Complete All-NBA First Team and Second Team Predictions
Putting together the All-NBA First Team was easy enough, probably because the second team was sitting there next to it, functioning as a safety net where guys who narrowly missed the cut in the first go-round could land.
But making decisions for that second team was practically impossible. There were just too many deserving candidates who couldn't quite make the grade.
In the real world, there's a third team for some of these guys. Here, there's only the unsatisfying inclusion in the "Toughest Omissions" slide.
We might as well refer to that as the "kissing your sister" section.
In handing out All-NBA honors, the statistics mattered most. Remember, spots on these teams depend entirely on regular-season performance. Individual numbers are critical, but team success can't be ignored either.
Volume is key as well. Efficient contributions to a team aren't worth much if they're not spread over a large chunk of the season. Games played is as big a consideration as anything in these predictions.
Another constraint: positions.
The official NBA ballot requires the selection of two guards, two forwards and one center per team. That's a particularly painful set of parameters because so many forwards were deserving this season.
But tough decisions had to be made. Here's how we expect the All-NBA teams to shake out when the final votes come in later this month.
Truthfully, that list could go on for another half-dozen names. And I'm sure the comments section will happily provide a few more that I didn't even consider. I mean, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are nowhere to be found. How can that happen?
Questions are perfectly fine; this is a tough task. And worthy players were bound to be excluded.
So help me, though—if anyone acts like there's a clear-cut, obvious case in saying one of the omitted players absolutely, positively got robbed, I'm going to lose it.
Are there debates to be had? Sure.
Could one or two spots have gone to somebody else? Definitely.
But these are close calls, almost by definition. So nobody got royally screwed, disrespected or whatever other overly dramatic terms we love to use in situations like this.
In other words, not everybody can be a winner. Deal with it.
All-NBA 2nd Team Guard: Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
Making the playoffs is clearly not a requirement for inclusion on the second team. And even if it were, there'd have to be an exception for Goran Dragic.
The Slovenian lefty was the best player on a Phoenix Suns team that wildly exceeded expectations this year, doing so in highly entertaining fashion. Picked by just about everyone to tank (a consensus that only gained steam when the Suns traded Marcin Gortat away for nothing that would help them on the court this year), Phoenix was in the playoff hunt right down to the season's final days.
In just about any other year, the team's 48 wins would have been enough to earn a postseason trip.
Dragic's crafty, hyperaggressive game wasn't just a joy to behold; it was also insanely productive. He finished the year with averages of 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds to go along with accuracy rates of 50.5 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from long distance.
And his length made him a capable defender on the other end.
As a result of his massive leap forward this season, he also took home the Kia Most Improved Player award.
All-NBA 2nd Team Guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets
It's hard to get past the defensive gag reels and the frustration of a Houston Rockets offense that often bogs down because James Harden needs his isolation touches, but this guy is a flat-out devastating offensive player.
This is where the case for someone like Lowry seems strong. The Toronto Raptors guard played both ends this season. The same is largely true of John Wall.
But in terms of sheer overall impact, Harden topped both of those players. He piled up the fifth-most win shares, posted the No. 14 player efficiency rating in the league and ranked 11th in true shooting percentage. Lowry was close in win shares, ranking eighth and trailing Harden by just 1.1 wins, but he was miles behind Harden in the other two stats.
Wall didn't rank in the top 20 in any of those categories and actually saw his PER go down this season.
Harden is far from a perfect player. But he's impossible to guard in one-on-one situations, gets to the line with maddening regularity and scores the ball more efficiently than almost anyone. That's enough to make the second team.
All-NBA 2nd Team Forward: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin grew up this season, which is an odd thing to say about a guy who was already a three-time All-Star and two-time member of the All-NBA Second Team.
But his scoring average spiked by 6.1 points per game, his rebounds jumped by 1.2 and his assists reached a career high at 3.9 per game. And he amassed all those numbers while posting the best PER of his career (23.9) and increasing his usage rate by almost five percent.
Much more than a dunker now, he features a post game, a vastly improved mid-range jumper and even a few mid-post moves that result in frighteningly polished step-backs that would make Dirk Nowitzki smile.
If he ever shores up his defensive game, watch out.
In most other seasons, Griffin would have found himself on the first team. But he can't do much about a pair of all-time great forwards locking up the available spots. He'll have to settle for his third consecutive year here.
All-NBA 2nd Team Forward: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Full disclosure: I had Nowitzki in this spot until the very last minute.
Winning matters in these nominations, and for all of Kevin Love's individual statistical brilliance, his team was still one of the most disappointing in the league. With Dirk flirting with a 50-40-90 season and the Dallas Mavericks earning a playoff spot, it was tough to switch things up.
But Love was just too much of a statistical monster to exclude.
He was the first player to average at least 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game in almost 40 years, per Basketball-Reference.com, and nobody in NBA history has ever posted those numbers while making 2.5 threes per game.
Love is in a statistical class of one.
No, he doesn't defend. And yes, he hunts rebounds at the expense of solid positioning. But he's such a phenomenal offensive player that I just can't leave him out.
All-NBA 2nd Team Center: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
If you only focused on the silliness, the ongoing reluctance to play pick-and-roll offense and the frustrating insistence on getting post-up possessions, you might not think Dwight Howard belongs in this spot.
After all, we all love Marc Gasol. And DeMarcus Cousins put together a statistical year that exceeded Howard's in many respects. Plus, DeAndre Jordan rode Doc Rivers' hyperbolic praise and motivational tactics to his very best season.
But as a total basketball package, Howard beats all of those guys.
He scored more than Jordan, and did so in a broader variety of ways. For all the hand-wringing about D12's post game, the fact remains he's still a big enough threat to draw double-teams and fouls. Jordan, on the other hand, almost never posts up and rarely scores unless he is set up directly for dunks.
Defensively, Howard is still a more polished, intelligent stopper than Jordan, who routinely flies out of position in pursuit of blocks. It's not like Howard is substantially better than DJ; it's a marginal thing.
As for Gasol, Howard played a dozen more games. And Cousins' team won a grand total of 28 contests on the year. Howard was more valuable than both of them this past season.
All-NBA 1st Team Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
That's it. That's a wrap. Whenever the likely MVP makes an all-time proclamation like that, a spot on the first team is guaranteed to follow. That's a rule, and if it's not, it should be.
Of course, Curry's otherworldly numbers helped his case. His averages of 24 points and 8.5 assists per game were both career highs, and he also ranked in the top 10 in player efficiency rating, usage rate, assist rate and offensive win shares.
Oh, and he started the All-Star Game.
He didn't just test defenses in 2013-14; he fundamentally altered everything they did, per Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated:
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.
If anything, KD undersold Curry's gifts.
All-NBA 1st Team Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Though it was tempting to relegate Chris Paul to the second team because of the 20 games he missed this season, his overall production was just too good to ignore.
The Los Angeles Clippers finished the season with the league's best offense, per NBA.com, and Paul's presence on the court had everything to do with that statistic. When he sat, the Clips' offensive rating dropped more than five points per 100 possessions, all the way down to ninth in the league.
Nobody averaged more assists or steals per game this past season, and nobody exerted the kind of complete control over the other nine players on the court that CP3 did. He was the epitome of a floor general, which is nothing new for the seven-time All-Star.
If Curry is the new wave in the world of point guards, Paul is the best embodiment of the classic model.
All-NBA 1st Team Forward: LeBron James, Miami Heat
There's not enough room here to list LeBron James' first-team credentials, so we'll stick to the basics.
He finished third in the league in scoring, 11th in assists, second in PER, fifth in true shooting percentage and second in win shares. The statistical case is as obvious as it is uninteresting to discuss.
He is still the NBA's best player when fully engaged, a point that's difficult to prove unless you happened to be watching on one of the rare occasions this season when he pressed the pedal all the way to the floor.
Still capable of guarding any player on the court for long stretches, still possessing otherworldly court vision and still the scariest open-court threat in decades, James has but one peer in the entire league.
Speaking of which...
All-NBA 1st Team Forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
You can take a lot of the numbers used to laud James' worthiness above and apply them to KD. The only difference is that Durant's stats were actually better than LBJ's across the board this year.
Durant led the league in scoring, posted the highest PER in the NBA and amassed 19.2 win shares on the year—a figure that led all players and left James' second-best total of 15.9 in the dust.
Pushed to the limit by head coach Scott Brooks, KD played 3,122 minutes on the season, the highest total of any player. Despite that, his efficiency never wavered.
In short, nobody was better than him this past season. Throw out positional qualifiers and distinctions between volume and efficiency. KD topped everybody.
All-NBA 1st Team Center: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Defensive Player of the Year Award? Check.
More defensive win shares than anybody in the league? Check.
Lowest individual defensive rating in the NBA? Check.
Emotional leader of a team that was nearly ripped apart by the money-saving trade of Luol Deng?
Offensive fulcrum who racked up the seventh-most assists (431) a center has ever had in a single season?
Iron man who played 80 games at maximum intensity without ever complaining?
Check. Check. Check.
Tom Thibodeau had this to say about his beloved center, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.com:
And the thing that I admire about Jo is he's not the type of guy that will allow things to fall apart. And so his will and determination helped us overcome the circumstances that we were in. I had the belief in him that he could do more. He had the belief in himself that he could do more. And he knew if we were going to get it done that that was what was going to have to happen.
No center provided a better mix of invaluable on-court contributions and locker-room leadership. Frankly, it's not even close.
Noah is the easy pick here.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.