Sports Reference Blog

Who Had the Best All-Star Game Ever?

Posted by Jonah Gardner on February 11, 2016

The 2016 NBA All-Star Game is coming up this weekend in Toronto and whether you're looking forward to Kobe's final All-Star start, want to see Steph and Kawhi play on the same team, or just happen to be a really big Sting fan, there's plenty to watch for this year. But this post is about the stars of All-Star Games past.

Basketball is very good at quantifying performances along a particular statistic--points, rebounds, or assists. It's relatively easy to find all-time All-Star Game records, including most points (Wilt's 42 in 1962), rebounds (Bob Pettit's 27 in 1962), and assists (Magic's 22 in 1984). However, tying it all together into a single metric is more challenging.

Fortunately, we do have a way to quantify that. Well, more specifically, John Hollinger (VP of Basketball Ops for the Grizzlies) has a way to quantify it. Hollinger created game score, a rough measure of a player's overall production in a single game. Here's the formula for how it's calculated, if you're curious:

Points + 0.4 * Field Goals - 0.7 * Field Goals Attempted - 0.4 * (Free Throws Attempted - Free Throws) + 0.7 * Offensive Rebounds + 0.3 * Defensive Rebounds + Steals + 0.7 * Assists + 0.7 * Blocks - 0.4 * Personal Fouls - Turnovers

If you don't care what's under the hood, what matters is that game score roughly correlates to points scored in its range. A game score of 10 is average, 20+ is good, while 40+ is an outstanding game. For regular season and playoff games, we have game scores going back to 1983; the highest in the Basketball-Reference database is Michael Jordan's 64.6 vs the Cavaliers in 1990.

All-Star game scores aren't listed in the box scores, but we have all the data needed to calculate them going back to 1978 (so, unfortunately, we can't get a game score for Wilt's 1962 performance, which, with 42 points and 24 rebounds, would almost certainly be the best). In the last forty or so years of the All-Star Game, here are the five best performances:

5. Kobe Bryant, 2011 NBA All-Star Game. Game Score: 32.5

We start with the man of the hour. This was Kobe's best All-Star Game performance, a monster 37-point, 14-rebound night at the Staples Center. Not only was this the most shots Kobe took in an All-Star Game, it was also his third best shooting percentage in an All-Star Game. To give you a point of reference, Kobe's 32.5 in this game is the same game score that LeBron put up in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals.

Oh, and NBA conspiracy buffs should watch the halftime interview with Craig Sager, where he mentions Kobe seemed to have some kind of weird moment with D-Wade before the game started, an odd foreshadowing of what would go down the following year at the 2012 All-Star Game.

While we're on the topic of players who may be retiring, this could be Tim Duncan's final season as well. While Duncan didn't have a performance that made the list, he did come close in the 2000 All-Star Game. Timmy was a characteristically efficient 12-14 for 24 points and chipped in 14 boards, for a game score of 27.3.

If last year was his final All-Star appearance, he'll be tied with Kobe for second most All-Star Games and lead in career All-Star defensive rebounds.

4. Kevin Garnett, 2003 NBA All-Star Game. Game Score: 32.7

KG was the best player in this double-OT thriller, which also produced a Duncan double-double, an almost game-winning last-second shot from MJ, and a 35-point night from The Answer. Garnett had nine boards, five steals, three assists, and a block to go along with 37 points on an extremely efficient 17-24 from the field. This game was also the last time an All-Star Game has gone to OT and the only time one has gone to double OT.

3. Kevin Durant, 2014 NBA All-Star Game. Game Score: 33.1

Durant is the only person on this list who lost and, therefore, didn't get the All-Star Game MVP award. As deserving an MVP as Kyrie Irving was (his game score of 33.1 is the eighth best ever in an All-Star Game), KD was better. He had 38 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, but what game score really likes is that he only had one turnover and no fouls, as opposed to five and four for Kyrie. Of course, it's tough to feel too bad for KD since he would win the NBA MVP award just a couple of months later.

Durant also took 17 three-pointers in this game, which is still the record for most in an All-Star Game. However, given that Steph and Kobe are starting this year, and the latter already has a 17-3PA game this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that record fall.

2. Russell Westbrook, 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Game Score: 33.2

Westbrook had the 2nd best All-Star Game of the last 37 years, and he didn't even start the game. Russ scored 41, shot over 50% from the field and from downtown, and chipped in five rebounds and three steals. Since 1983, there's only been 18 games where a player scored 41 or more off the bench, and only nine of those had a higher game score than Westbrook's. His 27 points at halftime are the best in an All-Star game and his total is just one short of Wilt's ASG record.

1. Michael Jordan, 1988 NBA All-Star Game. Game Score: 39.2

Like you were expecting anyone else. Jordan went 17-23, put up the third highest point total ever in an All-Star Game, and chipped in eight rebounds, four steals, four blocks, and three assists. The six-point gap between MJ and Russ in game score is larger than the gap between Westbrook and the 10th-best game score on the list, KD's night in the 2012 All-Star Game.

The most recent 39.2 game? Steph's 51-pointer against Dallas last season, which was the best game of his MVP campaign and sixth best of his career.

Where would this game stack up for Jordan in his career? Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of MJ yawning with boredom. Here's the list of players who had more than 10 games with a score of 39.2 or better, since 1983:

 

Rk Player Pos From To Count
1 Michael Jordan* G 1985 1997 65
2 LeBron James F 2005 2014 25
3 Larry Bird* F 1984 1992 18
4 Kobe Bryant G 2001 2013 18
5 Shaquille O'Neal C 1993 2009 17
6 Hakeem Olajuwon* C 1986 1996 16
7 Charles Barkley* F 1988 1998 15
8 David Robinson* C 1990 1996 14
9 Clyde Drexler* G 1985 1995 11
10 Patrick Ewing* C 1987 1995 10
11 Allen Iverson G 2001 2007 10
12 Karl Malone* F 1990 2000 10
13 Dominique Wilkins* F 1986 1991 10
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2016.

 

That's right; when the games mattered, Jordan had more 39.2+ game score games than LeBron, Kobe, and Shaq combined. To top that game score on Sunday, Kobe would have to have his best game since 2013.

3 Responses to “Who Had the Best All-Star Game Ever?”

  1. Everything You Need to Know About NBA All-Star Weekend » Sports Reference » Blog Archive Says:

    […] Posted by Jonah Gardner on February 12, 2016 « Who Had the Best All-Star Game Ever? […]

  2. Ryan Van Dusen Says:

    In case you guys were looking for a legit Kevin Garnett mix from the 2003 All-Star Game, with actual commentary and a music-based compilation and whatnot (with a slight quality upgrade): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPOaQdPKE6U

    Otherwise, nice list, gents.

  3. Jonah Gardner Says:

    Thanks Ryan! I'll add it in