Breaking down 2013-14 All-NBA selections, plus a NBA Finals prediction
By: Joe Mags
There was only one unanimous selection for All-NBA First Team this year, and he wasn’t the consensus best player in the world who is pushing for a third consecutive championship this month.
LeBron James was one First Team vote shy of the same unanimous distinction that MVP Kevin Durant received on Wednesday. The two superstars were far and away the top-leading vote getters; they are the game’s two best players.
With the strict G-G-F-F-C format for the All-NBA teams, either Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard was going to crash the First Team, and Noah – the Defensive Player of the Year – rightfully claimed the center spot, and was the No. 3 overall vote getter.
The debate over the last two months was over who would claim the pair of open guard spots. At large, it has been a tough year for guard play: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo all missed most of the season with injury; Deron Williams continues to be missing; and Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook missed enough time that they were not strong contenders for the All-NBA teams.
When Kyle Lowry is the strongest All-Star “snub” in any particular season, you know the guard position is having a down year.
Sidebar: The snub phenomenon after every basketball award or selection is juvenile. All-Star teams have twelve players, and there are always more than twelve viable players, ergo some talented basketball players will not make the team.
The same thing happens, on a grander scale, during All-NBA selections. Only the fifteen best players – or, more accurately, the six best guards and forwards and the three best centers – in a given season can make the cut. If you are the seventh best forward in a NBA season, that means you’re really damn good – and simply unlucky. End sidebar.
There were three strong choices for First Team guard. Chris Paul is the game’s best point guard. His league-leading 10.7 assists per game were two full assists better than second place; he also led the NBA in steals per game (2.5) and collected 19.1 points and over four rebounds a night.
His Clippers were the third-best regular season team, and are the club most cruelly affected by the current playoff format; Los Angeles would have played Washington, then the winner of Houston and Toronto, before a potential “Final Four” matchup with Oklahoma City – and instead lost to the Thunder in round two.
CP3 was the fourth-leading vote getter, rightfully so, as the 20 games he missed did not come close to outweighing the 62 games he dominated.
Stephen Curry is a force of nature, the best shooter in basketball, and maybe the most valuable player to his team’s efforts on a nightly basis. The Warriors outscored opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions with Curry this season; but their offensive efficiency without him on the floor was just 97.1 – an embarrassing total only ahead of Philadelphia’s league-low rate on the season. Curry is far from a two-way player, but he gives effort on the defensive end, and his heavy offensive workload plays a part in his so-so defense.
Currently the standard for “Does Not Give A F*** About Defense,” James Harden is a punchline on that end of the floor. And yet, he grabbed eight more First Team votes than Curry, snagging the final spot on the coveted Top 5.
Was this a terrible selection? No. Harden was an offensive monster this season: his 25.4 points/game on just 16.5 FGA is a thing of beauty – only Goran Dragic and Rudy Gay (Rudy Gay??!!!!) needed less shots per game to average at least 20 ppg; and only Durant made more foul shots per game while also making 2.4 3PM. Harden is a one-man, offensive wrecking ball – the basketball birth child of Manu Ginobili and Daryl Morey - and was arguably the best player on a No. 4 seed in a tough West.
Curry is unquestionably the more lovable player; his style of play is the chocolate to Harden’s Brussels sprouts. Also a factor: Curry was the obvious best player on one of the best eight teams in basketball, while Harden benefited greatly by Dwight Howard’s arrival – and effort behind him on the defensive end. Curry averaged just one point less per game than Harden, while dishing out 2.4 more assists.
The “non-Chris Paul” First Team guard selection will only become more complicated next season when Rose, Westbrook, Rondo, Wall, Damien Lillard and Goran Dragic are all in the mix.
Second Team All-NBA had a few guaranteed selections: Howard, Curry, and Blake Griffin – who had a Top 5 season independent of position. That left a single guard and forward spot open on the Second Team: those spots went to Tony Parker and Kevin Love.
Parker essentially took the spot away from Dragic, who was considered by many a Top 5 MVP candidate. Parker played in eight less games than Dragic, and played nearly six minutes less per game. Dragic and Parker are both the best players on their team, and the Spurs are better than the Suns, but this is not a team award.
Dragic nearly got an unbelievably shocking Phoenix team into the playoffs without Eric Bledsoe for a large chunk of the season. He was also not selected to the All-Star game this season, and even if it’s the last time that happens for the foreseeable future – ala Stephen Curry – there should be more hard evidence showing that Dragic was a Top 4 guard in basketball this season.
Despite missing the playoffs for the sixth season in his six-year career, Love earns a Second Team selection – his second career All-NBA selection, and first since 2012. He got the nod over the plethora of equally talented power forwards because he was the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA (see: Harden over Curry) and also because he combined 12.5 rebounds/game with 4.4 assists/game.
LaMarcus Aldridge should have gotten more credit for taking a step forward and pushing his Trail Blazers into a Top 5 seed, even if Portland’s supporting cast is better than Minnesota’s. Aldridge was dropped to the Third Team along with Paul George, leaving future Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki off the All-NBA teams.
How stacked is the forward position? Carmelo Anthony was the NBA’s second-leading scorer, and he did so with great shooting splits (.452/.402/.848) and career-best rebounding numbers; Dirk Nowitzki had a virtual 50/40/90 season with 21.7 ppg and 80 games played; and neither of those players made All-NBA teams.
But these two weren’t snubbed. Aldridge really should have been a Second Teamer, only Love’s counting stats were irrefutable, and Paul George was the best player on the Eastern Conference’s top seed - he was making one of the All-NBA teams. Dirk had a healthy response to the announcement.
While New York Knicks fans will continue tweeting out their disapproval until something else demands their attention/yelling, Carmelo was not making the Third Team when the Knicks couldn’t even make the playoffs behind him.
Lillard and center Al Jefferson rounded out the Third Team, leaving Wall/Lowry and Anthony Davis/Tim Duncan on the outside looking in. If these selections were based off the post-season, then Wall would have made the Second Team, but he had an unbalanced regular season, and Lillard is a more accomplished player right now then both Wall and Lowry.
David and Duncan might have been center eligible, but they are both essentially large power forwards, and Al Jefferson averaged a 21/10/2 while lifting Charlotte out of lottery-purgatory and into the post-season with his elite brush work.
Davis led the NBA in blocks/game, and is the third-most untradeable player in basketball right now – and maybe higher – but Jefferson simply affected his teams wins and losses in a more positive way. Duncan was on a minutes restriction the entire season, and while his efficiency and impact on the defensive end was as good as ever, Jefferson was not going to be denied the No. 3 center spot.
And finally, for those who missed my appearance Wednesday evening on Tom Pollin’s radio show, my NBA Finals prediction:
Neither team wins back-to-back games; the Spurs pack the paint and demand LeBron move the ball; the Foreign Legion takes over approx. 2.5 games; and Tim Duncan shoots over 60 percent for his ultimate series. Spurs in 7.