The talent level in the NBA has hit a high point in the last couple of years. A greater number of teams are competitive every year, teams have more depth, and no team is safe during the playoffs. So what is it that makes a few teams rise to the top?
The answer should be obvious after the chaos of last summer’s free agency frenzy: it’s the All Stars. The truly elite players are the thing to push their teams over the edge. And now every team in the NBA is starting to pick up on this fact.
As recently as a few years ago, a team such as the 2002-03 Nets or 2004-05 Pistons could make the Finals two years in a row. One great player and a team of role players who fit well together could win a lot of games. But with the amount of talent in the league evening out the playing field, it takes more than one to make yourself heard in the playoffs.
Think about the NBA’s best players of the last few years. Kobe couldn’t win a championship by himself. LeBron definitely couldn’t either. Dwyane Wade needed Shaq to get his team to the next level. Even Tim Duncan relied on Manu and Tony for his last couple rings.
That’s why so many teams needed to get their hands on at least one All Star free agent to be competitive. That’s why players like Carmelo Anthony only have a handful of teams to choose from if they want to win a title. That’s why half the GMs in the league had a heart attack when Miami got Wade and Bosh, then had a second one when they awoke and found that LeBron had joined them.
So just how important are All Stars to team success? Let’s take a look at last year’s playoffs. I came up with a rating scale for All Stars and then applied that scale to each team to determine who had the advantage in each series. The scale goes like this:
All Star starter = 3 points
All Star reserve = 2 points
Top 4 in All Star votes = +1 point
Now I know that All Star starters are chosen by the fans and that mistakes are often made. But in general, I think most people would agree that the starters usually deserve that designation. Also, the top four players in voting in 2010 coincided with the general consensus of who the four most dominant players in the league were. The top players are always going to give their teams an advantage when it comes to the postseason (see: Bryant, Kobe). If AI or T-Mac had broken into the top four, this formula would have had to been altered. For the 2009-10 season, the top four were LeBron, Kobe, Dwyane Wade, and Dwight Howard, so each of their teams got an extra point.
Here’s how each round of the 2010 playoffs played out, with the number of points each team received, according to my formula, in parentheses:
Cavs (4) over Bulls (2)
Celtics (7) over Heat (4)
Hawks (4) over Bucks (0)
Magic (4) over Bobcats (2)
Lakers (6) over Thunder (2)
Jazz (2) over Nuggets (5)
Suns (6) over Blazers (2)
Spurs (3) over Mavs (4)
Celtics (7) over Cavs (4)
Magic (4) over Hawks (4)
Lakers (6) over Jazz (2)
Suns (6) over Spurs (3)
Celtics (7) over Magic (4)
Lakers (6) over Suns (6)
Lakers (6) over Celtics (7)
As you can see, my formula worked in 12 of 15 playoff series. I only missed three: Utah beat Denver (arguably because Coach Karl was absent), San Antonio defeated the Mavs (the Mavs have no excuse for losing), and L.A. beat Boston in the Finals (could always go either way in Lakers-Celtics series). Looks like the All Star Formula works pretty well, don’t you think?
The NBA teams seem to agree. Which is why the future of every NBA franchise revolves around the All Stars.
Coming Soon: Age Of The All Star Part 2: Super Teams of the Future