They changed some stuff around the voting for the All-NBA teams this season. Nothing drastic just a few words in the new collective bargaining agreement about contract bonuses and huge extensions that can be unlocked with All-NBA selections. Big responsibility there on the select few scribes that have official ballots, you don’t wanna be the bloke who costs some guy tens of millions of bucks all of a sudden – hence why they stopped letting team broadcasters vote on awards. But I’m not one of those lucky jokers so I don’t really care about that.
The Most Valuable Player thing deserves to go down to the very last moment of the regular season. Russell Westbrook versus James Harden. Some still hold out hope for LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, very reasonably too, but those votes are probably gonna fall by the wayside as the two frontrunners drive the hype. Right now it feels like Russ’ late-game heroics and historical numbers have swung it in his favour but if you don’t think James Harden has one last opponent assassination in him then sit down, son. Be humble.
The All-NBA teams though, they’re ripe for the picking already so let’s go right on ahead with this. The usual disclaimers: it’s all Wildcard opinion, no strict parameters, based entirely on the loose-outlined concept of ‘best’. As in the best players in each position. Feel free to argue furiously.
FIRST TEAM ALL-NBA
G – Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
G – James Harden (Houston Rockets)
F – Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
F – LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
C – Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
One through four kinda speaks for itself, right? The top MVP candidates, all four of them. If they deserve recognition as potentially the most valuable players in the league then they oughta be on the first team here as well. It only makes sense.
Russell Westbrook made the first team for the first time last season. He’s been so much better this time around as he nurses a monstrous usage rate: he’s leading the league in scoring and is second in assists. He averages a triple double - the whole season and his average game is ten-for in three different categories! A point guard who’s top ten in rebounding!
But the stats only tell part of the story. The real measure of Russell Westbrook, 2016-17, is the absolute whirlwind of his performances each and every game. It’s seeing him launch above everyone else to gather in the rebound under his own basket and then sprint the length of the court to demolish the slam dunk. It’s seeing him completely take over a game late on, overhauling huge deficits with pull-ups and threes and blitzing layups and endless free throws. He’s incredible.
Equally incredible is what James Harden is doing. Probably heading towards a career-high in points per game, his three point shooting is down but his assist rate has absolutely soared under the coaching of Mike D’Antoni. Harden’s running the show for Houston, he’s in great shape and his passing has never been better. With a team now officially built around his particular talents he’s finally unleashed his full potential. We didn’t even realise he could get better but oh were we wrong. The third seed’s all wrapped up for Houston. James Harden is a first teamer.
As for LeBron James, who should be third in the MVP voting, he’s carried the Cavaliers as always. Injuries to teammates and the odd crisis (like always) haven’t stopped them and the reason is LBJ. This’ll be his tenth straight year in the first team. People complain about him resting but he’s still gonna play something close to the fifth most minutes of any player this season. Westbrook’s averaging a triple double? LeBron is putting up 26.4p/8.6r/8.7a. It’s not far off and LeBron, unlike Westbrook and Harden, is not only happy to defer to teammates but he’ll actively help them take control. He makes his teammates better. He is still the best.
Then we have Kawhi Leonard who is the consensus best defender in the NBA (although he won’t win that award this time). No dramas, he’s only averaging close to 26 points every game to go with that shut down defence too. The best player on a Spurs team that’s won over 60 games again and the NBA’s quietest superstar - but he’s definitely a superstar. Upping those assists as well. In fact there’s nothing that he doesn’t do well, he’s the most complete player in the NBA, and that wicked defence has stayed sharp despite big offensive leaps.
Argh but who to pick for the fifth spot!? Let’s start by eliminating a few folks. Nope, Hassan Whiteside may have averaged almost 17 points and a league leading 14.1 rebounds per game but he’s not making any of these three teams. Cool to see him doing okay since assuming the franchise status in Miami but I also kind of expected more. Anyway when there are centres who are roughly as good as him off the ball and much better scorers then he’s sliding down the list. In that same regard, don’t even get me started on Andre Drummond, dammit.
DeAndre Jordan is an interesting one though. Shot at 71.3% and averaged 12.6p/13.7r. He’s a role player within the Clippers organisation (hey, he had his chance and he back-flipped) but mate does he do that role well. Probably dipped defensively this season and his lack of offensive range does make him a complicated case… especially compared to Rudy Gobert.
The French Rejection has emerged as a star for Utah, finally and fully. Arguably the Defensive Player of the Year (although I’d give it to Draymond Green, tbh) and a player you genuinely fear to play against. Nobody guards the rim better. Add in 14 points and some brick wall screening and he’s becoming more and more of an offensive presences as well. He and Gordon Hayward are taking this team to the playoffs too and he’ll go head to head with DeAndre in round one, which’ll put this pick into some debate.
Nikola Jokic doesn’t make the cut. Despite enormous steps that he’s taken in his second season, most of that came after the All Star break. Since then he’s been for sure among the candidates for this place but this is an entire season deal here and the Nuggets missing the playoffs probably ended his chances – meh, he’ll be there next season if he keeps up his post-ASG efforts of 17.6p/11.6r/6.1a every… damn… game! That’s something else, alright.
Karl-Anthony Towns also misses out because his team weren’t that good and winning matters. Bloke averaged 25 and 12 shooting 36% from deep and dished the ball around nicely, a massive lot for a 21 year old player. Not quite enough is all. As much as I wanna get Marc Gasol in there too, who shot close to 39% from triple range despite barely having hit a tres in his career before this season and also averaged 19.6p/6.2r/4.6a… but yeah. There were better candidates.
Rudy Gobert is winning at this stage. But ‘this stage’ means before I’ve gotten around to introducing ol’ Fire and Ice. The Pelican Bros. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Brow is pretty much a power forward and he always has been, but until Cousins came to town he was playing way more at centre – he had to for the sake of that depthless team. Opening night he scored 50 points with 16 boards and they lost. You know what though? Even with the Pelicans missing the playoffs this was yet another brilliant Davis campaign. 28 points adds up to fourth in the NBA and his 11.8 boards were seventh. The only other player to average more than two assists and blocks was Joel Embiid and he only played 31 games and on a minutes restriction too. Remarkably low foul rate too for a guy with that many blocks. He’s so freakin’ good.
As for Cousins, he also had a 50 point game and was generally enormous in all aspects until being traded to the Pelicans. 27p/11r along with four and a half assists. Don’t sleep on how good Boogie was even in a year he got traded in. Gotta be honest and say the technical don’t help him, the fouling out doesn’t help him. Don’t care about the body language and all that because that’s not what this stuff is about however it does drop him down the ranks.
So… bugger it. In goes Anthony Davis. Good as Rudy Gobert has been, he wouldn’t really fit alongside the other four amigos in my first team like Davis does, which means the fortuitous circumstances that make him eligible for centre are a big relief. Feels slightly like I’m cheating but it’s all for the greater good. Hooray.
SECOND TEAM ALL-NBA
G – Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors)
G – John Wall (Washington Wizards)
F – Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)
F – Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
C – Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
How about them Bucks? Strolling back into the playoffs under Jason Kidd but the real star has been The Greek Freak. Giannis Antetokounmpo has made such huge strides this season – almost as long as his literal strides as he glides from hoop to hoop in like four steps. He’s a candidate for Most Improved and an outside candidate for MVP so you know he’s done good. Giannis is ridiculously long but he’s also got these monster skills and he’s another of those rare dudes who can play anywhere and do anything – he led the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He makes dunking look so easy… for him. He makes it look impossible for every other mere mortal.
You know something the hell’s gone wrong when the winningest team in the NBA doesn’t even get a representative in the first team here. Apologies to the Golden State Warriors, but your best dude dropped outta the reckoning when he got injured and that was Kevin Durant. But given I held him third in the MVP ranks (eh, maybe fourth…) when he went down he’s clearly still done enough to make the seconds. KD joined a team that had just broken the record for wins in a season… and he almost immediately became their best player. That had a slight effect on Steph & Klay (only so many shots to go around) however the eyes don’t lie and Durant is such a perfect fit for this team. Do people even realise he’s shot 53.5% from the field!?
And that’s about where the non-contentious stuff ends. Who runs the point for the second team, for example? Steph Curry dropped off from his consecutive MVP form though he’s still been a stone cold killer with the ball in hand. John Wall has been the main man in the Wizards resurrection. Chris Paul doesn’t make mistakes. Kyle Lowry is as crucial to his team as anyone out there. And that’s ignoring the cases for Isaiah Thomas, Dame Lillard and of course the legendary future Hall of Famer that is Yogi Ferrell too. Love that guy.
Anyway, I went for Steph because voter fatigue be damned. His case suffers from the negative comparison to his last two campaigns but if you take this year in isolation, as you should, and compare it to the other guards out there then he’s still lighting it up. Still top ten in points per game, still shooting 41% from deep and making four triples every contest, still getting assists, still popping steals. Forget about whether he’s more effective when KD’s out, he’s getting 25 points every night all the same.
The standard of point guards these days makes the format where you pick two guards rather than a two-guard pretty handy. All due respect to the likes of Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan and a couple others but their efforts fall compared to one or two other fellows at the point. Specifically this came down to the trio of John Wall, Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas. Defensively Thomas is irrelevant compared to the other two but he also scores more. Chris Paul has the best shooting percentages but he missed several weeks through injury. John Wall is the best passer in the league yet can’t make a triple. Hmm.
THOMAS – 46.4% FG | 38.0% 3PT | 2.7 REB | 5.9 AST | 0.9 STL | 2.8 TO | 29.1 PTS
WALL – 45.1% FG | 32.7% 3PT | 4.2 REB | 10.7 AST | 2.1 STL | 4.1 TO | 23.1 PTS
PAUL – 47.6% FG | 40.7% 3PT | 5.0 REB | 9.2 AST | 1.9 STL | 2.4 TO | 18.1 PTS
Chris Paul has more top tier dudes to work with but Thomas and Wall have fuller squads from top to bottom. All three teams have had great seasons, the Clippers faltering a little with injuries, typically, though it looks like all three should make 50 wins – at least 49. With the Celtics looking like they might grab that top seed in the East, that’s a kicker given the fourth quarter points that Isaiah gives them in so many of their victories – remember that game he scored 29 in the fourth? But to be honest he’s kinda behind the other two even after all that. Don’t shoot me, Boston. Defence matters too and John Wall gets the nod coz he played more than CP3.
Aaaand Rudy is Rudy. His case is already on the table.
THIRD TEAM ALL-NBA
G – Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
G – DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
F – Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
F – Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
C – DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings/New Orleans Pelicans)
Starting with the backcourt, I guess that second team has sorta made the decision for me. Damian Lillard has had some scintillating nights but the Blazers also regressed for the first three quarters of this season and also he can be a lazy defender. Brilliant leader and an inspirational guy (he scored 59 the other day against Utah and gave the match ball to Joe Johnson from the opposition who scored his 20,000th point in the game). Just not one of the six best guards this season. Kyle Lowry as well, he’s essential to a 50-plus win Raptors team and has had a great shooting year, though injury cost him a quarter of his season and that matters too. His teammate DeMar DeRozan also scored 27 points a game which was fifth in the league (one ahead of Dame Lillard). Where the hell is he?
Actually, yeah, maybe he should get in here. A number of second men there had great seasons. Bradley Beal is one them, same with C.J. McCollum. Both of them scored 23 points a night with three point shooting over 40% (CJMcC’s was at 42%!) and then there’s Klay Thompson who one time this season scored 60 points in only three quarters of ball. Thommo and DeRozan were all-stars, the other two were not. This sucks for the perennially undervalued Klay Thompson (he won’t care) but if I had to split them – and I do – then DeMar gets the nod. The dude is crap from range but he’s an assassin from the mid-range and to be as effective as he is when everyone knows that is crazy. Playing from the two and he got to the line 8.6 times a game, shout out to you, bro.
With that I decided that Chris Paul played a few too few matches and DeRozan’s ability to keep the Raptors ticking over while Lowry was out gives him the nod there. Massive dramas, I know. And as much as I abhor those damn Celtics, I don’t really have a choice if I’m being consistent but to give Isaiah Thomas some love as a guy who also routinely cashes in on his favourite moves (in his case that cut to the left) and piles on clutch points in the process. Little bugger that he is.
For reference, DeAndre Jordan made the first team as centre (obvs) last season with remarkably similar numbers as he’s put up this time around, 12.6 points & 13.7 boards. The only real difference there is a drop by 0.6 in blocks and an increase in .10% on his field goal percentage. Also he’s upped his free throw shooting to 48.4%, all about them small triumphs. He’ll play about the same amount of minutes and has been the consistent guy on a Clippers team that’ll win around 50 games, playing for stretches without both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. But Boogie is better.
Finally, with all due respect to Jimmy Butler and the wonderful six to seven months he’s played for a Chicago Bulls team that really isn’t built to get the best out of him (Rondo + Wade = Collapsing Perimeter Spacing) but Paul George was every bit as handicapped by circumstance and he’s dragged his Pacers team into the postseason almost on his lonesome.
And that‘s that. A few other shout outs reserved for the likes of Kemba Walker, Harrison Barnes, Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Mike Conley, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker and Paul Millsap who have all otherwise been ignored. Guts to them.
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