Much has been made of the NBA's decision to eliminate the center position from the All-Star ballot. But while the All-Star Game is nothing more than an exhibition, this change signifies a greater transformation in the game.
The NBA is now a guard-driven league, with the majority of teams relying on backcourt talent.
Eleven of the 24 players on the two All-Star rosters play one of the two guard positions, and plenty of deserving players (such as the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic, Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley and Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry) were left off simply because there was not enough room.
SUPERSTARS: Ex-ref says they get right calls
BIG MAN: Jefferson carrying upstart Bobcats
Over the past six seasons, teams have become slightly more reliant on assists for their made field goals, which speaks to the effects of the influx of point guard talent in the NBA.
Based on the league averages provided by Basketball-Reference.com, 58.0% of teams' made field goals this season have been assisted. Last year, that number was 59.6%. The past two years represented a small increase from the previous four: Teams assisted on 57.5% of field goals in 2011-12, 57.7% in 2010-11, 56.4% in 2009-10 and 56.5% in 2008-09.
The new wave of analytic-based front offices have placed a greater emphasis on spacing and ball movement, leading teams to target facilitators and perimeter shooters above elite inside players.
The past several seasons have seen successful teams build offenses around shooters. The Orlando Magic made the Finals in 2009 by surrounding center Dwight Howard with shooters such as J.J. Redick and Rashard Lewis. The Miami Heat have won the past two NBA championships by putting small forward LeBron James in a similar role, featuring him more in the paint with the option of passing out to Shane Battier or Ray Allen. Even the Heat's de facto center, Chris Bosh, is a converted power forward.
GALLERY: Eastern Conference All-Stars
More of the top-level incoming talent in the last half-decade has been in the backcourt. The five NBA drafts from 2008 to 2012 have produced 15 players that have made at least one All-Star team, and nine of them are backcourt players.
Four of the past five winners of the NBA Rookie of the Year Award have been guards, and the favorites to win the award this season (the Philadelphia 76ers' Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo and Utah Jazz's Trey Burke) are as well.
The All-Star rosters bear out this glut of guard talent in the NBA. In addition to Conley, Dragic and Lowry, the Indiana Pacers' Lance Stephenson and the Atlanta Hawks' Jeff Teague are in the middle of All-Star-caliber seasons. And spots for the several players that did make it were likely only opened up because of the injuries to the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose and Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo.
Even the most effective frontcourt players are succeeding in part because they adopt the tendencies of point guards, taking on more playmaking responsibilities. The two leading MVP candidates, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, are essentially unguardable because they are threats to pass as well as to score. With Rose out the last two seasons, the Chicago Bulls have increasingly run their offense through center Joakim Noah. Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin has also greatly improved his passing in his four years in the NBA.
The new All-Star roster composition rules adopted in 2012 squeeze out centers as a defined position, but in giving more spotlight to backcourt players, they reflect the changing nature of the NBA game.
GALLERY: Western Conference All-Stars