Holding Court - The best of the NBA season part II
We had made our choices for the postseason awards the last time out, and we went out on a limb by picking Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City to take home the most prestigious trophy, the regular-season MVP honors, over LeBron James of Miami, the winner four of the past five years. We also picked Joakim Noah of Chicago for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Michael Carter-Williams of Philadelphia for Rookie of the Year, Jamal Crawford of the LA Clippers for Sixth Man of the Year, Anthony Davis of New Orleans for Most Improved Player, Gregg Popovich of San Antonio for Coach of the Year, and Gary Sacks of the Clippers for Executive of the Year.
This time around, we shall be giving you the various All-League teams, the teams composed of the year’s best All-Star performers, the year’s top rookies (hope we have enough of them) and the players who played the best defense throughout the year.
Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone hold the record for the most All-NBA First Team selections with 11 each, while Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Michael Jordan, Bob Pettit and Jerry West each has 10. In terms of the most total appearances on the First, Second and Third Teams, Bryant and Abdul-Jabbar lead everybody with 15 apiece, with Malone and Duncan ranking next with 14 each and Shaquille O’Neal coming after them with 13.
Voting for the All-NBA Teams, which were expanded from two to three teams and thus raised the number of players picked from 10 to 15 in 1988, is actually conducted by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the US and Canada. The selection of the All-Rookie Teams, an honor that’s been given since the 1962-63 season and was expanded from one to two teams also in 1988, is made by the NBA’s head coaches who are not allowed to vote for their own players. It’s the same system followed in voting for the All-Defensive Teams.
The All-NBA Teams have been determined since the league’s inception in 1946 and used to be selected without regard to position, which is the system used in selecting the All-Rookie and All-Defensive Teams. Since 1956, however, they’ve been picked according to position, with two forwards, one center and two guards making up each of the teams.
Here, we jump the gun on the official selectors by coming up with our own All-NBA Teams, All-Rookie Teams and All-Defensive Teams.
F – Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City)
F – LeBron James (Miami)
C – Joakim Noah (Chicago)
G – Chris Paul (LA Clippers)
G – Stephen Curry (Golden State)
F – Blake Griffin (LA Clippers)
F – Carmelo Anthony (New York)
C – Tim Duncan (San Antonio)
G – James Harden (Houston)
G – Paul George (Indiana)
F – Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas)
F – LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland)
C – Dwight Howard (Houston)
G – Tony Parker (San Antonio)
G – DeMar DeRozan (Toronto)
HONORABLE MENTION: Al Jefferson (Charlotte), John Wall (Washington), Paul Millsap (Atlanta), Damian Lillard (Portland), Zach Randolph (Memphis), Goran Dragic (Phoenix), Kevin Love (Minnesota), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento).
The members of the First Team are pretty much well-set, with perhaps Joakim Noah as the only selection there that may not be considered a no-brainer simply because he doesn’t present a big offensive threat against opposing defenses with his rather pedestrian 12.5-point average. But the 6-foot-11 Noah makes up for it with his all-around peskiness on defense, where he norms 1.51 blocked shots and 1.23 steals, as well as an unselfishness on the offensive end that’s made him the Bulls’ improbable top table-setter with an average of 5.3 assists, which means he compensates for his lack of scoring with assisting teammates for easy baskets.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James, of course, headline our First Team, and rightfully so as they tote the league’s best player efficiency ratings of 30.20 and 29.45, in that order. Paul, meanwhile, may have reinforced his status as the best point guard in the league this year with averages of 19.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as well as 10.7 assists and 2.49 steals, both tops in the league. Stephen Curry, of course, is not far behind if only because of a sweet stroke that has helped this second-generation NBA player (his father is former Cleveland hotshot Dell Curry) norm 23.9 points even as he also adds 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.61 steals per contest.
The choices become tricky with the Second and Third Teams owing most of all to a surplus of outstanding forwards and a dearth of exceptional backcourtmen this season. It should be noted that three guards who were members of last year’s All-League Teams – Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers, Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and Dwyane Wade of the Heat – have missed a considerable portion of the ongoing campaign, with Bryant having missed all but six games of this year’s slate, Westbrook almost half of the season, and Wade nearly 30 games.
Having said that, we had to make adjustments to be able to include this year’s outstanding performers, particularly those who were instrumental in earning for their team a lofty record or leading their club into a playoff berth. This is why we had to slot Paul George into a guard spot and Duncan into the center slot on our Second Team for their primary role in the Pacers’ and Spurs’ No. 1 ranking in their respective conferences. We also had to pick a first-timer, DeMar DeRozan, on the All-League squad as the undisputed top man in the Raptors’ winning the Atlantic Division even if the 6-7 big guard, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have made it with his 18.49 PER, the only selection we had along with Tony Parker who had a PER of less than 20. It’s also worth noting that the 6-10 Duncan was slotted by the voters into the center spot on last year’s All-NBA First Team despite the fact that he played power forward for the Spurs and Tiago Splitter is San Antonio’s regular starting center.
Carmelo Anthony, of course, is a shoo-in on one of the teams despite the Knicks’ failure to catch the last bus for the playoffs with his individual brilliance, ranking second in the league in scoring with 27.4 points per game and also averaging 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.25 steals. Blake Griffin, of course, would have been in the thick of MVP contention had Durant and James not submitted an other-worldly performance this year. Harden moves up from last year’s Third Team distinction on the strength of being the playoff-bound Rockets’ top offensive option with 25.5 points per contest, fifth in the league.
Two power forwards – Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge – also made it on the basis of their role as their playoff-bound ballclubs’ go-to guys. The seven-foot Nowtizki, who was recently dubbed by his coach, Rick Carlisle, as one of the top 12 players of all time (now, that’s another interesting point for discussion), averages 21.6 points, the 13th time in a 16-year career he has normed over 20, while the 6-11 Aldridge norms 23.2 scores. Parker, of course, has been one of the major reasons for the Spurs’ league-best 62-18 record this year with a team-leading 16.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, while the 6-foot-11 Howard anchors the Rockets’ inside game with 18.4-ppg and 12.2-rpg norms.
Narrowly missing our elite list are Al Jefferson, one of only five players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this year (the others are Aldridge, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love), and Love himself, who has the third-highest PER in the league after Durant and James with 27.19. The Bobcats, to show you how serious teams are with these awards, even undertook a special campaign among the voters to get the 6-10 Jefferson onto the All-League Teams, but it remains to be seen if that campaign would realize its goal.
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Trey Burke (Utah)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Pero Antic (Atlanta)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Ryan Kelly (LA Lakers)
As we have said last issue, this year’s rookie crop may be the weakest in history, and this is why three double-figure scorers, the only ones doing so at this point besides Tim Hardaway Jr., would run away with the first three slots. These are Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6, 185-pound point guard who will run away with top rookie honors with a 16.7-point clip, Victor Oladipo (14.0 ppg) and Trey Burke (12.4 ppg), who all have the First Team to themselves. But since we need five to fill up the roster, we’ll throw in Hardaway Jr. (10.0 ppg) and Mason Plumlee (7.3 ppg) there.
The 6-6 Hardaway Jr., of course, is his namesake father’s progeny who might yet turn into something solid for the Knicks, while the 6-11 Plumlee’s main claim to fame thus far is that recent last-second block of LeBron James’ dunk attempt that sealed the Nets’ 4-0 sweep of the Heat this year.
Kelly Olynyk, the seven-foot forward who might also become one of the Celtics’ building blocks, leads the Second Team and averages 8.0 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting decent clips of .458, .349 and .809. He is joined by Atlanta’s 6-11 center Pero Antic (7.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Milwaukee’s 6-9 guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAWN-nie Ah-DAY-tow-KUN-bo) (6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Minnesota’s 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng (pronounced GOR-kie JYANG) (4.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and the Lakers’ 6-11 forward Ryan Kelly (8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
Joakim Noah (Chicago)
Roy Hibbert (Indiana)
DeAndre Jordan (LA Clippers)
Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City)
Paul George (Indiana)
Tim Duncan (San Antonio)
LeBron James (Miami)
Chris Paul (LA Clippers)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
Jimmy Butler (Chicago)
HONORABLE MENTION: Tony Allen (Memphis), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), Dwight Howard (Houston), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Marc Gasol (Memphis).
Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and DeAndre Jordan would be unanimous choices on the First Team, serving as the defensive anchor of their respective playoff-bound teams. Noah may be the best all-around defender in the league with his mobility and quickness plus the willingness and intensity to do the hard work. Hibbert and Jordan, meanwhile, may be the best rim protectors in the league right now, averaging 2.26 and 2.51 blocked shots, respectively, which rank fourth and third in the league, in that order.
Ibaka also provides the inside defense (2.58 bpg) that nobody else can for the Thunder while George (1.89 spg) is the model of an excellent two-way player that is rarely found nowadays.
The 37-year-old Duncan, on the other hand, surprises somewhat in that he has not slipped too noticeably after 17 years in the league, being able to still anchor the Spurs’ inside defense (1.90 bpg) while teaming up with such younger players as Kawhi Leonard in executing the Spurs’ defensive gameplan.
What’s surprising is the slide suffered on the defensive end by LeBron James, who last year provided chief competition for top defensive honors to Memphis center Marc Gasol, who this year also has to take a backseat after going through a number of injuries.
Using Vantage Sports data, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN noted the decline in James’ defensive play, pointing out that “LeBron has kept his man in front of him on drives just 40 percent of the time – the league median is 50 percent. He’s also been beaten back on defense 2.8 times per game, way ahead of the league average.
“This isn’t a case of the stats telling you something you haven’t seen happening,” Haberstroh continued. “LeBron’s been slower than usual on closeouts all season, and the transition defense has never been as sharp as it should be for a team with LeBron and Wade running around out there. The hounding pick-and-roll coverage that blitzes ballhandlers out of their UnderArmour has also come and gone, even in bigger games. And occasionally, he’ll pull up short, expecting help on plays he should probably be wiping up himself.
“The rest of the stats tell a similar story. His defensive win shares are the lowest since his rookie year in Cleveland, when he was 19. His defensive rating (a rough estimate of points allowed) is tied with 2007-08 as the worst he’s had. And Real Plus-Minus puts him at 0.21 points per 100 worse than league average. SportVU has him giving up baskets at the rim 51.7 percent of the time on 2.8 attempts per game.”
While James has shown some decline as a defender somehow, young guys like Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler have shown tremendous improvement. Davis (a league-best 2.52 bpg and 1.33 spg) is beginning to touch his potential with his improved play this season on both ends while Butler, a 6-7, 220-pound big guard, has been able to muscle James in encounters between the Bulls and the Heat and come out victorious at times. Paul, of course, is again the league leader in steals with a 2.49 average.
SHORTSHOTS: The Indiana Pacers, after going through a horrendous slide towards the end of the season and giving up the East leadership to Miami in the process, might yet end up on top of the conference after all following a 102-97 victory at home over Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City this morning. A large part of the victory is anchored on the fifth triple-double posted by Lance Stephenson, who had 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, the most in the NBA this season and making the 6-5 guard the first Pacer ever to have that many in a season… Miami and Indiana are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference to have a winning record against the West over the last three seasons… The Pacers’ huge slump may be over but their 7-2 center Roy Hibbert’s is not. Hibbert went 0-for-9 for a scoreless afternoon against OKC as he continued his awful stretch, averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting .250 from the floor. – Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk and slept sports most of his life.