Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors was named a starter for the 2022 All-Star Game in Cleveland, and people are losing their minds about it. How could the fans vote for Wiggins, they plead. It’s a coordinated effort by the Warriors (as if they’re the only team that encourages All-Star voting), and also a CONSPIRACY by the Korean pop fan community, specifically the 9.6 million followers of BabBam, a Thai rapper and a member of boy band Got7.
It’s the best time to begin 2022! He is one of the best two-way players!— BamBam (@BamBam1A) January 8, 2022
Wiggs deserves to be an All-Star, vote Andrew Wiggins into the 2022 NBA All-Star Game..and I can’t wait to meet you all very soon#AndrewWiggins #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/bpOXKAJ920
The result was that Wiggins finished third in the fan vote for Western Conference front court players. However, the results aren’t that egregious, considering that the player vote had him 5th, and the media vote had him 6th. That means that while they might not have chosen him to start, the players and NBA writers DID think he was an All-Star. Just maybe a reserve instead. And I doubt the players care about what BamBam thinks.
It’s as if people have never seen a fan vote before! Wiggins is certainly having a better season that B.J. Armstrong did when he started the All-Star Game in 1994 (15.8 points per game), or when A.C. Green started in 1990 (13.3 points, 9 rebounds, zero points in the game itself). But like those two, he played on a very popular team, which doesn’t just affect the fans’ opinion. Not only are the Warriors on national TV all the time, and generally winning, players and writers are also watching TNT every Thursday (and Tuesdays during football season). In a down year for Western Conference forwards - Kawhi Leonard is hurt, Zion Williamson hasn’t played, Anthony Davis has played 29 of his team’s 50 games, and Paul George played only 26 - fans and players are going to pick players they’ve actually seen.
Perhaps the Warriors get out the vote effort was simply Light Years Ahead. But also, the most deserving front court choice besides Wiggins was his teammate, Draymond Green, who has missed 30% of the team’s games, and only taken the court one more time than Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis (not counting the Klay Return cameo appearance). Perhaps K-Pop stans don’t respect interior defense, or they don’t think Draymond’s 31% turnover rate is All-Star-worthy.
(Note on Rudy Gobert: He is an excellent player, but no one likes Rudy Gobert, including the other players on the Utah Jazz. No one wants to see Gobert starting alongside Nikola Jokic outside of the Salt Lake City limits, a couple analytics podcasts, and maybe a few scattered towns in France.)
The largest problem is that the NBA keeps trying to solve non-problems at the All-Star Game by making things way too complicated. They’ve already tried to mitigate the perceived issues with fan voting by using the weighted average of three ballots. That’s led to results that are just as unsatisfying, while also being hard to understand. How is a casual fan supposed to interpret a result where Andrew Wiggins starts the game because he got a 4.75? It’s the All-Star vote! We really don’t need to involve decimals.
Recently, the idea has taken hold that the All-Star Game needs to be more competitive. Yes, this exhibition game where the main goal is to throw alley-oops and do sick dunks doesn’t have enough grit to it. How is that a surprise? No All-Star Games do! In any sport!
This is the game that follows a weekend of dunk contests, three-point contests, and whatever the hell the skills competition is supposed to measure. For years, the NBA had a Shooting Stars competition, which was centered around retired NBA greats and semi-greats, plus WNBA players, trying to hit half-court prayers faster than their opponents. Common and Ed from “Ed” get to scrimmage with team owners and random child actors every year in the Celebrity Game. The player introductions take thirty minutes and often involve the Jabbawackeez. What part of this experience says “competitive basketball” to you?
It feels like the NBA is constantly responding to the nit-picking of a minority of intense fans, and the result is alienating casual fans. Appealing to casual fans seems like it should be the point of the league’s annual showcase! And the changes made to solve the non-problem of competitiveness serve to make the game really confusing to watch.
For example, the team captain picks. Somehow the idea has taken hold that a schoolyard-style pick is the most exciting thing that can happen in the NBA. And in the moment, it is fun! But the result is that it’s very hard to remember which team anyone is on. West vs. East, that’s very easy to follow. But when it’s the second quarter, reserves are in, and all the players are wearing a special All-Star jersey where their last names are at the bottom, are we really expecting everyone to remember that Darius Garland is on Team LeBron and Donovan Mitchell is on Team Durant, especially with a barely readable name on their backs?
But it’s even more complicated than that! The teams compete for the overall score of the game, but also for the score of individual quarters. There are groups of underprivileged kids in the stands cheering, whose charitable funding depends on whether Luka Doncic can make his threes. Then the fourth quarter is played to an arbitrary number, which is called the Elam Ending. Even that name is confusing! It’s like the NBA is trying to alienate everyone who isn’t already a super fan.
And then there’s the wildly over-complicated Rising Stars Game, which is now a four-team round robin with a weird draft that also involves G League Ignite players. It’s not rookies versus sophomores, or East versus West, or even the US versus the World: It’s an arbitrary mix of players, and there’s also an Elam Ending. Because God forbid anyone could keep track of the teams at any of the All-Star Weekend games.
The whole thing is baffling. Using the fan vote alone might be problematic, but the current system is worse. Let’s go back to the fans picking five starters - at any position! - and then the East plays the West, wearing the same jerseys they wear during the season. One year the East wears white, the next year the West does. They play normal quarters. Rising Stars is Rookies against Sophomores. If they want to add G Leaguers, fine, they’re on the Rookie team. Let’s let the All-Star Game get out of its own way and simplify things. After all, that’s what All-Star starter Andrew Wiggins did this year.