NBA awards, Pt. 2: All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie teams

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

With the individual awards out of the way, let's shift to the team-based set. These were a little less agonizing -- a little.


First team

G: Russell Westbrook
G: James Harden
F: LeBron James
F: Kawhi Leonard
C: Anthony Davis

Second team

G: Stephen Curry
G: Isaiah Thomas
F: Jimmy Butler
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Rudy Gobert

Third team

G: Chris Paul
G: John Wall
F: Kevin Durant
F: Draymond Green
C: Marc Gasol

• The first overarching decision: Is Davis a center or forward? He logged about 65 percent of his minutes at center, but that percentage flipped after the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins -- at least when Cousins played. I'm fine with either, but he played center most often, so he's a center here.

• I swapped Gobert and Davis several times before deciding Davis' superior offense merited the first-team spot. Gobert made huge strides on that end, and he anchors a top-three defense for a playoff team. He is deserving, and might be the favorite.

But he's an option on offense. Davis can be the offense, and we might be sleeping on his season: 28 points per game on 50 percent shooting, plus more free throws than ever. It's not his fault the rest of the starting lineup consisted of Jrue Holiday and a collection of highly paid backups who can't space the floor. More on his defense below.

• The rest of the spots on the first and second teams were pretty easy, save one: the second guard spot, alongside Curry, on the second team. A month ago, that belonged to Wall. Going forward, I would still take him over Thomas. He's a better passer, and massively better on defense. I'm curious to see how the two perform in the postseason.

But his shooting cooled a bit in February and parts of March, and he was a culprit in Washington's collapse on defense after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Thomas just kept chugging. Dude scores 30 every game on efficient shooting lines, and he is the lifeblood of Boston's offense.

We've heard a lot about how the Thunder scored just 97 points per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the bench, a mark that would rank dead last among teams. We haven't heard quite as much about the Celtics -- the 53-win Celtics, with the first seed and the max free agent -- scoring 98.6 points per 100 possessions when Thomas sits.

• That punted Wall to the third team, and left Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Mike Conley in a battle royale (with cheese) for the final guard spot. Lowry is the best Rap, but he played just 60 games, and they weren't as good as Paul's 61. DeRozan put a bow on his best scoring season by keeping Toronto's offense afloat while Lowry rehabbed from wrist surgery.

Lillard shot flames after the All-Star break in dragging Portland into the playoffs. Thompson is a NBA metronome: 22 points per game, 40 percent-plus shooting from deep, and strong defense across both guard positions every damn season. (He's also the fourth-best player on his own ridiculous team, which has to factor in.) Conley cracked 40 percent on 3-pointers for the first time since 2009, and supplanted Gasol as Memphis' best player over the last 25 games. They all appeared in more games than Paul.

But All-NBA, more than other parts of the ballot, is meant to recognize the guys who played the best in any particular season, provided they hit some minimum threshold of games. With just about everyone missing 10 games here or there, 60 games does the job for guys who play at a top-10 level. Durant and Paul were there when healthy. Durant was better, but it felt inconsistent to put him on and leave Paul off. Sliding them to third team is the compromise.

• With due respect to Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin (really good in 60 games) and Paul Millsap, there really isn't a case for any of them over Butler or Antetokounmpo.

• Reserving a spot for Durant obviously hurts George and Hayward, who could benefit enormously in financial terms from an All-NBA nod.

It's just hard to deny the all-around brilliance of Green, even in a down shooting season. He is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, and still the engine of so much of Golden State's offense. George's brilliant finishing kick doesn't quite push him over Green after an uninspired -- by his lofty, top-10 standards -- first 55 games.

Hayward has been a rock for an injury-ravaged team, and probably has a slightly stronger full-season resume than George. (It is really close.) Both carry a larger offensive load than Green. Both are fine choices. They barely miss the cut here. My gut says one of them will make it, at the cost of either Butler or one of the Warriors. It will be interesting to see how the voting shakes out.

• Gasol did just enough to sneak the third-team center spot over Jordan (my first-team choice last season), DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Brook Lopez and Whiteside. Gasol has sort of sputtered to the finish line, but he played the best offense of his career in earning an All-Star berth. He carried Memphis while Mike Conley nursed a back injury that seemed like it might threaten the playoff chances of a paper-thin team.

Gasol isn't the same defender he was in 2012-13, when he won Defensive Player of the Year, and the Grizz were actually a little stingier with him on the bench. But the margin is small, and they defended at a top-10 level -- against mostly opposing starters -- when Gasol played. He's still putting out fires, and keeping everyone connected.

Jordan is a tough cut. The Nuggets unleashed Jokic a month too late. Whiteside isn't quite as good as these other guys. Lopez plays for the Nets. Towns has been smashing everything in his way for months, but his apathetic defense in the early months was a key factor in Minnesota falling too far behind. Still: Towns is the best alternate, and has played his way into a 50/50 shot at his first All-NBA berth.

I've never put Cousins on an All-NBA team despite gaudy numbers and an uptick in his defense starting two seasons ago -- one that didn't carry over as much this time around. I've just heard too many stories -- most of which are now in the public domain -- about the part he played creating the noxious, dysfunctional atmosphere in Sacramento. Part of being a star is proactively building a positive environment in which teammates, coaches and staff enjoy coming to work and sacrificing for each other.

Cousins didn't do that in Sacramento. He put people on edge. He hasn't had time to reverse that in New Orleans -- or make the playoffs. Cousins is a star. I thought at midseason this would be the year he'd make my ballot. The trade put his career in something of a holding pattern. I can't wait to see what next season brings.


First team

G: Chris Paul
G: Danny Green
F: Kawhi Leonard
F: Draymond Green
C: Rudy Gobert

Second team

G: Patrick Beverley
G: Tony Allen
F: Andre Roberson
F: Paul Millsap
C: Anthony Davis

• I wanted Roberson on the first team, but the official ballot -- at least as of this writing -- listed him as only a forward. The NBA should adopt a point guard/wing/big man system for this. Roberson is about to defend Harden, a nominal shooting guard, for two weeks.

If possible, I would have listed Roberson as a first-team guard, slid Danny Green to the second team, and monkeyed with the positions in whatever way necessary -- likely listing Allen as a forward -- to get this crew on the ballot.

• It feels icky excluding all three of Boston's annoying (in a good way) wing defenders: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart. They all have strong cases. A ton of wings did great work on defense this season: Thabo Sefolosha, Butler, George, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Hayward, Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Klay Thompson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Al-Farouq Aminu, Robert Covington, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Andre Iguodala, Durant, the brutalizing PJ Tucker, and more.

Picking four was hard, and I picked only four. In theory, you could pick eight wings by giving them all the guard and forward spots. That didn't feel right. Green and Millsap are obviously deserving. Defending point guards is so hard, and having someone that can actually do it so essential to winning, that I wanted a legitimate point guard on each team.

That unfortunately left a lot of great wings, including the Boston trio, on the cutting room floor. Crowder might be the most consistent of the three. Smart is the wildest, and the meanest. Bradley is a strange case, again. He looks like one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. He probably is.

But every stinking year, advanced numbers of all stripes spit out evidence that he simply isn't as good as his reputation. I once chalked that up to his paltry counting numbers, but Bradley amped up his rebounding this season for a Boston team that badly needs help on the glass.

I wonder if it might be his size. Bradley is listed at 6-2, and can't traverse as many positions as Crowder and Smart. He may not be quite as threatening flying to contest shots. Something is going on. Still: you could make a case for any of these three.

• You can probably make a better one for Covington, my most painful omission. He seized the league's inaugural deflections crown, and leads all perimeter players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus. He can slide up to jostle with power forwards more easily than almost any other wing player in the league. He deserves a spot, but the competition is fierce. Allen remains perhaps the league's most feared one-on-one defender, and Green just nails every possession. Covington is at a tiny quickness deficit against the speediest wings, though he can usually make up for it with his long arms and quick feet.

• Had Sefolosha played another couple hundred minutes, he might be on the team. You could argue Durant should be on it despite missing 20 games.

• Beverley and Paul win the point guard derby over Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, Wall, and a couple others. Paul is the finest defensive point guard of his generation -- a steals artist who scrunches himself around every obstacle to stay right on your hip. He rarely messes up a pick-and-roll coverage, or miscommunicates with teammates. (If he does, it's the other guy's fault -- just ask him. I keeeeed, I keeeed!)

I had Rubio over Beverley last season, but Beverley has been a hair better this time. Houston's defense (and its bench) stabilized as soon as Beverley returned from injury. He veers out of scheme now and then, but Beverley sets the tone and can defend bigger players if matchups require.

• Davis as the second-team center might surprise people, but I'm not sure why. The Pelicans hovered just outside the top five in points allowed per possession all season, and they were way stingier with Davis on the floor. Because of all he could be, we tend to magnify Davis' flaws -- his so-so rim protection numbers, occasional lagging effort in transition, and blips of bad positioning. But overall, this dude is a beast -- fast enough to execute almost any pick-and-roll coverage even if he doesn't look smooth doing it, and very hard to score on in close confines.

Jordan has a gripe here. Whiteside defended with much more discipline. Dwight Howard and Steven Adams put in good work. Gasol's defense slipped a bit, but he's always solid. Davis edges them.


First team

Malcolm Brogdon
Dario Saric
Joel Embiid
Buddy Hield
Willy Hernangomez

Second team

Jamal Murray
Jaylen Brown
Rodney McGruder
Brandon Ingram
Caris LeVert

• No positional designations for All-Rookie. Thank the basketball gods.

• Embiid and Hernangomez snag the last two spots on the first team, behind the three guys on my Rookie of the Year ballot. You might ask why I would include Embiid here after nixing him from Rookie of the Year consideration due to lack of minutes. It's a fair question. But when it comes to spots four through 10 in a blah class, you're wading into guys who have barely cracked 1,200 minutes. Most of them spent at least small parts of the season outside their team's rotation.

At that point, Embiid's insane production over 786 minutes, in just 31 games, is enough to snag a spot. I thought about sliding him to the second team -- again, 31 of 82 -- but, come on. Look at those names.

• The final first-team spot came down to Hernangomez, Brown, and Murray. The last two have carved out fairly consistent roles on good teams; Hernangomez is thriving for the Kazoos. Brown is (by far) the best defender of the group, and settled in better than expected on offense -- including nearly hitting at a league-average rate from deep.

Murray is going to be really good, but he's a shooter, and he just didn't shoot well enough -- 33 percent on 3s, admittedly on a lot of tough pull-ups -- to jump Brown or Hernangomez.

That left Hernangomez, playing with precocious feel and a soft touch in whatever shaped offense the Kazoos use after James Dolan yells at a fan. He shot 53 percent, including 59 percent on the pick-and-roll, and he can finish around the rim with both hands. He's a nifty passer, and he gobbled up boards on both ends.

He struggled on defense, especially against the pick-and-roll, but most rookies do. His scoring efficiency merits a first-team nod.

• Brown, Murray, and McGruder were no-brainers for the second team. McGruder, an unknown 25-year-old journeyman, approached 2,000 minutes as full-time starter on a rollicking team that extended the playoff race into the final night. In some games, he doesn't do much -- at least in terms of box score. But he keeps the ball moving. He's decisive with his shoot-pass-or-drive choices. Decisiveness is oxygen for Miami's offense. Hesitation suffocates it.

McGruder also spent a lot of nights defending the best opposing wing player. Those minutes mattered. The minutes Brandon Ingram, Marquese Chriss, and lots of other guys played did not -- at least in terms of team stakes.

• Ingram and Chriss were hard to evaluate. They played more than most rookies, but they walked into those minutes on teams trying to lose. They contributed to that losing. How do you weigh that against Yogi Ferrell shooting almost 41 percent from 3 for a Mavs team that flirted with playoff contention before wheezing into submission? Or Taurean Prince surging late into a starting role for an actual playoff team? Or Domantas Sabonis serving as a placeholder starter on a good team until a trade brought in someone better?

In the end, I just liked the way Ingram played more than I did Chriss. Ingram's hideous shooting numbers ticked up over the last month, and he was better at blending into the Lakers' system. He never forced the action, or sped out of control. He's a good passer, he cuts, and he can run a workable pick-and-roll. He tries on defense, and his long arms can be a real deterrent.

Chriss has better stats, and he's going to be good. But he spent most of the season sort of running around with no idea what was happening -- especially on defense, where he was chronically confused and out of position. The Suns were right to play him: He learned on the court, and helped sabotage their season.

• LeVert is ready for bigger things. He shot 45 percent overall and 33 percent from deep after a chilly start, and he just reads the game well on both ends. He has a quick first step, good passing vision, and the ability to run a pick-and-roll in a pinch. He can defend across at least three positions. He was a big part of Brooklyn's late-season friskiness. He's an easy fit in winning lineups; the Nets outscored opponents with LeVert, Lopez, and Jeremy Lin on the floor, and outscoring people is generally not what the Nets have done the past two years.

Additional apologies to: Alex Abrines, Tyler Ulis (too late!), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (finishing well!), Kris Dunn (not really), Jakob Poeltl, and Juancho Hernangomez.