By Jean-Paul Salamanca ( | First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 12:35 PM EST

Jeremy Lin, far left, has had a worse year than the Clippers' Chris Paul, center, but still finished a close second behind him in the NBA All-Star Game starting lineup voting. And Kevin Garnett, far right, made the starting lineup for the game despite his slumping stats. Is the NBA All-Star Game fan voting system punishing deserving players? (Photo : Reuters)

Despite being statistically far apart, Jeremy Lin and Chris Paul were neck-and-neck in the weeks leading to the announcement of the NBA's All-Star Game starting lineups.

In the end, Paul edged Lin by a mere 45,000-plus vote tally to earn the right to represent the Western Conference in the starting lineup for the NBA All-Star Game in Houston on Feb. 17.

But should the voting have been that close? Not according to TNT basketball analyst and former NBA great Charles Barkley.

While discussion on Lin was largely avoided, when the mention of how close the voting was between Lin and Paul, Barkley was heard scoffing in disbelief how close the voting between the two became in the end, saying, "45,000?"

Barkley wasn't the only one, with several NBA analysts and fans favoring Paul to start for the West, arguing that Lin's up-and-down statistical year didn't deserve to be rewarded with an All-Star start.

Paul, averaging 16.8 points and second in the league in assists and first in steals, is an MVP candidate at this point and has been the key player in leading the once-laughable Clippers to a 31-9 record, second best in the NBA. Lin, meanwhile, has been inconsistent on offense this season, averaging only 12.3 points and being largely overshadowed by James Harden on Houston's offense.

In fact, Lin himself this week admitted that he didn't deserve to play in the All-Star Game.

The argument on fan voting really became highlighted when Kevin Garnett, whose numbers have been well off his career averages this year, won the voting to start at center for the Eastern Conference over players with better numbers such as New York's Tyson Chandler and Miami's Chris Bosh.

Based on the closeness of those votes, the panel on Thursday, containing NBA great Shaquille O'Neal and former NBA player Kenny Smith, raised the question of whether the fan voting actually punished better, but less popular players that deserved to play in the All-Star Game.

Barkley said it did, pointing out that Garnett's down numbers, coupled with the fact that he is on a Celtics team that has struggled most of the season, didn't warrant Garnett an All-Star Game spot.

"It's not fair to Tyson Chandler," Barkley said.

Barkley argued that better players such as Chandler and Memphis's Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol--all of whom play for title contending teams--deserved to be rewarded for their value to their teams and their all-around play this season.

Chandler, last season's Defensive Player of the Year, leads the NBA in field goal percentage and has helped turn the Knicks around on defense. Randolph, averaging 16.4 points and 11.6 rebounds, has been one of the most important pieces on a Memphis franchise that is 24-13 and boasts one of the toughest defenses in the NBA.

 However, Barkley implies, the fans pay less attention to who is playing better and instead reward who they like the best, regardless of whether they deserve an All-Star nod or not.

"That fans don't care," he said during the TNT telecast. "They're going to vote for the players they want to [see play.]"

O'Neal, who agreed that Chandler should have been an All-Star starter, said that fan voting was a key part of the game, but noted that fans tended to reward players who they liked more than players who truly deserved it.

Case in point? When Yao Ming was elected to start in the All-Star Game in 2003 over O'Neal, despite Shaq averaging 27.3 points that season for the Lakers while Yao totaled only 13.5 points for that season.

"You know that [Yao] was never a better player than me," O'Neal said.

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