PBT Extra: At All-Star break, Eric Gordon leads in close race for Sixth Man of Year

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Lou Williams with the Lakers. Greg Monroe with the Bucks. Patty Mills with the Spurs. And that’s just the first few.

There’s a lot of qualified candidates for Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA this season, but the Rockets’ Eric Gordon is starting to separate from the pack a little, something I talk about in this latest PBT Extra. He’s averaging 17.2 points a game, hitting 38.5 percent of his threes, staying healthy, and fitting in well with James Harden and the up-tempo Rockets.

But this race is one of the more wide open award races as we head into the final quarter of the season. The Thunder’s Enes Kanter would have been a serious candidate until his injury.

Video proof of defense in Rising Stars Challenge

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NEW ORLEANS — Contrary to Kurt’s claims, there was defense in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Spurs forward Jonathon Simmons provides the proof with this block.

Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry betting favorites to be All-Star Game MVP

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Predicting the NBA All-Star Game MVP is like predicting a roulette spin, it could land anywhere. Everyone in the game is talented and knows how to score, nobody plays any defense, so whoever wants it has the chance to go get it.

However, of course, there are betting odds.

And gamblers are leaning toward the obvious choices of Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry to win the All-Star Game MVP. Here are the latest odds for the top 10, via Bovada.lv.

Russell Westbrook (WEST) 7/2
Stephen Curry (WEST) 6/1
Anthony Davis (WEST) 13/2
Kevin Durant (WEST) 7/1
James Harden (WEST) 7/1
LeBron James (EAST) 7/1
Kyrie Irving (EAST) 15/2
Giannis Antetokounmpo (EAST) 11/1
Kawhi Leonard (WEST) 15/1
Isaiah Thomas (EAST) 15/1

Of course, we’re talking gambling, and you can bet on anything. Here are the odds for the Saturday night events:

Slam Dunk Contest
Aaron Gordon (ORL) 5/8
Derrick Jones Jr. (PHO) 5/4
DeAndre Jordan (LAC) 8/1
Glenn Robinson III (IND) 9/1

Three-Point Contest
Klay Thompson (GSW) 11/10
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 4/1
CJ McCollum (POR) 8/1
Eric Gordon (HOU) 9/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 9/1
Nick Young (LAL) 9/1
Wes Matthews (DAL) 11/1
Kemba Walker (CHA) 11/1

Skills Competition
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 2/1
John Wall (WAS) 9/4
Devin Booker (PHO) 4/1
Gordon Hayward (UTA) 8/1
Anthony Davis (NO) 10/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NY) 10/1
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) 15/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 15/1

Is NBA All-Star voting plagued by voter fraud? (Probably not, but bots are trying)

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs talks with head coach Gregg Popovich at AT&T Center on March 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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Kawhi Leonard was credited with 1,058,399 fan votes in All-Star voting. That, along with strong showing in the coach and media votes, has the Spurs forward starting Sunday’s game.

But did all those votes really come from human beings?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

Graphika sifted through more than 5 million tweets on behalf of ESPN and found all sorts of interesting things about NBA All-Star voting, including 10 hyperactive bot accounts voting for Leonard about 1,000 times per day, a figure that Kelly called “outrageously high.”

And of all the ways you could vote, Twitter, in particular, seemed to be hot for Leonard. For players such as Pachulia, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, a typical account that voted for them on Twitter did so about three times. For Leonard, the number was, per Graphika, 6.46, the highest in the league. More starkly, about 39 percent of the tweets attempting to cast for Leonard came from accounts created since Dec 1, 2016.

And those votes were coming from new accounts with names like @kawhibot.

“If your central question is, ‘Do these accounts look fishy?’ — the answer is unequivocally yes,” said Ron J. Williams, founder and managing partner of proofLabs, a Brooklyn-based strategy and product development studio. “It may be some combination of bots and human-controlled accounts, but it certainly looks like a coordinated effort to game Twitter’s trending algorithm.”

There is no sure way to know whether those efforts were successful in registering actual votes. The NBA screens out suspicious-looking votes, but won’t say exactly how.

NBA spokesperson Mike Bass would say only: “We examine for voting irregularities on a consistent basis and monitor for bots and other manipulations. We have measures to detect improper voting, and any votes that do not comply with our rules are voided.”

What’s certain is that someone was trying to get Leonard in the game. When we began to ask experts whom it might be, many suggested asking [Brad] Parscale. A former Spurs season-ticket holder, Parscale directed Trump’s digital efforts during the presidential campaign from a low-slung building along the 410 freeway in northern San Antonio. A Bloomberg report detailed his mastery of the emerging art of exercising digital influence. The technique focused on using more than 100 people to solidify the positions of likely Trump supporters — and sow doubt wherever influential groups of Clinton supporters gathered online.

When asked in January if he was behind the bots voting for Leonard, Parscale wrote in an email, “No, I didn’t even know Kawhi was up for the award. I have been very busy with getting Trump elected.”

Leonard became an All-Star starter by a 691,200-fan-vote margin. It seems practically impossible these bots got him in.

However, maybe the system is vulnerable in ways that could be exploited in future seasons?

I highly recommend reading Holmes’ full article for a sensationally deep dive into the issue.

 

Manu Ginobili with ridiculous no-look pass to Kawhi Leonard for dunk (VIDEO)

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Tuesday, we were rightfully praising LeBron James for maybe the best pass of the year, a no-look between Andrew Wiggins‘ legs for a Derrick Williams dunk.

Wednesday, Manu Ginobili reminded us all he’s the master of the no-look with a dish in transition to Kawhi Leonard for the dunk.

San Antonio picked up the win, 107-79, behind 23 from Kawhi Leonard.