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The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Keith Pompey

Joel Embiid’s snub as an All-Star starter no surprise with a flawed system

Why are we surprised?

We had to know that it would be tough for 76ers center Joel Embiid to be voted an Eastern Conference All-Star starter, as crazy as that seems.

You realized things were trending that way when he dropped one spot to fourth among conference frontcourt players in fan balloting for the NBA All-Star Game after the second round of returns were released on Jan. 12. When he remained in that spot for the third returns on Jan. 19, one had to know it was close to inevitable.

That’s because fans accounted for 50% of the votes to determine the 10 starters for the game, which will be played on Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. A selected media panel and current NBA players each account for 25% of the vote.

Embiid finished third among media voters and players voters. Where he lost out was with the fans, who voted him fourth. That needs to be pointed out, because there’s a belief that the media — particularly the Boston media — led to Celtics forward Jayson Tatum getting the start over Embiid.

Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Eastern Conference’s leading vote-getter, and Brooklyn forward Kevin Durant were also named conference frontcourt starters.

This marks the first time in six seasons that Embiid wasn’t voted an All-Star starter. This comes after he was snubbed in last season’s MVP voting, finishing second to Denver’s Nikola Jokić.

“Completely hosed once again,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said Friday on 97.5 FM The Fanatic. “This time, to your point, the perpetrators of the crime were the shameless media, who most of them have recused themselves because they don’t want the vote on something that affects players’ paychecks.

“But the shameless Boston media is way overrepresented. They haven’t recused themselves, and they shoved Joel low enough so that he’s not an All-Star starter. It’s crazy.”

What Morey essentially is saying is that Tatum only made the cut because of Boston’s media bias. The standout forward finished first in the media voting. He was third among fans and fourth with players.

We can argue for days whether Tatum should have beaten out Embiid.

Embiid, after Saturday’s electrifying 47-point, 18-rebound, 5-assist dominance of Jokic and the Nuggets, is leading the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game. He also averages 10.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.1 steals. Embiid has 22 double-doubles and one triple-double in 36 games this season.

Meanwhile, Tatum (who played late Saturday night) is fourth in scoring at 31.1 points per game and has played in 11 more games than Embiid. His being more available could have played a part for several voters.

“It is what it is,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid not being voted a starter. “He clearly is a starter and I have to say I don’t — I knew they were out, but I didn’t know that because I don’t pay much attention, to be honest, but it’s the vote thing. I think the vote is flawed the way they do it. I’ve said that for 10 years, so I don’t talk about it anymore. I just think it should be the five best guys. It should be position-less. That’s what the league is. So I don’t know what’s taking our league so long to figure that out.”

Rivers has a point.

It’s hard to argue against Embiid, Tatum, Durant, and Antetokounmpo being four of the Eastern Conference’s best five players.

They could all coexist on the court together because Embiid, Tatum, and Durant can all shoot and play different positions.

However, the NBA wants to start two backcourt players and three frontcourt players instead.

The same problem had a negative impact on Embiid in last season’s All-NBA voting.

Despite being the MVP runner-up, Embiid couldn’t earn All-NBA first-team honors because Jokić got more center position votes.

So the league’s positional mandate needs to change.

This time, Embiid was the one impacted by the system’s flaw with starter voting. And you saw it materializing once the second returns were released.

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