Predicting Every 2013-14 All-NBA Team Selection
If you're looking for a quick snapshot of any year in NBA history, the All-NBA teams are a pretty decent place to start.
They don't provide too much context, sure.
But quick, who were the best players in the league during the 1967-68 season?
You might not remember all the names of the standouts from that portion of basketball history, but a glance at the All-NBA teams will immediately remind you of Dave Bing and Hal Greer, who are often forgotten about when compared to luminaries like Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Jerry West.
Of course, these teams also mean a great deal in the present day, as they're one of the best ways of recognizing greatness at the end of the season. There are only a handful of trophy-earning awards, and All-Star teams—which are largely influenced by popularity—only recognize the first portion of the season.
Basically, All-NBA teams are important. All three of them.
As we go through this year's expected selections (remember, there are two backcourt players, two forwards and one center on each team), it's worth noting that these are not my personal selections. Instead, they're predictions based on the ballots that have been made public and a general consensus of opinion.
In many cases, my opinion is different than what appears here, even if I only note that a few times throughout the article.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
All-NBA 3rd Team: Backcourt
Damian Lillard, Guard, Portland Trail Blazers
Even without factoring in his epic series-winning shot in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, Damian Lillard stood out as an offensive stalwart who had ice water flowing through his veins.
Big moments never scared the Weber State product, but he did his best to avoid them all the same. Not by shying away from the ball when the clock was ticking toward triple zeros, but by playing so well during the first 3.5 quarters that crunch-time performances weren't even necessary.
Lillard still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the court, but his offense is so good that it makes up for the deficiencies. On top of that, we're dealing with a weakened field of guards.
As NBC Sports' Dan Feldman explained while picking Lillard to his own third-team All-NBA spot, "Lillard narrowly beat John Wall and Mike Conley for third-team guard. None of those three seem All-NBA caliber, but one of them had to be with Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose missing too many games due to injury."
Tony Parker, Guard, San Antonio Spurs
"There’s something to be said for some Spur, any Spur, appearing on an All-NBA team," wrote Grantland's Zach Lowe while making his picks. Now Lowe ultimately went with Kyle Lowry in this spot, but I can't help but think the majority of voters will end up with Tony Parker sneaking in ahead of a crowded field of guards.
After all, the Spurs did earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and Parker was the best player on that team. It seems almost inconceivable, but he's the only player preventing the squad with the league's best record from producing an 0-fer on these teams. That's just what happens when not one player tops 30 minutes per game.
Basically, it's impossible to pick this last spot, but the Spurs need to have at least someone on one of the three teams. And Parker is the best choice.
Almost everyone is going to have different backcourt combinations throughout the three teams, and this one in particular will include a wide variety of possibilities. Even beyond the toughest omissions, there are guys like Mike Conley, Isaiah Thomas and plenty more whose names might show up.
Personally, I'd have Goran Dragic and John Wall comprising mine. But the majority will have Parker.
Toughest omissions: DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Dwyane Wade
All-NBA 3rd Team: Frontcourt
Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Bobcats
The master of the left block, Al Jefferson did more than lead the Charlotte Bobcats into the playoffs for the first time since forever the 2009-10 season. He gave relevancy to a franchise that was so desperately looking for it, validating his offseason signing all the while.
Jefferson's defense improved to relatively respectable levels under the tutelage of head coach Steve Clifford, and his offense remained just as potent as ever. He was the unquestioned featured option in Charlotte, and he reveled in that ability.
Entire defensive schemes were built around preventing Jefferson from touching the ball while standing on his sweet spot. And Clifford countered nicely, still managing to get Big Al the rock on that left block.
From there, he was unstoppable.
Kevin Love, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
This is an easy selection, even if Kevin Love wasn't able to steer the Minnesota Timberwolves past the 82nd game of the season.
You can make all the arguments you want about the empty nature of Love's statistics, but there's still no doubt he's one of the most dominant individual forces in the NBA. The combination of his interior scoring, rebounding excellence, outlet passing and perimeter game is simply unmatched around the league, though his overall value is tempered by his defensive limitations.
During the 2013-14 season, Love averaged a career-best 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.6 percent beyond the arc. The hand injuries that hampered his shooting in the past are now well behind him.
Any guesses how many players have ever averaged better than 26, 12 and four?
According to Basketball-Reference.com, only seven: Love, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo and Oscar Robertson.
Love is the first since Kareem and McAdoo in 1975-76.
Dirk Nowitzki, Forward, Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki must have been intent on proving that any rumors of a decline were exaggerated and just flat-out wrong.
It's worth noting that this was an incredibly tough decisions, as Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Anthony Davis are huge snubs. But Dirk deserves credit nonetheless, especially after leading his Dallas Mavericks into the postseason while providing humongous offensive contributions.
Although his defense was lackluster, and his rebounding remains subpar for a 7-footer, Dirk's scoring was ridiculous. He averaged 21.7 points per game, and he was ever so close to joining the 50/40/90 club again.
Ultimately, Nowitzki fell short in all three categories, but only by 0.3 percent from the field, 0.2 percent beyond the arc and 0.1 percent at the charity stripe.
Can we just round up and give it to him?
Toughest omissions: Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Paul George
All-NBA 2nd Team: Backcourt
Goran Dragic, Guard, Phoenix Suns
Even though Goran Dragic's Phoenix Suns were ultimately unable to make it into the postseason—due mostly to the ridiculously stacked nature of the brutally difficult Western Conference—the combo guard still thrived. Whether Eric Bledsoe, Ish Smith or Gerald Green was joining him in the backcourt, Dragic was going to put on a show.
Plenty tough, "The Dragon" became a one-man wrecking ball in fast-break situations. He thrived attacking the glass and outrebounding his positional counterpart and showcased incredible creativity with the ball in his hands.
If there were an All-NBA League Pass Team, Dragic would be a first-team guard, and that's not a statement made lightly. There are plenty of entertaining guards, but Dragic stood out due to his penchant for physical play and his overall slitheriness.
Entertainment doesn't buy an All-NBA spot, though. Production does, and the Phoenix floor general had that in spades as well.
James Harden, Guard, Houston Rockets
Does James Harden play defense?
Does it matter?
Yes and no.
The bearded shooting guard's lack of defense prevents him from earning a spot on the top level of the All-NBA totem pole, and it hinders the Houston Rockets, who constantly have to make up for his attention lapses. However, because he's so good offensively, he's still able to establish himself as one of the best backcourt players in the Association.
There aren't many players who have scored 25 points per game or more while posting a true shooting percentage on the right side of 60. According to Basketball-Reference.com, there have been only 44 such qualified seasons throughout NBA history, three of which occurred this year (Harden, Kevin Durant and LeBron James).
But how many times have players posted those numbers while dishing out more than six assists per game? Only nine times: LeBron (four times), Michael Jordan (twice), Larry Bird (twice) and now Harden.
That's pretty solid company.
All-NBA 2nd Team: Frontcourt
LaMarcus Aldridge, Forward, Portland Trail Blazers
Winning matters to voters.
Carmelo Anthony would be my choice for this spot, based on just how valuable he was to the New York Knicks, but he was ultimately unable to carry his team into the promised land. The same argument applies for Kevin Love, whose Minnesota Timberwolves fell shy of the postseason.
LaMarcus Aldridge, meanwhile, served as one head of the two-headed snake that was the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers. The other would be Damian Lillard, though that's not particularly relevant right here.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Rip City scored an additional 4.8 points per 100 possessions when this particular power forward was on the court. And when he sat, it allowed opponents to post four more points over the same span.
Those are MVP-caliber numbers, though on/off splits should obviously never be the sole reason for that type of vote.
Blake Griffin, Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
Let's not forget just how good Blake Griffin was without Chris Paul.
While the Los Angeles Clippers point guard was missing time with a separated shoulder, the team's power forward stepped up in a big way. And cliche as that second clause may be, it doesn't make it any less true.
During CP3's 18-game absence, Griffin averaged 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest while shooting 55.4 percent from the field. Basically, he proved that he could carry the LAC offense even without a superstar point guard feeding him the ball.
But the rest of the season was impressive as well. After all, Griffin improved defensively, showed off post moves and mid-range jumpers that were more effective than pretty and became a crucial hub in the offense even when Paul was on the court.
Dwight Howard, Center, Houston Rockets
The narrative is strange here.
Dwight Howard hasn't redeemed himself in terms of public perception, not after he ruined his popularity by leaving the Orlando Magic in messy fashion before doing the exact same thing with the Los Angeles Lakers. While the center has woken up from his Dwightmares, the general public is actually underappreciating one of the league's two best centers.
Even though he worked in relative obscurity, D12 still submitted one helluva two-way season. He was a fantastic offensive player, scoring in volume while maintaining efficiency and basically spitting on anyone who refuses to acknowledge that he actually can score in the post. And, just like always, he thrived as a defensive big man.
He may not be popular. He may not be fun to root for anymore.
He's still really good.
All-NBA 1st-Team Guard: Chris Paul
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
There's only one knock on Chris Paul, and that's the amount of time he spent on the court.
CP3 separated his shoulder while driving the lane against the Dallas Mavericks in a Jan. 3 outing, and he sat out 18 games until returning on Feb. 9 for a clash with the Philadelphia 76ers. When you combine that with the two random contests in which Paul didn't play, he ended up dressing in only 62 of the Los Angeles Clippers' 82 games.
Twenty games is a large chunk of the season, large enough that CP3 won't be a unanimous pick for this top squad even though he was the best point guard in the NBA when healthy. And the best backcourt player in general, for that matter.
As Grant Hughes wrote for Bleacher Report while making his own predictions at the beginning of May, Paul is the impetus behind the league's most potent offense:
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.
That's not something to take lightly, especially when CP3 also led the Association in steals while maintaining the defensive presence that has always gone hand-in-hand with his excellent offense.
Whether or not you care for his flops and knack for whining after calls don't go his way, it's hard to deny that he's an incredibly elite two-way player. There are arguments to be made that he isn't; they just defy logic and are usually incorrect.
All-NBA 1st-Team Guard: Stephen Curry
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks
If you want to consider Stephen Curry's 2013-14 campaign a failure, I totally get it.
After all, he made "only" 261 three-pointers, and while that's still enough to lead the NBA, it wasn't enough to build upon the single-season record he set the year before.
So actually, I don't get it at all.
Despite the postseason failure of the Golden State Warriors, which was at least partially due to Andrew Bogut's absence from the lineup, Curry had a fantastic year. He might not be the league's best point guard (see: previous slide), but he did have the best season by a point guard, given the fact that he missed only four games.
Mark Jackson, the former head coach of the Dubs, did tend to hide Curry defensively, but he had the luxury of doing so thanks to the defensive prowess of both Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. Watching enough tape reveals that the former Davidson standout actually improved on the less glamorous end, and hiding him was more a function of having the ability to do so than acting upon a dire need.
And on offense, few players in the league are better.
Don't make the mistake of pigeonholing Curry into the category of sharpshooters, as he's so much more than a perimeter threat. Between his 8.5 assists per game, his precocious rebounding skills for a floor general without a distinct height advantage and his knack for creating his own shots, the Golden State point guard is—aside from his penchant for racking up turnovers—a complete offensive package.
All-NBA 1st-Team Forward: LeBron James
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks
LeBron James may have been dethroned as the league MVP, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be supplanted from the first-team spot he's held ever since the 2007-08 season. Despite the glut of All-NBA-caliber forwards, the league's preeminent superstar is still in a class occupied by only two players.
We'll get to that second player on the next slide, but let's stay focused on LeBron for now.
If anyone with an official vote doesn't have the four-time MVP on the First Team ballot, he or she should have his or her vote revoked before being banned forever. By any criteria you care to set up, LeBron fits the billing.
Let's say team success matters. Sure, the Miami Heat took a step backwards and were only able to earn the No. 2 seed in a weak Eastern Conference. But at the same time, LeBron spearheaded a march to a 54-win season despite the near-consistent absence of a certain shooting guard.
If you're looking for pure individual dominance, then I'm pretty sure the combo forward's numbers speak for themselves.
According to Basketball-Reference, LeBron finished third among qualified players in points per game while producing a true shooting percentage that trailed only Kyle Korver. He finished second in player-efficiency rating, second in win shares and third in win shares per 48 minutes.
Whether or not LeBron truly cared about dominating the regular season, he did.
All-NBA 1st-Team Forward: Kevin Durant
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks
The league MVP is obviously going to land a spot on the most coveted All-NBA team, and Kevin Durant's MVP also happened to be punctuated by one of the most memorable acceptance speeches ever. According to KD, though, his mother should be the MVP, which means she should be on the first-team All-NBA.
Well, now the logic is just getting tricky.
What isn't so tricky is the argument that Durant was one of the two best forwards in the Association during the 2013-14 season. Whether or not you think he moved past LeBron James, he certainly wasn't surpassed by anyone in the field during his best season to date, which guarantees him the spot he's held down since 2010.
Let's just acknowledge Durant's incredible scoring prowess and then move on. Scary as it may be, focusing on his point-producing abilities detracts from his overall game, simply because it overshadows all the other improvements.
Durant developed into a quality facilitator, one who could do far more than pass out of double-teams and find the open man. He was actively seeking out teammates and looking to create easy scoring opportunities by virtue of both the defensive attention he drew and the passing skills he developed over the offseason.
On top of that, the Durantula put all facets of his game together in 2013-14, becoming a defensive stopper and one of the best rebounders at his position.
If there was any word to describe the MVP this year, it would be this one: complete.
All-NBA 1st Team Center: Joakim Noah
Team: Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks
"There's no tanking, and that's it," Joakim Noah told the world at a media session shortly after the Chicago Bulls traded away Luol Deng for virtually nothing during the early portion of the season, via ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg.
The loss of Derrick Rose and Deng should've doomed this Eastern Conference squad, but Noah wasn't going to let it. He became an offensive centerpiece, handling the ball more than ever, and he played with even more passion on the defensive end.
You can't see passion in any sort of physical form, but if you could, you'd be able to find a large concentration of the world's supply oozing out of Noah's pores during any given game.
His defensive excellence is well known at this point. After all, the Bulls star was named Defensive Player of the Year for good reason. But what often goes overlooked is just how good he was on the offensive end, despite his lack of scoring.
In fact, I'd argue that Noah was better than Dwight Howard at producing points, even though he averaged quite a few less points per game. Here are the relevant numbers, courtesy of NBA.com's SportVU databases and Basketball-Reference:
|Player||PPG||Points Created by AST per game||Turnovers||Team ORtng|
Right off the bat, Noah provided 23.8 points per game in positive plays, while D12 checked in at 23.0. Passing can make a big difference, after all, even if it doesn't get as much credit as the finishing play of any possession.
But in case that discrepancy isn't big enough, let's add in the negative plays.
Noah turned the ball over 0.8 times fewer per game, and his turnovers weren't as costly because the Bulls as a whole did less damage per possession. If you think of each turnover as dropping the expected value of a possession from one-hundredth of the offensive rating to a goose egg, then Noah cost Chicago 2.5 points per game while Howard hurt the Houston Rockets by 3.6 points per contest.
So the updated numbers: Noah provides 21.3 points per game, and D12 checks in at 19.4.
How exactly is this a contest?