Sunday, December 28

The First All-Star Bobcat?

With our previous success in getting Jon Beason Pro Bowl bound, and with a hat tip to K-Man and to our friends at Bobcats Planet, it's time to take a look at another Charlotte star not getting the deserved love on a national stage.

The poupularity contest known as the NBA All-Star game is just over a month and a half away. Many of the perennial best on topping the ballots, but is it out of the question that the Bobcats could have their first Al--Star in franchise history? A look at the numbers reveals that not only is it a possiblity, but were it not for the lack of national respect it could be a probability.

Looking at the most recent talleys, some peculiar numbers stick out. After being traded for each other, Allen Iverson stands at second in voting amongst Eastern Conference guards with 858,000 votes while Chauncey Billups has garnered only 170,000 votes. Given the way the two teams have performed it might be expected that the two numbers would be reveresed (can we all agree it's the Chauncey Billups trade at this point?), but by virtue of heading west Chauncey finds himself stacked against a bumper crop of quality guards. The New Jersey Nets have some of the oddest voting patterns of any franchise, with Devin Harris and Vince Carter both trailing Yi Jianlian in votes (god bless the Internet). Out west, two of the Trailblazers young studs, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge have each accumulated less than 200,000 votes. Perhaps Portland's ballot shipment was being delivered by covered wagon and the NBA paid a "Native American" guide to help them across the river, only to have the wagon tip over, the ballots (along with 145 pounds of food, an extra yoke, and Jessie) were lost and suddently the guide was nowhere to be found. Of course, the same could be said of Bobcat fans, who've only netted their best option, Emeka Okafor with less than 70,000 votes.

As it stands now, Emeka's eighth amongst eligible Eastern Conference centers in votes, but he's closer to Brendan Haywood (28,000) than he is to Andrew Bogut (130,000), who's fifth in the standings. The starting spot this year, and likely for years to come, belongs to Dwight Howard, but does Mek deserve to be a reserve? Let's take a look.

One potential obstacle in Emeka making the All-Star game is not only the market in which he plays, but also the NBA playing fast and loose with the rules. Last season, Chris Bosh was listed on the ballot as a forward, but was selected to the team as a center. With Lebron and KG starting in the east, the possibility that Pierce, Granger, and Hedo being selected to the reserve roles, it's possible that Bosh makes another appearance (incorrectly) as a five. If Bosh, who deserves to be chosen, is selected as a five, Mek's chances take a huge hit. The other potential fly in the ointment is David Lee. Lee's been playing "center" for the Knicks, but by virtue of D'Antoni's system this is more in name than in the traditional sense of the position. Lee's stats stack up well against Okafor's, albeit with different strengths.

What exactly has Mek done to deserve to be in Phoenix in February? He's second in the NBA and first in the Eastern Conference in field goal percentage (.590), fifth in the NBA (2nd in the EC) in rebounds per game (11), third in the NBA in offensive rebounds (4) and third in the EC in blocks and fourth in blocks per game (1.8) and third in the conference in double-doubles (16). Amongst Eastern Conference centers he's third in efficiency behind only Howard and Lee. He's fifth amongst centers in scoring (13.9), but less than half a point behind everyone not named Howard, and plays on the team that averages the fewest points per game in the league.

Two factors have combined (Captain Planet-style) to help Oak have a tremendous December. Perhaps the most significant has been the addition of Boris Diaw to the team. Prior to Diaw's arrival Emeka had no power forward to help him in the front court. Now Diaw handles much of the frontcourt ball handling, has the ability to pull defenders away from the hoop and helped make Okafor a more viable offensive threat. Since the addition of Diaw, Mek's PPG average has risen by over 5 points. He's also averaging an additional rebound, assist, and almost half a block more per game while committing one less foul per game. Before Boris joined the Cats, Mek often found himself in foul trouble, but has had more than four fouls in only game (an OT game) since. The other factor for Mek has been new head coach Larry Brown. Early in the season Okafor appeared to have difficulty adjusting to what Brown wanted him to do, and Brown had to learn what Mek excelled at. Constantly tweaking the offense has allowed Larry to better utilize all of the players on the roster, most importantly Emeka. If he's to become the Bobcats first All-Star he will need to continue this high level of play, but there's little reason to suspect he can't.

Excluding Howard, the only two other centers who stack up statistically with Emeka ar aren't centers. For Mek's sake and for the sake of the team, I hope the NBA recognizes his work this season and for the first time in this team's history, fans can go to the arena to see our All-Star play.

Current voting totals
While the ship has sailed on who will start at Eastern Conference center, votes can still be cast here.

1 comment:

theEPA said...

Another Oregon Trail reference. Love it.