All-Postseason Teams After the Two Weeks of NBA Playoffs
Wouldn't it be cool if Finals MVP wasn't the only individual award handed out during the NBA playoffs? Don't bother answering. We already know it would be.
And thus: The (not-at-all-real) All-NBA First and Second Team awards are born!
"Doesn't it make more sense to build these hypothetical squads after the postseason?" you might ask. Well, valid question, friend! But it doesn't.
Sample sizes vary drastically once the NBA Finals are a wrap. By the end of the first round, though, no one has appeared in more than seven games. Someone who has just four or five outings to their name won't be a glaring outlier.
These results are based on the first round alone. Regular-season efforts, however awesome, have no bearing on the selections. Since we're dealing with such a limited overall sample size, players who missed games are ineligible. Kevin Durant and Rudy Gobert can send complaints and appeals to the NAFBA (National Association for Fake Basketball Awards).
Just like end-of-year All-NBA teams, each roster will include two guards, two forwards and one center. Positions shouldn't actually matter, All-Rookie style, but they do in real life, so they will here. Players from eliminated teams are up for consideration, but in addition to individual production, final roster decisions will account for efficiency and the impact one has on his team.
Let's do this thang.
Honorable Mentions: The 3rd Team
There's no intentional trolling here. Patrick Beverley deserves this. He spent the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder draining 40-plus percent of his threes and holding Russell Westbrook to 7-of-27 shooting when he was the primary defender.
According to Basketball Reference's Box Plus-Minus, only three other guards have matched Beverley's offensive and defensive value per 100 possessions in as many appearances: Mike Conley, Chris Paul and Westbrook.
James Harden was too inefficient to get this nod, and even if he buried more of his triples, Beverley's work on defense and against Westbrook might've still rendered him the more valuable player.
Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Yes, Westbrook averaged a triple-double against the Rockets. And yes, the Thunder would have won Games 4 and 5, and perhaps Game 2, if they knew how to even slightly function without him.
But Westbrook still shot under 40 percent from the field and worse than 27 percent from behind the three-point line. His decisions down the stretch of close games didn't make sense. He hijacked the offense in fourth quarters and shot 4-of-14 in crunch-time situations.
He was spectacular. He was maddening. He was overworked. He was his own saboteur. He was culpable. He was blameless. He was so many things, both good and bad—a confounding mix that just can't supersede any of the four guards in front of him.
Forward: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Imagine averaging 28.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals through the first round and not being recognized as a top-four forward. This is Paul George's dilemma, and to be honest, given the competition, there's nothing he could have done to change it.
Except, maybe, shoot better than 2-of-10 in the clutch.
Forward: Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward must have known this list was going to be a thing, and that he would be up for an honorable mention if he didn't register an absence. Why else would he try to play through food poisoning in the Utah Jazz's Game 4 win over the Los Angeles Clippers?
Strike that nine-minute outing from the ledger, and he's averaging 26.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 48.6 percent shooting, including a 47.8 percent hit rate on threes. So just in case you weren't sure whether the Jazz would give him a max contract without even thinking, now you know.
Center: Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks
Greg Monroe has continued his march into two-way-weapon territory.
He is no match for second-unit bigs, keeps setting good screens and has reinvented himself as a rim-runner. He struggles as a stationary paint-protector, let alone a roving one, but his strong post prevention has carried over, and he's sneaky-good with his hands. He smothers rival scorers on the catch, often negating their opportunity to put the ball on the floor, and once again leads the Milwaukee Bucks in steals per 100 possessions.
Monroe is so good in his role, as a more versatile Jonas Valanciunas, he (lightly) threatened to crack the first or second team.
2nd-Team Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Games Played: 4
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 29.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 45.1 percent shooting
Four wins over the Portland Trail Blazers were more than enough for Stephen Curry to remind viewers that he's the most important member of the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Durant missed two games and logged just 56 total minutes for the series while coping with a strained calf, and Golden State didn't skip a beat. Draymond Green continues to epitomize, and maximize, the Warriors' versatility, but it's Curry who devises it—who allows the NBA's most unguardable freewheeling offense ever to exist.
Proof is in the details. Curry is shooting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc, tying a personal best for the playoffs, on a postseason career-high 11.3 attempts. He's shooting just 40 percent around the rim, but the mere threat of his driving, dishing and pull-up-from-anywhere jumpers is enough to sustain an entire offense.
Consider these FATS projections from NBA Math, which translate a team's performance with and without a certain player into wins using historical comparisons:
|Curry||61.8 wins||24.3 wins||37.5|
|Durant||55.6 wins||55.7 wins||-0.1|
|Green||62.5 wins||39.9 wins||22.6|
The fallout, or lack thereof, Golden State experienced without Durant and Green is nothing compared to the deficit created by Curry's absences. The sample size is small, but this supports the eye (and regular-season) test: Curry is the most important player on the NBA's best team. And he's playing like it when the stakes are highest.
2nd-Team Guard: John Wall, Washington Wizards
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 49.5 percent shooting
Playoff Bradley Beal has seldom made a cameo for the Washington Wizards this time around. Fortunately for them, it might not matter.
Because Playoff John Wall is becoming a thing.
In postseasons past, Wall has been more low-key—not passive, but deferential. Defenses goaded him into jumpers, and he typically responded by accepting them or moving the ball along to the next man up, which was often Beal.
It's been a completely different experience through the first round this year. The Atlanta Hawks are inviting jumpers, and he's taking and making them. Wall is canning more than 53 percent of his threes amid respectable volume and shooting almost 44 percent on looks just inside the arc—both career highs.
And yet, he's also refusing to only take what Atlanta's defense gives him. He's barreling through clamped coverages basically on command. He's never reached the rim with more frequency in the postseason, and his free-throw rate is at an all-time high.
Wall is picking his spots in transition, too. Almost one-quarter of his offensive possessions have come on the break, and he's shooting north of 70 percent in those situations—his unsubtle refusal to let the Hawks defense stew in anything other than high-octane sets.
Though Wall's defense on Dennis Schroder hasn't been topnotch, he's shuttling such a heavy offensive workload it doesn't matter. He's averaging 22.8 potential assists per game—most in the NBA, and 2.4 more than his closest peer (Russell Westbrook).
2nd-Team Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, 52.2 percent shooting
Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost impossible to defend. If he ever hits outside shots with any semblance of consistency, he'll actually be unguardable.
Through five playoff tilts, he's been knocking down his jumpers. He's shooting 37.5 percent from downtown on reserved volume (1.6 attempts per game) and swishing more than 46 percent of his long twos.
And so, as Fox Sports' Nate Scott wrote, Antetokounmpo has become unguardable:
Antetokounmpo sometimes takes the ball out on the wing, but just as often he will set up on the left block, receiving the ball in the post with his back to the basket and then surveying the floor from there.
It can sometimes be messy as defenders and cutters all converge on him, but Antetokounmpo has the strength and vision to handle it, and it’s almost impossible to defend – put a big on him, he’ll take the ball out and square up on the slower defender. Double him, he finds the open man. Try to guard him in the post with a guard or wing, he’s backing you down to the basket. He still sometimes makes the wrong decision, but Kidd has been patient with it all season, and if the Raptors’ difficulties handling it are any indication, it was smart of him to do so.
This adaptability extends to the defensive end. Antetokounmpo pesters point guards, and wings, and bigs. He freelances when Thon Maker is on the floor but plays the part of primary rim protector when he's not. He disrupts pick-and-rolls and face-ups, but he's not uncomfortable trying to stand ground in the post.
Jumpers are supposed to be his only Kryptonite. They're not anymore—not right now. The Toronto Raptors have bested him on possessions, never for stretches or entire games. He is, through the first round, a player without an exploitable weakness.
2nd-Team Forward: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Games Played: 4
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.3 blocks, 50 percent shooting
Draymond Green continues to be lethal in a supporting capacity. He cedes touches and status to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson but boasts the most well-rounded skill set of them all—especially when he's shooting 55 percent from long range.
Green's first-round production isn't some mirage. The 4.3 blocks per game won't hold, but everything else might. He's maintained these across-the-board lines before. This is shaping up to be the second time he averages at least 13 points, nine rebounds, six assists and one block for the postseason. Just two other players have ever done the same more than once:
Larry Bird and LeBron James.
Even if the point and assist totals taper off beside a healthy Durant, the Warriors can count on Green ruining lives on defense. His effort and execution on the less glamorous end is not related to how much he eats at the other. He can switch everything, and his presence in the paint rivals that of much taller skyscrapers.
Sure, the Portland Trail Blazers scored more than 51 percent of the time when challenging him at the rim. But he's averaging 8.3 contests around the basket per game—sixth most in the league, and a hair more than DeAndre Jordan, an actual center with four to five inches to spare.
Factor in his playmaking, rebounding and Warriors-leading three-point clip, and it's hard to pick out 10 players having a better postseason.
Mostly because there aren't that many.
2nd-Team Center: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 19.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.8 blocks, 47.9 percent shooting
Do we even have to question this?
The center position isn't teeming with postseason standouts, a nod to both the talent deficit and league-wide deviation from position-dependent systems. Gasol is one of the few traditional towers who has transformed himself into a floor-spacing 5. He's still more plodder than unicorn, and his three-point volume has dipped in the playoffs, but he remains Memphis' second-most important offensive weapon.
Counter to what we've come to expect, Gasol isn't anchoring a top-notch defense. The Grizzlies rank second to last in points allowed per 100 possessions and are a statistical wash with him in the game.
But that's largely the offshoot of playing behind a perimeter rotation thin on lockdown wings. Gasol still leaves a positive dent when walling off the middle, according to NBA Math, and more importantly, there isn't another plodding big capable of wearing as many hats.
Whether it's playing off Mike Conley, acting as the offensive aggressor, flinging passes on the move, setting screens or trying to cover more ground than he should on defense, Gasol has adjusted his role, within reason, to give Memphis almost anything it needs.
1st-Team Guard: Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 24.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 50.6 percent shooting
Conley is having the kind of postseason that head coach David Fizdale hopes will get the vast majority of people to shut up.
"I don't think we're going to have the discussion about how much money he's worth anymore," he said after Conley scored a career playoff-high 35 points in a Game 4, series-tying victory over the Spurs, per ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton. "I think that's moot. I don't want to hear about it, at least. The guy is a superstar."
Conley will probably never make a regular-season All-NBA team. The guard position is too stacked, and he's not about to win popularity votes. In 10 years, he's never even made an All-Star appearance.
That doesn't preclude him from being a superstar in a league overrun with them. At the very least, he's lived up to the billing in the postseason. He's scoring like never before with career-best efficiency and serving as the hub through which the entire Grizzlies offense runs. His assist totals don't jump off the page, but he's dropping more dimes per 100 possessions than Stephen Curry, LeBron James and James Harden.
Unlike other floor generals, Conley doesn't have the luxury of passing off defensive assignments. The Grizzlies don't have a young and spry everythingman on the wings to check point guards. That responsibility more often than not falls to Conley, and he still manages to remain a plus stopper on most nights.
Few players have been this indispensable to their team's postseason push. The Grizzlies go from outscoring the Spurs by 2.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor to being outscored by 42.2 when he sits—a 45-point swing in the wrong direction.
On-off splits this stark are typically reserved for James and Russell Westbrook. And their respective teams, make no mistake, have suffered similar statistical plunges when they take a seat. This time, though, Conley is right there with them.
1st-Team Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 53.1 percent shooting
Someone oughta tell Chris Paul he's turning 32 in May and isn't supposed to be playing like a unanimous MVP that's seven to 10 years his junior.
Actually, on second thought, everyone be quiet. The Los Angeles Clippers cannot afford for Paul to suddenly take stock of things like time, organic regression and conventional wisdom. With Blake Griffin done for the year after suffering a big-toe injury, they need Paul to continue defying logic, as SI.com's Ben Golliver explained:
While the scope of Paul’s impact in these playoffs hasn’t quite risen to Russell Westbrook levels, the Clippers are +15 with him on the court and -15 when he is on the bench. That tidy mirroring effect takes on an even greater meaning once one considers that all five games in this series have been decided by eight or fewer points. Rivers might be wringing his hands over Paul’s fatigue, but there’s no question who the coach will lean on most forcefully in front of a hostile crowd in Utah come Friday.
Good luck figuring out what's more amazing, the extent of Paul's impact on the Clippers or the fact this end result comes as no surprise. He isn't just one of this season's most dominant playoff performers; he's one of the best ever.
Paul is fifth all-time in player efficiency rating among those who have appeared in at least 15 playoff games. He trails only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, George Mikan and Shaquille O'Neal. This is the second time he's averaged at least 20 points, 10 assists and two steals through five or more outings, a feat matched only by Westbrook and Isiah Thomas.
Oh, and this is also the second time Paul has posted a 50/40/90 shooting slash under the same qualifications—most in NBA history.
Say what you want about Paul's inability to get out of the second round. He's still among the best postseason players of all time.
1st-Team Forward: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Games Played: 4
Postseason Per-Game Lines: 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 2.0 blocks, 54.3 percent shooting
Consider LeBron James' playoff switched flipped.
No one is averaging more minutes (43.7)—even though he's 32, a 14-year veteran and logged more postseason court time in his career than everyone except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. And James still somehow has it in him to be the only player who ranks in the top 10 of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game.
Although the Cleveland Cavaliers remain the Eastern Conference's benchmark, resting James isn't an option. He played all but 17 minutes of their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, and in that time, they were a minus-12.
It took an incomprehensible effort from James just to put the Cavaliers in a position to sweep the best-of-seven set. They trailed by 25 points at halftime in Game 3. He responded by playing every one of the final 24 minutes, during which time he tallied 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
"I mean, I don't understand why people make a big deal out of minutes," head coach Tyronn Lue said after the first round, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin. "He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games, and then he had a week off again. So next [series] he might play 48 minutes."
Lue is clearly joking. Maybe. We think. Not that it matters.
There is a "I can do what I want, whenever I want, for however long I want" gear James enters every postseason. And the Cavaliers, for their part, are lucky the rules of time don't yet apply to him, because they wouldn't survive without his supernova detonations.
1st-Team Forward: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Games Played: 5
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 31.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 57.6 percent shooting
The mark of a great player is the inability to hyperbolize his brilliance. We know Kawhi Leonard has reached that level thanks to David Fizdale's comments before Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Spurs (h/t CBS Sports):
First-class individual, tireless worker from everything I hear about him. He was standing next to me the other night and he wasn't breathing. So I'm going to check the rulebook and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA. Because somehow, Pop and them have figured it out. They know something I don't know. This guy bleeds antifreeze or something. He's something special, man.
Leonard has been sensational, every game, without fail. He's ferrying an immense offensive burden with unfathomable efficiency. His 57.6 percent shooting overall is paired with a 54.2 percent success rate from deep and 97.9 percent accuracy from the foul line.
For much of the playoffs, the Spurs have struggled to generate any kind of offense without him. Their output drops by 18.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the bench—a steeper nosedive than the Cavaliers take without LeBron James (7.7), or even the Thunder endured minus Russell Westbrook (16.9).
All this, and Leonard is still scrapping and clawing on defense. The Spurs haven't been their usual stingy selves while struggling to deploy a starting lineup that one-ups the Grizzlies, but their defensive rating improves with the silent sniper in tow.
Basically, Leonard is compiling the kind of stat lines and having the type of impact bound to make a few souls wish they could re-do their regular-season MVP ballots.
1st-Team Center: Al Hoford, Boston Celtics
Games Played: 4
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 56.1 percent shooting
Questioning Al Horford's star status is a basketball pastime that breaks for nothing—not even the playoffs.
So it comes as no surprise that (the uneducated sector of) Twitter roasted him after the Boston Celtics' Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls. His near triple-double—19 points, seven rebounds, eight assists—didn't matter. He couldn't rebound. He disappeared. His four-year, $113 million contract was a bust.
Additional doubt followed him out of Game 2. The Celtics lost by 14 points, falling into a 2-0 series hole, and he mustered just seven points, 11 rebounds and five assists on 3-o-f 8 shooting.
These inquiries into Horford's ability and importance are always a symptom of the moment. And they're wrong. He isn't the best defensive rebounder. That much is true. He's not a Rudy Gobert-level paint-policer, either. Deal with it. Boston already does, because he's worth it.
Horford helps the Celtics unlock the best version of themselves. Five-out lineups exist because he shoots threes, sets effective high screens and passes like a point guard. No big is better at making decisions on the move, with the ball, out of the pick-and-roll, and Draymond Green is the only non-wing averaging more assists.
What he lacks as a defensive glass-crasher, Horford makes up for with his flexibility. He's mobile and coordinated enough to chase around 4s, and his rim protection isn't bad. Chicago is shooting 50 percent against him around the bucket—a top-four mark among players facing at least seven such shots per game.
Not surprisingly, to the those who are watching anyway, no other big is matching Horford's value per 100 possessions on both sides of the floor (Kelly Olynyk). And when it's done this consistently, for this long, that balance becomes a form of star power.