The NBA released the first returns in fan voting for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, with LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder leading the pack as the top vote-getters to represent their respective conferences in New Orleans.
James, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time NBA Finals MVP, leads all vote-getters with 609,336 votes. Durant, the three-time NBA scoring champion (and if you go by overall points scored rather than points per game, he's been the game's top scorer four years straight) and its current leading scorer, is second with 607,407 votes.
James is joined in the race to start for the East by this season's fastest-rising star, and a player whose team beat James' Heat earlier this week: Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, who has received 489,335 votes. The New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (424,211 votes) rounds out the top three in the Eastern frontcourt — remember, as was the case last year, All-Star squads will start three "frontcourt" players, not two "forwards" and one "center" — while Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (396,279) and Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (365,712) lead Eastern vote-getters in the backcourt.
Out West, the voters' starting five looks exactly the same as last year's. Durant is flanked up front by Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (295,120 votes) and Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (292,925), while fellow Clipper and 2013 All-Star Game MVP Chris Paul (393,313) appears set to run point.
And who's poised to be off the ball alongside CP3, you ask? That'd be Kobe Bryant, who has more votes than any guard in the league (501,215) despite playing all of two games for the Los Angeles Lakers since coming back from his ruptured left Achilles tendon. Should voting patterns hold, this would mark Bryant's 16th All-Star selection, moving him past ex-teammate Shaquille O'Neal for the second-most appearances all time, trailing only fellow Laker legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar (19). The lesson, as always: In popularity contests, it's good to be popular.
After opening All-Star voting to Twitter, Facebook and a pair of Chinese microblogging services last year, the NBA has expanded balloting to Instagram this season, allowing fans to vote up to 10 different players per day by posting original photos of the players, using #NBABallot and the players' first and last names in the photo captions.
Fans can also vote at the All-Star balloting website, via the NBA Game Time mobile application and by texting a player's last name to 6-9-6-2-2 ("MYNBA"). Voting will close on Monday, Jan. 20, with the starters being announced live during the TNT doubleheader's pre-game show on Thursday, Jan. 23. You can get all the details on the myriad ways to cast your vote at the NBA's official ballot site.
Here are the full results for the first round of voting, followed by a few quick thoughts:
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat: 609,336
2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers: 489,335
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: 424,211
4. Roy Hibbert, Pacers: 208,369
5. Chris Bosh, Heat: 156,364
6. Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets: 102,825
7. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: 75,229
8. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics: 55,912
9. Luol Deng, Bulls: 54,340
10. Tyson Chandler, Knicks: 51,738
11. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 51,351
12. Carlos Boozer, Bulls: 48,745
13. Paul Pierce, Nets: 45,145
14. Brook Lopez, Nets: 37,153
15. Josh Smith, Pistons: 32,025
1. Dwyane Wade, Heat: 396,279
2. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: 365,712
3. Derrick Rose, Bulls: 272,410
4. John Wall, Wizards: 124,851
5. Ray Allen, Heat 99,464
6. Rajon Rondo, Celtics: 80,889
7. Deron Williams, Nets: 44,282
8. George Hill, Pacers: 42,536
9. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers: 33,605
10. Mario Chalmers, Heat: 32,996
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 607,407
2. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets: 295,120
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: 292,925
4. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: 275,506
5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: 217,271
6. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: 149,579
7. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: 133,199
8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: 132,818
9. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: 109,745
10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: 89,093
11. Chandler Parsons, Rockets: 77,179
12. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: 60,923
13. David Lee, Warriors: 60,015
14. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs: 55,023
15. Omer Asik, Rockets: 53,827
1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: 501,215
2. Chris Paul, Clippers: 393,313
3. Stephen Curry, Warriors: 327,449
4. Jeremy Lin, Rockets: 240,404
5. James Harden, Rockets: 198,667
6. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: 149,065
7. Tony Parker, Spurs: 112,423
8. Ricky Rubio, Wolves: 63,096
9. Steve Nash, Lakers: 60,782
10. Damian Lillard, Blazers: 55,847
Now, then, a few thoughts:
• Don't waste your energy getting mad. There is absolutely no point in getting angry about stuff like this. People vote for the players whose names they know and the players they like, irrespective of whether or not those players actually deserve to be recognized as the best players at their positions. You can rend your garments and gnash your teeth, and it won't make a lick of difference, because way more people know who Steve Nash is than know who Damian Lillard is; more to the point, way more people know who Steve Nash is than know that Steve Nash has played 135 minutes of NBA basketball this season. If you want to make some kind of difference, fire up the ol' Weibo account and get to hashtagging, but do so with a smile. It's not worth taking the other option seriously.
• Three guys who deserve better than a no-show. And while you're using your full 10 votes per day per device per medium, perhaps consider tossing an #NBABallot toward:
-- Arron Afflalo, who's one of seven players in the NBA averaging 21 points, four rebounds and four assists per game this season, 11th in the league in scoring on 47/43/87 shooting splits, plays strong perimeter defense every night is one of very few things separating the Orlando Magic from being a college team, and still can't even crack the top 10 among East guards (a pretty awful crop this year).
-- Ty Lawson, who ranks fifth in the league in assists per game and assist percentage (the share of his Denver Nuggets teammates' possessions on which he directly drops dimes), is one of three players in the league averaging 19 points and eight assists per game, leads the league in drives per game and team points scored on drives per game, and is the super-fast prime reason that the Nuggets have bounced back from their rough early start to resemble a dangerous (and fun) team. The Western backcourt's way more competitive than the East's, but Lawson not being in the top 10 vote-getters is a bummer.
-- Al Horford, who just keeps doing what he's doing for the Atlanta Hawks, and what he's doing is very good: 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.6 combined blocks and steals in 32.7 minutes per game, shooting 53.7 percent from the field, anchoring on both ends for the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference. (Sure, the East stinks, but that's not Al Horford's fault.)
• Three bumps I'd give. Among guys already in the conversation, here's who I'd love to rocket up the list:
1. Andre Drummond past every East frontcourt player but the top four. He's leading the league in field-goal percentage and he's tied with Howard for the league lead in rebounding percentage. He's in the top 20 in both blocks and steals per game, and he dunks everything in sight and he's incredibly fun to watch, even in the Detroit Pistons' offense. Showcase this monster, please.
2. Brook Lopez past every East frontcourt player but the top four and Drummond. He's averaging 21 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting and has become damn near automatic on the block. He's been virtually the only silver lining in the Brooklyn Nets' Early Season from 13-Letter Hell, and he, not Garnett, has been the in-the-middle defensive linchpin without whom Brooklyn's schemes fall into deep pits of despair. He deserves to be ahead of the likes of better-billed teammates KG and Pierce, injured Knicks pivot Chandler and everyone else in front of him. (A case could be made for Deng, but if I was a Bulls fan, I think I'd rather see him get the full long weekend off, given how much their offense has suffered without him to serve as an escape-valve creator without Derrick Rose.)
3. Damian Lillard past every West guard but the top three. His shooting percentage, especially at the rim, has dipped a bit from Year 1 to Year 2, but his 3-point stroke is sharper than ever, he's competing harder on defense, he's got complete control of Terry Stotts' flow offense and he's followed up his impressive Rookie of the Year campaign by pushing the Trail Blazers past nearly every challenge they've faced and doubt cast upon them en route to a West-leading 18-4 record and signature wins over some very tough opposition. The same is true of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge — you could argue for him to jump from eighth to fifth, or maybe even higher, among Western frontcourt players (especially after the injury to Anthony Davis), but Lillard seems to me to have a larger gap between impact/deservedness and present ranking.