Commentary

PER Diem: Jan. 29, 2009

Breaking down the snubs for the rookie-sophomore game.

Updated: January 29, 2009, 2:17 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Kevin LoveAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesUnfortunately, fans won't get to see Kevin Love's boardwork in the rookie-soph game.
We complain a lot about who was and wasn't picked for the All-Star Game each year, and later Thursday we'll have an opportunity to do more of the same when the league announces the reserves for the Feb. 15 fiesta in Phoenix.

But here's one thing we can all agree on: It can't possibly get as bad as the picks for the Rookie Challenge -- excuse me, the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam -- which each year produces a few gut-busters.

Those two nine-man squads, one for the rookies and one for the sophomores, meet the Friday of All-Star Weekend and are chosen by the league's assistant coaches. This year's rosters were announced Wednesday and once again, we had some questionable calls.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don't get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he'd be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he's looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon's 32.2.

As bad as that decision was, the real stunners are on the sophomore roster. The sophs have won this game the past six years, but I suspect the rookie team might win this time around for two reasons. First, this is as deep a rookie class as we've seen in some time, with eight players on the rookie squad owning a PER above the league average.

Second, a lot of the best sophs won't be there. Somehow the league adopted the de facto standard that playing a lot is more important than playing well when it comes to being selected for this game, which was a factor in the Gordon pick for the rookie side and a major factor in messing up the sophs' roster.

Because of that, we'll have the Human Goaltend Violation, Al Thornton of the Clippers, playing in the game instead of Houston's Carl Landry, and we'll have New York's Wilson Chandler instead of Toronto's Jamario Moon.

At root, this is a basic failure to look beyond per-game averages. Both Chandler (13.8) and Thornton (17.2) have high scoring averages because they play a lot of minutes and take a fair number of shots. But they aren't good offensive players. The two rank 56th and 57th, respectively, in true shooting percentage among small forwards, and both are well below the median for their position in assist ratio as well -- particularly Thornton, who averages a measly 1.5 dimes per 40 minutes.

Landry and Moon haven't played nearly as often, but they have played far more effectively. Landry, in particular, is a stunning exclusion. I've written many times already about his impressive per-minute numbers the past two seasons, but suffice to say that he ranks right between Josh Smith and David West in PER, and that his numbers are actually down from what he did as a rookie.

But I've saved the best for last. Somehow, some way, we ended up with Aaron Brooks on the team instead of Ramon Sessions, a decision that gets you wondering if these coaches were watching any games the past two years.

Brooks has played both less often and less effectively than Sessions this season, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who saw Sessions' inspired play at the end of last season. Sessions' current 16.75 PER ranks him right between Jason Kidd and T.J. Ford; Brooks' 12.58 mark has him hanging out with Will Solomon and Beno Udrih.

If you don't trust PER, here are a few more basic stats: Sessions shoots .439 to Brooks' .392, averages more points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes, and has played nearly twice as many minutes.

It's not that there are a few reasons for picking Sessions and a few for Brooks; every possible indicator you'd want to use says to pick Sessions, even if you go by the twisted standards of previous rookie-game selections.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.