SALT LAKE CITY — Assessing why Rudy Gobert was snubbed as an All-Star doesn’t require a deep dive. It takes a splash in the shallow end. That’s what the “midseason classic” is anyway.
The All-Star Game has always been about exaggerated lob passes and uncontested dunks and unfunny hijinks. It’s the Globetrotters without a confetti bucket. And it has as much substance as a comic book.
Gobert actually has plenty of style, but he’s an acquired taste. All-Star games are something entirely different. The box score numbers look like an international phone call. In 2017, the combined point total was 374. That’s roughly the same as Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey’s systolic blood pressure. He told Locked On Sports he was “flabbergasted,” “disappointed” and “disgusted” that Gobert wasn’t included.
“There is no way to put into words our disappointment,” he said.
No, but they can put it into action by going scorched earth the rest of the season. Don’t be surprised if that happens. The Jazz did that last year.
There are strong arguments for Gobert’s worthiness, including being the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but also the league’s No. 1 player in field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage, according to Basketball Reference. He is second in offensive rating and sixth in offensive win shares.
So he does have offensive means and methods.
Gobert is also No. 1 in defensive box plus-minus, second in total win shares, first in blocks per game and second in defensive win shares. But to his chagrin, advertisers and viewers want flash, not substance. Neither they nor the NBA’s coaches seek efficiency in the All-Star Game; they prefer aesthetics.
Other than Bill Russell, past All-Star MVPs have all been about offense: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor.
The sales pitch isn’t merely abundant offense, but flashing neon offense. Last year’s score was 148-145. In 2017 it was 192-182, and in 2016 it was 196-173.
That’s not basketball, it’s Pop-a-Shot.
There are all kinds of numbers to show Gobert should have made the All-Star team over San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Gobert has more rebounds, offensive rebounds and alters more shots. But he scores six fewer points a game. Meanwhile, Aldridge makes it look better. He delivers what fans want in an All-Star Game: shameless shooting.
Delivery means more than results in All-Star games. Although coaches who elected the reserves know better, they also know their audience. Karl Malone and John Stockton were perennial All-Stars, but they didn’t make it because of their defense. When they did play in the midseason classics, they seldom looked comfortable, because the game isn’t about teamwork, either.
Malone got mad one year because Kobe Bryant waved off his screen. Stockton wanted to pass, and had no trouble finding people who would accommodate. But their back-to-school basics never did fit well, not even the year they were named co-MVPs. That outcome was predictable, considering the game was in Salt Lake.8 comments on this story
So Gobert got bypassed and Jazz fans have their pitchforks out. From a statistical standpoint, he deserves the honor. But from a marketing standpoint, it’s harder to sell a player known for shot-blocking than a scorer who has been on six previous All-Star teams. If it makes Gobert feel better, he’s not alone being disregarded. A USA Today article tagged Dallas star Luka Doncic as this year’s biggest omission.
LOS points out that Gobert is No. 1 in ESPN’s real plus-minus defense and 86th on offense, compared to Aldridge’s No. 215 on defense and 105 on offense. Great, but who does it prettier?
Gobert should be angry and he is. Fan voting is one thing, but coach voting is something else. Still, coaches know the story behind the story. When it comes to picking All-Stars, style over substance almost always rules the day.