Thaddeus Young is averaging 17.3 points per game, a career high. (USA Today Images)
The voting ended on Monday. That’s probably for the best.
The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be held in New Orleans on Feb. 16. When the starters are announced on Thursday evening in a nationally televised one-hour special on TNT, Thaddeus Young won’t be among them.
That’s not surprising. Even though the Eastern Conference has been a shell of its former self this season – only five teams have winning records, and two of those are just a game above .500 – it’s hard to imagine Young supplanting any of the top-five vote getters in the most recent results for a starting spot in the frontcourt. There are names like LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert and Chris Bosh ahead of him.
The main names at the top of the list are as much about popularity as production. Jeremy Lin, for example, received more votes than James Harden in the Western Conference backcourt poll. And Kobe Bryant tops that category despite playing just six games this season. Fans vote for guys they recognize as much as guys who deserve the bid. And that’s fine. It’s a fan exhibition.
That Young didn’t crack the top five makes sense. That he didn’t crack the top 15 is indefensible.
In the latest results, Tyson Chandler was ninth in the Eastern Conference frontcourt voting – even though he missed six weeks with a broken leg and another week with a respiratory infection. But he plays in New York. So does Brook Lopez, who was 15th in the results. Lopez was on his way to an All-Star campaign – before he fractured his foot.
The voting really isn’t about merit. If it was about value this season, Kevin Garnett – who’s having one of the worst years of his career – wouldn’t be on the list at all. And he certainly wouldn’t be sixth.
But, again, that’s OK. Even if there wasn’t a spot in for Young among the top-15 Eastern Conference frontcourt vote getters, there could be a slot when the coaches select the reserves. The backups will be announced next Thursday, January 30, also on TNT.
There’s a case to be made for Young as a reserve – though it’s probably unlikely. There are three backup frontcourt spots and two wild card slots, all of which will probably go to bigger names.
But that doesn’t mean Young isn’t deserving. He’s averaging a career high in points (17.3), assists (1.8), three-pointers made and attempted (0.9-2.5), three-point percentage (35.4) and steals (1.9). His free-throw percentage (71.1), rebounds (6.4) and blocks per game (0.5) are all in line, if a tick shy, with the best marks of his career. And while some of the other, bigger names in the conference have spent time convalescing on the sideline in the first half, Young has shown up for work, playing 39 of the Sixers' 42 games.
But that’s just what he’s done for his team. Consider what he’s done compared to the other players at his position. Among Eastern Conference power forwards, Young is first in steals per game, second in points per game, fifth in field goal percentage, sixth in three-point percentage, double-doubles and assists per game, and ninth in rebounds and blocks per game. He’s one of the few power forwards in the Eastern Conference to appear in the top 10 in just about every category.
Perhaps the most compelling stat in Young's favor is his 17.61 PER (player efficiency rating), which is good for second behind only Paul Millsap among Eastern Conference power forwards who play more than 20 minutes per game. And here’s the interesting part: if you added small forwards to the mix and simply looked at the forward position as a whole, Young would be fifth in the conference in PER, trailing, in order, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Millsap. That’s excellent company.
That Young’s game has developed significantly is obvious to anyone who’s watched him. Before this year, he spent the majority of his energy playing defense and rebounding and hustling. He still does those things, but now he’s permitted to show his ability beyond the perimeter – an area his former coach told him to avoid like “a barbed wire fence.”
“[Collins] would say, ‘I don’t want you taking any threes,’” Young said. “As opposed to Coach Brett [Brown] coming in and saying, ‘I want you to step back and take threes. It makes no sense to take a long two’” (see story.)
There’s no doubt the stark contrast in coaching styles between Brown and Collins has accounted for part of the uptick in Young’s numbers. But freeing Young up to play at both ends of the floor only goes so far. Young still had to produce. It’s why Brown not only feels comfortable letting Young shoot from distance but also letting him shoot when it matters (see story).
“I hope it’s an indication that [Young] feels like he’s investing time in that,” Brown said. “I hope he feels that he has a team and a coaching staff that encourages him to do that."
Earlier in the season, Brown said Young was “starting to show his versatility where he can do some different things with smalls and bigs” (see story). If that was the start, it has continued all year.
If you’re still not convinced that he should be considered for a trip to New Orleans, think about Young's outing against the Knicks on Wednesday evening. Young had 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, a block and a three-pointer. He filled the stat sheet, which was nice – but what he did to poor Andrea Bargnani was even better (see story). That alone was worth an All-Star bid.