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How many All-Star Games Yao Ming would have made under the new voting system

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A TDS statistical analysis.

TX: 2006 NBA All-Star Game

It’s a hilarious comparison to current events.

Voters in the Republic of Georgia, a former member of the USSR, used the internet to overwhelm last year’s NBA fan voting on behalf of their man, Zaza Pachulia. The NBA deemed this a dangerous development and introduced the new and shiny NBA voting system that may as well be the NBA’s Electoral College.

Instead of fan voting being the sole determinant for the NBA All-Star starters, the league has now split the responsibility into an electoral college that works as so: 50%: fan votes, 25% NBA player votes and 25% media member votes.

At its core this system was created to keep Zaza Pachulia at home during All-Star weekend. He was another in the long line of near-misses of a fan vote revolt, like his predecessors Yi Jianlian, who finished third at forward in Eastern Conference forward balloting, and Bruce Bowen, who finished third at forward in Western Conference forward balloting in the same season (or John Scott for that matter).

These are legit concerns, and a change to the system was destined from the minute NBA contracts began to use All-Star games and starter slots as an incentive qualifier.

But in a historical context this new All-Star voting reality, along with the elimination of the center position in favor of three “frontcourt” spots would have hampered the accolades collected by Houston Rockets legend and international NBA darling Yao Ming.

Yao entered the Hall of Fame last year and is having his number retired by the Rockets next month with eight All-Star team berths to his name. All eight as a starter chosen solely by NBA fans.

A Dream Shake review which is about to waste use 10 minutes of your time has determined:

  • Yao would have started three All-Star Games, not eight.
  • Yao would have been named to two All-Star Games by coaches.
  • Yao would have been left off three rosters he made by way of the fan vote.

Here’s a year-by-year analysis of how the 2017 All-Star methodology would have impacted Yao’s legacy:

2003 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Yao Ming: 1,286,324
Tim Duncan: 1,179,955
Kevin Garnett: 1,086,780

Next Man Frontcourt:
Dirk Nowitzki: 1,079,425
Shaquille O’Neal: 1,049,081

Let’s be brutally honest (and rational). As a rookie, Yao Ming didn’t have a substantive on-court case to be an All-Star. In all of Yao’s selections, there were significant cultural marketing arguments built around growing the NBA as a brand. But realistically, there’s no on-court argument to be made on Yao’s behalf in his rookie year.

Unquestionably, the current All-Star voting and selection rules would have seen the players and media elect Shaq (26.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg on the Lakers) as a frontcourt starter alongside a combo of Duncan, Garnett or Nowitzki.

With the Rockets sitting only four games above .500 and Yao averaging a hum-drum 13 ppg and 8.1 rpg, he wouldn’t have come close to netting a reserve spot from coaches. The chosen reserves in 2003 frontcourt were prudent, Nowitzki, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion.

Past the selections made by the coaches in 2003, Karl Malone and Antwan Jamison were both having productive enough seasons to take Yao’s spot in a redo.

Verdict: Yao wouldn’t have made this All-Star team.

2004 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Kevin Garnett: 1,780,918
Tim Duncan: 1,681,435
Yao Ming: 1,484,531

Next Man Frontcourt:
Shaquille O’Neal: 1,453,286

Yao would absolutely have been bumped from an All-Star starting spot under current rules. Without question, Shaq, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett would have been the frontcourt starters of this game after members of the media and fellow players voted.

A third place finish in the fan vote isn’t enough to carry the day when players are already breathing down your neck. Ask Dwyane Wade.

From there, Yao would have needed the support of coaches to slide in as a reserve. In this argument, the Rockets’ record was the best resume line that Yao could lean on. Houston was 30-22 at the All-Star break, supported by a noteworthy season from Steve Francis and Yao’s 16.5 ppg and 9 rpg.

The reserves for the game this season were all fine: Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic, Baron Davis, Ray Allen, Andrei Kirilenko (in his “could he have a quintuple double?’ season), Sam Cassell (Timberwolves were the one seed this season) and Brad Miller (more below).

So the argument for coaches would come down to Yao versus these players (all statistics are pre-All Star Game splits, not splits at the time of voting):

  • Yao Ming 16.5 ppg, 9 rpg (Rockets 30-22 at the break)
  • Brad Miller 15 ppg, 10.9 rpg (Kings 37-13 at the break) coaches voted Miller on the team
  • Zach Randolph 21.1 ppg, 11 rpg (Portland 24-27 at the break)
  • Carmelo Anthony 19.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg (Denver 31-23 at the break)
  • Elton Brand 20.1 ppg, 11.7 rpg (Clippers 22-29 despite Brand and Maggette having big seasons)
  • Corey Maggette 20.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg
  • Shawn Marion 18.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg (Suns 18-37 at the break)
  • Pau Gasol 17.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg (Grizzlies 30-22 at the break)

Considering that coaches voted Brad Miller into the All-Star roster as a reserve when Yao was already a starter, you’d have to assume he’d get the nod again in a replay. The Kings had the league’s best record at the break and Miller was their second-best player while the team plowed through a season without an injured Chris Webber.

So it’s very likely Yao faces the problem that commonly plagues rookies and sophomores: coaches don’t tend to support them. Anthony had numbers equaling Yao’s and was guiding the Nuggets to 31 victories at the break after winning only 17 games the previous season. He was not selected as an All-Star in this season, or future seasons, by the coaches. Even LeBron didn’t make the All-Star game his rookie season.

It’s likely that coaches would have gone with Elton Brand or Zach Randolph who were posting better numbers but have a few more seasons under their belt. Arguably, Carmelo got robbed here, but at the end of the day, coach bias against younger players and the switch to the frontcourt setup that eliminates the emphasis on centers would have hurt Yao.

Verdict: Yao wouldn’t have made this All-Star team.

2005 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Yao Ming: 2,558,578
Kevin Garnett: 2,087,200
Tim Duncan: 1,812,522

Next Man Frontcourt:
Dirk Nowitzki: 846,912

Yao led both conferences in All-Star voting in 2005, but there’s no justifiable case for him to start this All-Star game. Your starting Western Conference frontcourt needed to be plucked from these four and the media and player vote would have reflected this:

Garnett: 22.9 ppg, 13.9 rpg
Amar’e Stoudemire: 26.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg
Duncan: 21.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg
Nowitzki: 26.9 ppg, 10 rpg

With improved numbers from the previous season, and the arrival of Tracy McGrady, the Rockets were contenders and the league had to take notice. At the break, Yao was posting a respectable 18.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Those numbers, and the Rockets’ 32 wins, put Yao on par with All-Stars like Rashard Lewis and Shawn Marion.

And even though we’re eliminating the center position for the sake of this exercise, Yao was bolstered by Shaq’s move to the Miami Heat. Shaq’s forced relocation left Yao as the heir to the throne of the Western Conference’s best “big man.”

A mix of the fan vote, on-court production and cultural footprint would have elevated Yao against his frontcourt competition like Elton Brand this season.

Verdict: Yao would have been voted on to this team as a reserve by coaches.

2006 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Yao Ming: 2,342,738
Tracy McGrady: 1,818,932
Tim Duncan: 1,518,796

Next Man Frontcourt:
Kevin Garnett: 1,479,386

No point in speculating. This All-Star Game was in Houston. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were going to be in this game. David Stern would have assigned the 2006 Mavericks-Heat referees to adjudicate the All-Star selection process if he had to.

Yao was averaging 19.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg at the break, but had only played 32 games while the Rockets were staggering through a losing season at 22 - 31. It’s not a rock-solid case, but at a certain point, the global icon status pulls through in a big way. This would be the year.

To create the contrast, this was a difficult year in the Western Conference frontcourt, and if the game were not in Houston without the old “win and you’re in” rules for the fan vote, Yao would face a serious uphill climb. Here were all the front court All-Stars basic stats and team record at the break:

Yao: 19.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg (Rockets 22-31 at break)
McGrady: 25.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg (Rockets 22-31 at break)
Garnett: 21.7 ppg, 12 rpg (Timberwolves 23-29 at break)
Nowitzki: 25.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg (Mavericks 41-11 at break)
Duncan: 19.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg (Spurs 40-12 at break)
Pau Gasol: 19.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg (Grizzlies 29-23 at break)
Brand: 25.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg (Clippers 30-21 at break)
Marion: 21.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg (Suns 35-17 at break)

Under the current rules, it seems unlikely Yao would have started this All Star Game, even winning the fan vote in a 2006 frontcourt. Here’s a hypothetical ranking set of how the starting lineup vote would have gone using the NBA’s 2017 equation for scoring:

This hypothetical places Duncan, McGrady and Garnett as starters in the All-Star Game. The media vote prediction relies heavily on team record, while the player vote prediction relies more on statistics and reputation. In this table, Yao would need to get 11 points or less between the media and the player vote to force a tiebreak determined by the fan vote. It’s really difficult to see the path there, knowing Yao missed time and that his numbers don’t stack up against the league’s top performers.

It’s notable that this season’s major snub was ‘Melo, who was posting 26 points a game while the Nuggets were two games over .500. Anthony suffered from a Damian Lillard-like series of snubs at this portion of his career. Denver fans would likely make the argument that Anthony deserved multiple selections over Yao in these years. In this season, it would likely be at Pau Gasol’s expense.

In retrospect, viewed from a historical perspective, it’s difficult to see two Rockets on this All-Star team when they were nine games under .500 and would ultimately miss the playoffs. But at the end of the day, the cultural importance for the NBA comes through. Their biggest international star, at a time of tremendous growth for the league, in the player’s hometown.

Verdict: Yao would have been voted on to this team as a reserve by David Stern the coaches.

2007 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Yao Ming: 2,451,718
Kevin Garnett: 1,616,575
Tim Duncan: 1,436,584

Next Man Frontcourt:
Carmelo Anthony: 1,309,945
Dirk Nowitzki: 1,276,304

At the All-Star break, Yao was averaging 25.9 ppg and 9.4 rpg, and this All-Star selection still comes with controversy. The case against Yao in this season is the 33-19 Rockets only had him for 27 games.

Yao fractured his tibia just beneath his knee in a game just before Christmas. It was a in the middle of his best season to that point. But he was dominant when he did.

2015 offers insight for All-Star voting in this unfortunate occasion. That season Kevin Durant played in only 26 pre-All-Star games and still garnered enough votes from NBA coaches to be named an All-Star reserve. Durant’s production and reputation were enough to carry the day for him.

Knowing that Yao won the All-Star vote handily and was posting 26 and 9, it doesn’t seem likely he’d get the axe from media or players. The injury was unfortunate, but not season-ending, and media and players knew that giving Yao a spot in the game was unlikely to cost any other player a spot on the squad.

By traditional metrics, Yao stacked up favorably against other All-Stars, which would help in media and player vote:

Yao: 25.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg (Rockets 33-19 at break)
Garnett: 22.4 pgg, 12.6 rpg (Timberwolves 25-27 at break)
Duncan: 20.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg (Spurs 35-18 at break)
Anthony: 30.7 ppg, 6 rpg (Nuggets 26-25 at break)
Nowitzki: 25.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg (Mavericks 44-9 at break)
Carlos Boozer: 22.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg (Jazz 35-17 at break)
Marion: 17.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg (Suns 39-13 at break)
Stoudemire: 19.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg
Josh Howard: 19.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg (Mavericks 44-9 at break)
Mehmet Okur: 18.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg (Jazz 35-17 at break)

Anthony and Okur were named replacements by David Stern.

Verdict: Yao would have been voted on the team as a starter by the 2017 methodology.

2008 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Carmelo Anthony: 1,723,701
Tim Duncan: 1,712,800
Yao Ming: 1,709,180

Next Man Frontcourt:
Dirk Nowitzki: 1,259,025

Ironically, NBA fans soured on Yao Ming in 2008 at the ballot box in the middle of his best sustained season. The Chinese center played more than 50 games before the All-Star break while averaging 22.2 ppg and 10.8 rpg, but fell to third in overall voting.

Yao’s vote totals may have been suppressed by Stoudemire’s presence in the center category for the first time. We’ll never know how Yao would have fared in the new frontcourt voting system. But in 2008 he under-performed Anthony and Duncan in the total vote just barely.

Because Yao finished third, he would have faced a difficult path to a starting All-Star spot. His competition would have been:

Yao: 22.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg
Anthony: 26.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Duncan: 19.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg
Nowitzki: 22.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg
Stoudemire: 23.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg

The resulting competition would have required Yao to acquire 7 or fewer points between his media and player voting:

There’s so much up to chance in this equation. Instead of wrestling with the exact potential turnout of the media and player vote, the key thing to look at is that Yao finished just 3,000 votes behind Tim Duncan and 23,000 votes behind Carmelo Anthony. Meanwhile Yao beat Amar’e at center by 700,000 votes.

These numbers are meaningful because, if it became clear Yao needed more votes to secure a spot in the All-Star Game frontcourt, it’s very likely he would have found the 3,000 votes to overtake Duncan and erase any possibility of him not starting. As it stands, there was little pressure for Yao’s fans or supporters to vote for him.

Verdict: Yao would have been voted on the team as a starter by the 2017 methodology.

2009 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Tim Duncan: 2,578,168
Yao Ming: 2,532,958
Shaquille O’Neal: 1,850,018

Next Man Frontcourt:
Amar’e Stoudemire: 1,460,429

With good, but not spectacular, numbers of 19.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 32 wins, Yao would have started this All-Star Game due to the dispersed fan vote for his top challengers.

Three wrenches handed Yao a big assist in this year:

Shaquille O’Neal returned to the Western Conference on the Phoenix Suns and ate up 1.85 million fan votes despite being on a team that was lagging from its past performance. Shaq at this point in his career was still an All-Star, but he didn’t attract the attention or generate the stat lines he used to, at 17.3 ppg and 9 rpg.

Dirk was the best player in the Western Conference frontcourt, averaging 25.9 ppg and 8.3 rpg, but finished 8th in frontcourt voting. With this being half the vote, it kneecaps the conference’s best player.

The Phoenix Suns were not the teams of old. With a redone roster the team was not experiencing the soaring, Steve Nash MVP seasons. Despite going 28-23 at the break, the team fired head coach Terry Porter. The Suns’ distress lessened the solid seasons of Stoudemire and O’Neal.

Without crunching all the numbers, Yao’s second place in the fan vote would have helped him ride out a media and player vote push for Nowitzki, Stoudemire and Shaq.

Verdict: Yao would have been voted on the team as a starter by the 2017 methodology.

2011 All-Star Game

West Frontcourt Top Three:
Kevin Durant: 1,736,728
Carmelo Anthony: 1,299,849
Yao Ming: 1,146,426

Next Man Frontcourt:
Pau Gasol: 1,100,772
Blake Griffin: 1,033,646

This can’t be objectively justified. Yao’s an amazing human being. A humanitarian, a philanthropist, a global ambassador and just generally a guy who doesn’t appear to have been addled or ego-crazed by his fame.

BUT, in 2011 Yao came off an entire missed season in 2009-2010 and played just five games before being shut down for the season, and eventually having to retire, due to chronic injury. A great story that ended several chapters too early.

Yao’s starting All-Star spot was given to Tim Duncan and his roster spot was given to Kevin Love. Yao finished third in Western Conference frontcourt votes this season, but he would have received only limited sentimental media or player votes. Certainly not enough to carry the day and keep him in the conversation.

This 2011 All-Star berth both vindicates and condemns the 2017 rules for determining All-Star starters.

The voting process and methodology is vindicated by keeping a player who was out for the season and suited up for only five games from being named as a starter in the league’s premier regular season event.

The new process is condemned in 2011 because of its historical ramifications. Yao’s support from fans and the league regularly outpaced a performance interrupted by injury, but there’s a clear historical benchmark that reflects the NBA’s growth and this particular player’s level of support.

Verdict: Yao wouldn’t have made this All-Star team.