A week ago, when Zaza Pachulia popped up second among Western Conference frontcourt players in the initial fan-balloting returns to determine starters for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, it looked like another round of Internet goofing off.
Last winter, Pachulia nearly snagged a starting spot courtesy of some ballot-box stuffing, whether by legit fans of the veteran center from his native Republic of Georgia or by folks messing with the NBA’s rather open system.
Then the second returns were released Thursday. And there Pachulia was again – his hold on second place increasing.
Pachulia’s latest total of 823,476 votes is 192,610 more than San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, in third place with 630,766. That’s almost double the lead of 98,435 votes Pachulia had over Leonard a week ago.
None of the players in the top 10 among West frontcourt players had changed position from last week. But Pachulia’s vote total had increased by 87.3 percent over Week 1. And that ranked fourth in terms of acceleration, behind only No. 5 Draymond Green’s 96.5 percent, No. 8 LaMarcus Aldridge’s 89.5 percent and No. 6 DeMarcus Cousin’s 87.4 percent.
Fan balloting concludes on Monday at 11;59 p.m. ET. The All-Star starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 19, with the game itself set for New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on Sunday, Feb. 19. The seven backup spots on each All-Star roster will be selected, as in the past, by the conference coaches.
No one seems too worried this time about Pachulia – who is averaging 5.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18.4 minutes – taking a starting spot away from a more deserving West center or forward. Last year, the 11-year journeyman finished fourth, just 14,227 votes behind Leonard. But this year, the NBA broadened its process for selecting starters to include players and selected media members.
Fan voting will account for 50 percent of the final weighted results, with the players and media each representing 25 percent. Fan voting will be used for tiebreakers, but Pachulia basically would have to finish high in two or all three constituencies to bump out a more deserving candidate.
Even Pachulia toyed with the situation in a recent sideline interview with NBA TV’s Dennis Scott. Asked if he thought he was an All-Star, Pachulia shifted the conversation to his Golden State team, which might send Green, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all to New Orleans.
“I’m an All-Star because I’m pretty sure my teammates that I’m playing with in the starting lineup, all four of them are going to be All-Stars,” Pachulia said, smiling. “[So] I’m playing in an All-Star Game anyway, right?”
Keep in mind, Pachulia is an affable fellow popular with teammates, opponents and reporters who cover the league. Given the, er, playfulness demonstrated in social media by the 30 teams in encouraging fans to vote early and often, it’s conceivable some players or media people might pick up on that tone and cast a ballot for Zaza.
There’s always this sort of thing as well, avid, faraway support that can impact vote totals, if not tilt the starting lineups: