Complete 2016 All-NBA Team Predictions
It's one thing to fill out an NBA awards ballot, real or imagined. It's another thing entirely to predict how all the media folks tabbed to do so actually completed theirs.
This season was a particularly tricky one for nailing down the league's All-NBA teams.
If Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all locks at guard, who among them gets bumped to the second team? And who nabs the other three backcourt spots? Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry and James Harden are among those who deserve consideration, but not all the worthy applicants can cram onto a single ballot.
The same goes at forward, where LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green can't all be first-teamers.
Good luck sorting out center, too. None of the main candidates grades out as a bona fide first-teamer, but who among them doesn't get a spot at all?
To better predict who will wind up where when the league announces the three All-NBA teams, I surveyed a swath of ballots submitted to the Association that have since been posted to various outlets online. The trends I found helped objectively put together my selections.
Third-Team Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
After years of battling his body, Kyle Lowry showed up to training camp in shape this past fall.
"I want to play longer, to be a more effective player into my mid-to-late 30s," Lowry told ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo. "I don't want to be a guy that's just out there to be out there; I want to play and contribute. So for me it's just maintaining it. Now I'm at a point to where it's, 'How do I get even better?' I'm at a point to where I want to be even better."
Lowry's physical transformation paid off on the court. He put together his best season yet, one that should end with an All-NBA nod, if not a deep playoff run.
The two-time All-Star posted career bests in points per game (21.2), three-point percentage (38.8 percent) and steals (2.1), leading the Toronto Raptors to a franchise-record 55 wins. Lowry was a bulldog on both ends, ranking among the top four at his position in every real plus-minus category, per ESPN.com.
DeMar DeRozan, an All-Star in his own right and Toronto's leading scorer at 23.5 points per game, deserves some consideration for this spot. But if the voters have room for but one Raptor on their ballots, chances are they'll go with Lowry, whose own rise coincided closely with Toronto's.
Third-Team Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The NBA is loaded at guard right now, and there are bound to be more than a few worthy candidates excluded from league honors.
Damian Lillard knows that all too well. The crowd of point guards in the Western Conference left him on the outside looking in at the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto. The year before, Lillard landed on the West's roster only after a host of injuries, including one to Kobe Bryant's shoulder, paved the way.
"I've always been the type of guy that I take things, and I call it wood on the fire," Lillard told the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps of his All-Star snub. "Some people may call it sensitive. Some people may say you're pouting or crying. Me? I call it wood on the fire. You tell me I'm not good at something, that's wood on the fire."
Lillard put that fuel to good use for himself and the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged career highs in points (25.1) and assists (6.8) thanks to a torrid run in the weeks following All-Star announcements in late January. Along the way, he lifted the Blazers into the West's No. 5 spot—well ahead of where they were expected to finish after turning over five of their top six players from last season.
So while John Wall and Jimmy Butler can claim better two-way campaigns, and Isaiah Thomas and Harden will get plenty of love for their stellar offensive exploits, the moral arc of the basketball world should bend toward Lillard, the star of one of the league's most inspirational stories this season.
Third-Team Forward: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The best story of the NBA season, though, might belong to Paul George.
The three-time All-Star bounced back from a year mostly lost to a gruesome leg injury with his best campaign to date. He registered career bests in points (23.1), assists (4.1), free-throw attempts (6.5) and steals (1.9) while dragging the offensively and identity-challenged Indiana Pacers to 45 wins and a playoff berth.
"I knew right away, in training camp, that I was going to be OK. I knew I was OK last summer," George told the Associated Press, via the Indianapolis Star. "But I've still not regained all of my strength and explosiveness. I'm hopeful I'll get that explosion, that quick step back and be lighter on my feet. I do feel good with where I'm at right now."
George, then, could be even better in the years to come. Pacers coach Frank Vogel expects as much.
"Injury aside, guys grow from year six to year 10," Vogel told the AP, "so we do still think there's more there."
The future won't have any bearing on what should be George's third All-NBA selection. But since these choices are made by the media, who love an inspirational tug of the heartstrings, George's past and present should push him ahead of some other worthy forwards.
Third-Team Forward: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Being an understated star on a team that tends to hover below the radar shouldn't stop Paul Millsap from securing his first All-NBA honor.
This season, Millsap solidified himself as the best player on an Atlanta Hawks squad that has been led by Al Horford for years. The three-time All-Star paced the Hawks in points (17.1), rebounds (nine), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.7) per game.
His defensive prowess, on behalf of the NBA's second-stingiest defense, caught the attention of ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, whose own vote helped Atlanta's starting power forward finish fifth in Defensive Player of the Year balloting.
"He gets those [steal and block] numbers without gambling, and he can guard any position in a pinch," Lowe wrote. "He's a horse on the glass, always does his job in transition and plays hard on every damn possession."
Some voters may hold the Hawks' slip from 60 wins in 2014-15 to 48 this season against Millsap. Others could be eager to pave the way for Anthony Davis, Kevin Love or Serge Ibaka to sneak onto an All-NBA team. Enough of them, though, should recognize what Millsap did to help the Hawks through a bumpy road, even if he won't shout about it from the rooftop.
Third-Team Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
There are many reasons the voting pool might refuse DeMarcus Cousins his second All-NBA spot.
His inconsistent effort. His 17 games missed. His constant clashes with now-ex-head coach George Karl. His contributions to the Sacramento Kings' undying dysfunction, which dropped the team into the lottery for the 10th year running.
But even in leaving Boogie off his ballot, Lowe articulated a convincing case for the two-time All-Star: "Boogie is the most unguardable post threat since [Shaquille O'Neal], and when he's engaged on defense, he's the rare big man who can both protect the rim and generate heaps of turnovers with his pokey hands. The Kings are miles better—playoff-level better—when he's on the floor."
If Hawks staple Horford, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns and Miami Heat big man Hassan Whiteside emerge as Boogie's biggest challengers, the choice could come down to Cousins' superior overall numbers—26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks and 10.2 free-throw attempts—and his pitiable place on one of the NBA's most forlorn franchises.
Second-Team Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
…DeAndre Jordan scored a vast majority of his baskets off passes from Paul, 158 in total, which is over three times the amount from any other Clippers player.
The Paul-to-Jordan combination was also the most efficient shooting combination in the NBA. Jordan had an effective field goal percentage of 78 percent on passes from Paul, the best by any combination in the NBA.
Paul had a similarly seismic effect on the Los Angeles Clippers as a whole. Per Adams, CP3's swing in net efficiency (plus-16.6 points per 100 possessions) was the third-largest in the league, behind only those of Green (plus-26) and Curry (plus-22.1).
Paul, though, shouldered the added burden of keeping his team competitive without its other superstar for more than three months. He performed like a man on a mission during Griffin's sabbatical, piling up 21 points, 10.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 33.4 minutes per game.
As always, Paul was immaculate with the ball. Among guards who played at least 40 games in 2015-16, he ranked second behind Memphis' Mike Conley in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.8-to-1). All of this makes Paul's extended hand injury particularly difficult for the Clippers to swallow. It also renders him a strong pick for first-team All-NBA and an even stronger one for a top-three MVP finish.
There's no right or wrong answer here, but given the glut of attention Westbrook garnered this season for both his individual brilliance and proximity to Durant, he figures to finish ahead of Paul at the ballot box.
Second-Team Guard: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson's personal production and place of prominence during the Golden State Warriors' run to 73 are each enough to earn serious consideration for an All-NBA spot. Together, they constitute a strong case for his inclusion on the second team.
The two-time All-Star averaged a career-high 22.1 points and finished sixth in league three-point percentage (42.5 percent) and second in makes (286), behind only Curry (402). He finished with the eighth-most games of 30 points or more (17)—the most of any second scoring option in the league.
His mere presence made life easier for Curry, the presumptive repeat MVP. When the Splash Brothers played in tandem, Curry hit 52.7 percent of his field goals and 46.1 percent of his threes. When Curry was out there on his own, those numbers dropped to 44.5 percent and 43.5 percent, respectively.
Throw in his ability to defend multiple positions and score in different ways, be it off the dribble or in the post—in addition to off the catch—and Thompson should be in the mix for an All-NBA nod. Sprinkle on the magic of Golden State's historic season, and his case is all but closed.
Second-Team Forward: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
There's no doubt that Draymond Green belongs on an All-NBA team. If Curry was the star of the Warriors' march to 73 wins, Green was its heart, soul and mouth.
The team's vocal leader also happened to finish second in league triple-doubles (13) while posting career highs nearly across the board: points (14.5), rebounds (9.9) and assists (7.7) to field-goal percentage (49 percent), three-point percentage (38.8 percent) and free-throw attempts (4.2).
The only question is, at what position should Green earn his first All-NBA nod? Lowe considered that quandary carefully:
Green has played about 25 percent of his minutes at center, a significant chunk, and those Death Lineups have been the best in the NBA. Their plus-minus numbers are straight comedy. He showed in the NBA Finals last season that he could jack those minutes up if need be.
But we don't know what kind of player Green would be -- whether he could hold up physically, or maintain the same all-around brilliance -- if you flipped that minutes split over a full season. It felt more appropriate to place him at forward, especially since you can scrounge three deserving centers.
If Green had played even the plurality of his minutes at center this season, he'd probably be an All-NBA first-teamer. Either way, Green led all frontcourt players and all Warriors in assists. As Curry's chief pick-and-roll partner, he was the one most responsible for turning the threat of the reigning MVP's boundless shooting range into a team-wide advantage.
Where Green really earned his All-NBA bones, though, was on defense. According to ESPN.com, he finished third in the league for both overall real plus-minus and defensive real plus-minus. His ability to track all five positions not only unlocked the Warriors' lethal small-ball lineups, but also earned him second place in Defensive Player of the Year balloting.
Second-Team Forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
How does Kevin Durant—third in league scoring (28.2 points), second in player efficiency rating and widely considered one of the five best basketball players on planet Earth—not snag a spot on the All-NBA first team?
Blame the ballot, which requires a choice at center on each slate. But, more accurately, blame the competition for the two top forward spots.
Kahwi Leonard and LeBron James both led their teams to more wins—67 for Leonard's Spurs, 57 for James' Cavaliers—than Durant did with his Oklahoma City Thunder. The former has established himself as the NBA's best defender, in addition to now being San Antonio's No. 1 option. The latter remains one of the game's preeminent talents and leaders, even into his 30s.
Durant is still an otherworldly talent in his own right. His price on this year's free-agent market figures to confirm as much.
So did his performance in return from an injury-plagued campaign. Durant fell just shy of his second 50-40-90 season (50.5 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from three, 89.8 percent from the free-throw line) and set a new career high with 8.2 rebounds per game. He did more than enough to reclaim a spot among the league's elite.
But with Leonard and James dominating the way they did and Westbrook rising up the ranks in OKC, Durant likely won't have one of the last seats in the All-NBA game of musical chairs.
Second-Team Center: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Leading the league in boards isn't the predictor of All-NBA selection that it used to be. Since 2006, three rebounding champs—Kevin Garnett (2006), Love (2011) and Jordan (2014)—have been shut out, be it for failing to make the playoffs (Garnett, Love) or for the glut of competition at center (Jordan).
Andre Drummond shouldn't have any such issues. His primacy on the Detroit Pistons' first playoff team since 2009 put him on solid footing.
So did his production. His 14.8 rebounds per game outpaced Jordan's 13.8 to supplant the two-time defending glass champ. His 1.5 steals were the third-most for a center, behind Nerlens Noel and Cousins. And his 16.2 points per night marked a new career high.
If anything is going to doom Drummond's case, it's his free-throw shooting; he hit a record-low 35.5 percent of his freebies in 2015-16.
But between his big numbers and spot atop the heap on a postseason team, Drummond should find more than enough support among awards voters to wrap up an All-NBA selection.
First-Team Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
If ever there were a no-brainer for first-team All-NBA, Stephen Curry is it.
He not only led the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game, but he posted the biggest year-over-year scoring jump ever by a reigning MVP (plus-6.3 points per game).
He didn't just break his own record for threes in a season, he became the first player in NBA history to hit 400 threes in a campaign.
His Warriors didn't simply lead the league in wins for the second year running; they also set a new single-season record, finishing ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls at 73-9.
Along the way, Curry became the ninth member of the hallowed 50-40-90 club courtesy of sensational shooting splits (50.4 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from three, a league-leading 90.8 percent from the free-throw line), pacing the Association in player efficiency rating (31.56) by a wide margin. He fared well defensively, too, with a league-high 2.14 steals to boot.
All this after seemingly reaching his ceiling during the Warriors' championship run in 2014-15.
"We just know we have a good thing here, and we want to take advantage of it and keep pushing the envelope," Curry told USA Today's Sam Amick. "That's what we're about. … I want to be great, and I want to be the best I can be."
First-Team Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Curry wasn't the only guard to light up the league with statistical anomalies. Most notably, Russell Westbrook recorded more triple-doubles in 2015-16 (18) than any player since Magic Johnson tallied 18 of his own in 1981-82.
Despite Durant's return from injury, Westbrook held on to his interim tag as OKC's best and most important player. With Durant around, Westbrook's scoring average dropped—to 23.5 points per game from a league-leading 28.1 in 2014-15—though he grabbed more rebounds (7.8 per game) and dished out more assists (10.4 per game) than ever before.
His season wasn't without concerns, as Lowe noted:
Westbrook remains a manic gambler who submarines too many possessions with reckless choices. When two bets in a row hit, it looks spectacular, and we laud Westbrook's ability to bend the game to his will. We don't do a good enough job noting the other three or four bets that come up snake eyes, leaving shooters open and hanging teammates out to dry. Westbrook's decision-making at money time can be scattershot.
Westbrook's poor crunch-time play contributed to OKC losing an NBA-high 15 games when leading after three quarters. On balance, though, his efforts did markedly more to push the Thunder toward 55 wins than drag them down during their 27 defeats.
First-Team Forward: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard made all kinds of history in 2015-16.
He became the first small forward in NBA history to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. He also posted the highest three-point percentage (44.3 percent) of any DPOY winner.
In essence, Leonard did "three-and-D" better than anyone had ever before done "three-and-D."
Beyond his individual markers, which included career highs in points (21.2 per game) and assists (2.6 per game), Leonard led the San Antonio Spurs to the best regular season in franchise history. For all the success the Spurs have enjoyed over the years, during the heydays from George Gervin and David Robinson to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they had never before won 67 games or beaten their opponents more soundly (10.6 points per game).
They did all of that this season with Leonard as their top dog—and with him hardly stretching his vocal cords.
"He hasn't said a whole lot, even now," Duncan told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "He's gone out there and he's put it out on the floor, with the numbers, and he's helped us win games. In that respect, you show up and you do it like that, you earn people's respect. It was a lot of different levels that's he's reached over the years that's changed our outlook of him."
Leonard, in turn, has changed the outlook of the Spurs, with Duncan now at age 40, for years to come.
First-Team Forward: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
You don't have to search high and low to find reasons for dropping LeBron James from his eight-year perch on the All-NBA first team.
For the second year in a row, he scored his fewest points per game (25.3) since his rookie season. His three-point percentage (30.9 percent) also dropped to a post-rookie nadir. Voters could dock James for his self-imposed sabbaticals, his fraternizing with the enemy, his passive-aggressive maneuvers on social media or any number of other nits within picking range.
But none of that can come close to outweighing what James did to carry the Cavaliers this season. He continued to stuff the stat sheet (7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.4 steals) while paving the way for Cleveland's five-win improvement to an East-leading 57-25 record.
And he did it while looking every bit like the generational player he's long been, despite turning 31 in December, as Aldridge noted:
James continues to fill up the box and be durable. Back problems have caused him to miss more games this season for scheduled rest than for injury, even as he passed the 38,000-minute mark for his career. Other than an alarming dropoff in 3-pointers this season…he's looked pretty much the same as he has his whole career.
Durant has a case for one of the league's top two forward spots, but even he can't claim the burden that James has borne—to great effect—in Cleveland.
First-Team Center: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
There was no perfect choice for All-NBA first-team center this season. In many ways, though, DeAndre Jordan came darn close.
He led the league in field-goal percentage (70.3 percent) for the fourth year running, finished second in rebounds (13.8 per game) and blocks (2.3 per game), racking up the fourth-most double-doubles in the league (49). Jordan was nigh on unstoppable in the two-man game, scoring 1.4 points per possession and shooting 82.1 percent as a finisher in the pick-and-roll, the 97th percentile on that play.
He owned the paint like no other center in the NBA this season, holding opponents to 46.4 percent shooting within five feet of the rim while captaining a Clippers defense that gave up the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions in the Association.
But Jordan's candidacy ahead of his peers is less about numbers than narratives—and not the tired one about his near departure to Dallas this past summer. With Paul at the controls, Jordan helped steer the Clippers through stormy seas while Griffin was sidelined by quad and hand injuries. During the three months that Griffin missed, Jordan poured in 14.2 points and 14.4 rebounds during 34.9 minutes a night.
His free-throw shooting improved—from 39.7 percent in 2014-15 to 43 percent this season—but not enough to remove the threat of hacking from foes.
Still, despite his poor foul shooting and lack of a singular offensive game, Jordan did so much so well for such a good team that, for the second year running, he should make All-NBA despite not making the All-Star Game.