In the first returns of NBA All-Star fan voting LeBron James received the most All-Star votes as expected with over a million votes. Coming in second in fan voting for forwards/centers ( in the Western Conference) isn’t Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis. But Slovenian rookie Luka Doncic.
There is no debating the better player among Doncic, Durant or Davis, the three-D’s as I like to call them. Doncic is a rookie and still has a learning curve to master. And yet, not to trivialize him, he’s more than a rookie. His professional experience in Europe is responsible for his comfort level in a more athletic, quicker and explosive league. As expected or predicted, his numbers are not equal to elite forwards, not yet.
Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant are top-10 in scoring. Davis is the 2nd leading scorer in the NBA and Durant is the 4th leading scorer. Doncic doesn’t crack the top 30 in scoring, averaging 19.5 points.
Anthony Davis is 4th in the league in rebounding with 13.4 rebounds. Doncic only averages 6.6 boards, while Durant averages 7.5.
Davis is 2nd in blocks, 2.6 per game. Durant averages one block a game and Luka is not a shot blocker, 0.3 blocks.
But for fans it is not about the raw numbers, it never has been. Look closer at the first returns and you’ll see Dwyane Wade has the second most votes in the guard category (Eastern Conference) behind Kyrie Irving. This is Wade’s last year and everyone wants one last All-Star run for him.
Fan voting is nothing more than the intersection of emotion and emotion. Fans vote for who they want to vote for. It’s not always about facts and numbers but likeability, explosiveness and elite game.
Given that the NBA All-Star vote is a referendum on a particular player’s fanbase, Luka Doncic getting more fan votes than Kevin Durant says a lot about who is loving Durant.
Kevin Durant is a two-time NBA champion, a one-time MVP, 9 All-Star game appearances, 26 Player of the Week Awards, 19 Player of the Month awards, 7 times All-NBA first team, 4 time scoring champion, 4th in shooting percentage among active players, 9th in offensive rating among active players, 5th in Win Shares among active players, he’s going to the Hall of Fame even if he never wins another title. And his fans can’t support him by blindly casting ballots for him over and over again? Or, are Durant’s fans smaller than we think they should be because of how he got to his two titles is still a bitter topic?
Anthony Davis has one foot in and one foot out of New Orleans and it’s not like New Orleans is a hot bed of NBA obsession, so Davis not being dominant in the popularity scrum isn’t really a surprise.
Which brings us back to phenom rookie Luka Doncic, the Great White Hope. The expectations on draft night were through the roof for Luka and he has done everything he can to fulfill those dreams. He has had his rookie low moments but he has star potential bleeding out his pores and he was December Rookie of the month. His 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, nearly 6 free throws a game, 18.0 PER and 11th Real Plus-Minus (SF) aren’t rookie-ish.
It’s been 25 years since Larry Bird retired and a white player has been dominant enough and popular enough to grab NBA fans attention. Luka can score, rebound and has the clutch gene. He’s perfect for this era, able to make the three and score from multiple spots and he embraces the moment. He has a basketball I.Q. but like all rookies his defense is questionable and frankly, he’s not particularly efficient, shooting 43%, with an offensive rating of 108. (Durant’s offensive rating is 119 and Davis’ is 123). But he has that it thing that makes watching him a must. Whether he has the athletic handles to compete in an All-Star game which for the most part is about run outs and dunks until the last three minutes, well that’s a different discussion altogether, just as irrelevant as asking does he deserve to be an All-Star?
The more important question is: Will Luka Doncic even be a 2019 All-Star?
In the old days, yes. But the fan vote, which Charles Barkley calls stupid, is weighted. It matters only a third. There is the media vote and the players vote. Remember Zaza Pachulia had a lot of fan votes before the media and players weighed in last year.
But whether Luka is in the All-Star game or not, it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. Luka may never be the best player in the NBA but he will be one of the most popular. Because. He has major game. He has taken his Euroleague past and blended it into the NBA. With most rookies, it’s about potential. With Luka Doncic it’s about skill and the rest of us missing Larry Bird.
Luka isn’t Bird. And his fans- many of them- never saw Bird play. It doesn’t really matter the comparisons, just the perception. Luka is a white player in a black league. Luka is a breath of fresh air, a new kind of star the NBA hasn’t seen in a while. He makes you notice him because he can really play. He’s a talent. And the NBA loves talent.
The All-Star game is a talent showcase. Luka belongs. If not next month, then next year and the year after and the year after.
Western Conference Forwards Voting
LeBron James: 1,083,363
Luka Doncic: 679,839
Kevin Durant: 659,968
Anthony Davis: 605,417
Paul George: 580,055