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January 29, 2010
All-Star Absences
The Best Never to Make It

by Kevin Pelton


When the NBA announced reserves for the 2010 All-Star Game yesterday, seven first-timers got the call. While the honor represents the beginning of the ascent for players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, for seven-year veterans Zach Randolph and Gerald Wallace this might have been their only chance to play on the league's biggest individual stage. Some players enjoy fine, lengthy careers without ever earning All-Star honors. This column is dedicated to them.

Using numbers from my career WARP database as well as All-Star information from Basketball-Reference.com, I've identified the players with the most total career value who never were selected as All-Stars. Naturally, because WARP only goes back through the 1979-80 season, these are the modern leaders. Let's count down the top 10 in reverse order.

10. Donyell Marshall, 70.1 (1994-95 to 2008-09)
Marshall has yet to officially announce his retirement, but appears to have come to the end of the line on a 15-year career that he capped with one final highlight--scoring 11 points in a Game 1 upset of Orlando by the Philadelphia 76ers last April. Marshall had All-Star potential when he came out of UConn, but it took him several years and a couple of trades before he become a favorite of statistical analysts early in the last decade. His best season was 2003-04, when his total of 13.1 WARP put him 12th in the league, but he never won over the media and his defense was not All-Star caliber.

9. Toni Kukoc, 70.5 (1993-94 to 2005-06)
Kukoc's NBA mantle isn't empty, since he has a Sixth Man Award (won in 1995-96) to go along with three championship rings. Serving as the top reserve in the shadow of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen was no recipe for All-Star accolades, however, and by the time Kukoc got a chance to lead the team the Bulls were terrible. He never put together any single All-Star-type season, though WARP suggests he might have most deserved the honor in 1994-95 (11.1 WARP), when he averaged 15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 4.6 apg as Pippen's second fiddle.

8. Mike Bibby, 70.8 (1998-99 to present)
Back in 2003, John Hollinger took a less formal run at this issue on SI.com. He noted the absence of then-youngsters Bibby, Pau Gasol and Shawn Marion, "who have yet to make the squad but will at some point in their still-nascent careers." Well, two out of three ain't bad. Such heights seemed inevitable for Bibby early in his time in Sacramento, but he always found himself just short. Bibby's best shot was 2004-05, when he totaled 10.1 WARP, but the West roster featured four shooting guards and just one point man (eventual MVP Steve Nash). At this point, Bibby's All-Star days seem behind him.

7. Sam Perkins, 71.9 (1984-85 to 2000-01)
If there's an All-Star equivalent of "the Hall of Very Good," Perkins belongs there. He was a steady presence for more than a decade but never a force, peaking at 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in 1991-92. That season was also Perkins' best by the numbers, but he posted just 7.8 WARP, far short of typical All-Star standards.

6. Jason Terry, 75.4 (1999-00 to present)
A theme developing here: sixth men not quite getting their due in All-Star selections. Last year's Sixth Man Award winner twice topped 10 WARP in a season early in his career in Atlanta, but playing for also-ran Hawks squads made it tough for Terry to get noticed. He was the second-best player on the 67-win 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks squad and had a case to be in the All-Star discussion, but only Dirk Nowitzki was selected from the Mavericks.

5. Lamar Odom, 78.6 (1999-00 to present)
Like Marshall, Odom has probably been victimized to some extent by the expectations that he carried with him into the NBA. While he's developed into a very valuable member of last year's champions, Odom is still considered something of a disappointment. His best individual season came in 2003-04 in Miami, when Odom posted 12.0 WARP as the co-leader of the Heat along with rookie Dwyane Wade. Miami was 22-32 at the All-Star break before catching fire down the stretch, finishing above .500 and winning a playoff series. Had the Heat played like that all year, Odom might have made it.

4. Derek Harper, 87.3 (1983-84 to 1998-99)
Harper was probably the first person I thought of when I considered the best non-All-Stars before looking at the numbers. It's hard to believe he never made it once while posting 10-plus WARP every season from 1986-87 through 1990-91, especially considering he was doing it with a good Dallas team. However, Harper was caught in a numbers crunch in the Western Conference. Magic Johnson and John Stockton were locks, leaving Harper fighting for spots with Kevin Johnson, Terry Porter and eventually Tim Hardaway (all three of whom made it in 1991, giving the West an unthinkable five point guards). Oh, and did I mention Fat Lever and Sleepy Floyd? Yes, the late '80s and early '90s were not a good time to be a West point guard.

3. Andre Miller, 100.1 (1999-00 to present)
Simply, the coaches blew this one (and David Stern, who picked Baron Davis instead of Miller as an injury replacement). Miller was phenomenal in 2001-02 in Cleveland, when he posted 16.8 WARP. Glancing through the numbers, I only see one season where a player rated as more valuable but did not make the All-Star team. Oddly, that was Elton Brand the same year in the other conference. But while Brand ultimately got his shot at the All-Star Game, Miller never did. 2001-02 was the highpoint of his NBA career, though he has remained a steady, solid point guard who continues to add to his WARP total.

2. Marcus Camby, 115.1 (1996-97 to present)
For me, Camby never comes to mind as an elite player without an All-Star appearance on his resume. I think WARP tends to overrate Camby to some extent because of his prodigious block and rebound totals, but he's certainly been one of the league's better centers for years. It is also exceedingly rare for a Defensive Player of the Year like Camby not to be selected to an All-Star Game; every other winner save L.A. Lakers specialist Michael Cooper has made at least one All-Star trip.

1. Rod Strickland, 130.2 (1988-89 to 2004-05)
While Camby may pass him within the next year or two, for now the dubious honor of being the best modern player by WARP never to make an All-Star Game belongs to Rod Strickland. From 1992-93 through 1998-99, Strickland posted at least 9.9 WARP every year, and did it while playing for above-.500 teams six of the seven years. During his time in Portland, Strickland faced a similar numbers crunch to Harper. In 1994, for example, West coaches took Stockton, Kevin Johnson and Gary Payton as reserves. Hard to argue them. Strickland's best case was probably 1998, when he had a career-high 14.0 WARP. East coaches chose just one point guard that year. Surely Strickland's attitude hurt him, but he deserved to be an All-Star at least once.

Taking a slightly different look at this by WARP per year among non-All-Stars yields five of the same players, along with some of this year's most notable omissions (Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Josh Smith) and Emeka Okafor, all of whom are young enough to have a chance to eventually reach the All-Star Game. It does, however, add one more player worth discussing: Arvydas Sabonis. Because he came to the NBA at age 31, Sabonis had no chance to build up an impressive WARP total (he finished with 60.0), but on a per-year basis he trails only Miller. Sabonis was in double-digits in WARP from 1995-96 to 1998-99. While that generally meant another crunch (Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson were in the West) and there was no 1999 All-Star Game, did Chris Gatling (4.9 WARP, dealt to New Jersey days later) really demand a spot in 1997?

Join Kevin to chat about whatever NBA topics are on your mind Friday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific at Baseball Prospectus. If you can't make it, leave your question now to be answered then.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Around the Rim (01/29)

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