Whoever said “Offense wins games, defense wins championships,” must have had the NBA All-Star Game in mind.
During its annual break to showcase its superstars and give the rest of the league a breather, the National Basketball Association brought together a list of the biggest names in the sport and put them on the court in an East-West showdown. On paper, it’s every kid’s dream team from his favorite 2K game. In newsrooms, it’s the best way to get headlines for “Kobe’s Last Stand” or “Bestbrook's Blowout.”
But in terms of the quality of the game being played on the court, it is very clear that after the West’s 196-173 victory, no one wants to play defense—everyone just wants to shoot the ball and score at will.
Entering the 2016 break, the highest scoring team in the NBA was the Golden State Warriors, who averaged 115.5 points per game. Since 2000, only three teams during All-Star Weekend have scored less than that margin: the East and West in 2001 with 111 and 110, respectively, and the West in 2005 with 115.
During that 17-year span, the West has averaged 143.0 points per game, while the East has compiled 137.1 points per game. That 5.9 point differential is not to suggest that these games have been extremely close—only one has extended into overtime, the 2003 game in Atlanta that saw two extra periods of play and a 155-145 win for the West.
But so what? These are the best players and scorers in the game, so shouldn’t they be scoring at will? If they were playing against high school kids, then yes, but I expect the best players in the game to be the best defenders as well. Even if they weren’t, the worst defensive team at the break was the Sacramento Kings—and they only allowed 109.1 points per game.
So what is the point of all of this? The way I see it, the NBA should stop worrying about the money it draws from the weekend and find a way to make the game more competitive. Am I saying that the league should take a page from Major League Baseball’s book and let the All-Star Game decide home-court advantage for the Finals? No, because no one wants to see a half-hearted game during the middle of the season determine such a key aspect of the playoffs.
But the league should definitely look to make the game, well, an actual game. As it stands, the NBA supplements All-Star Weekend with a series of publicity stunts and extra events that just are not as satisfying.
Sure, watching the Splash Brothers drain threes on an open floor off of ball racks while some announcer rattles off random facts in your ear is good for a quick highlight, but I would rather see them dish the ball to one another against the best of the East. And yes, maybe I thought the 3-point contest was lackluster because I see that every game the Warriors play—in more dramatic and impressive fashion against real defenses and in clutch situations—and because former Blue Devil J.J. Redick fell short once again, but surely there is something better to watch.
The solution is not the skills challenge or the celebrity game either. Big man Karl-Anthony Towns stole the show in an event named after a cheap Tex-Mex chain, but nothing beats the Steve Nash skills performances of old.
And the celebrity game is a pure joke. Kevin Hart once again made a fool of himself by trading in his coaching digs for a jersey, only to airball a jumper and cost his team any hope of victory. The fact that he won Most Valuable Player four consecutive years with fewer than 10 points per game before picking up the clipboard is tragic.
P.S.: It’s not a celebrity game when you put Tracy McGrady, Muggsy Bogues and WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne on the teams—those are real players who deserve more respect than to share the court with Nick Cannon and the Property Brothers. If you want retired players and women’s hoop stars to play, how about a legacy game deserving of their skills?
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And yes, I’ll give the NBA Aaron Gordon versus Zach LaVine in the dunk contest, but no, it was not Jordan-Dominique reincarnated and Vince Carter still did it better. Once the top-bill players return to the lineup, I’ll be interested, but who is Will Barton? No, seriously, who is this guy?
Rather than continue to fund these extravagant time-sucks over the break, the NBA would be best served to provide what the All-Star Game should be—a top-billing showdown between the best players in the most competitive game of the year. So in the interest of actually watching the best players make the best plays—offensively, defensively and in every facet of the game—please, Adam Silver, do something to make All-Star weekend competitive and worth watching year after year.