Was Tobias Harris an All Star Snub? – There Just Aren’t Enough Spots for Deserving Players

Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to the All-Star Game, but Tobias Harris is not.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for a guy who is playing the best basketball of his life, for a first-place team.

And yes, that’s not an exaggeration. He is indeed playing the best basketball of his life, according to the numbers. 32 games in, Harris is currently logging career-highs in the following per-36 minute categories:

  • points: 21.4
  • field goal percentage: 51.7
  • three point percentage: 41.5
  • free throw shooting: 88.9%
  • assists: 3.6

Every meaningful offensive number is up. True shooting is up. Box plus/minus is up. Win shares, EFG, player efficiency rating, and most advanced statistics that the average NBA fan doesn’t even look at. They’re all way up.

Statistically, we can confirm that he’s having his best year ever. Therefore, we have to look at the other fringe selections and see how they compare to Tobias.

Here’s the list of reserves:

  • Jaylen Brown
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Nik Vucevic
  • Zach Lavine
  • Ben Simmons
  • Julius Randle
  • James Harden

Harden scores more points per 36 minutes, logs more assists, and has that superstar name recognition, so of course he gets in. It hurt Tobias’ chances when he was traded to the East. Ben gets in for his defense and raw numbers and assorted contributions, and LaVine gets in as a guy who fills up the bucket nightly.

Let’s compare Tobias to the Celtics players, first Jaylen Brown:

Brown is about six points better per 36, and shoots just slightly below Tobias’ averages. He’s having a really good year. The only issue I have is that you’re putting two Celtics on the roster when they kind of stink this year. They aren’t even .500, for crying out loud.

Now Tatum:

I dunno. Tatum doesn’t shoot the ball nearly as well as Brown does, and if you were going to make a case against one of the Celtics players, you could argue that it would be Tatum. Brown is having the better year, and I think Tatum gets the benefit of the doubt with name recognition.

Let’s run the numbers against Julius Randle:

These numbers are really close.

Randle is only about one point better per game, and shoots the three at pretty much the same clip. His overall field goal percentage is not as good, though he logs more assists while turning the ball over more. Randle is having a nice year, but there’s nothing that jumps off the page and says, ‘yeah his numbers are so much better than Tobias.’ Because they’re not.

And the last ‘fringe’ guy is Vucevic, which is kind of funky because you need another legit center to make the roster work. But for comparison’s sake, let’s run it:

Honestly, I didn’t even realize his numbers were this good. We all knew he was a walking double-double on a shitty team (12th seed), but he’s a 40% three point shooter who logs more assists and fewer turnovers. Vucevic just always seems to fall by the wayside because he plays for a boring team in a smaller media market, but he’s really good.

So when you go through the list, it’s hard to see whom Tobias would displace. You could certainly make a case for Randle or Tatum, but in those cases, you’re talking about the #1 guy in New York and Boston, and that’s always gonna a tough draw for the 2nd or 3rd guy in Philadelphia. I’d go back to my argument about two Boston guys, because I don’t think that makes sense, that team getting two reps. Otherwise, we’re having general discussions about whether efficient players on winning teams deserve the ASG more than stat-stuffers on garbage teams.

That brings us to our next point, which is the issue of having three players from one team on the All-Star roster. Did the presence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons affect Harris’ chances? Perhaps, but we’ve seen in the last ten years that plenty of teams have sent three guys to the ASG.

They are:

  • 2021: James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  • 2019: Steph Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  • 2018: Curry, Durant, Thompson, Draymond Green (Warriors)
  • 2017: Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love (Cavs), Curry/Durant/Klay/Draymond (Warriors)
  • 2016: Steph, Klay, Draymond (Warriors)
  • 2015: Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver as a replacement (Hawks)
  • 2014: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron (Miami)
  • 2013: Wade/Bosh/LeBron (Miami)
  • 2012: Wade/Bosh/LeBron (Miami)
  • 2011: Wade/Bosh/LeBron (Miami), Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce (Celtics)

There’s a pretty robust history there. Obviously those Miami and Golden State teams featured generational stars, but if the Nets get three this season, and they aren’t even in first place, then why wouldn’t the Sixers be afforded that honor? I don’t think there’s a compelling reason why the best team in the East would not be allowed to have three reps.

Harris posted this on Twitter after the snub:

“I was really hoping for Tobias,” said Doc Rivers after Tuesday night’s game. “I really do believe he’s earned it. He’s been an All-Star player for us this year. We have the best record in the East. Because of that, and the way he’s played, I thought he deserved to be on it. I think we have to keep analyzing how guys get numbers and how they affect winning.”

My take is this:

There are more deserving guys than there are spots. It sucks, but it is what it is.

Name recognition certainly benefits a lot of these guys. And markets make a difference, kind of subconsciously.  When you’re going up against the #1 scorer from Boston and New York, and two dudes from your team are already on there, it’s always going to be an uphill battle. I think Tobias’ numbers are fantastic, but they don’t eclipse Tatum/Brown/Randle to the point where you could very easily say “yeah, he should be in over them.” Devin Booker and Trae Young and DeMar DeRozan also got snubbed. Same with Domantas Sabonis, and in the NBA there just aren’t a lot of spots for tier 2 guys that are having great seasons but don’t get the superstar treatment of other players.

It’s disappointing for Tobias, because he’s having his best year ever. And that’s still not good enough for the ASG.

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