The Pacers have only completed their ninth game of the season, but it is already time to start voting to send the league's brightest stars to the 63rd NBA All-Star game in New Orleans. Over at NBA.com, the 2014 All-Star ballot was officially released Friday. This year, the Pacers are able to boast having six players named to the ballot (tied with the Golden State Warriors for the league's most). Among those named were Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Danny Granger.
According to NBA.com, 60 NBA players from each conference were selected to be placed on the ballot by a panel of media members who regularly cover the NBA including Greg Anthony (NBA Digital), Mary Schmitt Boyer (Cleveland Plain Dealer), Zach Lowe (Grantland), and John Reid (New Orleans Times Picayune). Of those names, 24 are categorized as ‘backcourt' and 36 are from the ‘front court.'
From the Pacers' perspective, a change in this year's ballot is that Paul George is now designated as a frontcourt player, whereas last year he was placed on the ballot as a member of the backcourt. This could potentially spell trouble for the Pacers' young star's chances of being voted in by the fans as a starter, since he will be up against a larger pool of players (including perennial fan favorites LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony).
Last season, being relatively unknown to the national audience, George finished 10th in the fan voting in the East behind Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Ray Allen, Monta Ellis, Raymond Felton, Jrue Holiday, and Jason Terry. Of course, George was later selected by the coaches as an All-Star Reserve. Meanwhile, 2012 All-Star Reserve, Roy Hibbert, finished outside the top 15 in fan votes.
Even with stiff competition at the ‘frontcourt' position in the East, fans should expect George and Hibbert to receive a much larger number of fan votes this season. First of all, the voting base has become more acquainted with the Pacers' roster after watching them go down valiantly against the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Additionally, the Pacers are off to their best start in franchise history going 9-0, which has no doubt brought added national attention to Indiana's two most recent All-Stars.
Above all, both players have heightened their levels of production since being selected to their first respective All-Star games in Orlando and Houston. When Roy Hibbert was chosen in 2012, he ranked 10th in the league in blocks at 1.8 per game, and was scoring 13.3ppg. Now, the Pacers' big man is leading the league in blocks with 4.4 per game. Although his scoring average has dipped (however, performances like Friday against Milwaukee may change that), he is known league wide as one of the best rim protectors in the game.
Similarly, George has taken his game to the next level since making his way to Houston as a Reserve just last February. Prior to being selected, he ranked 26th in scoring putting up a mark of 17.3ppg. This season, he currently ranks 6th in scoring averaging 24.9ppg. Like Hibbert, George is widely known for his elite level defense. With his name already prominently featured in the MVP conversation, there is almost no doubt that the Pacers' young star will finish higher than 10th in the fan vote - even with the change of position.
Admittedly, there is a large contingent of fans that do not take a lot of interest in the All-Star voting process, or, the exhibition game for that matter. To many, it is just a popularity contest that holds no real meaning. Those individuals, growing in number, may be correct. The NBA should give serious consideration to revising the All-Star selection process in order to put more value on stats, production, and winning, rather than just rewarding fame and visibility.
Whatever the case, it should be noted that being selected to the All-Star game does, in fact, matter greatly to many of the league's players, even if the selection process remains imperfect.
Just listen to George's words after being selected to his first All-Star game last season:
"For one, it's a blessing, but I want to thank the organization for helping me grow and really staying with me. Thanks to the coaching staff, coach Vogel, my teammates for really giving me the opportunity to grow and play at the level that I am."
George later added:
"Being drafted is the first dream, obviously. You talk about winning the championship. But as an individual goal, to be an All-Star is right up there with it."
Like George humbly states, the opportunity to be announced as an All-Star is a dream for the player, and a reflection of the team's success as a whole. It is a goal that both George and Hibbert are currently deserving of obtaining - if fans will comply.
Get out the vote Pacers' fans.
In order to send the Pacers on the All-Star Ballot to the 63rd annual All-Star game, fans can place votes daily over at NBA.com or the NBA Game Time App. Fans can also submit their picks via texting, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.