- How competitive were this year's All-NBA races? Stephen Curry didn't even make the cut. The Crossover unveils its official ballot for the All-NBA and All-Defensive squads for 2017–18.
With the 2017-18 season wrapping up on Wednesday, the NBA’s annual awards balloting is now open.
The following is how The Crossover cast its official ballot for the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. Picks for the major awards—Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year—can be found right here.
Factors that influenced these picks included: a player's stats, advanced stats, impact numbers, role and health. His team’s overall success, health, and performance relative to preseason expectations are also considered. All stats through Monday.
All-NBA First Team
Guards: James Harden (Rockets) and Damian Lillard (Blazers)
Selecting Harden, The Crossover's choice for 2018 MVP, was the easiest All-NBA decision. Settling on his First Team partner was substantially more difficult.
In an ideal world, the spot would have gone to Stephen Curry in a no-brainer. Alas, Curry missed 31 games due to injury and logged just 1,631 minutes. His impact and skill are unquestionable: Golden State played at a 66-win pace with him on the court and he posted the best offensive rating of his career.
However, this voter heavily weighs health and availability in determining All-NBA selections, believing that it is an annual award meant to reflect the entire 82-game season. This was an especially strong year for guards and Curry’s top competition enjoyed good health. In addition to Harden, four other potential All-NBA guard candidates all logged 2,500+ minutes: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard. In a vacuum, Curry is a better and more valuable player than everyone in that group, but his All-NBA merits are determined both by the games he played and the games he missed. And he missed an awful lot of games.
Lillard, The Crossover's No. 4 pick on the MVP ballot, therefore slid into the All-NBA First Team spot vacated by Curry. His stat line (26.8 PPG 4.5 RPG 6.5 APG) was Curry-like and, in an unexpected development, he logged big minutes for one of the NBA’s top defenses. The clear leader in Portland for years, Lillard compensated for a somewhat slow start with a strong second half, helping position the Blazers for home-court in the first round. He led this voter’s pack of top candidates (Westbrook, Oladipo, and DeRozan) in Win Shares, Player Efficiency Rating and scoring.
Forwards: LeBron James (Cavaliers) and Kevin Durant (Warriors)
Adding James, the best player in basketball for years, to the All-NBA First Team required no substantive debate. He hasn’t missed a game, he leads the league in minutes, he’s captained one of the league’s best offenses despite a rotating and underwhelming cast of teammates, he’s averaging career highs in rebounds and assists at age 33, and his 27.7 PPG 8.7 RPG 9.2 APG stat line has only been matched by Westbrook (2017) and Harden (2017) during the three–point era.
While James has many impressive streaks and records to his name, this one often gets overlooked: He is headed for his 11th consecutive All-NBA First Team selection, his 12th total All-NBA First Team selection, and his 14th overall All-NBA nod during his 15-year career. If he is selected to the First Team as expected, James will set a record for most career First Team nods, breaking a three-way tie with Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant. Over the next five years, he has a chance to demolish the record for most total All-NBA selections (15).
It’s fitting that Durant spent much of his recent appearance on a Ringer podcast encouraging fans to watch games more diligently and keep basketball conversation centered around on-court performance. After all, Durant himself has spent the past year or so getting as much attention for his social media gaffes and polarizing decision to leave Oklahoma City as he has for his stellar play, which just so happened to include a championship ring and a Finals MVP. Durant seems to be edging towards life as the Twitter era’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: His game is phenomenal, consistent, and ground-breaking, but he’s been left feeling misunderstood, underappreciated and defensive. It doesn’t help that he shares a team and fan base with Curry, who possesses Magic Johnson-like charisma and likeability.
On the court, Durant has shined, averaging 26.4 PPG 6.8 RPG 5.4 APG and narrowly missing the 50/40/90 shooting club. This season saw him post a career-high in blocks even as the Warriors eased off the gas on defense. After being demoted to the All-NBA Second Team in each of the last two years, Durant’s dual roles as the leading scorer and a versatile defensive cog on the NBA’s third-winningest team make him worthy of a return to the First Team. While Giannis Antetokounmpo posted slightly better per-game numbers and advanced stats, he didn’t fully translate his individual skills to team success.
Center: Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
Placing Durant on the First Team was an easier call because the NBA made Davis eligible for selection as a forward or a center. Davis, No. 3 on The Crossover's MVP ballot, has a strong case as the best two-way player in the game: He’s extended his shooting range, continued to be unstoppable and savvy in the basket area, taken his defensive effectiveness to new levels, and thrived in the Pelicans’ up-tempo approach. He also enjoyed great health this year, logging more than 2,600 minutes, a fact that separated him from other All-NBA center candidates like Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert.
The NBA league office should be thrilled that Davis (28.2 PPG 11 RPG 2.6 BPG) is set to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
All-NBA Second Team
Guards: Russell Westbrook (Thunder) and Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
When a superstar is as polarizing as Westbrook (25.6 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 10.1 APG), the truth can usually be found in the middle. Last year, many awards voters were enchanted by his triple-double average and celebrated his one-man approach. This year, many observers have ignored his near-triple-double average and decried his one-man approach. While Westbrook has been less efficient and less productive than last season, the quality of his play hasn’t swung so wildly that he should be cast off. If anything, he’s mostly the same guy: the best player on his team, a relentless competitor who is blessed and cursed with total self-confidence.
While the Thunder have underachieved compared to preseason expectations, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs without Westbrook. With slightly better clutch execution and two more victories, OKC would be the West’s three seed and Westbrook would likely appear in the top five of many MVP ballots. Yes, he bears some responsibility for the disappointing arrivals of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but Westbrook’s presence still boosts Oklahoma City’s offensive rating by nearly 10 points. He’s still the show – even if it’s not as entertaining or as effective as last year.
In this season’s biggest surprise, Oladipo deserves to join Westbrook, his former Thunder backcourt partner, on an All-NBA team. Although Oladipo (23.1 PPG 5.2 RPG 4.3 APG) and DeRozan put up similar box score stats, the new face of the Pacers delivered a far superior two-way impact as he led the retooled Pacers into the playoffs with plenty of room to spare.
This was as stark as it gets: Indiana was 48-27 with him in the lineup and 0-7 without him. The Pacers’ net rating improved by more than 13 points with Oladipo on the court, as he left a big imprint on games thanks to his improved confidence, play-making, and shot-creation. Just for fun, Oladipo messed around and led the league in steals too.
Forwards: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
What’s scarier: That Antetokounmpo posted Hall of Fame type stats at age 23 or that he still hasn’t completely figured out the game yet? The sheer diversity of historical comparisons for Antetokounmpo’s 27.1 PPG 10 RPG 4.8 APG line is fascinating: David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson, among other greats. Collectively, they reinforce the rarity of Antetokounmpo’s skill package: he can create, finish, make plays, protect the basket, switch onto any position defensively, and still hit the glass. No wonder he recently stole the show from Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes.
From there, the forward position softened a bit: Kawhi Leonard was injured all year, Jimmy Butler missed a long stretch with a knee injury, and Draymond Green didn’t exert quite the same impact that he has in previous years. That left two strong, steady and underrated candidates: LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Horford.
While Horford’s Celtics had a superior record, Aldridge (23.3 PPG 8.5 RPG 2.1 APG) posted much better numbers and advanced stats. In Leonard’s absence, Aldridge kept the Spurs’ offense afloat and extended the franchise’s playoff streak to 21 years. There’s no major hole in his game: He can create for himself, finish in two-man situations, and log big minutes as a trustworthy and intelligent defender. Had Aldridge succeeding in forcing a trade, the Spurs surely would have endured their first losing season since 1997.
Center: Joel Embiid (Sixers)
Against all odds, this wound up being a pretty good year for center candidates. Kristaps Porzingis and DeMarcus Cousins both suffered season-ending injuries, Marc Gasol played for an atrocious Grizzlies team, and DeAndre Jordan was left as the last Clippers star standing. Despite that attrition, the collective rise of Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Nikola Jokic, coupled with the continued Andre Drummond and Rudy Gobert, made for a deep and intriguing race.
Embiid (22.9 PPG 11 RPG 1.8 BPG was the clear-cut choice for the All-NBA Second Team, as he joined Davis and Towns as the only centers with 20/10 averages to log at least 50 games. The difference between Embiid and Towns defensively is night and day: The former is a game-changing force while the latter still needs serious work. Indeed, Embiid was tracking towards a spot in the top five of MVP voting prior to his orbital fracture thanks to his eye-popping impact stats: Philadelphia’s net rating jumped from minus-1 with him off the court to +11.6 with him on the court. That whopping spread reflects his two-way dominance.
All-NBA Third Team
Guards: DeMar DeRozan (Raptors) and Chris Paul (Rockets)
DeRozan (23.1 PPG 3.9 RPG 5.2 APG) was the last of this voter’s five “must-include” All-NBA guards. He was the best player on the East’s best team, he enjoyed near-perfect availability, he was dominant for stretches offensively, and he was willing to make necessary adjustments to his shot selection diet and usage for the betterment of his team. His game has holes—he still can’t shoot from deep and he’ll never be an elite defender—but the fundamentals of his All-NBA case are strong. He was reliable, productive and healthy, and his presence translated directly to Toronto’s franchise-best record.
The final guard spot was this year’s toughest decision by a mile. It’s worth noting here that the NBA could simplify and modernize the All-NBA voting criteria by removing all positional designations.
To repeat a theme from above: In a vacuum, Curry is a better player than Chris Paul and his Warriors have dominated Paul’s teams in head-to-head match-ups in recent years. But the head-to-head comparison this season is razor thin.
Both players had stellar seasons for winning teams that were undercut by injuries. Curry scored more and shot more efficiently. Paul distributed better and played all-league defense. Curry ranked third overall in Real Plus Minus. Paul ranked first. Curry’s Warriors went 41-10 with him in the lineup and posted a +14 net rating with him on the court. Paul’s Rockets went 50-8 with him in the lineup and posted a +12.8 net rating. If both had enjoyed better health, they would have dueled for the First Team spot next to Harden.
In the end, Paul (18.6 PPG 7.9 APG 1.7 SPG) got the nod from this voter because he played roughly 200 more minutes than Curry, because Houston played at a 71-win clip when he was healthy, and because his arrival helped power the Rockets to the league’s best record.
Leaving Curry off is regrettable, given his status as a top-three player in the league, but something had to give considering this year’s excellent guard crop and the ballot’s strict positional designations. Ditto for Kyrie Irving, whose quality season ended prematurely due to a knee injury.
Forwards: Al Horford (Celtics) and Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves)
Horford (12.9 PPG 7.4 RPG 4.7 APG) is a quintessential “no-stats All-Star.” As Boston’s season took sharp twists and turns due to injuries around him, Horford steadied the ship by doing the little things: scoring without ball-stopping, making the extra pass and the right pass, and handling every conceivable defensive responsibility. He’s a worthy Celtics representative given Irving’s injury-shortened campaign.
The final forward spot on this voter’s ballot came down to Butler and Draymond Green. Even though Butler missed more than a month due to a knee injury, he still managed to log more than 2,100 minutes thanks to his heavy load in Minnesota. During those minutes, Butler’s impact was obvious: Minnesota played at a 51-win pace with him and his presence improved his team’s net rating by nearly 13 points.
While Green played roughly 10% more minutes than Butler and helped the Warriors to a far superior record, he posted the worst defensive rating of his career and downshifted at times to fourth gear. As the most important offensive and defensive player on the Timberwolves, Butler’s advanced stats easily trumped Green’s portfolio. In the end, with apologies to Green and Ben Simmons, this wasn’t a very difficult call.
One potential alternative was to slot DeRozan as a Third Team forward in place of Horford or Butler so that Curry and Paul could occupy the guard slots. In the end, Curry’s time off the court vastly exceeded the other candidates, leaving him as the odd man out for this voter.
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
There are quality arguments to be made against Towns: He should possess a larger offensive role, he must improve his consistency and attentiveness defensively, and he is only the second-most important player for a Timberwolves team that entered the final night of the season fighting to make the playoffs. Nikola Jokic is a far better playmaker and Rudy Gobert is a much better defender.
Nevertheless, Towns was one of just three 20 PPG/10 RPG players, he ranked among the league leaders in minutes, and he didn’t miss a game for the third straight season. He’s as reliable as big men come, especially considering his heavy minutes load under coach Tom Thibodeau. Meanwhile, his overall offensive package—one-on-one scoring, three-point shooting, mobility—makes life significantly easier for his teammates. Indeed, Minnesota’s offensive efficiency drops by more than 10 points when he leaves the court.
This voter ultimately selected Towns over Jokic in what amounted to a coin flip, with Towns’ durability serving as a tie-breaker. There was one final tempting Third Team configuration: Paul and Curry at guards, Butler and DeRozan at forward, and Horford at center. In the end, though, Towns earned the nod because he played 1,200+ more minutes than Curry. For a one-season award, that gap was too much to ignore given Towns’ All-Star level play.
All-Defensive First Team
Guards: Dejounte Murray (Spurs) and Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
In his first season as a starter, Murray established himself as the point guard no one wants to face. His wingspan is endlessly disruptive, his commitment is excellent, and he posted the best Defensive Real Plus Minus among guards with at least 50 games played.
Oladipo’s offensive breakthrough masked a strong defensive campaign in which he led the league in steals. His presence improved Indiana’s defensive efficiency by more than seven points as he delivered on his pre-draft projections as an elite on-ball stopper.
Forwards: Robert Covington (Sixers) and Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
Covington has been an elite defensive player for multiple seasons now, but this year he proved to be a brilliant fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. He can switch 1-4, he challenges every shot he can reach, he offers well-timed help, and he swarms ball-handlers. Covington is one of many reasons the rising Sixers often feel unfair.
Davis, as noted above, deserves more credit than he receives for his defensive impact and versatility.
Center: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
The Crossover's Defensive Player of the Year nominee should lead the First Team thanks to his league-best Defensive Real Plus Minus and central role in Utah’s elite defense.
All-Defensive Second Team
Guards: Chris Paul (Rockets) and Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves)
Despite injuries, Paul and Butler earned All-NBA nods from this voter for their clear two-way impact.
Forwards: Draymond Green (Warriors) and Al Horford (Celtics)
Green’s ceiling as a defender remains as high as anyone in the league. Horford’s intelligence, experience and positional versatility are central to Boston’s defensive success.
Center: Joel Embiid (Sixers)
The Crossover's pick as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year guided the Sixers to one of the league’s best defenses before suffering an orbital fracture.