 ppg season, by far his best. It was that scoring that got him noticed and accepted and it was his reputation and the Hawks beginning to win that kept him there. Well, that and the whole "second best shooting guard" thing.
BUT, they also like winners. Guys who put up big numbers will often be shot down if his team sucks. Terry Stotts once informed me of that when inquiring about any Hawks chances when the Hawks were living in the lottery. He told me that, when at Milwaukee, they would discuss it and it would take a great number of qualifications to take someone on a losing team.
So if you are a statistical outlier, especially in scoring and you play for a winner, congratulations, you just made the All-Star team!
Ok, so now back to this Hawks team. Look around the traditional stats, is any individual a positive outlier in any category this season?
The best you can find is Horford ranking 15th in rebounding and Josh Smith being 6th in blocked shots, neither of which is going to move the needle on an all-star invitation.
Even among advanced stats, it's rough going for the good guys. Horford, with his 19.0 PER, ranks 26th among all frontcourt players with 25 minutes per game. The good news is that the West is stacked and they have 17 of those players (good luck Western conference all-stars!). The bad news is that Horford falls ninth in the East.
The Hawks, despite being a surprising success, Larry Drew getting recognized for his coaching and being darn near tops in the East, record wise, just spread the excellence around too much to get any one person noticed statistically.
4. Josh Smith's reputation
Fair or not, despite the across-the-board excellence that Smith provides to the team, an attribute fully on display in the third quarter of the most recent win in New Orleans, Smith's reputation among coaches is sure to cost him yet again this season.
It's not completely fair, but the desire Josh has to launch jump shot after jump shot is such an eyesore at this point that, if not removed from the conversation, it dooms his candidacy. Coaches can't focus on the many ways Josh pushes the team to win, they focus on the Josh's thorn in his basketball flesh.
But that's just today's critique of Josh. If Josh suddenly had stopped taking jump shots, they might have found another way to exclude him, like they did in 2009-10 when he stopped taking three point shots and did actually focus more on being inside. His numbers did improve, but not to the point where they wouldn't take Gerald Wallace on a frisky Charlotte team over Smith.
At that point, it was his relationship with then-coach Mike Woodson that might have cost him that season. Whatever. Or last season, when Josh carried the Hawks team after Horford went down, Josh didn't even get a sniff at the roster, causing the darkness to set in and a flurry of "he's unhappy with Atlanta" stories.
Part of the issue is also that Atlanta's annually slow pace suppresses his counting stats so that, as we mentioned before, the numbers don't become outliers and more or less blend in with the pack. The other part is Josh's excellence comes from him filling out a lot of stats on the box score, while not being awe-inspiring in just one.
There would have had to have been a major sea change coming into this season, along with plenty of press harping on that and pushing the meme along so that coaches got the memo, for Josh to make it happen. Well, that or scoring 25 points per game.
So back to this season, Josh has been good, but the jump shooting has now worked against him to really deflate even his usually excellent PER. Robby does an amazing job in pointing out the slow starts that Josh and Al have had shooting, and slow starts portend poorly to All-Star recognition.
At this point, I believe only going to another team and changing the picture can affect coaches opinion of him and, thus, get him to the All-Star game as a participant.
5. The Competition
It really comes down to this. If it's not going to be Horford or Smith, then who is going?
I already touched on the fact that Horford comes in 9th among qualified frontcourt players, even in PER, where pace is negated and efficiency rewarded. If you looked at that link you already know this, but here are the players ranked ahead in PER.
LeBron James (obviously starting)
Carmelo Anthony (starting)
These are the players standing in front of Horford, then there is Kevin Garnett, and then Josh Smith.
Before you get excited about the lack of WOW on that list, consider that maybe 60 percent (3/5) of the 13 man roster will be front court players. That would mean seven or eight players would be represented from this group (last year it was seven).
From the voting, James and Anthony are the starters and deservedly so. Next in the voting are Garnett, Bosh, Chandler, Pierce and Joakim Noah. Then comes Josh after that group. Al Horford, supposedly a popular player among NBA people, doesn't register at all with the fans. Surprise.
Bosh is a likely take, as is Pierce, leaving three, maybe four spots here.
Looking at the standings, the Knicks are second in the East, so you could easily see them "rewarding" Tyson Chandler for his defensive presence. He is also averaging a DOUBLE-DOUBLE(!) with 10.1 rebounds a game Double digits is a key WOW factor despite it not meaning a whole lot more than 9.6 rebounds which is where Horford is.
Anderson Varejao's candidacy should be greatly impacted by the standings. Cleveland is next to last in the East, with only the Wizards keeping them from touching the bottom. What is in Varejao's favor is that he is posting a monster statistical outlier season with 14.4 rebounds per game. He is also overcoming a coaches bias by doing better offensively, something that coaches love to reward. "Hey, he fixed what we've always said is a problem!" Averaging a double-double, especially one as statistically garish as a 14/14, may help him get in despite being on a lousy team.
Brook Lopez is on a media friendly team in Brooklyn, is putting up solid numbers, including a massive 25.5 PER. Funny thing is that, rate wise, he is very similar to Horford - -but he is efficient while using many, many more possessions than Al and that increases his overall efficiency which impresses the advanced stats community while obviously giving him more opportunities to raise his counting stats, impressing the establishment. You can see Lopez being the one Net being recognized this season in the All-Star game.
So it might come down to one more spot if they go to eight frontcourt guys. They might not. Noah, West, Luol Deng, Horford and Smith are all jockeying for that one spot, if it comes open. West, Deng and Horford have the advantage of already being minted an All-Star -- West and Horford twice minted, which sadly also makes a difference in some coaches minds.
So who's excited now for the All-Star game? It stinks because this is a fun, play-the-game-the-right-way team and a lot of what's going on with this team is happening defensively, as Robby shows in that other piece, too. Defense doesn't get it's due in this format as it's hard to measure beyond the partially spurious relationship of blocks and steals to defense.
Horford and Smith are both qualified, excellent candidates for the game and would be awesome together in that capacity, but neither have the statistical WOW factor in their favor and they get lost in the crush of so many candidates.
Hopefully their individual excellence won't get ignored and the fact that they have carried the Hawks to the third best record in the East will help break some ties, but I am preparing for the possibility that they'll get passed over for the reasons we list above.
Hope I'm wrong.