Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is among the NBA’ biggest All-Star snubs, if not the biggest, and he joined Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in questioning the process that left both on the sidelines.
Seven players from each conference were selected as reserves for the All-Star Game by a panel of the league’s 30 head coaches. Booker was eligible for one of four openings on the Western Conference roster — the two guard positions or either wild-card spot — but the coaches chose Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook over the 23-year-old. While we cannot know for sure their reasoning, it appears coaches took into account team performance and legacy when making their picks.
“It was always a goal of mine,” Booker told reporters on Friday, via The Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin, “but it just reproves the point that the NBA is different than the game I fell in love with at the beginning, of all the best players in the All-Star Game, watching that growing up. Now it's an entertainment-, drama-, political-filled league, but we’re a part of it now. It pays well, so I guess we should be quiet about it.”
Asked how he would change the selection process, Booker added, “Put the best players in the game,” regardless of position. He also suggested his team’s failure to make the playoffs may have played a role.
The Suns are currently 20-27, no longer the dregs of the West, but still three losses off the eighth seed. Still, general manager James Jones took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement on Booker’s behalf:
Phoenix Suns GM James Jones has released a statement: “I’ve played with and against multiple All-Stars in this league and Devin Booker is undoubtedly an NBA All Star.”— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 31, 2020
Coaches have always selected the All-Star reserves since 1974. The NBA scrapped the requirement for one center on the bench in favor of three frountcourt spots in 2013, which does Booker no favors. The league is increasingly position-less in an era that has prioritized shooting and the ability to defend multiple positions.
“A lot of really good players didn’t make the All-Star team until later on in their career, and they ended up being Hall of Fame-type players,” Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters on Friday, via The Athletic’s Gina Mizell. “And Devin Booker is certainly going to be a Hall of Fame player. It’s a shame. When you look at the system, the way these guys are picked, he’s probably a casualty of that. It’s pretty clear that the Western Conference coaches didn’t value what he brought to the table, and that’s disappointing.”
For what it’s worth, voting for All-Star starters is split between fans (50 percent), media (25 percent) and players (25 percent). Booker was voted fourth among West guards behind Luka Doncic, James Harden and Damian Lillard by his peers — ahead of Westbrook, Mitchell and Paul. He was eighth in fan voting. The media unanimously slotted Doncic into a starting guard spot, while Harden received every vote but one.
There is little doubt Booker should have still made the roster in its current format. He is averaging 27.1 points (on 51/37/92 shooting splits), 6.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds as the primary option in Phoenix. If their numbers hold up, Booker and Beal would be the first players to average a 27-6-4 and not make an All-Star team, according to Basketball Reference, and Booker has been far more efficient as a shooter this season.
Booker’s biggest gripe should be with the selection of Westbrook, the former MVP who is averaging 26.3 points (46/24/79 splits), 8.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists for the sixth-place Houston Rockets. You could also argue Booker deserves the nod over Paul, the 10-time All-Star enjoying a bounce-back season for the seventh-place Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul is averaging 17.1 points (48/36/90 splits), 6.5 assists and five rebounds. A step slower at 34 years old, he is still more effective defensively than Booker and Westbrook.
I am not entirely sure what Booker meant by saying the All-Star Game is not the same as the one he remembers from childhood. Perhaps he is simply saying that he personally looks at the game differently as a professional than he did as an admirer. But by saying, “Now it’s an entertainment-, drama-, political-filled league,” he seems to be suggesting that this is the case now more than ever before, which is debatable.
Up until 2016, the fan vote decided All-Star starters, which allowed for less deserving selections. The game was created for entertainment, and there seems to be less drama surrounding it than in past eras, even as the league has taken steps to counter that (i.e., captains selecting teams from the player pool, playground style). It may well be true that coaches could lobby their peers for selections, but more likely Westbrook and Paul made the team this season in part because of their track record. And that has been the case forever.
Booker’s best point is the idea of scrapping positional requirements altogether. That would have at least given him an additional chance to unseat frontcourt reserves Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Brandon Ingram. Even then, I am not sure you can get a consensus among coaches that Booker is more deserving. Jokic is a returning MVP candidate on the second-place Nuggets, Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year somehow making his first All-Star appearance, and Ingram is enjoying a breakout season himself.
The fact of the matter is someone always gets snubbed, and this year it is Booker. I would have put him in the game, but I am not sure coaches kept him out based on entertainment, drama or political reasons. There is also the chance that Doncic’s ankle injury will prevent him from playing in the game or someone else is unable to participate and commissioner Adam Silver selects Booker as the first replacement.
I will say the NBA should require players, coaches and front-office members who publicly gripe about an All-Star snub to name the player they believe should be removed from the roster. Now that would be drama.
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