NBA Awards: 4 Ways To Fix The System

Feb 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, and LeBron James pose for a picture after the NBA All Star Game at Air Canada Centre. Wouldn’t it be better if these players could all play on the same All-Star team? Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has a history of awarding its biggest stars, but the current rules often hinder them from doing so. What are realistic changes the league can make to better reward deserving players?

Voting for the 2017 NBA All-Star starters began on Christmas Day and fans can daily give their input on who should start for the big game. There are plenty to choose from, although those deserving of the nod are mostly clear-cut.

Those fans will only be a slice of a pie deciding the starters, however, as the NBA announced last week a change in how the starters will be chosen. The fan vote will now comprise 50 percent of the vote, as opposed to the full 100 percent of years past.

The NBA players and select media will now each comprise 25 percent of the vote.

This change was a welcome one for those desiring that the league’s best players make it every season.

In years past, surges of support for players such as Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade have propelled players into the starting lineup whose popularity far outpaced their production.

Often this is not an issue, as fans love to see Bryant play in the All-Star Game regardless of how well he played that season. But last year Zaza Pachulia came within a few thousand votes of starting in the All-Star Game.

The league’s near-miss has been realized in other major sports league, most prominently the NHL.

The NBA still wants its fans engaged and a major part of the decision-making process, but they also wanted to balance against the worst-case scenarios.

They have worked out what they hope becomes a happy medium that will satisfy everyone involved (except, of course, Pachulia’s Georgian supporters).

In light of that change from the NBA, what other aspects of their award recognition need to be tweaked? From the All-Star Game to end-of-the-year awards, the league could take a few more steps to make that angle of the league the best it can be.

Feb 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Western Conference celebrate after winning the NBA All Star Game against the Eastern Conference at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Eliminate Conferences For The All-Star Game

For years, the NBA has existed with imbalance between its two conferences. The bulk of the star talent has been in the Western Conference since Jordan’s Chicago Bulls hung up their crowns.

Twelve of the last 16 MVP awards have come from the Western Conference and likewise 12 of the last 16 NBA champions have come from the West.

The same sort of imbalance holds true for the league’s most popular players as well. Last season seven of the nine players with the most All-Star votes were from the Western Conference, including leading vote-getter Kobe Bryant.

If the All-Star Game exists to truly reward and showcase the league’s best talent and biggest stars, then forcing the two teams to draw from separate conferences will ensure deserving players are left out, while players such as Kyle Korver and Jrue Holiday make the team on the other side.

Joe Johnson logged seven All-Star appearances in the East, while deserving Western Conference players sat at home.

The league has already moved towards a system where the All-Star rosters aren’t split evenly between the two conferences. All-Star voting on Google, Twitter or via text messaging allows fans to vote regardless of conference.

It would be a tradition-busting move, but a fair one, to take that a step forward and eliminate conferences from the equation altogether.

This would allow the best players across the league to participate, and to play on the court with stars no matter what team they suit up for. Teams could be selected on-air by TNT personnel at the All-Star reveal, or in any of a number of different ways.

Perhaps the players arrive at All-Star Weekend and shoot for teams or do playground-style with captains picking teams.

There are a few downsides, from losing the easy-branding of East vs West to the question of who coaches the teams. The league also has incentive to keep the Eastern players in their biggest markets on center stage to drum up as much interest as possible.

But these are not major issues with a change that should be made.

Who is ready to see the Banana Boat crew start against the Warriors Death Lineup in the All-Star Game?

Nov 6, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) brings the ball up court against Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the second half at FedExForum. Portland Trail Blazers defeats Memphis Grizzlies 100-94. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Increase The All-Star Rosters

There is another problem with the All-Star rosters and that is their size. The number of All-Star positions does not reflect the number of players or stars in the league.

The NBA expanded the All-Star rosters to 12 players for the 1967-68 season, when the league had 14 teams and 151 players logged at least one minute on the court.

The league now has 30 teams and with the addition of two-way contracts next season will have more than 500 players in the league.

With the amount of fans watching the game and the ability for a number of stars to rise alongside each other, the league needs to find a way to showcase all of their best talent. This includes the players whose play deserves an All-Star berth, and those whose popularity does as well.

Expanding the rosters to 14 or 15 players would allow last year’s Kobe Bryant to make the team while not squeezing out a deserving player such as Damian Lillard.

With the league being an exhibition game anyway, giving a handful of extra minutes to the next few players added in would not damage the game.

The league could simply expand the number and keep the same system, or even institute a legacy spot for a superstar veteran who would get voted in but doesn’t deserve the position based on play.

Dwyane Wade may again be voted in this year, despite a number of deserving guards who should be in over him. A mechanism that allows him to be celebrated despite a decline in play could be in order.

Regardless of the system, the rosters need to be larger and more players showcased on the league’s All-Star stage. This is a change that is a long-time coming and the league should take action before the 2018 game.

Apr 3, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives for the basket as Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) defends during the fourth quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Chicago won 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Most Improved — What Are We Voting For?

With the NBA’s year-end awards there will always be a level of ambiguity. How does one define “most valuable” — is it the player whose team could least afford to lose him or the player who has seen the most success?

Is the Defensive Player of the Year the best defender on the league’s best defense or the player with the most blocks and steals?

Even amid the uncertainty, the Most Improved Player award is directionless and confusing and needs to be addressed.

Each season the league’s media struggles to make a selection based on unknown criteria and the player chosen often has to express joy in an award that they have little reason to care about.

There are three main categories of players who are considered for this award. The first are players who saw success, then in recent seasons due to injury or poor play did not hit those same levels but this year returned to that previous success.

Jimmy Butler or Nick Young are among this season’s candidates who followed that track.

The second category are players who see a large increase in their playing time, and respond with similar per-minute numbers that result in larger overall stat totals.

This would be a player such as C.J. McCollum last season.

The final category belongs to the players who truly improved – young or old, these players saw an uptick in both per-minute and total statistics.

While this often is affected by opportunity — Harrison Barnes, for example — it shows a player who has added to his game and seen on-court success as a result.

The simplest solution is to create two separate awards. The first would be “Comeback Player of the Year” and exist for players in the first category.

The world loves a good comeback story and it give clarity to the voting process.

This would allow the “Most Improved Player” award to focus on the second two categories, and ideally showcase those in category three who have played better than ever before.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Harrison Barnes, and especially Giannis Antetokounmpo would be among the leaders for that track this season.

The NBA doesn’t lose anything by adding an award, and it gains clarity and more discussion. This should be a simple move that allows both media and fans to understand the award process just that much more clearly.

Oct 31, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is guarded by Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half of a game at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Eliminate The All-NBA Center

At the end of each season the media selects the top 15 players in the league to be recognized for All-NBA honors. Those selected become eligible for certain elite contract incentives, including total value and length, so the selection becomes very important for the players involved.

The problem is that the current system rarely puts the top 15 players on the teams. This is because each team is forced to showcase a center, a position that increasingly is not manned by the league’s best players.

In previous decades the center position was stocked with stars, from Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal to Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all the way back to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

But in the modern NBA the league’s stars are on the perimeter and forcing those players out to stock the All-NBA team with centers misses out on truly recognizing the league’s best.

The problem is only compounded by the fact that the best “centers” in the league are listed at other positions.

Draymond Green came into the league as a small forward, but mans the pivot in one of the best lineups in NBA history, while Anthony Davis starts every game at the 4 before being unleashed at center later in games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo often runs the point on offense and guards centers on defense.

Last season, Andre Drummond made an All-NBA team as a center, while Davis, Isaiah Thomas, and James Harden missed the cut entirely.

Not only is the league better served showcasing its biggest stars, but Drummond and DeAndre Jordan are not more deserving of the contract incentives than Harden or Davis.

Changing the All-NBA qualifications to two guards and three frontcourt players — such as the All-Star Game changed to a few years ago — would better align the rosters with the league’s top talent. In some years that may mean three centers, but in many it would not.

Like expanding the All-Star rosters and clarifying the year-end awards, this is a change that needs to happen.

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