We’ve finally reached the conclusion of a thrilling NBA regular season, highlighted by the closest MVP race in years, Boogie Cousins finally getting traded, and Dion Waiters heat checks. It’s time to dole out the selections for the All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Rookie teams; the players who continually stood out and thrived amidst the chaos of the long and arduous 82-game grind. In today’s era of social and visual media, combined with advanced analytics, we have the resources at our disposal to make some pretty informed decisions here. At the same time, so many of these dudes are so insanely talented that it feels impossible to narrow the list down to the top ten or 15 players, even in a specific category. If you disagree with my picks, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments section or on Twitter (@eweiner_bball).
Click here for my write-up on the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. Click here for my write-up on the Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards. Finally, click here for my write-up on the Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year awards.
First Team All-NBA
G: Russell Westbrook
G: James Harden
F: Kawhi Leonard
F: LeBron James
C: Rudy Gobert
The first four spots on this list are virtually a lock; they’re unequivocally the four leading MVP candidates and all very deserving in their own right. One of Westbrook and Harden is going to win MVP, and it feels impossibly unfair that one of them won’t considering the historic offensive campaigns they’ve each put together. Westbrook became only the second player in history to average a triple-double for the season, while Harden wasn’t far behind. It didn’t matter because he was busy orchestrating one of the top ten best offenses of all time. Kawhi anointed himself as the best two-way player in the league, and LeBron is still the best player in the world. If he makes the cut (which he will), this will be his tenth straight appearance on the All-NBA First Team, which is absolutely insane (MJ did it ten times in his career, but not consecutively).
It’s the center spot that’s the most contentious. Gobert is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year and at the very least a lock for a top three finish. He only scores an efficient 14 points per contest but affects the game in so many ways on both ends of the court that are better captured by other numbers. At this point, pretty much nobody questions him being the best rim protector in the league; he led the NBA in blocks (by 40!) and was second in field goal percentage allowed at the rim this year. But it goes much deeper than that. Gobert’s Defensive Net Rating (how many points his team allows per 100 possessions with Gobert on the court) was 98.8, the best mark in the entire league. But get this, he also led the league in Offensive Net Rating, indicating just how important he is on both sides of the ball. As the best two-way center in the game, Gobert makes the final spot.
Second Team All-NBA
G: Isaiah Thomas
G: Steph Curry
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
F: Jimmy Butler
C: Anthony Davis
This is already where things start to get dicey. My gut tells me AD will make the First Team as the center, which he’s totally deserving of making. I give Gobert the edge for the reasons mentioned above, not to mention the difference in their team’s records and the small defensive gap between the two. Davis also logs a lot of minutes at power forward, which made it more difficult to consider him as the best center in the NBA this season.
Giannis is ultra deserving of a Second Team nod; I’d be shocked if he didn’t make it. He’s the first player in NBA history to finish top-20 in the five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals), which is shocking when you consider guys like LeBron, MJ and Magic Johnson never achieved such a feat. He also is only one of five players in history to lead his team in the same five categories, willing the Bucks to the playoffs along the way. Alex Boeder of Bucks.com notes he’d the first Milwaukee Buck to make the Second Team since Terry Cummings did so during the 1988-1989 season, which was before I was born. The second spot is tough; you could make compelling arguments for Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward and Draymond Green in addition to Butler. Jimmy has the edge by doing more with less talent and ultimately dragging a talent-deprived Bulls roster to the playoffs. He’s 14th in scoring despite always guarding the opposing team’s best player, is a super clutch crunch-time option, and is uniquely top five in the league in steals and made free throws. Durant’s advanced stats are better; he’d likely get my vote if not for the twenty or so games he missed, and he still might make it regardless.
The guard spots are even harder to nail down in today’s point guard-dominant landscape. John Wall will get some fifth-place MVP votes and still might not make Second Team All-NBA. It’s a crime, but it’s the nature of today’s game. IT is probably still fifth on most MVP ballots, the best player on the Eastern Conference’s best team. The Celtics didn’t become a legitimate contender until IT turned into a superstar, truly elevating the game of everyone around him. IT and Steph beat Wall in just about every advanced metric, and their teams were more successful. It’s easy to hate on Steph, but the guy deserves loads of credit for deferring his team to Durant and then stepping up to MVP-level play when KD went down with an injury. It’s easy to overlook, but Steph still led the league in threes made with 56(!) more than anyone else, and his 324 downtown connections are the second most in a season ever. He’s so damn good no one even blinks when he makes the second most three pointers of all time. Steph does more than that too; he was fourth in total steals and third in ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus.
Third Team All-NBA
G: John Wall
G: Chris Paul
F: Kevin Durant
F: Gordon Hayward
C: Karl Anthony-Towns
The further down you go the harder it gets, as so many deserving players are about to miss this list, particularly at guard and center. Wall is an easy choice, leading the league in steals, second in assists and the best player on a really good team that finally figured it out. Per SST founder and current Washinton Wizards Digital Media Manager Zach Rosen, “Wall set career-highs in points, assists, steals, offensive rebounds, field goal %, and double-doubles in his 7th season.” He’s still getting better and is the best pure point guard in the league on any given night, and a lockdown defender when he’s zoned in. Paul gets the other nod, just ahead of Kyle Lowry, Lowry’s co-Raptor DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard. Paul, a perennial fifth-on-the-MVP-ballot guy, is always slightly underappreciated. I mean, the guy is top five in steals and assists (per game), the engine of a 51-win team and still the best two-way point guard in the league. His best is simply better than everyone else’s on the list.
Durant is an easy choice here, leading the league in Win Shares/48 minutes and stepping up his defense in Golden State’s smaller lineups. The last choice came down to Draymond and Hayward, and it feels like splitting hairs. On one hand, Draymond is one of the three best defenders in the game, the emotional spark that ignites Golden State’s fire and one of the best passing bigs in the league. But his efficiency on offense is atrocious, and those assist numbers are a little padded when you’re dishing it to Steph, Klay and Durant running off screens. Hayward takes on a much bigger offensive burden as Utah’s leader, and he’s taken his game to elite levels on defense. Utah maneuvered a tough schedule and injuries to key contributors Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and George Hill and Hayward was there to lead them through it. He’s neck and neck with Draymond and Paul George, but he’s been the most consistent two-way contributor of the three after George played at 80-ish% intensity for the first 50 games of the season. Hayward’s numbers are virtually tied with George’s, but he wins in just about every advanced category and his team is markedly better in a tougher conference. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Draymond or PG13 snuck into the final spot.
Full disclosure, I have no idea who is going to win the Third Team center spot. Towns is super deserving after setting a versatile NBA record and breaking the Timberwolves all-time season scoring record in just his second season. That means he’s already put up more single-season points than Kevin Garnett or Kevin Love ever did in a Wolves jersey. Then again, Denver’s offense has been the best in the league with Jokic at the helm, Hassan Whiteside led the league in rebounding and anchored a top-five defense, and Marc Gasol is still the best two-way player of all four. And that list doesn’t even mention Boogie, who averaged a casual 27/11/4.5/1.5/1.5 line, DeAndre Jordan, last year’s First Team selection, or Brook Lopez, who just became the Nets’ all-time leading scorer. You can see from the list below how tough these selections truly are.
Guard Honorable Mentions (roughly in order): Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, CJ McCollum, Goran Dragic
Forward Honorable Mentions (roughly in order): Paul George, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin
Center Honorable Mentions (roughly in order): Hassan Whiteside, Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez
First Team All-Defense:
G: Chris Paul
G: Marcus Smart
F: Kawhi Leonard
F: Draymond Green
C: Rudy Gobert
Here’s a fun trivia question: Can you tell me which player has made five straight All-Defensive First Teams? It’s not Kawhi, Draymond or Tony Allen… it’s Chris Paul! And he was even Second Team the year before that. Paul is a menace to opposing point guards and doesn’t shy away from guarding the other team’s lead dog like Steph and IT do. He stays on your hip and slithers around picks better than anyone and has impeccable hands when he times his steals. Even with DeAndre Jordan protecting the rim, Paul is the leader of the Clips’ defense and deserving of his sixth-straight First Team nod. He’ll probably get it. As the unequivocal three leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi, Draymond and Gobert are virtual locks for the First Team. You can read more on their cases here.
After that everything gets really dicey. Defensive metrics still (and probably always will) lag behind offensive statistics, and for that reason we rely more on the “eye test” and other concepts like isolation and weak-side defense. There are a plethora of players you could slot in for the last guard spot and all have deserving cases. I give Smart the edge because he’s shown the ability to guard someone like Kyle Lowry one game and Paul Millsap the next, despite only being listed at six-foot-four. Smart uses his 220 lb. frame to deter bigger players from getting position in the post, yet he’s able to stay in front of point guards with deceptive quickness and patience on shot fakes. He’s arguably the most versatile defensive guard in the league today, which gives him a slight bump over his deserving peers. There’s a reason he plays 30 minutes per game for the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed despite averaging a ghastly 36% from the field.
Second Team All-Defense:
G: Patrick Beverly
G: Tony Allen
F: Andre Roberson
F: Robert Covington
C: Hassan Whiteside
Just like guards have the toughest competition for All-NBA spots (just look at that honorable mentions list above), forwards have a pretty tricky time making this list with all the elite perimeter defenders causing havoc these days. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe notes, it would probably be better to classify players as point guards/wings/bigs to better demonstrate how positions work in today’s game. Until then, we’re stuck choosing two forwards among a boatload of deserving candidates. Allen and Beverly feel like safe picks; Allen is probably the best isolation defender outside of Kawhi and Beverly is neck-and-neck with Paul in the way he annoys the heck out of other guards. Allen’s averaging a career high in minutes in his 13th season because of how darn important he is on defense. Meanwhile, Beverly’s return from injury sent ripples throughout Houston’s defense and helped stabilize it ever since.
Roberson and Covington are less heralded than bigger names like Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Trevor Ariza, but they’re both the most deserving. Roberson is probably more likely to make the squad with a longer-standing reputation as a lockdown defender, and it’s about time he gets recognized. The guy plays 30 minutes per game despite team’s literally ignoring him when he’s on offense. It’s because he constantly guards the other team’s best player and seeks out the assignments; he’s good enough to frustrate even the best offensive players in the world. Covington is just as deserving, an advanced metrics darling who leads the league in deflections per game and is fourth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus despite playing on the Sixers. He gets the nod over stalwarts the aforementioned forwards, PJ Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha and Jae Crowder. Among remaining center candidates, Whiteside anchored the best defense combined with blocking the most shots. It’s splitting hairs at this point; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol get this spot.
Point Guard Honorable Mentions: John Wall, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holliday
Wing Honorable Mentions: Jae Crowder, PJ Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trevor Ariza, Paul George, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gordon Hayward, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant
Big Man Honorable Mentions: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Myles Turner, Steven Adams
All-Rookie First Team:
Willy (Guillermo) Hernangomez
It’s not going out on a limb to feel confident this will be the All-Rookie First Team. Even with Embiid playing only 31 games, the first three are locks and the only true contenders for Rookie of the Year. You can fight me if you don’t think Brogdon should win, but that’s another story. Hield has been on fire since joining the Kings and finished third in scoring among rookies. Hield impressively finished fourth in three point percentage among rookies (39.1%) despite attempting more threes than any other first-year player. Hernangomez doesn’t get hyped like the other four, but he was a surprising bright spot in a down season for the Knicks, crashing the boards with fervor and displaying nice touch around the hoop. He finished second among rookies (to Embiid) in rebounding despite only averaging 18.4 minutes per game.
All-Rookie Second Team:
Murray, Chriss and Brown are locks for this honor or even the last First Team spot. Murray is a straight gunner who carved out a legit rotation role in Denver and finished sixth in scoring among rookies. His defense and playmaking need to improve, but this year’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge MVP will be scorching nets for a very long time. Chriss and Brown are two of the most athletic rookies in this class and can soar above the rim. Chriss finished in the top ten in points, rebounds, blocks and steals among rookies and turned up his play over the second half of the season. Brown averaged 17 minutes per game for a championship contender, shot better than everyone predicted and threw down some particularly nasty dunks. He might be the best defender of this class and is about to get some valuable playoff minutes. Ingram had a disappointing season for a second overall pick, but he still led the class in minutes per game and showed flashes of serious athleticism. He’ll likely make it as one of the few rookies in the top ten in points and rebounds. The last spot could go plenty of ways. I’m picking Rodney McGruder because he was a valuable starter for the Heat and helped them surge even after losing Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. He guarded Giannis effectively despite standing at six-foot-four. McGruder’s story is more unique than his competition; he went undrafted in 2013 and finally made a roster this offseason, eventually earning minutes with defense, hustle and solid shooting.
Honorable Mentions: Yogi Ferrell, Caris LeVert, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Whitehead
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference, ESPN and NBA.com