Pablo Juarez
Commentary
Chad Austin
Mercury Staff

Ability of fans to have direct impact on voting for game skews results, leads to teams unreflective of actual NBA talent

Georgian center Zaza Pachulia was 14,227 votes from being named a starter in this season’s NBA All-Star game in Toronto on Feb. 14.

For most of his career, Pachulia has been considered a back-up center, starting in only 359 games in 857 NBA appearances. This season, Pachulia has taken a drink from the fountain of youth while playing for the Dallas Mavericks, posting 10.4 points and 10.7 assists per game — his first time averaging a double-double.

However, those particular statistics are not All-Star starting material. The fact that he was so close to being voted in is not a knock against Pachulia, but rather against the voting system itself and why putting all the power in the hands of the public doesn’t yield merit-based results.

NBA fans across the globe cast their votes every season to determine the All-Star starters for each respective conference. The coaches are then given full discretion in choosing the reserves for each team, none of which can be players on their own team.

Prior to 2013, fans could vote by position. Now, they can vote in only two categories — backcourt and frontcourt. The top two backcourt and top three frontcourt vote-getters from each conference are selected as starters.

The problem with this voting change is that there is a possibility that three small forwards end up rounding out the starting backcourt, as evidenced by this year’s voting results.

Though modern basketball has increasingly moved toward playing small ball, basketball purists say rosters like those are not representative of a true starting line-up. Reverting back to the old voting system would ameliorate this problem.

Year in and year out we see players who are currently injured or have recently returned from an injury near the top of the voting leaderboard. The writers at “SB Nation” proposed a mandatory minimum of games played for eligibility. They also said in order to be eligible to be voted in, a player must appear in at least 60 percent of their team’s games.

Raising that threshold to 80 percent seems more suitable. Players at the All-Star level are expected to contribute to their team every night. Durability is a quality that separates star players from first ballot hall of famers. Just take a look at Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki.

The idea of the NBA All-Star game has deteriorated in the mind of the public who now consider it a glorified pick-up game, while the voting is considered a popularity contest.

High profile celebrities, fans, vine stars and even players themselves campaign for All-Star votes, often skewing the end results. The flaw in the voting system is having too much power in the hands of many.

Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is posting an all time low field goal percentage, yet he led this year’s race with 1,891,614 votes — nearly 300,000 more than this season’s frontrunner for the MVP award.

That should not happen.

At the end of the day, fans are what make the game of basketball meaningful. They want to see their favorite players at the All-Star game.

The dilemma is in the impact All-Star appearances can have on a player’s contract. The “Derrick Rose Rule,” as it is called, is a provision in the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement that is a prime example of this.

The rule allows players still on their rookie contract to earn 30 percent of a team’s salary cap on their next contract — as opposed to 25 percent — if they have been voted twice as an All-Star starter, selected twice to an All-NBA team or have won an MVP award.

All-Star starting selections not only affect a player’s salary, but are also taken into consideration when nominating retired athletes for the hall of fame.

If a starting bid in an All-Star game has these kinds of ramifications, the voting should not be relegated to a mere popularity contest.

A possible solution is to allow fans to vote for each position. Then, coaches take the top three vote-getters from each position and select the starters from that applicant pool to fulfill the five man starting line-up. Each playoff team deserves at least one All-Star. After taking that into account, coaches choose the reserves to round out the 12-man line-up.

The voting needs to be fixed to serve as a reward system based on merit. There should be a balance of power between fans and those directly involved with the NBA — such as coaches, executives and general managers.