The NBA has taken one step forward and half a step back (not the Harden kind). They have given the award ballots a greater degree of positional flexibility, an absolute must to meet the increasingly positionless play of modern basketball. But then, seemingly arbitrarily, the league has ruled that ballots must be submitted before the resumption of the season.
This means that now comes the wave of articles, podcasts, punditry points and tweets, revealing what anyone and everyone’s award picks are. And you’d better believe that I, a voteless, largely audienceless, armchair NBA nerd am going to ride that content wave! Starting with my All-NBA Teams:
All-NBA First Team:
Guards: LeBron James – LA Lakers; James Harden – Houston Rockets
Forwards: Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks; Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers
Centre: Anthony Davis – LA Lakers
All-NBA Second Team
Guards: Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers; Luka Dončić – Dallas Mavericks
Forwards: Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks; Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors
Centre: Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
All-NBA Third Team
Guards: Chris Paul – Oklahoma City Thunder; Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
Forwards: Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat; Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics
Centre: Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
No surprises on that first team, Kawhi, LeBron and Giannis represent the three best players in the world, Harden is the best pure scorer. Davis, despite viewing himself as a power-forward, is the best big man in the league this year. Davis’ position as first team centre is possible thanks to the aforementioned greater positional flexibility, as does LeBron’s guard placement but, King James would have made it regardless.
From within the others teams, I’d say that Damian Lillard and Luka Dončić were a whisper away from making the first team. If left to my own devises I would fill every first team roster spot with Lillard, my favourite player and man crush. That said, this clutch-time assassin has been an absolute flame thrower this year putting up an MVP level 29pts, 7.8ast, 4.3rb and 40% from three, dragging the injury ravaged Trailblazers to a 29-37 record in the tougher western conference and into the Orlando bubble for a shot at the playoffs. But, simply enough, he doesn’t have enough wins to get himself onto the first team.
Luka has had, statistically a pretty similar season to Lillard and from a second year player that is INSANE. The wonder boy has, for much of the season, been the Maverick’s de facto point guard, leading the team to a 7th seed 40-27 and the fulcrum of the best offensive line-up in NBA history(!?!). The problem comes that in the second half of the season, the Mavericks were very mediocre after their meteoric start. Some would reasonably put Kawhi behind Luka but, I gave the Klaw the edge because he’s still an almost unrivalled defensive force on the wing and I think that Kawhi is the best player in the world right now. Although Luka hasn’t made the first team this year, I am certain that he will make many of them in the future and he still has had one of the greatest sophomore seasons in NBA history.
The remaining guards and centres outside of the first team are pretty much given:
- Ben Simmons has been an absolute beast on defence, able to guard all five positions very effectively, and though still not shooting outside of a few feet from the basket, he put up a nice 16.7pts, 7.8ast and 8.2rb. A clear winning player for the solid 6th seeded 76ers.
- Chris Paul has been incredible this year, leading the Thunder to a 5th seed spot in the west, he has been a stud on D, re-weaponised the midrange jumper as an efficient shot and is by far the best clutch player in the league this year (in the last five minutes of games he’s shooting a truly absurd 53.4%).
- Jokic has been as great as ever, steadily improving his case as the best passing big man of all time with 6.9ast and a nice 20pts and 10.2rb. He also shot a little better from the floor, but most of all he led his Denver Nuggets to a western 3rd seed and improved defensively. One of the most fun players in the league to watch.
- The Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, has continued to, well… stifle opposing offences. His generationally great defence has not diminished leading the Utah Jazz to a solid tied-7th ranked defence. Also, an underated offensive player, he facilitates solidly for his position, averaged 15.1pts on 70%FG this year and his screening ability is essential to the Jazz’s offence (posting 65.7% scoring frequency as the pick and roll roll man). This seemingly omnipresent defensive player of the year candidate is deserving of an All-NBA spot.
My selections for the second and third all-NBA team will be explained and analysed in my next article.