LeBron, Steph top 2nd round of All-Star voting, and fans are still gaga for Zaza

Ball Don't Lie
‘You like me. You really like me!’ (Getty Images)
‘You like me. You really like me!’ (Getty Images)

LeBron James continues to lead all candidates in voter support to start in next month’s 2017 NBA All-Star game, according to the voting update the league released Thursday afternoon, and stands as the first player to reach 1 million votes. He’ll soon be joined by the other players fans would like to see start … including, still, in defiance of the NBA’s will, Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.

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The prospective starting fives for the Eastern and Western Conferences remain unchanged in the second round of fan voting. Cleveland Cavaliers teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are poised to appear alongside James in the Eastern lineup, joined by rising Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chicago Bulls veteran Dwyane Wade, who lags Irving by more than 450,000 votes but continues to fend off challenges from the likes of Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas and the Toronto Raptors’ backcourt tandem of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Out West, Warriors MVPs Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant continue to top the ballot, joined by Houston Rockets sensation James Harden, San Antonio Spurs leader Kawhi Leonard … and, again, Pachulia.

The 32-year-old Georgian is averaging 5.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 18.4 minutes per game for league-leading Golden State. And yet — as was the case last year, when Pachulia nearly got a starting spot thanks to Wyclef Jean, a Vine celebrity and a strong showing from the Republic of Georgia — Zaza continues to poll ahead of incandescent talents and household names like Leonard, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green. His Warriors teammate recently weighed in on Zaza’s rocket ride to the tops of fans’ ballots, according to Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group:

“It definitely pissed me off last year,” Green said. […] “This year it’s funny. Shoutout to Zaza. Big ups to Zaza.”

How is Pachulia doing it? It starts with his home country of Georgia, which harbors a passionate basketball community. Pachulia is their only NBA player. They are campaigning for him hard.

“I really appreciate the support,” Pachulia said. “I don’t care about All-Star or the fame that comes with it, the recognition. I care about the support and love I’m getting [from Georgia]. It tells me I’m doing something right. All this time, sacrifice, play for national team, care about your country, your people and they’re paying you back with their support.”

But Georgia has a population of only 3.5 million. While a hefty chunk of Pachulia’s votes probably comes from them, it isn’t entirely from Georgia. Pachulia, it seems, is always benefitting from the rebellious side of the Internet, jokingly bumping Pachulia’s numbers because it’s a shock to the All-Star system. It’s as easy as Tweeting ‘Zaza Pachulia #NBAVote.’

“He won’t tell me how he keep doing it,” Green said. “Whatever he’s doing, he won’t share the wealth.”

“You think it’s a hack?” Pachulia said.

We’d ask members of the international intelligence community to weigh in, but … um … they’re a little busy.

As we did after the first round of voting, we remind fans who might be incensed at the prospect of Zaza jumping center instead of AD that the NBA changed its All-Star voting system this year. The fan tally will account for only 50 percent of the total All-Star vote, with ballots cast by NBA players for their peers and by a panel of about 75 media members each accounting for 25 percent of the final vote. More on how it all works, straight from the league:

After all votes are tallied, players will be ranked in each conference by position (guard and frontcourt) within each of the three voting groups – fan votes, player votes and media votes. Each player’s score will be calculated by averaging his weighted rank from the fan votes, the player votes and the media votes. The five players (two guards and three frontcourt players) with the best score in each conference will be named NBA All-Star Game starters. Fan voting will serve as the tiebreaker for players in a position group with the same score.

As I wrote in last Friday’s 10-Man Rotation newsletter — which, hey, we’ve got another one coming tomorrow, so subscribe now! — it remains exceptionally unlikely that Pachulia will start the Feb. 19 All-Star game in New Orleans, or even make the Western squad:

We needn’t gnash teeth and rend garments. Fans now account for only 50 percent of the All-Star vote, with NBA players and media each accounting for a quarter of the pie. The NBA explained […] how that’ll work: the recipe is two parts fan vote, one part player, one part media, all averaged together. Players with the lowest “weighted averages” (numbers closest to 1) will rank highest.

Even if Georgian basketball lovers keep Anthony Davis, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins out of the fans’ top three, they’re much more likely to finish near the top of media and player ballots than Pachulia.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck offered an example on Thursday of how the introduction of the fan and media vote would make Zaza’s candidacy less likely to succeed:



… and Jeff McDonald, the excellent Spurs beat writer for the San Antonio Express-News, took the pesky math out to simplify that explanation:


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While the fan-preferred starting fives in each conference stayed the same, there are still some items of note from the second round of balloting, such as:

Joel Embiid now sits just a little over 16,000 votes behind Love for the East’s third frontcourt starting spot. Given how much support his very fun social media-driven candidacy has received, and the fact that fan voting will serve as the tiebreaker should two players wind up knotted in the final analysis, we can almost taste a weekend full of Process-trusting in the Big Easy. It tastes like Shirley Temples, victory and celebratory dance moves:

Ooh, kill ’em, JoJo. (Getty Images)
Ooh, kill ’em, JoJo. (Getty Images)
Dance enthusiast Joel Embiid takes his craft very seriously. (Getty Images)
Dance enthusiast Joel Embiid takes his craft very seriously. (Getty Images)
Joel Embiid has all the right moves. (Getty Images)
Joel Embiid has all the right moves. (Getty Images)


• Bulls star Jimmy Butler leapfrogged Carmelo Anthony for fifth place among Eastern frontcourt players, just the latest indignation in a bummerific stretch for the New York Knicks forward:

• Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside keeps putting up big numbers, but he’s slipped out of the top 10 on the East’s frontcourt ballot, replaced by Cavaliers dirty-work specialist Tristan Thompson, who may or may not have gotten a major bump from his lady love and her kin.

• Another pair of leapfrogs: Lowry hopping over the prodigal Derrick Rose for fifth place among Eastern guards, and Andre Iguodala supplanting Manu Ginobili for eighth in the Western backcourt.

Here’s where we stand. Fan voting will conclude at 11:59 p.m. ET on Jan. 16. The starters for each team will be announced on Jan. 19; the reserves selected by the East and West coaches will be announced one week later, on Jan. 26; and the whole thing will get underway on Feb. 19 in the Big Easy.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: 1,066,147 votes

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: 963,110

3. Kevin Love, Cavs: 473,328

4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: 457,300

5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls: 400,448

5. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: 327,716

7. Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks: 324,106

8. Paul George, Indiana Pacers: 249,484

9. Jabari Parker, Bucks: 120,022

10. Tristan Thompson, Cavs: 114,759

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving, Cavs: 971,362

2. Dwyane Wade, Bulls: 514,866

3. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: 453,538

4. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: 401,671

5. Kyle Lowry, Raptors: 256,668

6. Derrick Rose, Knicks: 223,804

7. John Wall, Washington Wizards: 173,148

8. Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets: 109,088

9. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets: 105,637

10. Avery Bradley, Celtics: 64,157

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors: 987,479

2. Zaza Pachulia, Warriors: 823,376

3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: 630,766

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: 567,201

5. Draymond Green, Warriors: 464,319

6. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: 379,225

7. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: 223,979

8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs: 192,784

9. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: 172,393

10. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: 172,146

Guards

1. Stephen Curry, Warriors: 990,390

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets: 961,685

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 899,024

4. Klay Thompson, Warriors: 555,430

5. Chris Paul, Clippers: 379,076

6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 208,171

7. Eric Gordon, Rockets: 191,407

8. Andre Iguodala, Warriors: 130,224

9. Manu Ginobili, Spurs: 122,333

10. Zach LaVine, Timberwolves: 94,867

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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