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NBA All-Star first returns: Domantas Sabonis ranks distant 10th

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Sabonis will need to rely on the coaches to make his first All-Star appearance.

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Despite exceeding expectations and storming to a 22-12 record in the absence of Victor Oladipo, it doesn’t seem as though the Indiana Pacers have won over the hearts and minds of the public at-large.

The NBA on Thursday released the first returns for the 2019 All-Star Game fan voting, and the blue & gold have just one player ranked in the top-10: Domantas Sabonis, who came in at tenth among frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, to say he’s tenth doesn’t quite do justice to how far behind he is the voting relative to his competitors, since he’d need more than five times his current vote total just to finish in fifth.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 1,073,358

2. Joel Embiid (PHI) 606,534

3. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 544,302

4. Jimmy Butler (MIA) 431,483

5. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 364,137

6. Tacko Fall (BOS) 110,269

7. Bam Adebayo (MIA) 104,086

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 75,420

9. Andre Drummond (DET) 68,076

10. Domantas Sabonis (IND) 67,482

Sabonis, who is averaging 17.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, and four assists in his fourth season, may not be the Pacers best player, but he’s arguably their toughest to lift out.

Connecting both sides of the floor with dribble hand-offs, the lefty big man not only leads the Pacers in passes per game; he ranks fifth in the entire NBA — trailing only Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, LeBron James, and Devonte’ Graham.

When he isn’t massaging the offense at the elbows and racking up double-doubles (tied for second-most in the NBA), he’s dominating while standing still, prying open windows of space with subtle screening techniques for his teammates to score in the pick-and-roll — which just so happens to be Indiana’s top offensive weapon.

There’s also this: When Sabonis is on the floor, the Pacers are grabbing 51.6 percent of missed shots. When he’s off, that number plummets to 45.5 percent — equivalent to the worst rate in the league.

Granted, his free throw percentage dipped to 63.8 percent in December, after sitting at 80.2 percent across October and November, his overall field goal percentage has dropped this season as a starter (particularly around the rim), and his effective field goal percentage is roughly five percent lower when Malcolm Brogdon is on the bench, but if one Pacer is going to earn a spot on the squad as a reserve, there’s a strong case for it being Sabonis.

As for Brogdon, the timing of his latest rash of injuries (hamstring, back soreness), on top of the fact that he’s shot just 37 percent overall since dislocating his finger versus the Detroit Pistons on December 6, isn’t exactly making for the strongest final push.

Among backcourt players, Atlanta’s Trae Young and Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, who hasn’t appeared in a game since November 14, currently have poll position. The coaches aren’t likely to vote in Irving as a reserve, so for all the other more deserving guards in the conference, it would be better if Kemba Walker were to jump up to second once the final votes are tallied.

1. Trae Young (ATL) 443,412

2. Kyrie Irving (BKN) 432,481

3. Kemba Walker (BOS) 432,031

4. Derrick Rose (DET) 233,669

5. Zach LaVine (CHI) 174,991

6. Ben Simmons (PHI) 159,065

7. Jaylen Brown (BOS) 156,537

8. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 154,139

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 149,640

10. Spencer Dinwiddie (BKN) 94,618

Per usual, the fan vote will account for 50 percent of the vote with the other 50 percent being made up by current players and a media panel. Rightfully so, that weighted math won’t leap-frog Sabonis over the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, or Joel Embiid, but it should help him edge out some of the representation from Boston (ahem, Tacko Fall) while also earning Brogdon a seat at the top-10 table (we’re looking at you, Derrick Rose and Zach LaVine).

Per NBA.com, TNT will announce the reserves, as selected by the coaches, on Thursday, January, 30. The remaining fan voting updates will be shared on Thursday, January 9 and Thursday, January 16.