This year’s NBA All-Star game falls on Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re single and sad, or just looking for that perfect activity to pass the time with your main squeeze, you’ll be in for a real treat. Sure, the game almost immediately devolves into a fast-break dunk-fest full of killer crossovers, ridiculous three-point displays and circus shots, maintaining that pace until the fourth quarter. But if things get close in the last five minutes, you’ll be sure to see some quality competition from some of the game’s most recognizable faces, with a bit of gritty defense sprinkled in.
All sarcasm aside, the night is usually a fun way to cap off a fun-filled weekend full of celebrity games, skill competitions and grade-A commentary from the likes of Sir Charles Barkley and Kenny “The Jet” Smith. Sure, the buildup is almost always a bigger deal than the game itself, but this mid-season showcase provides the rest of the league a much needed break and gives its stars, new and old, an opportunity to shine on and off the court.
One of the biggest stories of the season has revolved around Los Angeles Lakers’ perennial all-star Kobe Bryant. Before the season began, Kobe declared the 2015-2016 campaign to be his last. Yes, Kobe is averaging a pedestrian 15.9 points per game, 3.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds, down from career averages of 25.1, 4.7 and 5.3 respectively. Sure, his Lakers are a woeful 9-41, using their season as little more than a vehicle for the Kobe Bryant farewell tour (and what a tour it’s been!). But his name, brand and presence speak for themselves. Whether you love him or hate him, Bryant is a modern-day legend. He has five NBA championships to his name and is arguably the greatest Laker ever. While it can be argued that someone like James Harden or Chris Paul deserved a starting spot over him, Kobe is one of the legends who is deserving of this honor.
Another big story that holds weight beyond this season’s contest is that of the voting shift from two guards, two forwards and one center to simply two guards and three forwards. This year the fans voted in LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry in the East. The West starters are of a similar stature, with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook rounding out the five. You may notice there is not a single power forward or center in either lineup. The shift was made due to a noticeable lack of all-star caliber big men on competitive squads. Other than Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins and perhaps Anthony Davis, the NBA’s line of talented, marketable big men is awfully thin.
Naturally this set up allows for a more perimeter-oriented game with more speed, handles, three-point barrages and acrobatic slams. Still, a game between two line-ups of five wing players seems a bit strange. This switch also reflects the evolution of the game in the 2010s that has seen a tremendous increase in three-point shots and a transition to small ball. This has led to the development of more young big men looking to handle the ball on the perimeter, shoot threes and as a consequence boast an undeveloped interior post-game. But with young, more traditional big men stars just getting their feet wet (I’m looking at you Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor), perhaps there will be another class of great centers on its way.
Yes, Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis were both selected as reserves along with Lamarcus Aldridge, and Andre Drummond, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap in the East. Still, they exist in a small pool of big men that casual fans can get excited about. Sure, I love Lamarcus Aldridges’ barrage of mid-range jumpers, but they just don’t excite the crowd the same way a fast-break dunk from Russell Westbrook would. Demarcus Cousins is having a monster season, averaging a ridiculous 27.0 points to go along with 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He is definitely exciting. But his Kings aren’t winning. Does he deserve a spot over Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard? What about the Kobe situation? These decisions are tough. A popular fan vote is a finite, democratic way to make them.
Does the league need to revert back to a system that elects a center? Remember when Roy Hibbert was a 2x All-Star? Would you like to see Zaza Pachulia seriously compete for votes? The system reflects a change in the game that is exemplified perfectly by the high-octane Warrior and their star Stephen Curry, a player who has usurped LeBron James
So what if the starting line-ups feature five wings playing each other? It’s up to the fans and it’s all in good fun. If we see a Shaq 2.0 and a host of other big men that once again become a focal point for entertaining, winning basketball, maybe the league will revert back. Not only is the league fun right now, it’s cool. The league’s marketers know this and will continue to build upon that trend. Besides, it’s not like this game decides home court advantage for the NBA Finals…