The first-round playoff matchups have begun, and we’ll focus on that for the next few months (with the occasional discussion into a few other topics). But for now, one final awards post — hopefully, you’re not sick of them yet!
- 2023 Awards Part 1: COY, ROY, MIP, 6MOY
- 2023 Awards Part 2: DPOY, MVP, EOY, Clutch POY
- 2023 NBA All-Defensive Teams
- 2023 NBA All-Rookie Teams
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about my First-Teamers recently, so we’ll blow through those quickly and then get a little more into the weeds with the Second and Third teams.
All-NBA First Team:
G: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
F: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid, Tatum, and Antetokounmpo should be locks, and I covered them in my MVP column. Tatum’s reported eligibility at guard (and Jokic’s at forward) lets me slot my top four MVP choices onto the First Team.
If current results hold and Embiid is an overwhelming MVP winner, it will likely bump Nikola Jokic to All-NBA Second Team on the official ballot. I know many people think it’s not in the spirit of the award to put players at positions they don’t often play, but I strongly disagree — the NBA is removing positions entirely next year, so it sure seems like they want us to squeeze guys in wherever is appropriate.
Last year, I had Embiid and Jokic both on First Team; I’m doing the same this year. It’s ridiculous that someone can be a top-three player in the NBA and not make First Team, and arguments that “it’s always been that way” do not hold much water with me.
SGA’s been the beating heart of a quirky, spunky Thunder squad, and I wrote more about him in the Most Improved Player race. Like my toddler rampaging through freshly-folded clothes, Shai creates chaos on defense, destroying neatly packaged plays with his absurd ball-hawking. His drives have always reminded me of a tacking sailboat: he moves in strange directions, counter to prevailing winds, but somehow ends up right at the hoop.
All-NBA Second Team
G: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
F: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
C: Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings
Now we’re getting to the good stuff!
Curry was arguably the best guard in the league this year, but he played significantly fewer games than most of his competition. Availability doesn’t hold much sway with me, but it is a useful tiebreaker in this case. That said, if you were a legitimate MVP frontrunner for a meaningful length of time — and Curry was — you probably deserve to be somewhere on the All-NBA ballot (apologies to Kevin Durant).
Surly and splendid, Doncic had one of the most remarkable seasons in NBA history. He posted career-bests in scoring and FG% while still snagging nine boards and eight rebounds. You know how many 32/8/8 seasons we’ve seen in NBA history? Two: this one and Michael Jordan’s 1988-89 season. Not bad company to keep!
We saw a much-improved Doncic defensively at the start of the season, too; if he can keep that up for longer next year, it’ll be impossible to keep him off the First Team in the coming years.
Despite what people will tell you, Donovan Mitchell has been the best player on the Cavs for the full season. Sharing the court with three other All-Star-type teammates somewhat limits his counting stats, but 28 points per game on 61% true shooting — including four straight 40-point performances to end the season and a 71-piece, to boot — will take you far.
Running alongside a true point guard like Darius Garland has freed Mitchell to hunt his own baskets, and it’s open season on the turkeys guarding him:
Mitchell has also become a positive defender for the first time since he became a superstar. Whether it’s J.B. Bickerstaff getting in his ear, the influence of his defensive-minded teammates, or the echoes from NBA Twitter’s mocking laughter after his pathetic efforts in the playoffs last year, Mitchell has been effortful and effective on the perimeter this season.
Butler is a more interesting case. His 23/6/6 stat line, while fantastic in a vacuum, doesn’t jump off the page amongst these giants. But the advanced metrics all proclaim him one of the league’s five best players. Butler is a master at knowing when to take over a game himself (he was second in my Clutch Player of the Year award) and when to get his teammates going. No one in the league can flip from a Nashian mindset to an Iversonian one as seamlessly as Butler.
Despite lacking an outside shot, Butler averaged an astonishing 131.6 points per 100 shot attempts – the highest mark of any forward. His ability to draw fouls without undue flopping remains his calling card — he’s the raging bull, and defenders are fancy china. On defense, he’s playing with a loaded die: he manages to jump passing lanes without it ever feeling like a gamble.
Sabonis was fifth on my MVP ballot, so he naturally has to be here. Like Butler, his pure scoring won’t knock your socks off (though his box-outs might), but he is the central cog in Sacramento’s whirring, wheeling, scoring machine. Without him, all that beautiful motion and shooting grinds to a lurching halt.
All-NBA Third Team
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
G: Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
F: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
F: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
C: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
It doesn’t seem right that a Top 75 Player of All Time can somehow have his most efficient and most prolific scoring season at the age of 32, but here we are: Lillard averaged a career-high by far in both points (32.2!) and true shooting percentage (a bonkers 64.5%). Healthy for the first time in years, he regained his touch around the rim and was a flamethrower from the midrange. Lillard reshapes the geometry of the court like a mathematician on mushrooms — he shot 35% from 30+ feet! Some shot charts aren’t even programmed to diagram Logo Lillard’s bombs.
What do you do about this?
You put it on your All-NBA team, that’s what.
Holiday was on my All-Defensive First Team and has had one of the best offensive seasons of his career despite having to pick up Khris Middleton’s offensive slack. He’s a reliable three-point shooter attempting the most triples of his career (important when Giannis has forgotten how to shoot from outside four feet), and he’s elevated himself in the Bucks’ pecking order. Milwaukee has been the best team in basketball this year, and Holiday is an essential part of that. Jaylen Brown deserves a long look here, too, but Holiday’s a stronger defender, more creative playmaker, and more accurate long-range marksman on a better team. Jrue gets the final guard spot.
LeBron James was the third-oldest player in the NBA this season (and with Udonis Haslem and Andre Iguodala retiring, LeBron James will be number one next year). He also averaged 29/8/7, gasp-worthy numbers that we yawn off as typical LeBron, amazement dissipating with each breath. Health has become a recurring issue for James, and if you’d prefer a less talented but more available player like Julius Randle or Lauri Markkanen, I don’t blame you. But it’s hard to consider the 2022-2023 season and not list LeBron as one of the 15 best players.
Davis was an All-Defensive-caliber player and a dominant offensive force for much of the season. Like James, missed games stacked up, but there was no denying his impact when he was on the floor. He averaged 28 and 14 on 54% shooting in the 20 games he played without LeBron, carrying the team to an 11-9 record, many during a critical late-season stretch that kept the Lakers in the playoff hunt. Like Curry above, Davis played at an MVP level for a long time, and he needs a spot (after all, with the NBA’s looming 65-game minimum threshold, who knows how many more All-NBA nods he’ll be eligible for?).
The last pick for my 15-man hypothetical ballot goes to Pascal Siakam. Siakam carried one of the heaviest two-way burdens in the league. He led the Raptors in front-court touches, was second behind Fred VanVleet in assist %, and rarely turned it over despite operating in a sludgy Raptors offense filled with many similar players. Too often, the Raptors had to resort to a Siakam isolation to manufacture buckets, and he delivered above-average proficiency on top decile volume. A well-rounded 24/8/6 statline (albeit on somewhat subpar efficiency) highlights how much of the load Siakam had to carry.
If you prefer Markkanen’s insanely accurate scoring or Randle’s rugged boarding and bucket-getting for a playoff team, I certainly don’t blame you. But even in a lost Raptors season, Siakam’s play deserves recognition.
Honorable Mention: Julius Randle, Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Durant (barely played half a season, plus he blew up a contending Nets team), Jaylen Brown, Ja Morant, Paul George (it’s wild that people think Kawhi has had a better overall season just because he finished strong), De’Aaron Fox, Jalen Brunson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Bam Adebayo, Brook Lopez
Alright, folks! Thanks for bearing with me. Let me know who I missed by commenting below or reaching out to me on Twitter, where I’m @bballispoetry.