As we gear up for playoffs and accolades seasons, my content itinerary is quickly filling up. Matchup analysis, All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, individual awards… there’s about to be a lot going on.
Before we get into all that, however, I wanted to call out some of the players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year. They aren’t all great — some aren’t even particularly good — but for one reason or another, my eyes always found them when they were on the court.
I did this last year, too, and for variety’s sake, I am excluding anyone I wrote about then. I’m also generally avoiding All-NBA-caliber players (with a couple of exceptions), since we all love watching Giannis, Steph, Jokic, and Embiid. Finally, I’m leaving out rookies, since they are a fascinating category unto themselves.
With those caveats out of the way, here are my All-Poetry Teams.
Alperen Şengün, Houston Rockets
Sengun is a wild man. I once said that he had 120% of Jokic’s audacity and 80% of his skill, and that’s still true. He’s thrown some of the worst and best passes I’ve ever seen, but he always tries something wacky. Like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, Sengun can’t say no once an idea pops into his head.
Will he try to thread a no-look pass past ambulatory aspens Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, to disastrous effect? Yes, of course:
Can he take the ball himself and go coast-to-coast to unleash one of his shockingly powerful slams (Sengun is a very underrated dunker)? Yes, of course:
Is he the league leader in spin moves per game? I have no idea, but for parallelism’s sake, yes, of course:
Sengun has happy feet, a ballerina’s balance, eagle-eye vision, and Dr. Seuss’s imagination. I hope, desperately, that Houston finds a better overall ecosystem for him (and Jalen Green and Jabari Smith) to operate in next year, but as it is, he’s the only thing that made the Rockets remotely watchable this year.
Troy Brown Jr., Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakes have several candidates for a spot on this team. I’ve trumpeted my love for Jarred Vanderbilt numerous times, and Austin Reaves has been a blast to watch develop throughout the season (he’s a sneaky down-ballot option for Most Improved and Sixth Man conversations).
However, I can’t get enough of Troy Brown. He profiles as a 3-and-D guy and goes long stretches without even touching the ball, but he has a bit more sizzle than that label implies.
Brown jams on people with authority (he has a nasty streak!), has a surprising handle, and passes intelligently. Typical role players are desperately trying to min-max their limited minutes: minimize mistakes, maximize output. So typical role players won’t try a no-look over-the-head pass like this:
(Also, good for Reaves for coming to the ball and bailing Brown out!)
The Lakers are filled with fun role players. Quietly, Brown might be the most enjoyable of them all.
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mitchell has always been one of the most aesthetically pleasing scorers in basketball. Put a big man on Mitchell, and he’ll put the poor sucker in the blender with a dizzying array of crossovers, hesitations, and step-backs. Put a guard on him, and Spida will put a shoulder into the little guy’s chest and bully him right into the stanchion.
Mitchell’s defensive effort has been superb this season (I’m sure that’s just salty dust in the eyes of Utah fans, not bitter tears), and he’s co-existed nicely alongside fellow offensive wizard Darius Garland despite fears of redundancy.
Donovan scored 71 points in a game this season, for crying out loud. I like to push the glasses up my nose and get nerdy as much as anyone (see my Troy Brown pick above), but I can’t deny that my primitive reptilian brain sparkles when I see a scoreboard light up like that.
Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
Watching Fultz resurrect his career has been one of the many joys of this Orlando season.
Fultz is fast, strong, and aggressive, pushing the pace and masterfully working the pick-and-roll. He mesmerizes off-ball defenders with unusual dribble combinations, funky jump stops, and subtle fakes:
No, Fultz still can’t shoot from deep, but he’s become a midrange assassin, shooting 47% on one of the highest volumes of pull-up fifteen-foot jumpers in the league.
Defensively, Fultz plays with energy and controlled hunger for the ball. He will miss some rotations, but it’s never a question of effort. Fultz has only played 184 games in six seasons in the league; by comparison, much-maligned Anthony Davis has played 317 during that same stretch. He’s still learning the ropes.
While ‘Kelle may never be the marksman from outside people thought he could be, he’s proven that he can still be an effective player by leaning on his strengths: passing, driving, and defense. I was skeptical about the Fultz/Banchero/Wagner fit as recently as December 2022; now, I look forward to seeing how far they can go.
Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
If you haven’t picked up on this over the years, I adore big guys who can pass. And boy, howdy, can Giddey pass.
The Aussie can’t even legally drink yet but is undeniably one of the best ball-slingers in the game today. His signature play is a slow-pitch, underhanded bounce pass that seems to take ages to get to its intended target:
But like a Cy Young pitcher, he has command of the ball at any tempo:
Giddey’s not the most athletic of players, but he’s tall, strong, and has a nice handle for his size. A bully lies within him; he has no qualms straight-up shoving smaller defenders out of the way to get into his preferred floater range.
Watching Giddey develop confidence in his shot this season has been a treat. His FG/3P/FT shooting splits have risen from 42/26/71 percent his rookie year to 48/32/75 percent now, a very encouraging sign.
He’s still a clunky fit with soon-to-be All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and the defense, while improved, needs to be better still. But the Thunder must be encouraged by the signs of growth they’ve seen this season; I know I am.
Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Many of you lovely readers may vehemently disagree with this choice, but I firmly believe the league is better with villains. From his boorish behavior to his headbutting to his trash-talking to his terrible shot selection, Brooks is easy to hate. But in a league where most players have become cliche-spouting PR robots, Dillon Brooks stands out.
I pointed out earlier this year that, despite his bad habits, the Grizzlies are always way better when he’s playing than when he’s not. He sticks closer to his mark than a stripper to Ja Morant’s lap, he never stops yappin’, and he’s just an overall irritant. I can’t get enough.
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George is the most underrated player of our generation.
An uncanny habit of putting his foot in his mouth and an all-time bubble debacle stick in the minds of his detractors far more than his significant successes, but George has long been one of the best two-way players in the league.
This year is no different. He’s capable of guarding the other team’s best player while also being the number-one option on offense. How many guys can you say that about in today’s NBA?
His ballhawk skills would rival any NFL safety, and although the Clippers often switch, George has long been a master of oozing around screens.
George has a poet’s game. Sure, he could use an editor sometimes (stop trying to split every screen!). But when he’s allowed to write, he has sonnets in him you’ve likely never seen before. Just minutes before he got hurt a few days back (potentially endangering the Clippers’ season yet again), he unleashed a 360 dunk in traffic:
It’s enough to bring a tear to my eye.
James Wiseman, Detroit Pistons
I still can’t figure out what to make of Wiseman, and that’s why I can’t stop watching him.
The young seven-footer was traded from Golden State to Detroit at the deadline, ending two years of injuries and drama in the Bay. Wiseman is a classic pick-and-roll dive center shimmering with two-way potential, but he struggled to pick up Golden State’s complicated, unorthodox schemes on both ends. Coach Steve Kerr’s quick hook did nothing to help his confidence. He was frequently put in positions that minimized his strengths and amplified his weaknesses, and not even a friendship with the owner, Joe Lacob, was enough to salvage his time in Golden State.
But immediately given low-pressure minutes in Detroit, Wiseman has started to flash glimpses of the player the Warriors thought they were getting. He’s shown the ability to grab a rebound and beeline coast-to-coast, hit pretty hook shots, and move his feet on defense (although he remains poor on that end in the aggregate). He’s even — gasp — setting screens that hit! (Sometimes.)
It’s very, very rare for a team to give up on a second-overall pick this early into his career. Having played just 76 NBA games to this point, Wiseman is by no means a finished product. He’s improving game by game for a Detroit team that will let him play through mistakes and learn by doing. His upward trajectory should continue next year with a healthy offseason to sharpen his skills and mind.
Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
I’m about to write more about Markkanen for the Most Improved Player feature I have coming up soon, so I’ll keep it short here. But suffice it to say that Markkanen has become an unguardable basketball assassin: Synergy Sports has him in the 75th percentile or higher as a spot-up shooter, in transition, coming off screens, rolling to the rim, on put-backs, in isolation, or coming off hand-offs. That’s dang near every kind of offensive play there is! His explosion has been one of the league’s best stories.
Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
How do I love Jarrett Allen? Let me count the ways.
I love his defense. I love his fearlessness in challenging every dunk. I love his sneaky-good post footwork and passing. I love his refusal to bow to modern NBA fashion trends; he just wears normal-ass clothing. Of course, I love his hair. I love that he loves anime and video games. I love that he cheers for himself whenever he gets a defensive 3-second violation (which most people are not excited about!).
I love Jarrett Allen, and you should, too.
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