After yesterday’s look at the individual portion of the NBA’s award ballot, let’s examine the three different teams on the NBA’s ballot: All-NBA, All-Defense, and All-Rookie.
G: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
F: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
F: Giannis Antetokoounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
C: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Thanks to LeBron James being eligible as a guard thanks to playing most of his minutes at point guard this season, and Anthony Davis being eligible as a center despite playing most of his minutes at forward, we get to put our MVP top five in the All-NBA first team this year. This doesn’t always happen, but I’m glad it worked out this time.
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
F: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
C: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
A note on positional flexibility: the NBA’s ballot says to “vote for the player at the position he plays regularly.” So I would say Luka Doncic plays most of his minutes as a guard, but his second most commonly used lineup is with Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr., both clearly guards. So I’m counting Doncic as a forward, in order to get both Damian Lillard and Chris Paul in the second team.
Lillard, Doncic, and Nikola Jokic were in competition for the bottom of the MVP ballot for me, so they were easy selections. Chris Paul’s statline isn’t super impressive: only 17 points per game? But man, he was the difference maker for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who actually had a significantly better winning percentage this year after losing Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. Where his normal stat line is weakish, his advanced stats are off the charts. Putting him on the second team was an easy call.
Finally, I just thought Khris Middleton had the 10th-best season in the NBA this year. He was great defensively, a very efficient scorer, passed and rebounded well. He also played for the best team in the game. He’s a very underrated player. If the world were fair, he’d have a shoe deal.
G: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
G: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
F: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
F: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
There are significant positional shenanigans occurring here. Jimmy Butler really did spend most of his time as a guard this year. Putting Jayson Tatum as a guard requires you to call him the shooting guard in a lineup with Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis. Honestly, that checks out. Calling Tatum a guard there is reasonable. Finally, Bam Adebayo played most of his minutes next to Meyers Leonard; who is the center there? I’m saying Adebayo is the four, and Leonard the five, if only to slot Adebayo in the roster.
But again, I do the shenanigans in order to get the players who had the best seasons on the team. Tatum took a leap this season to become one of the best two-way wings in the NBA. Jimmy Butler already was one, but focused on setting up his teammates more than ever before — after being known as an egotist in previous stops, he was incredibly unselfish this year.
Pascal Siakam was the best player for the Raptors, key to their second-ranked defense. I didn’t agree with his Most Improved Player candidacy — he took efficiency downturns in exchange for a bigger role in the offense, but definitely deserves a place here. Rudy Gobert easily earns a spot over Joel Embiid due to his importance to the Jazz and playing 800 more minutes.
Adebayo is the last selection, but I wanted to reward everything he did this year. That, plus the other possibilities weren’t terrific options. Both Trae Young and Bradley Beal put up huge numbers and played awful defense on awful teams. Devin Booker had his best season yet, but shares those defensive concerns. Donovan Mitchell’s defense took a big downturn, a bigger one than his offense took in a positive direction, in my opinion. Russell Westbrook was legitimately harmful to the Rockets for a few months — his last couple of months, he carried them, but it wasn’t enough to beat out Adebayo. Kyle Lowry is much more important to the Raptors than his numbers would show, but they were better with him off the court. He’s a tone-setter as much as an on-court producer.
G: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
G: Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
F: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The three bigs on this list are Davis, Antetokounmpo, and Gobert, the top three in my Defensive Player of the Year ballot. Clearly, they belong in this spot.
Beyond that, Ben Simmons had a real shot at the third spot thanks to his defensive excellence up and down the positional spectrum for the Sixers this season. He clearly takes pride in defending whatever his assignment is. He led the league in steals this season.
After that, it came down to Marcus Smart or Kris Dunn. Dunn was the better defender, an absolute hound on the defensive end, but he played 500 fewer minutes for a worse team. Smart’s overall impact on the league was higher than Dunn’s supersized effort in smaller minutes in games that didn’t matter much.
G: Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls
G: Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
F: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
F: P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets
C: Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez are two more reasons why the Bucks’ defense was so terrific this year. Bledsoe does well at stay attached to his man while he goes over a screen, forcing them into the waiting arms of Antetokounmpo or Lopez. Lopez, once considered an average defender, has clearly improved his game. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has made him into a sizable force in the paint, just by limiting his role to drop-big protection. But he’s so effective at his role than he earns a spot here.
P.J. Tucker is the reason the Rockets defense works at all. His ability to battle with players of any size and any position for year after year is wildly impressive. He doesn’t get gaudy steal or block totals, but he just works tremendously hard.
Leonard took some plays and games off this year, no doubt. But the metrics still love the way he played defense, thanks to his ability to contest everything and pick up a lot of steals. I might have bumped Leonard or Tucker off the list if there were a suitable forward replacement. Jonathan Isaac would have probably won the spot had he played a comparable number of minutes, but Leonard still played nearly twice as many. Jayson Tatum also probably deserves a shoutout.
Terence Davis, Toronto Raptors
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Remember, the All-Rookie teams don’t have positions: the ballot specifically says to just choose the 10 best rookies of the season. These were the top five, four of which are relatively straightforward. There was somewhat of a difficult choice on whether or not to go with Terence Davis and his role-player contributions for the Toronto Raptors or Tyler Herro and his scoring for the Miami Heat. Herro was good, but the Heat were better with him on the bench; meanwhile, the Raptors were better with Davis on the floor. Davis had a much more efficient game than Herro.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
This is a bad class of rookies with little depth. So many of the lottery guys had just terrible first seasons. Washington was legitimately helpful, thanks to his clever play style for the Hornets. Matisse Thybulle was an impactful defender right away for a good, albeit disappointing Sixers team. Michael Porter Jr. didn’t play much, but when he did was a relatively solid rotation player. Eric Paschall showed an ability to score and rebound a little on bad teams, which put him over Jaxson Hayes’ ability to dunk for a mediocre team and Cameron Johnson’s ability to shoot for a mediocre team.
Jarrett Culver, Rui Hachimura, Sekou Doumbouya, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jordan Poole, R.J. Barrett, and Darius Garland all played big minutes and all were negatives in their time, performing worse than a replacement level player in most advanced stats. In particular, I really liked Alexander-Walker in the draft, and thought he would be better than this right away.