NBA Awards, Part II: All-NBA, All-Defense, & All-Rookie Teams

Welcome to part two of our NBA regular season awards, where we’ll break down All-NBA, All-Defense, and All-Rookie teams. For Part I, click here.

All-NBA

First Team

G Russell Westbrook

G James Harden

F Kawhi Leonard

F LeBron James

C Anthony Davis

 

Second Team

G Isaiah Thomas

G Stephen Curry

F Jimmy Butler

F Giannis Antetokounmpo

C Rudy Gobert

 

Third Team

G Chris Paul

G John Wall

F Kevin Durant

F Gordon Hayward

C Karl-Anthony Towns

Four-fifths of the first team is unassailable. The only point of dispute will be Davis vs. Gobert.

The Davis/DeMarcus Cousins pairing didn’t work out this season, and it remains to be seen if that’s a playable front line going forward. Still, Davis was fantastic. He posted a career-highs in points and rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field. (He’s still only 23!) His shooting touch was streaky, and his three-pointer is still shaky, but he can get to the basket basically whenever he wants, making his shooting less of an issue.

Opponents shoot 41 percent when defended by Davis. At his best, he is as great a two-way presence as there is in the league. He’s nearly as stingy as Gobert, and his far superior offensive game gives him the edge.

There are a handful of centers you could go with for the second and third team spots, including Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, and Nikola Jokic. Jordan is so steady he’s probably underrated at this point; Gasol is basically half of Memphis’ team, and he opened up his game by adding a three-point shot; Jokic is the most fun and shrewd big man in the league.

But Gobert is a transcendent defender and a much-improved offensive threat, while Towns was one of the best 21-year-olds in league history. Both have been extremely durable all season. KAT put up 25 and 12 every night with an effective field goal percentage over 57, and most of the advanced numbers favored him over Gasol and Jordan. Towns has a long way to go on defense, and his team disappointed. You could argue that he should be bumped by Gasol, a superior defender on a better team.

Durant is still one of the five best basketball players alive. He had the most complete season of his career on both ends; his efficiency numbers are better than ever, and he can be an all-world defender when he wants to be. Missed games don’t matter as much to me in the All-NBA discussion as they do in the MVP race, but 20 games is a lot, and Butler deserves credit for his durability and for carrying an otherwise bad team to the playoffs.

The Bulls were minus-7.8 points per 100 possessions with a 111 defensive rating when Butler wasn’t on the floor. Yikes. Butler’s ability to create driving lanes amid horrific spacing is remarkable, and he’s become a really complete player. His rebounding and assisting numbers are the best of his career, he plays great defense, and has very little help.

The last forward spot on the third team came down to Hayward, Paul George, and Draymond Green. Green is by far the best defender of that group, but his shooting percentages were quietly dismal after a career year in 2016. It didn’t hurt Golden State because of all of the surrounding talent and shooting, but when we’re splitting hairs, Green’s poor shooting hurts his case.

Peak George is a slightly better player than Hayward, and he carried a bigger load on a night-to-night basis. He averaged career-highs in points and effective field goal percentage while still maintaining most of his defensive prowess. His head-to-head tangle with LeBron James in early April was evidence of how good George can be when he’s engaged.

But the Pacers floundered this season while the Jazz soared. Hayward was slightly more efficient for a better team, and the advanced stats favor him. He’s an underrated defender for a great defensive team. Let’s reward happy basketball!

The league’s depth at point guard eliminated a bunch of qualified guards from All-NBA discussion. Klay Thompson was a carbon copy of his 2015 and 2016 selves; Damian Lillard reached another level after the All Star break; DeMar DeRozan was a reliable source of offense all season long; Kemba Walker kept Charlotte alive; Mike Conley was, once again, phenomenal in Memphis. But none of them were quite as good as Curry, Paul, Wall, and Thomas.

When healthy, Paul might be the second-best point guard in the league. He remains incredibly efficient, and the Clippers are hopeless without him. He makes everyone around him significantly better—guys are more active off the ball, because they know Paul will find them if they’re open. But he missed a hefty chunk of the season, and the same argument used against Durant applies here.

Kyle Lowry falls into the same category as Paul and Durant. Though he’s a better all-around player than Thomas or wall, the Raptors’ point guard missed 22 games late in the year. Lowry had a career season and was the best player on one of the East’s best teams. His efficiency numbers are Curry-like, he’s an excellent distributor, and he plays above-average defense. Cut those missed games in half and he’s a second-teamer.

I talked about Thomas in Part I; he’s might be the runner-up for most improved, and he is the lifeblood of Boston’s offense. He averages nearly 30 points per game and dominates in the clutch.

Wall has also improved greatly over the last year. He’s having, by most measures, the best season of his career and leading the Wizards on a surprising tear. His three-point shooting took a dive, but he got to the line a ton and created opportunities for his teammates. Defensively, he’s better than every elite point guard but Paul.

Durability is important, and the NBA is deep at point guard. It felt fair to reward Wall and Thomas for their consistency.

All-Defense

First Team

G Patrick Beverley

G Avery Bradley

F Kawhi Leonard

F Draymond Green

C Rudy Gobert

 

Second Team

G Chris Paul

G Jimmy Butler

F Andre Roberson

F Giannis Antetokounmpo

C Anthony Davis

Paul is still a pristine defender; he gets steals, fights over screens, denies his man the ball, everything. His injury prevented him from doing that for a while, and I didn’t think he was quite as good as Bradley, who also missed significant time.

Beverley is probably the most important defender the Rockets have. He allows Houston to hide Harden on defense, saving his energy for the other end. Bradley, despite his poor defensive metrics, might be the best defensive guard in the league. He can stay with just about any guard off the dribble, slither over tough screens, and he stays engaged. He passes the eye test with flying colors.

There was a slew of wings that deserved placement on one of these teams: Butler, Roberson, Giannis, Danny Green, Tony Allen, Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza, Jae Crowder, Robert Covington, Andre Iguodala, etc. But only three could make it with Beverly, Bradley, and Paul filling the other spots.

So I cheated a little bit and slid Butler to guard to include as many of those wings as possible.

As horrendous and bricky as his shooting is, Roberson has been a high-level defender for a while now. He covers every elite wing player, contests shots well, and stays attached to his man on screens. Butler is a tank with the bulk and foot speed to take on any type of wing, and he’s probably the only plus perimeter defender on his team. Giannis is everywhere on defense and can guard four (sometimes five) positions without much trouble.

Danny Green and Andre Iguodala were the last two cuts. Both guys are extremely smart and crucial to the two best defenses in the league. Mbah a Moute is an unsung hero for the Clippers, but wasn’t quite as good as Roberson, and Marcus Smart was just a cut below his teammate, Bradley.

We’ve already talked about Davis. He defends the rim at a slightly better rate than DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, who were final cuts, and he switches better than both.

Paul Millsap was one of the toughest cuts. His hands, anticipation, and positioning remain exquisite, and he helped lead one of the best defenses in the league. He remains Draymond-like on that end, but he slipped just slightly after an unbelievable defensive season last year.

All-Rookie

First Team

Malcolm Brogdon

Buddy Hield

Jaylen Brown

Dario Šarić

Joel Embiid

 

Second Team

Yogi Ferrell

Jamal Murray

Rodney McGruder

Caris LeVert

Willy Hernangomez

Hield just missed the top three of my Rookie of the Year ladder. He caught fire once he got to Sacramento and showed a nice, consistent all-around game. He’s not the next Steph Curry, as Vivek Ranadivé might have you believe, and he doesn’t have as much upside as most guys in this rookie class. But he had one of the four best seasons of any rookie this year.

Embiid was the best rookie, by far. He didn’t play enough games for Rookie of the Year consideration, but in a relatively weak class, he more than deserves a spot on the first team.

McGruder, Murray, and Hernangomez were right there in the next tier. McGruder played a crucial role for Miami—moving the ball, playing hard, often defending the opponent’s best player. Murray should be a good piece for Denver, especially next to Jokic, which will allow him to play off the ball and hunt down shots. But he didn’t shoot the ball especially well—just 33 percent—and that was his primary responsibility. Hield was much better over the course of the season.

Hernangomez might belong on the first team. He’s a super efficient player, especially around the basket, and he even flashed a nice midrange jumper late in the season. He zips nice passes to open teammates and grabs his fair share of boards. Defensively, he has a long way to go, but he looks like a player worth keeping around for the depressing Knicks.

LeVert started to come around in the second half of the season. He’s a good athlete, he can get to the basket and he has solid floor vision for a rookie wing. He needs to improve his shooting stroke, but for now, he makes up for it with his playmaking.

Brandon Ingram and Marquese Chriss played major minutes for bad teams, and didn’t play especially well, save for a few awesome flashes here and there. There’s a good chance both end up being better players than 80 or 90 percent of the guys in the class, but neither was very good this season.

Ferrell helped spark a mini-revolution in Dallas. He canned 40 percent of his triples and dished over four assists as a Maverick. He has a strong NBA future after being undrafted this past summer.

And with that, we can put a wrap on the regular season. On to the playoffs.

 

Stats current through the end of the regular season.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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