There’s around 20 or so games left in the regular season, so it’s about time to look at who will earn one of the highest honors available at the end of the year. While All-Star selections reveal the top players in each conference a little over halfway through the season, All-NBA selections elect 15 players from the entire league and evaluates their body of work across an entire season.
All-NBA Teams By the Numbers
The fact that All-NBA teams are selected from the entirety of the NBA is significant because the teams have been heavily dominated by the Western Conference. In the last 10 years, there have been more players from the West on the All-NBA teams every single season. In fact, the closest the East came to owning the majority was when they occupied 7/15 slots in the 2012 season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan share the record for total All-NBA selections with 15 apiece. LeBron James will likely join them this year with his 15th All-NBA selection, and he owns the record for most 1st team selections with 12.
Given that the fan vote decided All-Star starters until the 2017 season, All-NBA selections are important to determine how dominant a player was compared to the rest of the league. While the All-Star game is for the fans, the All-NBA teams are truly for the players.
What Makes an All-NBA Player?
The main determinants for All-NBA selections are a player’s stats. However, while an All-Star puts up big numbers, an All-NBA player is typically able to make an impact on the magnitude of taking his team to the playoffs. In the last ten years, only one man has made an All-NBA team without making the playoffs: Kevin Love. K-Love managed this feat twice with the Timberwolves, first in the 2012 season, and again in the 2014 season.
This Season’s First Team All-NBA
In the first guard spot, James Harden is a hands down lock. On the year, he’s putting up a league leading 36.6 points to go along with 6.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists a night. He’s right in the midst of the MVP conversation, and he’ll without a doubt make first team All-NBA for the third straight year.
In the second guard spot, it looks like Stephen Curry will return to the first team for the first time since 2016. He’s third in the NBA in scoring, the Warriors are first in the West and he’s shooting 43.8% from deep on a ridiculous 11.8 attempts per game.
In the forward slots, there isn’t much debate to be had for the first team. Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo are entrenched in both the MVP and DPOY races, and will most certainly make the first team. Both are amazing two-way players, and their ability to put the ball in the basket, and put the clamps on their man on the other end. None of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James have a solid argument over either.
The main controversy on the first team is at the center slot. Right now, it’s a toss-up between either Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid. Jokic’s Nuggets are the second seed in the West, while Embiid’s 76ers are the fourth seed in the weaker East, so the Joker has the advantage there. Despite having the edge in points per game, Embiid is far less integral to the 76ers offense than Jokic is to the Nuggets. Jokic’s passing ability creates numerous open shots for the team, giving him the edge on offense as well. While Embiid is a far greater defender than Jokic, the Nugget’s standing and Jokic’s overall impact should land him the first team center spot.
This Season’s Second Team All-NBA
For the two guard spots, it’s a bit of a toss-up as there are several qualified players. All of Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker are having great seasons. Among these teams, however, the Trail Blazers and Thunder own the best records, and statistically, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook are likely the most qualified. For Lillard, he’s tenth in points per game and he’s led the Blazers to the fourth seed with a solid 38-24 record. For Westbrook, he’s averaging a triple double for the third straight season, which is frankly ridiculous. He’s also shown marked improvement as a leader and he’s shown that he can defer to his teammates in late game scenarios.
For the forward spots, Kevin Durant will most likely take the first slot. He’s 4th in scoring, the Warriors are first in the West, and save for George and Antetokounmpo, he’s been the best forward in the game this year. While Kawhi Leonard should get the second spot, it’s possible that LeBron James swipes it from him. This hinges on whether LeBron can drag the Lakers to the eighth seed, how many more games Kawhi sits out for “load management” and if the media gives James the bump. LeBron has never been a third-team player in
his career, but Kawhi is more deserving as his scoring is comparable to James, his defense is elite, and the Raptors are second in the East while the Lakers are tenth in the West.
For the second team, the slot should go to whichever of Jokic and Embiid doesn’t make the first team. As explained above, this will likely be Embiid. It could go either way and there likely wouldn’t be much argument, however at the moment Jokic seems more deserving of first team honors.
This Season’s Third Team All-NBA
For the final two guard spots, it will likely come down to two of Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker. All three have excellent resumes, however the one with the most to lose in these final 20 games is Kyrie Irving.
The Celtics significant lack of cohesion and recent poor performances when Irving plays vs. when he sits may leave a bad taste in the media’s mouths as they make their All-NBA selections. Irving’s stats are extremely similar to those of Walker, and despite the Celtics superior record to the Hornets, Irving has infinitely more help than Walker does. Voters may value the fact that Walker might drag this Hornets team to the playoffs, albeit with a sub .500 record. While Ben Simmons is less of a scorer than the other two, he’s a far greater distributor, rebounder and defender. His two way prowess and strong 76ers team may net him a third team slot. Regardless of who is ultimately selected, the odd man out will definitely feel snubbed, and justifiably so.
For the final forward spots, LeBron James will definitely claim one (unless he somehow manages second team, in which case Leonard will be here). For the second spot, it should be Blake Griffin. The Pistons aren’t the most popular team, nor is Blake the same flashy player he used to be, however his performance this year is severely underrated. Despite being below .500, the Pistons are currently the 7th seed in the East, and Griffin is putting up 25.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, which is downright elite.
The final center slot is another place for potential controversy. Amongst the remaining centers, all three of Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert have excellent cases. Even though the Pelicans are 13th in the West, Davis has by far the best stats of the three. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists to go along with 2.5 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. Davis is an elite two-way center, however his limited playing time since demanding a trade may rub voters the wrong way. While KAT is the most talented offensively of the three, he’s easily the worst on the defensive end, despite his improvement this season. Furthermore, the Timberwolves’ 11th seed won’t his help case for the final 3rd team slot very much.
Rudy Gobert is the only one of the three that is currently playoff-bound. The Jazz are 6th in the West, and Gobert is the most important player for Utah. His defensive presence as a rim protector alters opposing team’s offensive schemes, and he’s more than serviceable on offense as well. Based on record and team impact, Gobert is likely the most qualified, even though Davis has him beat in the stats department.
While there’s still 20 games left in the season, right now the All-NBA teams are likely to stack up as follows:
First Team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic
Second Team: Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid
Third Team: Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gobert
Stats courtesy of ESPN
Featured image courtesy of Matthew Hinton/AP
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