Kobe is an All-Star?

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

Kobe Bryant was the top vote receiver for the NBA All-Star game this season. Quite frankly, it’s just a bad joke.

The only justification one of the more than 1.8 million fans that voted for him could have is that he used to be great. Kobe has not performed at a level worthy of an All-Star frontcourt spot this season.

Numerous other players who have actually been productive and effective on the court, not just a sideshow on a lottery team, were slighted for that final spot in the Western Conference. Most notably: Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and Golden State Warriors’ forward Draymond Green, who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles this season.

But the lack of forethought that went into slighting these three, and several other deserving players, has been well wrought. I’d like to approach this from another angle. Let’s compare Kobe Bean Bryant’s past year to a player with a similar statistical output who is someone you can’t fathom making the All-Star roster, even as a reserve.

Obviously, the first caveat of this is finding a comparable player.

The biggest issue is that you would be hard pressed to find a player shooting the percentages that Kobe is with as green of a light as he gets. Usually, when you’re shooting this poorly (34.7 percent FG, 24.9 percent 3PT), you hold back. Counting statistics isn’t a great baseline to start from in an All-Star comparison, because Kobe is qualified as a small forward, but realistically, he plays much more of a shooting guard position.

So, in the interest of finding a suitable match in an efficient manner, I went to ESPN’s Player Efficiency Ratings (PER). I sorted by qualified small forwards and settled on statistical comparisons to players with PERs close to Kobe’s. First of all, the company the Mamba keeps with his 12.61 PER, (No. 27 among qualified small forwards) is rather ugly. Names like Matt Barnes (No. 25, 13.04), Jerami Grant (No. 26, 12.68) and Terrence Ross (No. 29, 12.49) are hanging out down there. Yikes. But if you look a smidge farther down, we come to the man I want to use for this exercise, Al-Farouq Aminu, the starting small forward for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Aminu checks in at No. 30 among the qualified small forwards with a 12.46 PER. But the most important distinction he shares with Kobe is minutes per game. Both are averaging 29.1 minutes per game. So essentially, we are looking at a pair of players who are roughly as effective on court in the same amount of time. So, what the fan vote has said is that a player who is slightly better than Al-Farouq Aminu deserves to be an All-Star starter. Obviously, a generalization like that is a bit of a farce, but you get the point.

At the end of the day, Kobe’s 18th All-Star selection in his final year tells us what the All-Star game actually means. Though designed as a midseason celebration of the best players that season, it is more of a celebration of the league in general. Fans pick the players they bought a jersey for before he switched numbers so they can cheer for him rather than making picks based on who they actually think is the better player that year.

The only time intelligent selections are made is when coaches pick the reserves actually based on player merit. I think rosters selected by coaches and writers could be far more effective in accurately portraying the season’s best from year to year. But so long as the fans elect the starters, we’ll always have the chance to see a 36-year-old hit jumpers off the front of the rim for the first six minutes of each half. Cool.