The NBA unveiled the first returns of All-Star voting last week, and the list of leading vote-getters included some notable absences and surprises.
Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson did not make their season debuts until this past week. Yet they still got plenty of love. The totals point to the flawed system that is the fan vote. Do fans account for 100% of the vote? No. But even 50% is too much because it costs other, more deserving players of recognition.
Here are the five players who got the shortest end of the stick after the first returns, including Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis.
5. G Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
Mike Conley might not put up the most prolific numbers among Western Conference guards. He’s averaging 14.0 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.0 rebounds. But his complementary skill set the Utah Jazz‘s offense to an entirely different level.
The Jazz score 115.9 points per 100 possession when Conley sits. They score an absurd 120.2 with him in the rotation. Conley is making a career-high 50.8% of his twos on top of a career-high 42.7% from beyond the arc. He spaces the floor and allows Donovan Mitchell to operate in pick-and-roll while also having the ability to get to the cup himself and finish with floaters or find Rudy Gobert rolling to the bucket for lobs.
Conley also compensates for some of Utah’s defensive deficiencies on the wings. He is the best on-ball guard on the roster and routinely forces opponents into tough jumpers. Utah outscores opponents by 14.0 points with Conley on the floor, a whopping margin that paces all Jazz players. His +10.4 on-off margin ranks second on the squad, behind only Rudy Gobert. A certain trend of defense exists there.
Mitchell and Gobert are more likely to earn NBA All-Star nods. Indeed, Spida’s scoring and playmaking propel a Jazz team people still seem to neglect in the title conversation. However, Conley is every bit as important to Utah’s success.
4. G Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
It took some time for San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray to realize his All-Star potential. Unfortunately, Murray has a hard time attracting attention as a member of a small-market franchise, and it’s even harder standing out in a crowded Western Conference backcourt.
Murray did not crack the top 10 vote-getters among Western Conference guards. That might sound reasonable, considering superstars such as Curry, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Chris Paul headline that group. On the other hand, it’s totally unreasonable considering Klay Thompson got the fourth-most votes, and Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook got two of the final three spots.
The reality is this: Murray deserves more acclaim than all of those guys. He’s averaging 18.3 points, 9.0 assists, 8.3 rebounds, and an NBA-best 2.1 steals. The 25-year-old ranks first in deflections per game and total deflections. His on-off splits aren’t overly dazzling, but the Spurs would almost certainly struggle to win any games without his stupendous two-way play.
Murray ranks 18th in the NBA in VORP, just behind Morant and above Doncic. He probably won’t make an All-Star team because of the talent in the West, but he still belongs in the conversation for the final reserve spots.
3. G/F Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Tatum got some love from the fans. He tallied the fourth-most among frontcourt players. Alternatively, Brown’s name did not appear on the list.
On the one hand, availability could dictate Brown’s absence. He’s played in 26 games this season. Then again, Kyrie Irving has only played in one game and still has the sixth-most votes among Eastern Conference guards. So, let’s keep it on the floor.
Brown is averaging 24.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. He’s shooting 46% from the field and over 36% from beyond the arc. The Celtics are clearly a better team with Brown in the rotation. They outscore opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possession when the 25-year-old is in the game. He carries a +7.7 on-off margin. That’s fairly substantial.
Celtics fans might feel dismayed about the team’s struggles. Hopefully, though, they’ll give Brown a boost in the second return of NBA All-Star fan voting.
2. G Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Unlike Sabonis, Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet did show up on the list of leading vote-getters … barely.
VanVleet earned the 10th-most votes among backcourt players in the Eastern Conference. The number in no way informs his status as one of the best guards in basketball this season. That’s not an exaggeration, either.
The 27-year-old is sixth in the entire NBA in VORP. Want to know where that ranks among Eastern Conference guards? That’s right, first. He trails only Stephen Curry in VORP among guards.
VanVleet is doing everything for the Raptors. He is averaging 22.0 points on 44.2% shooting, including 40.9% from beyond the arc on 9.4 attempts per game. The former Wichita State star is also averaging 6.7 assists and a career-high 5.0 rebounds. Not to mention, he’s a pest on the defensive end.
VanVleet ranks second in deflections per game and total deflections, per NBA.com. He’s tied for the league lead in loose balls recovered per game. That combination of production and hustle makes him the Raptors’ new Kyle Lowry.
Toronto outscores opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions with FVV on the floor. His +14.3 on-off margin is one of the best in basketball. It’s time to acknowledge his status as a top player in the East.
For good measure, VanVleet appears adamant to bolster his NBA All-Star resume. Over his last eight games, VanVleet is averaging 30.6 points, 7.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.0 steals on over 47% shooting from the field and a 45% clip from deep. Truly elite numbers.
1. F/C Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Domantas Sabonis has the unfortunate distinction of being considered the last All-Star on the roster. At least, that’s how it’s felt in each of the past two seasons.
This time around, Sabonis could not even crack the top 10 vote-getters among Eastern Conference frontcourt players following the first returns for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. That’s just plain wrong.
Sabonis is averaging 19.3 points and 11.7 rebounds on 58.6% shooting from the field and a 65.6% true shooting clip. His assists are down, but he’s still one of the best passing bigs in the NBA, averaging 4.5 dimes. Want more evidence of Sabonis’ impact? He ranks eighth in value over replacement player (VORP).
Appropriately, the 25-year-old responded to the snub by posting a career-high 42 points in a win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Oh, that also came after a 32-point triple-double in a Jan. 5 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Sabonis is a top name to watch before the NBA trade deadline and could find himself playing for another franchise come February. Regardless, the Pacers star deserves more respect.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.