It has been a long time since the NBA All-Star Game included a bench player or a high-profile sixth man. It’s time to change that.
The last bench player (or sixth man) to make an NBA All-Star appearance was Kobe Bryant in 1998 thanks to his popularity and the perpetual head-scratching fan vote. Kobe essentially Alex Caruso’d his way into the 1998 All-Star Game, as he received the second-most votes among guards in the conference while averaging 15 points a game.
Bryant played all, but one game coming from the bench. It’s arguable that he deserved the All-Star nod that year, but no way should he have been a starter (Mitch Richmond, Eddie Jones, or Isaiah Rider would’ve been viable options). Danny Manning won the Sixth Man of the Year award that season and did not make the All-Star game.
Separate additional note: The above paragraph may get some individuals riled up, so let me explain. In no way, shape, or form is this a comparison between Kobe Bryant and Alex Caruso – of course, Caruso is better than Kobe. Now let’s move on.
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Kevin McHale is the only player in NBA history to make an All-Star appearance the same year he won a Sixth Man of the Year award back in 1984 (only the second year of the award’s existence). How is that possible? The list of bench players to get an All-Star nod is as follows: McHale (3x), Ricky Pierce, Dan Majerle, and Kobe.
The Sixth Man of the Year Award is one of the most anticipated awards that gets discussed throughout the year – but historically, it hasn’t been significant enough to warrant an All-Star appearance. How can we ignore the sacrifices these players make for the betterment of their teams? How good would these players be if they started instead? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
James Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012 and didn’t make the cut. He got traded later that year to the Houston Rockets and became an All-Star the first full season as a starter (and has been an All-Star and MVP winner/candidate ever since). Manu Ginobili, who’s perhaps the Mariano Rivera of the NBA, was an All-Star the only two seasons where he was a full-time starter.
Since we brought up the great Mariano Rivera in the previous paragraph, it’s worth noting that relief pitchers in major league baseball make the All-Star game in bunches. In 2019, MLB had nine relief pitchers in the All-Star game. These players mostly show up for a single inning but are still good enough to get recognition in the midsummer classic.
This all brings us to a couple of players from the Los Angeles Clippers. If Manu Ginobili was Mariano Rivera, then Lou Williams is Aroldis Chapman. Williams has won the Sixth Man of the Year Award three times, which is tied for most in NBA history with Jamal Crawford, and neither has made an All-Star game.
Williams was the best player on a playoff team last year and still couldn’t get in. His per 36 numbers were 27.1 points, 7.3 assists, four rebounds, and one steal per game. Those are All-Star caliber numbers.
Montrezl Harrell is posting similar numbers this season. His per 36 are 22.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, and one steal per game. He’s in the All-Star discussion, but he’s certainly more than deserving and has earned it. When we add the fact that he picks up the slack as Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George are on-and-off the court load managing and recovering from injuries, it becomes even easier to know that he belongs.
As it stands, Alex Caruso has more fan votes than both Harrell and Williams combined as neither of them cracked the top ten for their categories on the third fan returns. Harrell was also bested in the fan vote category by Dwight Howard, and although he’s having a revival of sorts, he’s nowhere near Harrell’s productivity and performance.
This argument goes beyond simply posting impressive numbers. Where’s the recognition for these players’ sacrifices? We’ll never know the heights Ginobili could’ve reached if he was an everyday starter and ran his own team, and now we have people doubting whether he’s a Hall of Famer because he placed the team’s interest at the forefront.
Here’s hoping the NBA finds a spot to recognize the game’s best bench players, as they certainly belong in the brightest lights for both their performance and in some cases, their selfish sacrifices.