The Point Forward's 2014 All-NBA teams
Few processes inspire as much debate as the annual selection of the All-NBA teams. We put our heads together to reach a consensus on the 15 players who should make up The Point Forward's three teams for the 2013-14 regular season.
Individual statistics, team performance and intangibles such as a player's impact on his teammates' success were taken into consideration, as were lineup data, plus/minus numbers, team rankings on offense and defense, and injuries/health. Disagreements were settled by hours of debates and, in some cases, blood. Our preseason predictions, for comparison's sake, can be found here.
Note: We adhered to the format used on the official ballot, which calls for two guards, two forwards and one center on each team. Determining a player's position involved consulting lineup data (which position does the player fill most often?) and precedent (where was a player listed on the 2013 All-NBA teams or the 2014 All-Star ballot?). The two biggest positional questions were Spurs big man Tim Duncan and Pacers swingman Paul George. Duncan, who logs time at both the four and five, was treated as a center rather than a forward because he appeared on the 2013 All-NBA first team as a center and he was a center in many of San Antonio's most-used lineups. George, who has played the two and the three during his career, was treated as a forward rather than a guard because he logged the vast majority of his minutes as a small forward, was listed as a forward on the 2013 All-NBA team and was included in the "frontcourt" designation on the 2014 All-Star ballot.
Without further ado, here are The Point Forward's All-NBA teams.
The Point Forward's All-NBA First Team
G: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: For the ball-dominant Paul, this season was about letting go. In past seasons Paul has shown what he can do -- and what he can't do in a playoff setting -- when micromanaging an offense. Now we know just how formidable Paul and the Clippers can be when a superstar teammate shares in his creative burden. A relieved Paul is a more balanced Paul: Now that Blake Griffin has taken to orchestrating the offense in spots, Paul can pace himself better and save more energy for the defensive end, where he still might be underrated.
Paul, 28, has the best sense of how to create turnovers without surrendering good defensive position. A fully engaged Paul is an outright terror. He's feisty enough to fight through screen after screen in dogged pursuit of his mark, strong enough to battle bigger opponents and quick enough to play into his man without risking a blow-by.
That Paul now has a chance (and the energy) to play maxed-out defense more frequently boosts his value, further cementing his status as the NBA's best guard. On offense, his uncanny precision stands out even among star playmakers. No player maintained a more explosive and efficient team offense this season (the Clippers scored 111.6 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor), nor did any player assist on a greater percentage (48.9) of his team's field goals when in the game. Paul is a master of the shoot-pass binary, equipped not only to thrive in either choice but also to quickly and accurately discern the prudence of each option. It takes a rare gift to make impeccable, piercing judgment look so easy. -- Rob Mahoney
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Golden State's dependence on Curry might be more worrisome if he weren't so consistently potent. Opponents can do only so much to contain a player capable of flicking a jumper at a moment's notice. Curry strains defensive schemes like few players can, with the weight of his presence challenging the discipline of opposing guards and demanding ample help from big men at the top of the floor. One can almost see the defensive principles in play being torn apart as opponents race to contest Curry's jumper. And who could blame them? The 26-year-old ranked first in three-pointers (261) and 10th in percentage (42.4) while creating the majority of those looks for himself.
If defenses focus too much on limiting his scoring, Curry can exploit them with his improved passing. He'll whip a pass over his head or sling one, side-armed, across the court without much thought. The vision and fluidity on those plays are remarkable. His ability to reel off timely passes without collecting the ball in two hands makes it that much harder for defenses to determine what he might do in a particular moment. The downside of trying to make those overambitious passes is that Curry finished second in turnovers. That's obviously not preferable, but Golden State happily accepts the trade-off for all that Curry does well. -- RM
SI AWARDS: Durant our unanimous pick for 2014 MVP
C: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: This is the trickiest spot on the first team, not for the wealth of qualified candidates but for the differences in role between a select few. Noah doesn't have the same scoring responsibilities as Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard (he averaged just 12.5 points while shooting 48 percent), but in some a sense his offensive function is no less essential. That redeeming value, combined with his far-reaching defensive influence, makes for a strong case.
Noah, 29, the Defensive Player of the Year, is far from a traditional rim protector. He averaged about half as many blocks (1.5) as the league leaders, influencing opponents instead through pressure and containment farther from the hoop. An opponent cannot score at the basket if he's never given access to it, and Noah repels all comers through length, mobility and verve. His greatest strength lies in the sheer range of players he can defend credibly. Much is made of Noah's ability to switch out on smaller point guards in a pinch. Just as crucial is Noah's ability to track athletic wings, keep in step with mid-range shooters, impose on the angles of willing passers, compete in the post and contest a quick jumper. The Bulls ask a lot of Noah in coverage because he is so capable of performing a variety of tasks.
Somehow, his offensive game might be even more exceptional. Chicago lacks individual shot creation. The player most capable of creating a clean look for himself is reserve guard D.J. Augustin, who is no one's idea of a first-option scorer. Beyond Augustin, the Bulls simply have to make do. They ranked 27th in offensive efficiency for that very reason, as players such as Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich ran curling routes into infinity with precious little to show for it.
After Luol Deng was traded in January, though, the Bulls produced a respectable (and essentially league-average) offense with Noah on the court. That would amount to a minor miracle if Noah's value weren't so explicable. His responsibilities are many -- from screening to rolling to rebounding -- but his ability to facilitate is most central to the Bulls' offense. Noah is the unusual player who can create for others without posing as much of a threat himself. He doesn't power through opponents from the low block, nor could he. He doesn't streak into the lane to attack from within a collapsing defense, nor should he try. Noah simply positions himself in areas of maximum visibility and picks out his open teammates when possible -- a talent that allowed for the highest assist average (5.4, even higher since Deng's departure) from a center since 1980. The decided difference between being a good scorer and a good offensive player enables us to appreciate Noah more fully. -- RM
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The Point Forward's All-NBA Second Team
G: Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns: Consider Dragic the black sheep of our All-NBA group: He's one of just three players who didn't make the All-Star Game; he's one of just two who didn't make the playoffs; he's one of a handful of international players; and he joins Kyle Lowry as the only two selections who were off our preseason radar for recognition. The 27-year-old Dragic's inclusion may be surprising, but it's also deserving -- even if injuries to Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo, and disappointing seasons for Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams, among others, thinned the competition.
Dragic was the head of the snake for a young Phoenix team that defied expectations by winning 48 games and nearly sneaking into the playoffs. He averaged a career-high 20.3 points and 5.9 assists while shooting a personal-best 50.5 percent. The Slovenian was named the NBA's Most Improved Player after succeeding alongside Eric Bledsoe and stepping up when his backcourt partner was sidelined with knee and shin injuries for half the season. Dragic is relentless and opportunistic, a player permanently stuck in attack mode. He had the third-highest PER (21.5) among backcourt players who played at least 65 games, trailing only Curry and James Harden. Dragic carried a fairly anonymous Suns roster to the No. 8 ranking in offensive efficiency, up from 29th last season. -- Ben Golliver
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets: The season opened with a heated debate over whether Harden, Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant was the league's premier two guard. Injuries to Bryant and strategic rest for Wade kept that conversation from fully blooming, leaving Harden as the off-guard with the biggest impact this season. Houston's 24-year-old scoring star posted a 23.5 PER, which was second to Curry among all guards who played at least 65 games. A skilled all-around offensive player with a knack for creating contact, Harden averaged 25.4 points (No. 5 in the league), a team-leading 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds while serving as the No. 1 option for the NBA's fourth-best offense. He ranked in the top five in minutes per game, win shares, free-throw attempts and true shooting percentage while adjusting to life with Dwight Howard on the fly.
Harden has his weaknesses, most notably his lack of defensive effort and awareness and his tendency to get loose with the ball. Hopefully, Harden's rapid ascent since arriving in Houston in 2012 is just the beginning of his story, and that his taste of greatness encourages him to make further improvements to his game. -- BG
F: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: Squeezed off the All-NBA first team by the impenetrable James/Durant tandem, Griffin was the easiest second-team selection. His fourth year had it all: excellence, consistency, improvement, adversity, eye-popping numbers and winning. Griffin, 25, averaged a career-high 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists while posting a 23.9 PER, which ranked third among power forwards. The four-time All-Star missed only two games -- including one for a technical-foul suspension -- and kept the Clippers afloat when Paul missed 18 games with a shoulder injury. In a Durant-like display of reliability, Griffin scored 20 points or more in 30 consecutive games, a Los Angeles-era team record.
Griffin's excellent motor, improved jumper, peerless athleticism at his position and some creative deployments by coach Doc Rivers helped the Clippers post the NBA's most-efficient offense and win a franchise-record 57 games. The former No. 1 pick still could become more polished, but he continues to make meaningful progress. That's important, because the talented crop of forwards nipping at his heels seemingly gets deeper every year. -- BG
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: The toughest call was filling the fourth forward spot behind Durant, James and Griffin. Cases were made for five franchise forwards who all enjoyed strong seasons: Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Anthony Davis. Aldridge, 28, emerged from the pack because he had the fewest holes in his résumé: He's a better two-way player than Love, Nowitzki and Anthony; he's a more established force than George or Davis; and his Blazers outperformed the Timberwolves, Mavericks, Knicks and Pelicans. Aldridge averaged career highs of 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds, narrowing the gap between himself and Love on the glass, and ranked fifth in PER (21.8) among power forwards. He also produced strong numbers in plus-minus, defensive real plus-minus and net rating.
A smart passer who protects the ball well for a high-usage player, the three-time All-Star was the focal point of one of the NBA's most-efficient offenses and the centerpiece of a Blazers starting lineup that posted a plus-8.5 net rating. Working against Aldridge: his 13 games missed because of injuries, a March swoon and his career-low 45.8 percent shooting on a career-high 20.6 shots per game. Ultimately, he won out over Love because of his superior defensive play and his leading role in the Blazers' 21-win improvement from last season. -- BG
C: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: The Point Forward spent hours last summer weighing the relative merits of Duncan and Dwight Howard, ultimately giving a slight advantage to Duncan. History repeated itself, and boy was this a close race. Duncan, 37, posted a 21.4 PER, plus-6.6 net rating and plus-5.4 defensive real plus-minus for a team that won 62 games and finished sixth in offense. Howard, 28, posted a 21.4 PER, plus-7.9 net rating and plus-5.1 defensive real plus-minus for a team that won 54 games and finished fourth in offense. Duncan's per-36 numbers: 18.7 points, 12 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.3 blocks, 49 percent shooting. Howard's per-36 numbers: 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 59.1 percent shooting.
One somewhat surprising note: Howard played only 238 more minutes than Duncan, whose minutes were carefully managed by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. The razor-thin margin between Duncan and Howard is remarkable in and of itself, but the fact that two players with such different personalities, images, styles of play and a wide age gap makes the comparison nothing short of mind-blowing. A long search for tiebreakers found these pluses for Duncan: San Antonio's league-best record, its superior team-wide defensive numbers, the dominant nature of its 19-game winning streak, Duncan's ability to carry the Spurs and serve as a facilitator through all sorts of juggled starting lineups and Howard's occasional liability as a foul shooter. Admittedly, some of the items on that list count as split hairs in the big picture, but together they were enough to swing the balance in favor of The Big Fundamental. -- BG
The Point Forward's All-NBA Third Team
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Lowry, 28, was Toronto's best player and, contrary to his career inconsistency, one of the steadier two-way guards in the league. He's just a pain to match up with in every regard. Lowry tests defenders with his blend of quickness, strength and talent for initiating contact. He averaged 17.9 points and 7.4 assists, an output matched by only four players: Paul, Curry, John Wall and Ty Lawson. Among those four, only Paul could claim to be as effective defensively as Lowry. -- RM
G: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: He remained one of the biggest reasons for the Spurs' success even though San Antonio didn't need him to dominate the ball or opponents in the same way he did last year. The calmness of Parker's approach contrasts wonderfully with his bursting speed. In a league of giants Parker is king of the lateral game, adept in streaking past opponents with a single, unexpected step or extending himself horizontally to squeeze an attempt past potential shot blockers. In all cases Parker, 31, is remarkably poised -- his whirling, contorting game somehow eternally on balance. A case could be made for a few other players here (see below), but with Parker's production (20.4 points on 50 percent shooting and 7.0 assists per 36 minutes) very much in line with his elite standard, and with no desire to penalize him for averaging a career-low 29.4 minutes, there's no real reason to nudge out a player this good. -- RM
F: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: His effective field-goal percentage of 52.0 (a mark just shy of Griffin's and Harden's) is an impressive achievement, given how much defensive attention he receives. To shoot that efficiently while also cleaning the glass (12.5 rebounds, third in the NBA) and setting up teammates (4.4 assists) makes the 25-year-old worthy of an All-NBA honor. -- RM
F: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: He deserves a lot of credit for Dallas' No. 2 ranking in offensive efficiency. The 35-year-old still puts bulk touches to efficient use, whether in the post, the pick-and-roll or as a shooter on the move. Few defenders can even contest his shot, and the 7-footer made enough to set a career high in effective field goal percentage (54.9) in his 16th season. The combination of Nowitzki's footwork, shooting ability and court awareness practically renders him immune to double teams. Coach Rick Carlisle has gone to great lengths to help Nowitzki by diversifying the offense, but it all (and always) comes back to Dirk. -- RM
C: Dwight Howard, Rockets: Duncan edged him for second-team honors, but Howard (18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 59.1 percent shooting) was great in his first season in Houston. For all of his woes at the foul line, Howard creates opportunities for his team through the bonus that aren't easily quantified. It's because of Howard as much as Harden that the Rockets posted the NBA's best free-throw rate, which complemented their elite shooting efficiency. And Howard did plenty to cover for Houston's shaky perimeter defense. -- RM
Top All-NBA Snubs
The Point Forward extends its regrets to the following eight players, who were the final omissions during the selection process. Pacers forward Paul George and Pelicans forward Anthony Davis were the two toughest snubs.
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks; Anthony Davis, Pelicans; Paul George, Pacers