Four players will start this year’s All-Star Game for the first time, and four more will make their first appearances in the annual exhibition set for Feb. 16 in New Orleans.
One of those latter four will not be Goran Dragic.
The Phoenix Suns point guard was not named a reserve, voted by the Western Conference head coaches, when selections were announced last Thursday. It was hard to argue with the players who did not get in – the West features a handful of future Hall-of-Famers and a few other shoo-ins who made the annual game on name alone.
The word “snub” tends to get thrown around this time of year, as there are always more players worthy of All-Star spots than the 12 roster spots allow. Western Conference coaches were asked to select two backcourt players, two frontcourt players and two “wild cards,” who could play any position. In order for a player to be a true “snub,” he has to have a legitimate argument over someone who made it, and while that may not be the case for Dragic, the 27-year-old has put up numbers that certainly make him worthy of a spot.
In his seventh NBA season, Dragic has put together a career year, averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds on better than 50 percent shooting. The only other player who has reached those averages this season is LeBron James, who led the NBA in All-Star voting with more than 1.4 million votes and will start his 10th straight game in two weeks.
Dragic hasn’t been a flash in the pan this year, either; in fact, he’s gotten better as the year has progressed. Not including his one game in October, Dragic’s points, field goal percentage and rebounds all have improved each of the season’s last three months, including January averages of 22.3 points on 53 percent shooting, 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He didn’t simply use a hot start to boost his overall numbers; he did the opposite.
He’s also done most of his damage without backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe. The Suns shooting guard has posted averages of 18.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists this year but has missed 23 games, the last 17 of which have come after suffering a torn meniscus. The Suns have gone 13-10 without Bledsoe, including wins over Portland and Indiana (twice). That has the Suns sitting at 29-18, currently good for sixth in the Western Conference.
It’s a common occurrence for good players on bad teams to be overlooked for All-Star selections – New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins fall into that category this year – but that hasn’t been the case with Dragic. The Suns were expected to be among the league’s worst teams, yet they’re in good position to earn their first playoff berth since 2009-10 thanks in large part to Dragic.
[TONIGHT ON CSN: Bulls try to slow down red-hot Dragic, Suns]
But if Dragic were to make the All-Star team, someone would have to be left off it. It’s impossible to argue that any of the West starters (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin) should have been left off the team, considering the fans voted them in. As for the reserves, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard likely were the top two “frontcourt” selections, so their selections wouldn’t have affected Dragic’s status.
That leaves five players who made it in over Dragic: Chris Paul, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker.
One could crunch all the numbers in the world and come up with reasons as to why Dragic was more deserving to get in, but it’s hard to argue against any of them. But Paul was having an MVP-caliber year before suffering a shoulder injury in November; Lillard has led the Trail Blazers to the third best record in the West; Nowitzki has had a resurgent season after missing the All-Star Game last year for the first time since 2001; James Harden has become one of the NBA’s true elite players, averaging 23.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists for the Rockets; Parker’s numbers are down, but he’s been a rock for the 35-13 Spurs, who have been plagued by injuries as much as any team in the West this year.
Still, there’s a chance Dragic is named an All-Star. Bryant had knee surgery last month and likely won’t be ready to compete in the All-Star Game, meaning he will be replaced. Davis and Cousins certainly are worthy, but given the Suns’ unexpected success and Dragic’s consistency, it’s hard to deny that he is worthy of a spot in New Orleans.