This is the second part of an article on the All-NBA Team Selections. Read the first part here.
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.
Of the second and third team forwards, I wouldn’t be offended if any of them were interchanged, they’ve all had brilliant seasons. Pascal Siakam, AKA Spicy P, has been equally as revelatory this year as he was last year and could well win consecutive Most Improved Player awards. After losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Siakam took the mantle of Toronto’s best player swiftly with his running mate, Kyle Lowry. He more than doubled his three-point attempts (remaining efficient), still causes chaos for opposition offense when on D and increased in everyone of the traditional raw stats. Most of all, he led the charge to a 2nd in the East 46-18 record; proving that the Raptors needn’t blow up their team and begin the rebuilding process after the all-round fun guy (definitely not a cyborg sent to dominate the basketball world) and 2019’s Finals MVP left in the off-season. The Raps are scary in the playoffs, even without Drake on the sideline, and Siakam is a prominent reason for that.
Hugely overshadowed by Giannis Antetokounmpo, his teammate and the consensus pick for MVP, Khris Middleton had a sneaky great season with Bucks. The case for Khris is simple, he is the second best player on the best regular season team in the league (53-12). Delivering a solid 21.1pts, 4.1ast and 6.2rb, but he, most impressively, did this while being 0.1% away from the legendary 50/40/90 club (50%FG, 40% 3ptFG, 90%FT), with 49.9%FG, 41.8% from three and 90.8% from the freethrow line. Middleton wasn’t great enough to earn the Bucks that double first team spot, like Anthony Davis and King James did for the Lakers, but he is the league’s most underrated player and is deserving of an All-NBA spot.
A main reason I chose to have Jayson Tatum or Bam Adebayo in the second team spots is simply because Middleton and Spicy P won more games. Nevertheless, Tatum may not be “only nineteen” anymore, after a shaky first couple months to the season, but into February his form rocketed. Vicious pull-up threes became a regularity, shooting 48.1% from three in that month, and serpentine drives to the bucket came as an accompaniment. He has since returned from the stratosphere but, he’s still been great for the Boston Celtics (East 3rd seed) and developed into one of the NBA’s premier wing defenders. Another candidate for Most Improved Player, Bam Adebayo, building his resume as an All-NBA defender and has soared to become an offensive centrepiece for the Miami Heat. Immensely strong and quick, Adebayo is one of the league’s most versatile defenders, able to switch 1 to 5 and doing so extremely effectively, holding players he guards to 0.78 points per play. He might not be the rim protector that Davis, Gobert or Brook Lopez is, but they are all far taller. Bam has emerged as a great passer for his position (5.1ast) and thus, his ability to initiate and generate the Heat’s offence has made him the team’s most important player. With an effective field goal percentage of 56.8% Bam has also put up a nice 16.2pts, and although he’s not a three-point shooter. Miami aren’t short of them. Adebayo is a sure fire All-NBA player and extremely fun to watch, especially as he tears it up on defence.
Lastly, my toughest snubs deserve mentioning, which happily fit into one per positional group. The player I was most pained to not put in was the Toronto Raptors’ bulldog, Kyle Lowry, at guard. Lowry put up seemingly pedestrian numbers for all-NBA (19.7pts, 7.7ast, 4.8rb), but the defending champion’s point guard is the definition of a winning player, evident in the Raptors’ 46-18 record (2nd the in the East). He’s a verifiable brick-s***house at 6’0, who’s still a pest on defence, a non-stop hustler, an unselfish smart leader—basically, he does all the things that promote winning.
The missing forward is Jimmy Butler, who has been a perfect fit in Miami’s culture; whilst he has been great this season, he has lost a step or half-step. Averaging on 25% from three, his effective field-goal percentage has dropped a little and is now more reliant on the free-throw line than his finishing ability as his athleticism diminishes. Ultimately these are nit-picks, yet it’s the nits that make the difference at this level and being pals with Marky Mark can only get you so far.
Finally, the MVP of NBA trolling and mainstay of Andre Drummond’s nightmares, we have Joel Embiid. The 76ers’ centre is an interesting case, on some nights he seems to be the best player in the world, reaching Shaq levels of domination, but on others he appears disinterested. He has improved his 3pt shot from 30%-35%, but from 2pt he is only shooting 51%, when he should be an absolute beast in the paint. Teams are far more content with him shooting from outside than him putting them in the torture chamber that is him in the post. Furthermore, though it is a tired adage that “the best ability is availability,” it does hold some water when the person ahead; Utah’s Gobert has played 18 more games and for 813 more minutes. Also, the Utah fans are too crazy to cross.
Speaking of which, Russell Westbrook fans: No, he cannot be an All-NBA selection after being an active negative to the Rockets for the first 3 months of the season. Sorry…