The NBA’s biggest All-Star snubs
Last week, this writer took a look at an array of potential first-time All-Stars for the 2022-23 season. That exercise moved thoughts to players that didn’t make an All-Star game throughout their careers, but probably deserved to … our All-Star snubs.
There are plenty of players that have, throughout the league’s history, picked up All-Star nods that fans may look back on with a sense of astonishment. There are those that were good players who enjoyed one outlier season (the Dana Barros division); those who rode on the coattails of famous teammates (traditionally the Bill Bradley/BJ Armstrong division, though Andrew Wiggins made a case to take over naming rights last season); those with consistently strong statistics who were just not as good as the stars in their conference (Bill Cartwright); the ‘put me in the All-Star game our I’ll punch you in the face’ group (Charles Oakley) and, of course, an array of how-the-shuddering-f**k-did-they-become-All-Stars, led by the incomparable Jamaal Magloire.
There’s also a raft of players that should have picked up more than a single All-Star nod during their careers: Dale Ellis, Dan Issel, World B Free, etc. As good as those guys were, they might not be as capable as our uncapped players, such is the mix of poor luck and poor circumstance that out players listed below suffered.
This list, whilst taking a cursory glance at overall careers, is about a season or seasons that warranted legitimate All-Star consideration. That means that the likes of Arvydas Sabonis won’t be touched on below. The big Lithuanian is a worthy Hall of Famer but was clearly past his best by the time he made his way to the NBA and was never an All-Star caliber player in the league.
Let’s get onto our list of All-Star snubs, shall we?
Most people remember Harper as one of Phil Jackson’s most loyal on-court lieutenants, the defensive minded guard who stood alongside Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on his way to five NBA championships. It’s often forgotten that Harper was an electric scoring guard prior to a devastating knee injury midway through the 1990 season, shortly after he was traded to the cursed Clippers from Cleveland.
Alongside Clyde Drexler, Harper was seen as being one step down from the irrepressible Jordan and better than the likes of Joe Dumars, Reggie Miller, Jeff Malone, Sidney Moncrief, and Hersey Hawkins. He was a star on the rise.
Harper’s game was perhaps the closest facsimile to Jordan. The Ohio native was practically the same size as Jordan, almost as fast and nearly as explosive a leaper. He wasn’t quite the shooter or defender that MJ was and was nowhere near as creative but was a fine player all the same.
Best All-Star case: 1990
Harper started the season on fire but was traded just seven games in. He continued his form for the Clips, averaging 23 points, over five boards and five assists, with 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks for good measure.
Whilst his injury would ultimately have prevented him from appearing in the game itself, should he have made it, it’s remarkable that Harper wasn’t even in the top 10 in guard voting for the conference.
Imagine if a player with Odom’s skill set was coming out of college in today’s game. He’d just about be a consensus No. 1 pick, right? Back in 1999, teams knew Odom was a talent (he was selected fourth overall) but had no real idea as to how to utilize his talents in a league where position-less basketball was still well over a decade away.
Odom, though, produced immediately. He produced 17/8/5 in his sophomore season. His single season in Miami was enough to see him be the centrepiece in a trade package that landed Shaquille O’Neal. As a Laker, Odom continued to produce sparkling results, winning a pair of rings.
His career – and his life – went off the rails late on and that perhaps overshadows Odom’s immense on-dourt ability. At his peak, he was, statistically at least, comparable with Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett.
Best All-Star case: 2004
Odom only spent a year on South Beach, though it was in Miami where he started to unlock his full potential. Coach Stan Van Gundy played Odom as a de facto point guard, running everything through his 6-foot-10 playmaker, in much the same way as he would with Hedo Turkoglu half a decade later.
Odom put up 17.1 points, 9.7 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals, taking over the leadership of the team from veteran guard Eddie Jones. Dreams of a long partnership with then-rookie Dwyane Wade were dashed when the Heat went all in, trading for Shaq.
Harold ‘Happy’ Hairston might be the most anonymous player on this list. Hairston plied his trade in the ’60s and ’70s on some star-studded Pistons and Lakers lineups. It’s perhaps because of his more illustrious teammates that Hairston – a genuine double-double machine – never claimed an All-Star berth.
In Detroit, Hairston was the workhorse who made life easier for Dave DeBusschere, Walt Bellamy and Dave Bing. After joining the Lakers in 1970 he played alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Tough to get noticed in those crowds!
Hairston was a tough-as-nails player who thrived in the creases that his more notable teammates created. He was a demonic rebounder who many believe would have averaged 15 or more boards in his prime, if not for the presence of Wilt and Bellamy, hovering up misses for fun. Steals were not recorded until very late in Hairston’s career, though he was said to pick up well over two steals a game due to his quick hands and aggressive defense.
Best All-Star case: 1971
A case could be made for 1969, when Hairston put up almost identical stats to the 18 points and 11 rebounds he produced in 1971.
His statistical production and defensive importance in both years makes him a tough omission in both years, though 1971 saw a changing of the guard in the Western Conference and was perhaps Hairston’s best chance of earning a call up.
Mighty Mouse was the original Raptor, the fledgling team’s first ever draft pick back in 1995.
Whilst he enjoyed a long NBA career, Stoudamire undoubtedly peaked early on the expansion Raptors, putting up close to 20 points and 10 assists per game in each of his first two seasons.
He was the face of the fun, freewheeling Raptors in those early days, before being traded to the Blazers midway through his third year. There, he unfortunately became one of the faces of the talented but troubled ‘Jailblazers’ era in Portland.
Best All-Star case: 1996
Stoudamire’s Rookie of the Year winning campaign saw the Arizona product put up 19 points (on impressive 43/40/80 shooting splits), 9.3 assists, four rebounds and 1.4 steals for the Raptors.
Given that level of production and the level of attention that the Raptors were getting as the NBA heavily marketed their push into Canada, it’s a wonder that he missed an All-Star selection to Cavs guard Terrell Brandon. Likewise, in 1997, Stoudamire should probably have made the All-Star game, again at Brandon’s expense.
Before there was Kyrie Irving, there was Kyrie Irving’s Godfather.
Rod Strickland possessed perhaps the best handles in the NBA through the 1990s. He was a wonderful player to watch, his speed and his trickery (mixed with just a hint of nastiness) saw him make fools of defenders all over the league. Strickland was an acrobatic finisher in traffic. Essentially, he was Kyrie without a jump shot.
Strickland spent 17 years in the league, though his true peak was rather short at four, perhaps five seasons. That peak, though, was impressive. Between 1994 and 1998, Strickland averaged 17.9 points, 9.4 assists and 1.8 steals, numbers only bettered by the great John Stockton.
Yet, when it came to All-Star appearances, Strickland was continually overlooked for the likes of Brandon, Tim Hardaway and Penny Hardaway. Admittedly, they’re wonderful players, yet it’s undoubted that Strickland never received his due from fans or coaches. If he was born 10 years later, he’s probably a five-time All-Star.
Best All-Star case: 1998
As the lead guard on the re-branded Washington Wizards, Strickland put up 17.8 points, a league leading 10.5 assists, 5.3 boards and 1.7 steals – good enough to earn Strickland his sole All-NBA recognition.
He was beaten for All-Star reserve spots that year by Reggie Miller (fair enough), Steve Smith (a close call, but fine) and Penny Hardaway (ugh…16 points, four boards, three assists in just 16 games).
Missing to Hardaway in 1998 was a genuine travesty.
Harper was one of those players that was never good enough to be a consistent All-Star yet was consistently good enough for long enough that he might have sneaked in for a cheeky appearance in any of about half a dozen seasons.
The lead guard for some very good Mavericks sides in the 1980s, you could pencil Harper in for 17 points, seven assists and a pair of steals each and every night. An astute orchestrator, excellent shooter and elite defender, Harper was the quiet achiever on a side with some very loud contributors in Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre and Roy Tarpley.
It’s perhaps that incredible consistency and low-key playing style that saw Harper overlooked for an All-Star berth in his mid ’80s prime.
Best All-Star case: 1991
As the Mavericks side of the ’80s started to fizzle out and break up, Harper took on more of a leading role as the ’90s began.
In 1991, he averaged a career high 19.7 points on solid 47/36/73 splits, with 7.1 assists and 1.9 steals thrown in. He barely registered in the fan vote, as per usual. Surprisingly, he was beaten in the coaches vote by a pair of first-time All-Stars in Terry Porter and Tim Hardaway.
J-Smoove could do a little bit of everything on a basketball court, the only exception being hitting an outside jump shot. Well … that and making an All-Star game!
The hyper athletic Smith formed one of the league’s best and most versatile front court partnerships with a young Al Horford as the Hawks enjoyed a period as one of the NBA’s League Pass darlings.
Amazingly, Smith is still just 36 years old, despite playing his last meaningful NBA minutes back in 2016 for the Rockets. A move to Detroit in 2014 completely derailed Smith’s career. He frequently clashed with new coach Stan Van Gundy and his shot selection – always a concern – only got worse as a Piston.
He was waived by Detroit via the stretch provision late in 2015. Whilst he had some flourishes as a Clipper and Rocket, his career was effectively over. Smith’s contract finally came off the Pistons books at the end of the 2020 campaign.
Best All-Star case: 2012
Smith’s second to last season in Atlanta was perhaps his best chance to claim an All-Star spot. He averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals for a Hawks team that was starting to catch the imagination of the league.
After missing out on being voted into a starting berth, he lost out on a spot on the bench – surely that hard-to-coach reputation hurting him – to a pair of first-time All-Stars in Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. A case could be made that Smith deserved a spot over both young forwards.
Camby was a defensive monster. He leveraged seemingly endless length, impressive speed and a motor that never quit into a Defensive Player of the Year award, four All-Defense acknowledgements, four block championships (he averaged three or more blocks on five occasions – five more than Rudy Gobert) and a 17-year NBA career, despite his high-water mark as a scorer being 14.8 points per game — as a rookie.
Camby never had the flashy offensive numbers that we often associate with All-Star talent. His defensive game, however, was a highlight reel in and of itself. The video below isn’t a reel from a career or a season – it’s from just a handful of games! Yet this is what Camby did just about every time he stepped onto the floor:
Camby’s relatively pedestrian offensive production would count him out of All-Star consideration in the eyes of some. Yet the NBA has always made room for the All-Defense big man. Gobert is a multiple time All-Star. The late Mark Eaton – who produced one of the most low-key disrespectful blocks in NBA history – played in an All-Star game. Dikembe Mutombo, who’s statistical production is remarkably similar to Camby’s, was named an All-Star on eight occasions!
Camby wasn’t just a player that thrived in a particular ecosystem, either. He was remarkably consistent over his first 12 campaigns, spread over Toronto, New York and Denver.
Best All-Star case: 2007
The All-Star game in 2007 was a hot mess.
Four players named in the Western team couldn’t play due to injury, including Yao Ming (an aside: in 2006, Camby was second in voting for the center position in the West, perhaps done over by the strong Chinese voting numbers for Yao) and fellow big man Carlos Boozer. In a game that featured an incredible seven first-time All-Stars, the NBA couldn’t find room for Camby, whose 2007 season was sensational. He scored 11.8 points per game, 11.7 points, 3.2 assists (a career high to that point), 1.2 steals and a league leading 3.3 blocks.
Jefferson, these days known for his entertaining and refreshingly honest media contributions, didn’t have as long a peak as many of his peers. That peak, though, was excellent.
In a six-season span between 2004 and 2009, RJ averaged over 19 points and three assists per game, whilst connecting on over 36% of his threes. The other players to do that? Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson and Jason Richardson. Richardson (an honorable mention to this list) aside, all were multiple time All-Stars.
Jefferson achieved sustained team success late in his career as a role player, but he also made the finals twice in his first two NBA seasons as a member of the New Jersey Nets. He was a key contributor to both of those Nets teams, though his true peak began as the Nets started to falter.
In addition to his athletic slashing game and solid playmaking chops, Jefferson was an excellent defender, able to lock down his man and switch up and down the positional spectrum.
Best All-Star case: 2005
The 2005 Eastern Conference All-Star race become somewhat tougher in 2005 as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both entered their second seasons. That said, Jefferson’s season was All-Star worthy.
Playing in his fourth campaign, Jefferson produced 22.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, four assists, a steal and half a block. He only played 33 games in that season, however, with a wrist injury cutting his season short in January.
Even taking the injury into account, Jefferson was looking like he would struggle to gain an All-Star nod. He didn’t even make the top 10 in fan voting for his position, falling behind Antawn Jamison (who eventually played in the game, perhaps in Jefferson’s place), Emeka Okafor, Drew Gooden and Tayshaun Prince! Seriously….
In a sense, Cedric ‘Cornbread’ Maxwell was the right man in the right place at the right time. He was a key contributor to a pair of championship winning Boston Celtics teams, securing the Finals MVP in 1981.
The flip side to that particular coin is that Maxwell understood very quickly that he wasn’t quite as good as the youngster that Boston brought in to play his position: one Larry Joe Bird. Maxwell rightly subjugated his game in service of Bird and the array of front court stars that graced Boston Garden in the first half of the 1980’s.
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