The full NBA All-Star Game rosters were announced Tuesday night, and it was hard not to notice the suspicious lack of UConn alumni among the selected players.
Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond have each already made one All-Star Game in their careers—Walker last season, Drummond the year before that. Both are having great seasons again, with Drummond even being the talk of the league in the early part of the year, having made great strides in the offseason. Their snubbing was a disappointing result for two players in their primes who are certainly deserving of bids.
Walker (hereafter referred to as “Kemba”) is the unquestioned leader of the Charlotte Hornets, in a way we’ve seen way too many great players go under the radar. The formula always happens like this: a team has one great player who does just about everything for them, the unimpressive bench gives up points when he takes a rest, the team struggles to win as a result, and casual fans assume the one player can’t be all that good.
That’s where we’re unfortunately at with Kemba, even though he’s at worst the third-best point guard in the Eastern Conference. He was left off the All-Star roster for a pair of Washington Wizards, John Wall and Bradley Beal, despite his performance this season exceeding both of theirs. Beal’s a talented offensive player, of course, but he’s only averaging two more points per game than Kemba, and he’s not asked to do nearly as much as the Hornets star. Meanwhile, Wall is having his worst season in quite some time.
The Wizards are much better than the Hornets, granted, but they’re only fifth in the East, and the fourth-place Miami Heat didn’t get a single player into All-Star Weekend’s main event. The Wizards’ notability means they can get one of their star players into the game; it doesn’t mean they should get two in at the expense of a player who’s been better than both of the two representatives.
Drummond is having one of the best seasons of any center in the NBA, and it’s equally hard to see why there was no room for him on the All-Star roster. The Detroit Pistons’ big man leads the league in rebounds per game, rebounding percentage, Defensive Rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus-minus. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: he’s one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and certainly one of the best defensive big men in the game. He’s no slouch offensively either, averaging 14 points per game on .543 shooting and upping his ball movement to the tune of nearly four assists a game. Oh, and the free-throw shooting? He’s improved to the point where opponents cannot simply foul him every time they get in trouble.
Drummond was passed over for Al Horford, Kevin Love, and Kristaps Porzingis. All of those picks are defensible on the surface: Horford is the second-best player on the East’s best team, Love is having another quietly great season on the team that’s won the conference title for three straight years, and Porzingis is an emerging star in a big market. But which of these players is definitively having a better season than Drummond? I’d say Horford and Love are pretty close to Drummond, and Porzingis is still behind the other three.
That said, even if Porzingis was just as good as the others, it’s hard to understand why the NBA left out Drummond. He’s in the middle of a career season, and neither Horford nor Love are having standout seasons by their standard. There are many good reasons to think Porzingis isn’t yet at the level of the other three, but he’s a popular young player in a large market that many fans wanted to see in the All-Star Game. Shouldn’t All-Star reserve spots be used on very good players who are having career years?
Both Kemba and Drummond have played in All-Star Games before and are still quite young, so thankfully it’s not as if their opportunities to ever make the game is being passed over. That said, it’s always disappointing when UConn’s great basketball players aren’t getting recognized, and especially so when they seem to be just as deserving, if not more so, of the recognition that other players are getting.
To prove we aren’t biased, here’s a sampling of what national media are saying:
“Drummond has had a resurgent season for the Pistons, who have cooled off after a decent start to the season. It’s tough to get excited about plodding centers, but Drummond has really evolved this season, eschewing post-ups for more handoffs and action at the elbow. Kristaps Porzingis likely edged out Drummond for the last big-man spot, and both had a fair claim to be included.”
“There’s a reason Michael Jordan won’t trade his starting point guard without getting an All-Star in return. The Hornets’ struggles aren’t because of Walker, who has been his typical whirling-dervish self on the offensive end. The Hornets play like one of the best teams in the league with Walker on the floor, with an offense that could rival the Warriors and Rockets of the world. Walker’s personal net rating is 17.5—he’s had a bigger positive impact on his team than LeBron James. But the East has its own fair share of capable guards this season, and Kyle Lowry’s drop in counting stats has coincided with a rise in efficiency. If the Hornets were playing a bit better, Kemba may have been an easier sell.”
“The Pistons have been at some of the highest and lowest points of the Eastern Conference standings this season, but Drummond has been consistent. He’s improved his free-throw shooting from 38.6 percent last season to 62.9 percent this season and is dishing out a career-high 3.9 assists to go along with 14.3 points per game and a league-leading 15 rebounds. We have no clue how he didn’t make it.”
“The Hornets have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league this season, but that’s no reflection on Walker’s play. When you look at his numbers, it’s no wonder why he’s been the center of many a trade rumor this season. He’s averaging 21.8 points and 5.9 assists per game as the team’s primary creator without much else on the roster — this guy played well enough for a spot but just missed the cut.”
“The most glaring omission from the Eastern Conference comes courtesy of Detroit, as Drummond is putting together the best season of his career as the centerpiece of the Pistons. The 24-year-old center has always been a double-double machine but, this season, he is defending at an improved level and, perhaps more impressively, Drummond is now a willing facilitator with the ability to deliver passes from both the post and the elbow.”
“The Hornets are 19-26, which is why Walker isn’t going to the All-Star Game. Charlotte’s struggles aren’t his fault, though, as the team has been quite effective when he plays and ghastly every time he leaves the floor. Few expected Walker to make it based on the factors in play, but he’s deserving on the surface.”
Just about every snub article had Drummond on it, including CBS, The Undefeated, Sporting News, The New York Post, and Yahoo Sports. Bleacher Report’s statistical evaluation had Walker as the 4th-biggest snub and Drummond as the 1st.