With the NBA season scheduled to return in under 2 weeks, players are still testing positive and the league has precarious feelings about the possible outcomes. The end of the season awards and all-NBA teams will be based off of the games prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (sorry people who threw lots of dough on Zion to win ROY).
All-NBA: It will be interesting to see how these actually play out and how everyone votes. Every year we have to worry about whether or not Anthony Davis is going to be classified as a forward or a center. This season he has played 72% of his minutes at the forward spot so I am going to assume he will be designated as a forward. This is what I came up with:
First Team All-NBA:
G- Luka Doncic
G- James Harden
F- LeBron James
F- Giannis Antetokounmpo
C- Nikola Jokic
Second Team All-NBA:
G- Damian Lillard
G- Chris Paul
F- Kawhi Leonard
F- Anthony Davis
C- Joel Embiid
Third Team All-NBA: (Here’s where it gets dicey)
G- Kyle Lowry
G- Russell Westbrook
F- Jimmy Butler
F- Pascal Siakam
C- Rudy Gobert
There are a couple things to clarify here. It absolutely kills me to not put Bradley Beal on here as my third team guard. The third team could be completely done in a different way. I will try to justify the dicey picks. For me, the first team is exactly what it will be come release day. However, people may be surprised by Chris Paul being in my second team. His numbers aren’t as jacked up as Beal’s, or Russ’s, or anyone else considered. However, the advanced analytics on Chris Paul on vs. off the floor differences are unmatched. The Thunder are 10 points better when he is on the floor vs. when he is off. This beats Westbrook’s, Lillard’s and Lowry’s point differentials of -1.2 (yikes Russ), 8.9, and -1 respectively. CP3 and Dame clearly deserve it as they are keeping two teams afloat, one of which was supposed to be in re-building mode and one who was plagued with injuries.
As for the third team there were some really tough names to leave off. Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Ben Simmons, and Khris Middleton are just a few. Let me explain.
We can all agree that unless Davis is classified as a center, the three centers will most likely be Jokic, Embiid, and Gobert in that order. Jokic is a top 6 or 7 MVP candidate right now, Embiid is statistically one of the 5 most crucial guys in the league to his team when you combine what he does on both ends, and Gobert is… well Gobert. He’ll duck to the rim on screens and dunk a few times a game, grab a handful of boards, and be a defensive menace when Mitchell gets beat by ball-handlers on the wing.
The 2 third team guards and forwards I have could all turn out differently. Do I feel weird about not having two Bucks on the All-NBAs given their pace of almost 70 wins? Yes. Is Jayson Tatum probably one of the best 15-17 guys in the league right now? Yes. Can Westbrook be an absolute trainwreck? Yes.
Let me explain why I chose the guys I chose. Firstly, Lowry. With Kawhi Leonard gone after the one-hit-wonder they had last season, several people thought the Raptors would fall to a low playoff seed (not me, but some people did). However, Nick Nurse has established a solid pack-line defense with two bigs in Gasol and Ibaka who really bared down and were patient all year. The Raptors are 3rd in the league in overall defense and Kyle Lowry is a huge reason why. The most vocal guy on the court, he may not be as integral to the defense as Gasol but he has been their backbone this whole season. HE IS THE BEST RAPTOR EVER… It is a straight fact. The Raptors are steadily in the two spot in the east right now and he is the main reason why. In games in the 4th quarter on shots to either tie or take the lead this season, Lowry is shooting 54.5% from the field and 42.9% from 3. Those numbers are outrageously good. Combine that with him leading the league in charges (for like the 4th time), the Raptor’s record, his overall numbers, and you got yourself an All-NBAer.
I contemplated Simmons vs. Westbrook for quite a while before locking this in. Russ is the worst 3 point shooting guard in the history of the league (it is not close). While in OKC, he would jack up 3s at a rate of 6 or 7 per game and shoot it around 29%. That is so incredibly bad. I think the OKC staff were too scared to address this as a problem. However, Russ has been patient and efficient for a good part of this season. He is shooting his highest field goal percentage in his career, and shooting roughly only 3.8 3s per game. Its still a lot, but better than it has been. He has taken far less long 2s than he used to and he is attacking the basket higher than he ever has in his career. He is shooting the lowest amount of mid-range jumpers in his career (besides his rookie year) this season and only took 136. Although the season ended early, he was on pace to keep that number very low. He is also shooting mid-range jumpers at third highest percentage of his career as well. His uptake in efficiency isn’t just a good sign for Houston going forward, but a good sign for Russ continuing to grow as a player. Yes, he averaged a triple double for a few seasons and although very impressive, the percentages were profoundly bad. Now, averaging less than that, his efficiency has gone way up, which to me is far more valuable.
Simmons, on the other hand, has had the streakiest season of his career thus far. It is almost like him and Russ completely switched basketball personalities. Simmons has a real +/- of +12.4 at home and -7.9 on the road. This has been his toughest season due to the chemistry issues the team has, the catastrophe that is Brett Brown, and his lack of ability to get on the same page with Embiid. I will say, his defense has been ridiculously good this year. If the Sixers can figure out a way to give Thybulle more minutes, it could get ugly for opposing teams. I read a report recently that said Brett Brown was going to try to put Ben Simmons off the ball instead of being given 7 feet at the top of the key by opposing defenders. I know some pretty ignorant Sixers fans, and even they have suggested this good idea before. Brett Brown is literally 3 years behind.
If I could only keep only one person on the third team, Siakam would be my choice. He is not filling Kawhi’s shoes as the alpha on this team, but he has been decently close. Siakam continues to be able to turn into an all-defensive player when he wants to. He does not dial into this all game, probably because of his offensive load. However, he does absolutely everything Nick Nurse has dreams about doing. He is the best off-ball cutter in the league, one of the best off-ball defenders in the league, and has developed into a star in this league. He has only grown each year and, you could argue, that he could win back to back MIP awards.
Finally, I originally had Tatum over Butler just based off the eye test but then I started digging into some stats. It is true that apex mountain Tatum right before the all-star break was way better than Butler at any point this year, but Butler has been the rock of a young team with players who are learning what it means to be a hard worker in the league. Butler is 6th in the league in offensive win shares, 8th in overall win shares, 10th in +/-, and 7th in win shares per 48. All of these categories are well within the top 15 in the league this year. Butler also has a slightly higher overall offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions than Tatum does. I also give the advantage to the vet over the 22 year old budding superstar. Tatum has some impressive feats though, and although he isn’t on my team this year, he will make several all-NBA teams and a few all defensive teams by the time his career is over.
The awards include MVP, DPOY, ROY, 6th man, most improved, and coach of the year.
MVP AND DPOY: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL/PF): This is literally not even close. He leads the league in field goals made, defensive rebounds, PER, defensive rating, defensive win shares, win shares per 48, +/-, and defensive +/-. His per 36 numbers last year were as good as the apex Shaq seasons. This year, he has smashed those numbers. Per 36 Giannis is averaging 34.5 ppg, 16 rpg, and almost 7 assists per game on 55% from the field. The Bucks are a ridiculous 16.4 points better with Giannis on the floor than off. That is by far the biggest margin in the league. The Bucks defense is historically good. They give up the most corner 3s in the league but they continue to dominate teams who try to drive in the paint. Giannis is the best off-ball defender in the league and opposing teams do everything in their power to avoid him. As close as it is for Davis to be considered for DPOY, before the hiatus Giannis was having historically one of the 10-15 best regular seasons ever. He will win back-to-back MVPs and top it off with a DPOY. We are literally witnessing an alien.
ROY: Ja Morant (MEM/PG): Not really a whole lot to say here. Zion did not play nearly enough minutes, RJ Barrett is stuck on the Knicks, and the other solid rookies didn’t get enough minutes to match up with Ja’s volume. Ja runs away with this one after an extremely impressive rookie year.
6th Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder (OKC/PG): Usually quick to just hand it Lou Will, Schroder was an incredible backup for CP3 and SGA this season on a team that played way beyond what they were expected. Their 3 guard lineup with Gallinari and Adams at the 4 and 5 is lethal. The Thunder are +27 points using that lineup and that has been their crunch-time lineup and will continue to be. Schroder has had the best season of his career and has absolutely been the best bench player in the league this year. His field goal and 3 point percentages are both career highs.
Most Improved: Brandon Ingram (NO/SF): If you ask any skills coach around the league the question of whether or not a guy will eventually be a good shooter, they’ll tell you you can always tell from their free throw progress. One of Ingram’s strengths that he has had since high school was his ability to get to the free throw line. He does it at an impressive rate for a young player thus far but he was always a 65ish% shooter at the stripe. Even during his days at Duke he would miss big free-throws down the stretch of game. This year, he has squashed that number by shooting an astounding 86% from the line. Jumping from the mid-high 60s in free throw percentage all the way to the mid 80s is almost unheard of at any level of basketball. His jump at the stripe has immensely helped his shot selection as well. Instead of taking his two-dribble pull-up 2s that he was accustomed to taking he has stepped back and taken more 3s. Improving at the free throw line and bumping up your 3 point attempts will bump up any player’s per game stats. This small change in his game has opened up the opportunity for him to be very difficult to guard. Don’t be mistaken, his best weapon is his ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. However, the fact that he is a serious threat from 3 (39% on 6 attempts a game) and at the line, he has added more weapons at an efficient rate. I also would not be surprised if any of these guys won this award: Tatum, Luka, Bam, or even Siakam. All of those guys are extremely worthy as well.
Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse (TOR): This one is pretty much set in stone for me. So many people doubted this team heading into the season after the departure of the guy who I think is the best player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. Not only are they hanging on, they are probably the best chance at stopping Giannis. Nick Nurse has implemented a zone, pack-line, and different variations of man defense throughout the year. Nick Nurse is not one of the coaches that sticks to one way of doing and rolls with it. He is in the film room preparing with his guys day in and day out. He trusts his veterans in Lowry and Gasol and has given Siakam the freedom to blossom into a young star. They are 3rd in the league in overall defense. Almost all of their first 7 or 8 guys are above average defenders. The worst one is probably Norman Powell (dark horse candidate for MIP?) and he is the league average. Nick Nurse has put Toronto in position to not only make the conference finals, but possibly the finals. The Raptors are putting up one heck of a title defense and they are probably one of the 3 most fun teams to watch in the league.
All-Defensive First Team:
G- Marcus Smart
G- Ben Simmons
F- Giannis Antetokounmpo
F- Anthony Davis
C- Rudy Gobert
All-Defensive Second Team:
G- Kyle Lowry
G- Jrue Holiday
F- Kawhi Leonard
F- Pascal Siakam
C- Brook Lopez