Each week during the 2022-23 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
[Last week on Fact or Fiction: Does the NBA have a load management problem?]
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving enters the final weekend of fan voting for the NBA All-Star Game with the highest tally at his position in the Eastern Conference, which has translated to a starting gig every time since the league took 50% of that decision away from fans and split it among media and players in 2017.
In other words, a player who platformed antisemitism and refused to apologize for or condemn it on multiple occasions — to the point that the Nets determined him to be "currently unfit to be associated with" them, and the Anti-Defamation League would not "in good conscience accept his donation" — may well be a forward-facing representative of the NBA's best and brightest on a global stage mere months afterward.
I understand he apologized in an Instagram post he has since deleted, although he never explained "the specific beliefs in the documentary I agreed with." I understand he appeared contrite in a news conference prior to his return from an eight-game suspension, although hours later he refused to condemn a group of his supporters outside Barclays Center who were expressing the same antisemitic beliefs held in the film.
This got him back on the court, where he has averaged 25.8 points (48/35/91 shooting splits), 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 33 games this season. Neither the coerced apology nor his performance guarantees him an All-Star roster spot, starting or not. To elevate him as a face of the league so soon after he perpetuated "hate speech" sends a far worse message than one informing him he cannot participate in this exhibition.
The All-Star Game is an honor, not a right. I would listen to an argument that he should participate if his future earnings are tied to his selection, but they are not, and even then I may not support his candidacy. (I am also not among the 100 media members voting for All-Star starters. This is just a strong-held opinion.)
It is unclear if Irving deserves an All-Star nod based on his play on the court this season. It is clear he does not warrant a starting spot, and the statistical case against him making the roster entirely is relatively easy.
Take the top 10 guards in the conference this season — a list that does not even include recent All-Stars Dejounte Murray, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal and LaMelo Ball — and ask yourself the following questions ...
How often are they available (games played, minutes)?
Jalen Brunson (43 GP, 1,466 MIN)
DeMar DeRozan (42 GP, 1,515 MIN)
Jaylen Brown (41 GP, 1,460 MIN)
Donovan Mitchell (40 GP, 1,445 MIN)
Trae Young (40 GP, 1,429 MIN)
Tyrese Haliburton (40 GP, 1,336 MIN)
Darius Garland (37 GP, 1,331 MIN)
Jrue Holiday (34 GP, 1,107 MIN)
Kyrie Irving (33 GP, 1,211 MIN)
James Harden (30 GP, 1,106 MIN)
How many points are they producing (points per game + assist points created)?
Trae Young (27.2 PPG, 23.9 APC)
James Harden (21.5 PPG, 29.2 APC)
Tyrese Haliburton (20.2 PPG, 27.2 APC)
Darius Garland (21.5 PPG, 19.2 APC)
Donovan Mitchell (28.4 PPG, 12.2 APC)
DeMar DeRozan (26.1 PPG, 13.2 APC)
Jalen Brunson (22.6 PPG, 16.6 APC)
Jrue Holiday (19.4, 19.1 APC)
Kyrie Irving (25.6 PPG, 12.5 APC)
Jaylen Brown (27.2 PPG, 8.7 APC)
How efficiently are they doing it (player efficiency rating, true-shooting percentage)?
Donovan Mitchell (23.3 PER, 62.3 TS%)
Tyrese Haliburton (23.3 PER, 61.3 TS%)
James Harden (22.5 PER, 61.0 TS%)
DeMar DeRozan (22.0 PER, 59.6 TS%)
Trae Young (21.8 PER, 56.7 TS%)
Jalen Brunson (20.4 PER, 57.5 TS%)
Kyrie Irving (20.1 PER, 58.9 TS%)
Jaylen Brown (19.8 PER, 59.0 TS%)
Jrue Holiday (19.7 PER, 58.0 TS%)
Darius Garland (18.5 PER, 57.6 TS%)
How are they performing defensively (CraftedDPM, defensive real plus-minus)?
Jrue Holiday (1.5 CDPM, -0.05 DRPM)
James Harden (0.7 CDPM, 1.40 DRPM)
Jaylen Brown (0.5 CDPM, 1.60 DRPM)
Donovan Mitchell (0.3 CDPM, 2.52 DRPM)
Darius Garland (-0.1 CDPM, 0.82 DRPM)
DeMar DeRozan (-0.3 CDPM, 1.27 DRPM)
Kyrie Irving (-0.4 CDPM, 1.59 DRPM)
Tyrese Haliburton (-0.7 CDPM, 1.29 DRPM)
Jalen Brunson (-1.3 CDPM, 1.68 DRPM)
Trae Young (-2.3 CDPM, -1.61 DRPM)
How much do they impact winning (win shares, wins above replacement?
Donovan Mitchell (5.7 WS, 4.7 WAR)
Tyrese Haliburton (5.5 WS, 5.7 WAR)
DeMar DeRozan (5.1 WS, 4.1 WAR)
Jalen Brunson (5.0 WS, 4.5 WAR)
James Harden (4.7 WS, 5.3 WAR)
Darius Garland (4.0 WS, 4.4 WAR)
Trae Young (3.6 WS, 5.1 WAR)
Jrue Holiday (3.3 WS, 4.7 WAR)
Kyrie Irving (3.3 WS, 4.2 WAR)
Jaylen Brown (3.2 WS, 2.3 WAR)
I am not sure what argument you can make for Irving as an All-Star starter, other than one based purely on reputation, which would be quite something for someone who did a decent job destroying his this season.
I also cannot be sure what has motivated fans to make Irving the leading vote-getter among guards in the East. He has added 1.2 million votes and counting since he last made an All-Star team two years ago, when he had a far better statistical résumé (and had not yet sat out in opposition of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate).
I am sure you can make a case for at least nine other guards over Irving, including Brown, whose advanced metrics do not properly capture his contributions to the league's best team (and who has defended his ex-teammate's rights under the collective bargaining agreement as a fellow union leader). We do not even need to evaluate how wildly Brooklyn's fortunes fluctuate when Kevin Durant is not paired alongside Irving.
Brown, like a handful of other worthy candidates, has participated in 20% more of his team's games this season than Irving has. Why? Because he was not suspended three weeks for platforming antisemitism to millions of people — many of whom still champion him for it — and repeatedly refusing to apologize for it.
Four All-Star rosters spots are guaranteed to guards from the East, two of which will be decided when ballots due Saturday from media and players are averaged and added to fan voting. Coaches select two more East guards as reserves. They also have a pair of wild-card positions, no easy decision when recent East All-Stars Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo and Julius Randle are among the worthy candidates for six guaranteed frontcourt spots.
The All-Star margin for Irving, the player, should be razor thin, if not for fan votes that remind us of his influence. The margin for Irving, the sport's ambassador, should be imperceptible. The NBA provides no official All-Star criteria, but I will remind the media members, players and coaches who decide the roster that one of your tiebreakers can be the fact that no one else made antisemitism his platform this season.
Determination: Fiction. Kyrie Irving should not be an NBA All-Star this season.
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