So many deserving players, so few roster spots.
Depending on your sense of history and your definition of “All Star,” that statement about the NBA’s All-Star Game and selection process either is painfully true or a little snarky.
Every year at this time — the day the reserves for the Eastern and Western Conference squads are announced, as chosen by the coaches (7 p.m. ET on TNT) — someone (or some two or three) who played well enough in the season’s first half to earn an invitation instead gets snubbed. Then again, by the time you get to the 12th man on each side, the step down from the starters generally is evident and a pecking order seems clear.
Mathematically and historically, however, one can make a solid case that 12 is an insufficient number of All-Stars for the modern NBA.
In the game’s infancy — which also was the league’s relative infancy — All-Star rosters went 10 deep. Back then, the NBA was an eight-team league. Later, the rosters bumped up to 12 players per side, which became the standard, mirroring the NBA roster limit during the season.
Actually, there were a few years in the 1970s when All-Star rosters were increased to 14 as the league’s membership expanded to 17 franchises, then 18.
Even with the absorption of four ABA franchises in the late 1970s and the expansion into Dallas, the All-Star rosters dipped briefly to 11, then settled back at 12. And that’s where they have been ever since. Through the addition of Miami, Charlotte, Orlando and Minnesota in 1988 and 1989. Despite the creation of the Raptors and the Grizzlies and, after the Hornets relocated to New Orleans and the NBA’s return to Charlotte.
For the past two regular seasons, sparked by the post-lockout scramble in 2011-12, teams have been permitted to carry 13 active players. So let’s do the math:
- 17 teams (12 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 1.41 All-Stars per team, with 11.8 percent of the league’s players classified as “All-Stars.”
- 30 teams (13 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 0.8 All-Stars per team, with 6.2 percent of the league’s players classified as “All-Stars.”
Clearly, All-Star-ness hasn’t been keeping pace with inflation.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau talked with reporters Wednesday about the difficulty of filling out his ballot for the seven East reserves. “There are a lot of guys who are deserving, and you hate to leave anyone off,” he said. “It’s unfortunate there are limited spaces.”
What if, though, the NBA increased the size of All-Star rosters to 15? That would alleviate some of the tough calls and bruised feelings that follow each time a worthy candidate gets snubbed. It would get the per-franchise representation up to 1.0 All-Star per team. And conveying the status on 7.7 percent (30 of 390) of the league’s player population hardly would cheapen the designation.
One hitch: Some guys wind up with their feelings bruised not by being snubbed but by sitting too much on All-Star Sunday. They give up their one shot at extended rest or recreation during the grind of the season, then make only a cameo appearance in the big game.
“It’s very difficult to get playing time for 12 guys,” said Thibodeau, who served as East coach last February in Orlando. “You’re trying not to offend anyone in those games. You wish the game was a little bit longer so everyone could get an equal amount of time. But it doesn’t work that way.”
How ‘ bout a proportionate increase in the game itself? Boost the quarters from 12 minutes each to 15 — same as the rosters — for a game that lasts 60 minutes rather than 48. That would keep the per-player average at 20 minutes, same as now.
“I thought maybe a shorter game, to be honest with you,” joked Detroit coach Lawrence Frank, who also has worked the All-Star sideline.
Frank’s barb speaks to a coach’s concern for undue wear and tear on his players, along with the lackluster play of many All-Star Games. The defense and intensity that serve the NBA so proudly during the season and playoffs is largely absent until the final minutes or maybe the fourth quarter of a close All-Star contest.
Still, lengthening the game with deeper rosters wouldn’t boost anyone’s workload. Nor would it markedly hurt the quality. We’re still talking about the 13th-, 14th- and 15th-best players in each conference. And a 25 percent boost in game clock to enjoy them all.
Obviously it’s not going to happen this year. So players already secure on the East and West squads, and those added tonight via the coaches’ picks, should take a little extra pride in how select the status really is. They’re all part of the elite 6.2 percent.
As Frank said: “It just puts that much more value on it. Look, there are going to be times you get snubbed. It happens all the time. And there are going to be times when a guy gets voted in who maybe shouldn’t get voted in. But it’s an All-Star Game.”