US Sports Veteran
The NBA mass produces snubs for its honors more than any other league. Every year around the All-Star break and end of the regular season, basketball fans flock to Twitter to decry the latest injustices done to their favorite players. We’re at another critical juncture in the NBA calendar. The All-NBA teams and end-of-season awards aren’t far away.
The “snub” has woven himself into basketball culture so much that some players carry the moniker as a defining part of their legacy. Until this season, Mike Conley was most well known as the best player never to make an All-Star game. Sometimes, snubs gain too much notoriety, and fans turn on them when they gain too much recognition or actually begin winning awards (see Damian Lillard).
While last year’s All-NBA teams were pretty cut and dry, injuries to the game’s top players could shake things up this voting cycle. What will the voters do with players that missed a quarter of the season? I compensated by tweaking the traditional positions, which I’m sure some fans won’t agree with. Here’s the best configuration I found.
Guard- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Guard- Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Forward- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Forward- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Center/Forward- Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets
Jokić is clearly the MVP. Anyone who disagrees either hasn’t watched much basketball this year or they’re a 76ers fan. Joker is the best floor-raising center in the NBA because of his elite passing and improving outside shot. His defense isn’t bad either, despite what disgruntled Curry and Embiid supporters might say.
The Nuggets won 47 games this year despite losing Jamal Murray, their primary ball handler and second-leading scorer, to a torn ACL. It helped that Jokić didn’t miss any games. You can’t discount the importance of availability in an already shortened season.
Curry and Embiid are second and third in the MVP race. Embiid is the NBA’s most physically imposing player, and he set career-highs in field goal, free throw, and three-point percentage this year. The Process averaged an astonishing 44.1 points per 100 possessions, but injuries continue serving as a roadblock for the 27-year-old. He missed 29.17% of Philadelphia’s games this season.
After a quiet start to the year, Curry rallied the Warriors and has them preparing for a play-in game against the Los Angeles Lakers. At 33 years old, Curry won his second scoring title and authored one of the best months in NBA history. In 15 April games, the former MVP averaged 37.3 points per game while making 51.8% of his shots, 46.6% of his threes, and 90.8% of his free throws.
Curry averaged 36.9 per game after returning from a stretch of inactive games to play Chicago on March 29, and the Warriors are 16-8 when he plays. Curry accomplished all of this despite losing Klay Thompson before the season even started. Kelly Oubre Jr. and James Wiseman suffered significant injuries and missed time during the year as well.
Unless you’re a Bucks fan, you’re probably suffering from Antetokounmpo overload. The Greek Freak built himself into a superstar and back-to-back MVP in Milwaukee. He’s a perennial All-NBA 1st Team member at this point, and deservedly so. Over the past three seasons, Antetokounmpo is averaging 41.4 points per 100 possessions and 31.9 points per 36 minutes.
I could’ve flipped a coin for the final guard spot between Luka Dončić and Lillard. I would’ve written in Chris Paul had the coin landed weird on the carpet. Dončić and Lillard have similar scoring numbers, and even looking at advanced stats doesn’t draw a clear line between the two guards. I gave the slight edge to Lillard.
Guard- Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Guard- Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
Forward- Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Forward- Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Center/Forward- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Dončić and Paul appear here after narrowly missing out on 1st Team honors. Dončić made the 1st Team last year, and he improved in some areas this season. The Slovenian superstar averaged 27.7 points, 8.6 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game while setting a new career-high in three-point percentage.
Dallas secured a spot in the playoffs and avoided the play-in tournament despite Kristaps Porziņģis missing 29 games.
Paul still hasn’t won a championship, but he always makes teams better. The 11-time All-Star moved into fifth place all-time in assists and steals this year and piloted the Suns to a 51-21 season. Phoenix is one game behind the Jazz for the league’s best record despite not having made the playoffs since the 2009-10 season.
While Paul’s numbers don’t jump off the page, he flirted with a 50/40/90 season and finished second in the NBA in assists and eighth in steals. Paul’s first season with the Suns topped his All-NBA 2nd Team campaign in Oklahoma City. The magnificent point guard led Phoenix in several categories, including box plus/minus, VORP, and win shares.
Leonard quietly put together a season that should lead to his third consecutive All-NBA 2nd Team selection. The former Finals MVP only played in 52 games this year, but that’s still more than Embiid. While Leonard averaged his fewest points per game since 2017, he displayed pinpoint accuracy, making 51.2% of his total shots and 39.8% of his threes.
Randle’s career is a roller coaster. He had a slow start in Los Angeles before showing All-Star potential in one year with New Orleans. That all fell away in a horrendous first season with the Knicks, where the former seventh overall pick only had five more assists than turnovers. Luckily, Randle rebounded this year.
The Knicks are going to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 season. Randle deserves a lot of the credit for New York’s 41-31 season. He appeared in 71 contests and led the NBA in minutes per game with 37.6. He also set a career-high by knocking down 41.1% of his 5.5 three-point shots per game. His previous high-water mark was 34.4%.
I could see moving Randle to the 3rd Team in favor of Jimmy Butler or LeBron James. I’ve already rewarded elite players who missed plenty of games, so I can’t use that argument against either veteran star. Their numbers are also significantly better than Randle’s when you account for his inflated minutes total.
Gobert is one of the league’s steadiest players. This year, he led the NBA in blocks, rebounds, and field goal percentage each for the second time in his career. Gobert’s stagnant offensive game causes some concerns, but that hasn’t stopped him from earning All-NBA 3rd Team honors in each of the past two seasons.
Embiid should slide down to this spot and kick Gobert to the 3rd Team if the voters opt for a traditional lineup with only one true center on the 1st Team.
Guard- James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
Guard- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Forward- Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Forward- LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Center/Forward- Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Harden had the MVP in his sights before missing a significant chunk of Brooklyn’s games. After forcing his way out of Houston, Harden quickly shed the villain label by averaging a double-double with his new team. On a roster full of current and former stars, the Beard sacrificed for his teammates and became one of the league’s top facilitators.
Despite only appearing in 44 games, Harden finished eighth in assists this year.
Beal is one of the league’s most controversial figures. He was “snubbed” from the All-Star game last year, but is he worthy of an All-NBA selection? Beal finished 0.7 points per game behind Curry for the scoring title, and the two standout guards were the only players with over 30 points per game this season.
Beal missed 12 games, but he still finished fourth in total points scored. Despite finishing among the top-seven in scoring four times for his career, Beal hasn’t made an All-NBA team. That might change soon, or the star’s defensive shortcomings could continue serving as a limiting factor.
It’s worth noting that Beal set a new career-high in field goal percentage this season.
I already mentioned considering Butler and James for a spot on the 2nd Team. Both men are the driving forces of their franchises, neither of which is very threatening without them.
James posted his 17th season averaging at least 25 points per game and his fifth consecutive year averaging at least 25 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds per game. Los Angeles went 12-15 in the games James missed. In comparison, the Lakers were 30-15 in games where their captain suited up. Even at 36 years old, James is a top-five player when healthy.
Butler only played in 52 games this year, suffering from nagging injuries and a bout with COVID-19. Miami only went 7-13 without the 31-year-old but immediately turned things around with a 33-19 record when he played.
His struggles from three-point land continued, but Butler set a new career-high in field goal percentage and led the NBA in steals per game. His 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game also marked career-highs. Butler should earn his fourth career All-NBA selection this year.
No one was going to like whoever I picked for the final 3rd Team spot. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was Kyrie Irving, who had a 50/40/90 season, or Russell Westbrook, who led the NBA in assists for the third time and broke Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record. Fans won’t accept the mountain of snubs stacking up.
With that in mind, I picked the only player in consideration that didn’t at least qualify for a spot in the play-in tournament. Probably not the best idea when plenty of folks in the media limit their ballots to playoff-bound stars.
However, Williamson had a dominant season that overshadowed all other second-year players. The former first overall pick averaged 27.0 points per game in his 61 appearances. Williamson’s three-point game and defense are still underdeveloped, but he has the makings of an offensive superstar. I could see an argument for putting Jayson Tatum ahead of him.
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards
Guard- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Guard- Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
Forward- Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Forward- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Center- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Once again, Simmons is fighting to win the Defensive Player of the Year award for perimeter players. However, recent odds favor Gobert to claim the award for the third time in four seasons.
Thybulle hasn’t built an offensive game yet, but he’s an elite defensive option. The second-year Washington product tied for third in steals and finished 19th in blocks this year. He posted a 4.3 defensive box plus/minus.
Butler extended his streak of consecutive years with over 100 steals to eight this season. His 2.1 steals per game led the NBA. Butler is an infamous competitor that flies around the court making plays on both ends. He has four previous 2nd Team All-Defensive selections.
Green hasn’t made an All-Star game since the 2017 season, and his last All-Defensive selection came in 2018-19. The 31-year-old returned to form this year, finishing third in the NBA with 105 steals and posting a 3.3 defensive box plus/minus. You can convince me to switch Green and Antetokounmpo.
Guard- Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
Guard- Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Forward- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Forward- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Center- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Holiday is one of my more controversial selections. He’s not in the top 30 for defensive box plus/minus or defensive win shares, but the 30-year-old’s impact in Milwaukee is undeniable. Holiday could’ve made an All-Defensive team last season too.
George only has one All-Defensive selection in the past four years, but he could change that in a few days. Expect either George or Leonard to represent the Clippers on the 2nd Team.
Antetokounmpo remains one of the most versatile players in the NBA. He alters a ridiculous number of shots at the rim, and some players don’t even bother driving on him. Antetokounmpo led the league in defensive box plus/minus in 2018 and 2019, but he suffered a significant drop in 2020.
Adebayo was an All-Defensive 2nd Team member last year. He averaged fewer blocks per game this season, but the 23-year-old star is still an incredibly versatile defender. He’s quick enough to stick with guards, which gives Miami a massive advantage in pick-and-roll defense.
Turner led the NBA in blocks per game this past season with 3.4. For reference, Gobert finished second with 2.7, and Embiid was tied for tenth with 1.4. Turner also finished second in total blocks despite only playing in 47 games. He must have a spot on one of the All-Defensive teams, even if it means leaving Adebayo or Embiid out in the cold.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
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