We’re already in the last month of the season, and while most teams still have around 10 games remaining, we thought it was time to give our seasonal awards before we get into the thick of playoff seedings and matchups (although, we’ve predicted those as well). So, without further ado, here are our picks for the All-NBA Teams, MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Every year, 130 or so media members who cover all 30 NBA teams cast a ballot for the All-NBA Teams. Each media member casts a vote, and players on the All-NBA First Team get five points, Second-Team three points, and Third Team one point. When the votes are tallied up, two forwards, two guards and a center get the distinction of making each of the NBA’s three All-NBA Teams depending on the highest points assigned. There were only two All-NBA Teams selected as late as 1988, but that expanded to three the next year, and that’s a good thing. With so many deserving candidates, it’s nice to keep options open for 15 different players rather than just the original 10.
There are a lot of ways you can fill out your ballot, but we’re just going to make our picks without paying attention to who we think will be selected by the various media members. This is an important distinction, especially when you consider some of our picks may fly in the face of the voting precedent set over the last couple decades. But enough tiptoeing around the issue, lets get at it.
First, we’ll go through all the guards, then the forwards, then the centers, but we’re going to count guys like Tim Duncan as a center, despite Popovich‘s almost decade-long assertion he’s a power forward. Same with guys like Kevin Garnett, and the ‘tweeners who don’t really play a position, but instead play lots of positions. I think you can guess who we’re talking about when we write that (here’s a hint, he’s the MVP this year and probably the next two years if we’re attempting to be honestly prescient about it).
First up, the guards. If you look over the history of the All-NBA awards, you’ll see voters traditionally place a point guard and an off-guard on the roster for the sake of aligning with the five position structure of the classic NBA positional hierarchy. But the position-less NBA has become more of the norm, highlighted by Miami’s small-ball success in last year’s NBA Finals. In that same vein, Kobe Bryant has been in the off-guard position on the All-NBA First Team for the last seven years, but he has been paired with other off-guards on the team as well, most notably Dwyane Wade in 2010 and 2011. The last time someone other than Kobe took a guard spot on the All-NBA First Team, it was the 2005 season when two point guards were selected: Steve Nash and Allen Iverson — although, you could make the case Iverson was an off-guard who sometimes brought the ball up the court (he did lead the team in assists).
This year there’s been a lot of excellent guard play, but not as much from the off-guard slot. The only exceptions among the scoring guards are Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and James Harden. For point guards, there are a lot more to choose from: Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and the list goes on, all deserve recognition, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll get awarded with an All-NBA spot.
With the paucity of traditional off-guards and a lot of deserving point guards, we’re going to make our selection of the top six guards (for all three All-NBA Teams) without distinguishing between the two guard spots. For example, last year Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker both made Second Team All-NBA despite both being point guards. This year, Parker and CP3 are on the First Team and Wade and Bryant are relegated to the Second team. I know a lot of Lakers fans will say I’m a “hater,” and Kobe has been brilliant quite often this season, shooting at his highest percentage since the 2001-02 season, but it’s hard to vote for a player whose team is on the brink of playoff elimination. Even with a hobbled Dwight Howard and a rapidly-deteriorating Steve Nash, the Lakers just weren’t very good this year, and at least part of that has to fall on Kobe and his sometimes lackadaisical transition defense. Over the summer, the Lakers were a somewhat sexy pick to come out of the West after James Harden was dealt to Houston and San Antonio was one year older, but the Lakers aren’t even in the triumvirate fighting for the three seed just below Oklahoma City and San Antonio, and Golden State and Houston are probably beyond their reach as well. Instead, the Lakers are battling with Utah and Dallas for the final spot in the playoffs. So, sorry Lakers fans, but Kobe is on the second team this year. Paul and Tony Parker have been too valuable, and their teams too successful, to put Kobe ahead of either of them.
The forward position is as top-heavy as the Eastern Conference this season. There’s a steep drop-off after James and Durant on the First Team, and it bares reminding that those two will probably be All-NBA First Team selections for the next five years and beyond. That’s how good — and young — both players are right now. But aside from Carmelo Anthony keeping the Knicks relevant, even after Amar’e Stoudemire has been sidelined yet again this season, and ‘Melo has righted the Knicks despite losing defensive stalwart, Tyson Chandler, to a knee contusion, there just aren’t that many dominant forwards this year as in year’s past. Even Carmelo has had bad stretches and his own injury troubles.
Since you’ll see we’re putting both Tim Duncan and mid-range-heavy Kevin Garnett at the center slots, that leaves a lot of questions for the remaining three spots at forward on the Second and Third Teams. The Pacers have been in the thick of a weak Eastern Conference despite missing Danny Granger for basically the entire season. That’s due largely to the jump Paul George has made. This comes despite George’s pedestrian PER for the year and inconsistency since the All-Star break. But he’s been a part of Indiana’s top five defense this year too, and that can’t be discounted. Blake Griffin has seen his numbers drop after his first two seasons as a 20 and 10 guy, but that’s more a drop in usage than one of overall performance. With Zach Randolph‘s performance going in the tank after the all-star break, and Kevin Love missing pretty much the whole year, that opens up a slot for David Lee of Golden State even as we all nod our heads and concede he’s a pretty awful defender (but he’s working hard, guys!).
Finally, we come down to the center position. Since, if you include Kobe as a small forward, we could just have three forwards on the First team, we have to pick between a player, Tim Duncan — who can sometimes be tagged with the Power Forward label — and the Grizzlies all-around force, Marc Gasol. Gasol doesn’t have eye-opening statistics like Brook Lopez, and he doesn’t fill up a defensive stat sheet like Joakim Noah, but there’s probably no smarter player in the league and Gasol’s the primary reason the Grizzlies have stayed in the thick of a tough Western Conference despite losing their leading scorer, Rudy Gay, in a three-team trade with Toronto and Detroit earlier this year. I’m putting Gasol on the First Team, even though he didn’t make the fan-voted All-Star Game this season. Duncan could get the First Team nod, but Gasol has been more valuable to his team, as evidenced by their recent struggles as he attempts to come back from an abdominal tear. Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time, but he’s in more of a center role this year, and Popovich and the Spurs’ deep rotation is as much the reason the Spurs have yet-again been successful this regular season. Plus, Duncan isn’t playing as much as Gasol: 35 minutes a game for Gasol versus 30 minutes a game for Duncan (although Duncan has a much higher usage rate). But Gasol’s game is very much a nuanced one, predicated on communication and doing whatever he can to be successful every time his team has the ball, rather than him being the one who dominates the ball on offense.
The last center slot goes to Kevin Garnett. I know Garnett isn’t a center, but he’s been lining up as one for Doc Rivers this year, and it’s a good thing too. The Celtics have struggled mightily in his absence. Just check out this piece from Grantland’s Zach Lowe. Chris Wilcox just isn’t going to cut it as Boston’s frontcourt defensive stopper.
Garnett still doesn’t bang on the block on the offensive end — he’s a pretty pure mid-range jumper at this stage of his Hall of Fame career — but in terms of his defense there are very few players capable of defending the bucket like late-career Garnett. We’ll probably get a lot of grief by neglecting to include Brook Lopez, Dwight Howard or Joakim Noah — all of whom have put up some great defensive stat lines — but Garnett has been too valuable to a team that’s battled an injury to their best player, Rajon Rondo. Boston would be a a high lottery team if it hadn’t been for Garnett’s presence. If Garnett is lost to this mysterious foot ailment, the Celtics’ hopes of sneaking a couple games, or a series, from either New York/Miami/Indiana in the first round isn’t likely to happen.
G- Chris Paul
G- Tony Parker
F- LeBron James
F- Kevin Durant
C- Marc Gasol
G- Kobe Bryant
G- Dwyane Wade
F- Carmelo Anthony
F- Blake Griffin
C- Tim Duncan
G- Russell Westbrook
G- James Harden
F- Paul George
F- David Lee
C- Kevin Garnett