You thought I was done with NBA awards, didn't you.
Well, even with the playoffs in full swing, there is nothing like a good ol' awards ballot column. I have already made my conventional, individual award winner picks, as well as my slightly more extravagant, made-up, alternative awards picks, so with just one more set of awards to go, why the hell not eh?
Before we get into them, I'll first break into a couple of guidelines:
1) I'll try not to cheat too much with positions. You'll see some people list LeBron as a center just to fit in Kevin Durant, but that's not me. I play by the rules.
2) Winning matters. I'll take a good player on a playoff team over a great player watching April basketball from the couch any day of the week.
Anyway, I'm sick of rules, let's get into it!
All-NBA First Team
G- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
F- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
C- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
First off, Curry and LeBron are locks. If you disagree, leave now and never come back. Stephen Curry leads the league in real plus-minus, win shares, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, value over replacement, offensive box plus/minus, points per game, steals per game and has as much right to owning the 73 wins record as anyone else.
James's place on the first team isn't as obvious, but as long as you don't suffer from LeBron-fatigue, you'll be fine. The Cavs are 1-5 when LeBron doesn't play, are 16.5 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court and basically controls the entire team, a team that has won 57 games and is the best team in a competitive Eastern Conference. Sure, he has taken a back seat on defense recently and sure he has been awful from the three point line. But he is still third among perimeter players in defensive real plus/minus and has taken less threes this year, 1.2 less per game in fact. To counter this, he has become a bulldozing terror, taking 46% of his shots from inside 3 feet, by far the highest rate of his career, which has led to an increase in field goal percentage by over 3%. Get over yourself, LeBron haters.
The other three are debatable. I'll start off with Draymond. A lot of you will be complaining that one of my rules was that I wasn't going to cheat in terms of positions, but it isn't cheating. Draymond isn't a center, but according to Zach Lowe of ESPN, on the ballot he has been listed as a F/C:
Good, that's how it should be. Lineups with Draymond at the center spot, kill opponents. With Iguodala replacing Bogut, they outscore teams by more than 40 points per 100 possessions, which is just insane. With Livingston in that same spot, the Dubs outscore opponents by more than 20. Draymond is my pick for defensive player of the year and what he does on offense can't be forgotten either. He finished the season with 13 triple doubles and even racked up a 5x5 game earlier in the season against Boston, proving he is truly a jack and master of all trades. Like Curry, he is also part owner of 73 regular season wins. He stays.
The other two positions are a little more contentious. I've gone for Kawhi over Durant and Chris Paul over Russell Westbrook. Some experts have both of the Oklahoma City duo ahead of that pair, while I have neither in my first team.
Westbrook and Durant are awesome. They are once in a generation players...who are on the same team. I don't want to penalize them for being on the same team, but I'm penalizing them for being on the same team. I would only ever have one of them on the first team, out of respect to teams that have better records and I can't decide which one to have on there, so why not neither? I know it's not a great reason, but Paul and Leonard, based on this season alone, have played better basketball anyways.
Westbrook is the most terrifying player in the NBA. He'll murder any defender if they get in his way going to the rim, he posts other worldly stats (including the most triple doubles in a season since Magic) and undoubtedly makes Oklahoma City a better team. But he turns the ball over 4.3 time per game and gambles too much on defense. Durant, meanwhile, like Westbrook isn't a great defender and while the rest of his game is awesome, Kawhi Leonard edges him out.
Leonard has gone from an offensively raw athlete, to the definition of a two-way stud and the reincarnation of Scottie Pippen. Just watch the film of last night's playoff game against the Grizzlies for evidence.
He has gone from inept from deep, to an elite three-point shooter, draining 44.3% of his attempts. Despite the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi has elevated himself to the go-to player on this Spurs team. He is without a doubt, the best player on the team and it is evident how much Popovich and the squad rely on him throughout the course of each game, averaging 21 points per game goes a long way in this regard. Leonard's Spurs also have a better record than Durant's Thunder by 12 games, while Leonard makes his team more than 7 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the floor, on a team where everyone else on the roster's on/off numbers rank significantly lower than Leonard's.
Getting back to the Russ vs CP3 argument, just watching the Clippers this year, it is absolutely amazing how much Chris Paul elevates them. In the absence of Blake Griffin, Paul has had to take the primary scoring load, as well as jacking up both his usage rate and assist percentage to 27% and 52% respectively. Without Paul on the court, the Clipper offense nose dives from the best in the league, to a team that has a worse offensive rating than the Nets of Brooklyn. He allows them to become who they are, no other point guard in the league is a better decision maker, passer or pick and roll maestro. He throws beautiful lobs to DeAndre, kicks to his limited shooting options and makes formerly incompetent players like Cole Aldrich, exciting prospects.
Advanced stats have Paul and Westbrook placed relatively evenly, in most Westbrook edges out Paul, while in others such as RPM, we have the exact opposite. So, you can't really base a Russ>CP3 argument over that. People will try to make the wins argument, but Kevin Durant is as much a reason as Russ for why the Thunder have 55 wins, plus Paul's Clippers are only 2 wins behind in the West. Others will bring out the triple double case, one that I've made for Draymond Green, but Russ's chase for triple doubles can kind of be considered empty. For one, although his passing has improved, he has a bit of Rajon Rondo to his game, where he passes for assists rather than for the right reasons and in rebounds, he leaps out of nowhere to steal them from his bigs, in order to jack up his already gaudy numbers.
The weaknesses Russ possesses that I mentioned earlier, are weaknesses that are non-existent to Paul's game. Chris Paul is arguably the best defensive point guard in the league, he gets incredibly handsy, without giving away fouls, stays glued to his man at all times and is one of the only people in the league that can capably defend Wardell Curry II. In terms of turnovers, CP3 averages 1.4 less per game than Russ.
All-NBA Second Team
G- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G- Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
F- Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
C- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
As much as I've tried to tear down Westbrook and Durant in the first team bit, they belong here. End of story. Although I kind of condemned Russ's triple double binge, it is incredible that he has had the most since Magic Johnson and it is also incredible that in every game Westbrook has managed a triple double, the Thunder have won, making it impossible to make a case that Westbrook's triple doubles are bad for the team. While Durant, well, he is second in PER and averages 28.2 points per game, 'nuff said.
As for the other 3, I have to start with Kyle Lowry. Anyone that doesn't have him on their second team, is utterly delusional. Kyle Lowry is closer to being an MVP candidate than he is to not being a member of one of these three teams, that's how good he has been this season and how important he has been to the 56 win Raptors, who pushed Cleveland all the way for top spot in the East. He has taken a big leap offensively, where he is not only averaging more points (20.6), but is doing at a higher efficiency (42.7% from the field and 39% from deep). His value on the Raptors would be incredibly difficult to be replicated too, ranking 7th in both RPM and win shares league wide and improving his team by 7.4 points per 100. Some will point to his 6.4 assists as a negative, but remember that DeMar DeRozan also handles a lot of the ball within the Toronto offense, Casey uses him as a James Harden-type ball-handling shooting guard to play alongside Lowry, who slides between primary ball handler and off-ball spot up shooter within the blink of an eye. Lowry is an underrated defender too. Opponents shoot just 43.9% when guarded by Lowry, which is a little below league average. Some of his defensive numbers like on/off are bogged down by the quality defensive second unit Toronto have, but nonetheless, Lowry is a very good defensive player.
Choosing between Paul George and Paul Millsap is like picking Captain America or Thor. Both are amazing and both are great at everything, but you can only pick one. In this case, I'll choose George, simply because he has dragged his team into the playoffs and he's a better all-around player in my own opinion. If it weren't for the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, we would be raving about the brilliance of George as a two-way player. He is a streaky shooter at just 42%, but with Monta Ellis as your next best offensive option, wouldn't you tend to take some poor shots too? He has a usage rate of around 30%, which is ridiculous considering he is a wing player, with good but not great ball skills. The amount that he carries for the entire offense is insane. I can't stress how underrated this guy is defensively too. When players matchup against Paul George, they shoot a stupendously low 40.7% from the field. His long arms and unwillingness to give up on any play is just too much.
If you still doubt him, just watch game 1 of the Raptors/Pacers series for me, that in itself gets him over the line.
The last spot was tough. I could've gone with a bunch of different options, most of whom were all-stars. I went with none of them, choosing instead to pick DeAndre Jordan, someone who isn't appreciated nearly enough by the mainstream media. You'll see all of his low-lights, from his dismal free throw shooting to his...well, dismal free throw shooting, posted everywhere on Vine, Twitter and YouTube, but if you ever take a second, just look at how important he is to this Clippers team.
First off, opponents shoot 3.8% less effectively when guarded by Jordan as opposed to their regular averages. He is a terror defensively, blocking shots without Hassan Whiteside-ing his positioning. He scares the living crap out of anyone that stands within 5 feet of him, knowing that if they put up a rushed or ill-advised shot anywhere within his vicinity, he'll swat it and recover for one of his 13 rebounds per game.
Offensively, he is underrated. He makes the Clippers an amazing 12 points better when he is on the floor. While I'll concede that a lot of this is due to Chris Paul's brilliance and the fact they share a lot of court time together, DeAndre's mere presence is irreplaceable by the Clips. Off a pick and roll, with Paul running down hill, you can't forget about the threat of a DeAndre Jordan poster and you being on a highlight reel for the next 3 years of your life, just ask Brandon Knight. The threat of Jordan makes the Clippers' offense go, especially in the absence of Blake Griffin. In their spread pick and roll sets, Jordan's gravity, detracts defenders away from the likes of J.J. Redick, Wes Johnson, Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford and allows easier penetration for Chris Paul to do his thing.
Just watch his entire body of work next time and see how important he is.
All-NBA Third Team
G- Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
F- Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
C- DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The third team was so difficult to engineer, I went back and forth on just about every selection, but I think I've got it down right.
Starting off, Damian Lillard deserves to be there. He has taken a Blazers team that was supposed to be a lottery team, into the five seed. He does it all for Portland offensively. His scoring has always been off the charts, but this season he has taken it to another level, averaging 25 points per game and although he has dipped his percentage to 42%, you have to remember that this is the first season of his career that he has been the primary option in the offense and he should be rewarded for doing so well in a completely new role within a new offensive system. His decision making has been questioned in the past, however, you shouldn't have the same questions over this part of his game this season. Yes, he is averaging 3.2 turnovers per game, but he has bumped up his assist numbers to 6.8 per game and his assist percentage to a great 33%. He has also been amazing on the pick and roll this season, ranking in the 84th percentile among ball-handlers. Lillard deserves to be here for leading this Blazers team to the upper echelon of the Western Conference alone, but those stats certainly don't hurt.
Klay Thompson was a harder choice, as it was difficult to cut James Harden. But Harden has been an awful leader for an underachieving Houston team, is a ghost defensively and turned up to the season overweight, a big reason for the Rockets' early struggles and the firing of Kevin McHale.
In contrast, Klay Thompson is the anti-Harden. He is a fantastic teammate, who is always in shape, never complains about anything and plays fantastic defense. He is the secondary option on the best offense in the league and overall, Golden State are 12.7 points better per 100 when Thompson is on the court. Thompson deserves credit for having the best three-point shooting season of anyone in NBA history, not named Steph Curry. Thompson drained 276 triples this season, third most all-time. Plus, who doesn't want more Warriors? They deserve it. They are the greatest regular season team the NBA has ever seen, reward them for goodness' sake.
Paul Millsap was an easy one. He ranks 11th in both win shares and real plus/minus. In addition, he is the best player on both sides of the floor for a Hawks team that has homecourt advantage in the competitive East. Millsap averages the most points for the Hawks at 17 per game, rebounds at 9 per game, blocks at 1,7 and even steals at 1.8, which for a big dude is incredible. He is doing all of this at an efficient rate too, shooting 47% from the field, even though he isn't a banger and gets a lot of his points from the outside. Defensively, Millsap is a poor man's Draymond Green and almost certainly a top 5 defensive player in the league. Like Green, he switches on to smaller guys with ease, contains them and then is able to stop larger dudes inside at the blink of an eye.
If you were judging Aldridge on the first two to three months of the season, I wouldn't blame you for excluding him from these teams, but lately, he has been on an absolute tear. Through March, he averaged 22.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, on 56% shooting and even 90% from the free throw line. He has been destroying teams and has improved game by game, every step of the way, being integrated in a much more fluid way into the Spurs' offense. Even defensively, Aldridge has been one of the better performers for a historically good Spurs' defense. Aldridge is adapt an staying closer to the rim, guarding brutes down low, or even chasing smaller guys around the perimeter. Just like with the Thompson pick, why not reward an all-time great team?
My inclusion of Cousins goes against one of my rules, specifically my second one.
But, with no other obvious candidates, I don't see why I can't have one of the most dominant big men of the last decade on my third team. The guy is averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds and is shooting at 45% from the field. He has even added a three point shot to his game, draining 70 of 210 attempts, FIRE AWAY BIG DUDE! He has been more engaged than ever defensively, being a force around the rim. He is athletic enough to guard on switches and can body up anyone in the low post. Opponents shoot 1.6% less effectively when guarded by Cousins than their regular average, a testament to how much he has actually tried on that side this season.
I'm gonna remove a little bit of the blame from Cousins in terms of team performance, just because his team is so damn awful. The on/off numbers clearly show us that the Kings would be a top 5 offense in the league if Cousins were able to play all 48 minutes and wouldn't be nearly as hopeless defensively. What the Kings have put him in has been nothing short of a disaster. He hates his coach, his teammates don't know what the hell to do and their next best player doesn't care about anything but stats and his next contract.
Just imagine what he could do on a non-senile team.
For that, I won't penalize Boogie too much, only enough to demote him to the third team.
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