First off, how great is it to see Z-Bo back in the all-star game? I felt like he should have gotten in two years ago, but was passed over for more flashy, young guys like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Admittedly, that was remedied when he got a third team All-NBA nod, but still, you always like to see one of your team’s players rocking an all-star jersey, and I can’t wait to watch Z-Bo put on a show in Houston.
Now, some will ask whether or not he deserved the honor, and where I stand, there’s no question. Z-Bo has been a rock for the Grizzlies this year, grabbing tons of key rebounds, and tipping in countless shots. The Grizzlies are having their best season ever, and Z-Bo is a huge reason for that. Some will point out that his points per game isn’t quite as high as during his first two years in Memphis, but that has more to do with Z-Bo redefining his style of play than with any decline in skill. He’s shooting the ball as well as ever, and he has no qualm taking over a big game when the situation calls for it (see his utterly dominant performance against the Suns when he basically won the game by himself). It’s just that he no longer feels the need to be The Guy all the time. Not when he’s sharing the frontcourt with Marc Gasol, one of the best centers in the game.
Which brings me to my second point….why couldn’t Marc join him?
Of course, the reason for that is clear; it was a crowded Western Conference, and not every potential all-star was going to make it. Gasol is probably even with Stephen Curry for the title of biggest snub in the West. There were many great players, especially in the frontcourt, and not everyone was going to get their due. David Lee, Tim Duncan, and LaMarcus Aldridge all managed to get in, and while they are all very good players, I think you could make a case for Marc over any of them. He plays more minutes than Duncan, is on a better team than Aldridge, and his defense is much better than David Lee’s. I realize Lee is a better offensive player, but I think if you’re looking at the overall package, you’d rather have Marc on your team.
Gasol has also been the best free-throw shooting big man, and the anchor of one of the top defensive units. You know who you can’t say either of those things about? Dwight Howard. I realize that Howard is one of the biggest names in the league, and that’s naturally going to help you with the voters, but there’s no way he deserves to be in the all-star game over Marc Gasol. His raw numbers might be superior, but the advanced statistics make it clear that Gasol has been better.
Gasol’s win shares per 48 minutes is a muscular .199, good for 10th in the NBA. Meanwhile, Howard trails far behind at .132, well below his usual average. Not convinced? Let’s look at offensive and defensive ratings. Just for reference these are stats that measure how many points you score in 100 possessions (Offensive Rating), and how many you opponent points you allow in 100 possessions (Defensive Rating). Ideally, a player would have a high offensive rating and a low defensive rating. Well, let’s take a peak, shall we?
Player Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Marc Gasol 117 98
Dwight Howard 106 101
Gasol bests him easily in both categories. Howard’s raw numbers look strong (although still worse than usual), but he’s a far less efficient player than Gasol, and he’s not the defensive juggernaut he used to be. Howard was supposed to be the anchor of the Lakers defense, and this year, they’ve been horrible on that end. The notion that Dwight Howard is a transcendent player is based purely on past glories. He can no longer carry a team, and the poor performance of the Lakers reflects that. Yes, they’ve had injury problems, but they’ve also gotten brilliant play from Kobe Bryant. If Howard were his usual self, the mere presence of him and Kobe on the same team would be enough to negate the injuries and keep the Lakers near the top of the standings. Kobe held up his end of the deal, Howard has not. His inclusion as an all-star starter reminds us of how much of a popularity contest the fan vote really is.
And yes, I realize he’s had back problems, and he might get better, but that’s not relevant to what should simply be an evaluation of a player’s performance over the first half of the regular season. Marc Gasol has been a better player than Dwight Howard, and he’s been the defensive menace that Howard has failed to be for the Lakers.
I also realize the odds of a small-market team (other than Oklahoma City) having two all-stars is not a common occurrence, but Marc is having a great season, and he should’ve been recognized for his efforts with an all-star selection. Luckily, Gasol will have ample opportunities, like the All-NBA vote, or y’know, the playoffs. Good luck with that Dwi- oh wait, you won’t even be there.