It’s award season, so the Basketball Index staff got together recently to decide who our official award winners are this year. We’ll continue tweeting out individual awards, such as our Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year picks, but also wanted to highlight team picks and dig into the reasoning behind them a bit more in written form.
We’ll be digging into All-NBA teams with our time today! We’ll be looking at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team All-NBA.
Voters have a TOUGH job in voting on these awards. If they watched only 10 games per player, that’s the same % of the season as watching ~half of 1 quarter of a player in a game and trying to judge their whole game on that tiny sample you saw. Watching enough games to evaluate 5 teams with representative samples is hard to do. For 30 teams it’s just not realistic. At the end of the day, narratives drive a lot of award picks and data needs to be utilized to help shorten the massive volume of film needed to evaluate players.
For us, we’ll lean on the data. When making these picks it’s important to have a process. We’re a data company, so we’ll have a nice straightforward process that guides us to picks while having various tiebreakers in cases where data points are close. Narratives don’t matter to us. These stats didn’t watch their favorite team more than others and neglect to see teams not on national TV or with poor records less often than others.
No stat is perfect, but ours do a nice job evaluating player performance, tend to have strong face validity, and will evaluate players consistently.
Here’s how we’re deciding picks:
- LEBRON Wins Added is the main criterion. This metric estimates aggregate impact for each player for the season, and we’ll use it over LEBRON on its own so we’re rewarding sustained excellence over high minute volumes rather than having low minute but high impact players spots from more deserving players. But in cases where LEBRON Wins Added is close, we go next to
- LEBRON, which evaluates impact per 100 possessions. If 2 players have had about the same aggregate impact, but one has been substantially better per 100 possessions but has just played fewer minutes on the season, we’ll lean towards the guy with that larger per possession impact. This materializes with common sense picks, and with how it’s executed we still aren’t seeing those low minute guys take spots.
These awards at their core are about impact, and we feel this set of criteria best captures that. Rather than creating arbitrary minutes cutoffs or trying to guestimate how two players with 200-300 minute differences should be weighted based on their impact difference, which is either bad process or some mental math that ends up often looking sketchy, we’ll lean on stats that capture what voters are attempting to capture in a consistent way across all 30 teams.
So without further ado, here are this season’s picks:
BBI’S 1ST TEAM ALL-NBA
G: Steph Curry: Curry had a more mortal season offensively, with his lowest offensive impact (via O-LEBRON) in our database for him since Mark Jackson coached the Warriors. That was still good enough to be 5th highest in the NBA. Despite being less out-of-this-world, his Perimeter Shooting Talent rating ranked 1st in the league. Steph put up his best Middle Game Talent and Playmaking Talent ratings in several years, and saw his defensive impact (via D-LEBRON) be its highest in several seasons. The data didn’t feel any creeping boredom in Curry’s excellence and he graded out yet again as the top Guard in the NBA impact-wise.
G: Trae Young: Can you make Trae 1st team all-NBA with how poor his defense is? If you can capture exactly how poor that is and account for it, sure. And while Young’s defense isn’t an asset, his offensive impact this season per 100 possessions (via O-LEBRON) was remarkable and topped only by Nikola Jokic. Young’s elite offensive arsenal is highlighted by his 1st ranked Playmaking Talent this season, 2nd ranked Perimeter Shooting Talent (just behind Steph), and 7th ranked Middle Game Talent. The league’s top offensive engine this regular season among guards earned this spot in LEBRON Wins Added despite his defense, and it’d be silly to arbitrarily remove him from consideration just because of that defense.
F: Jayson Tatum: Tatum was one of the NBA’s most well-rounded NBA players this season, with A+ grades in our Perimeter Shooting Talent, Finishing Talent, & Playmaking Talent metrics and A- grades in our Middle Game Talent and defensive impact (via D-LEBRON) metrics. His ascent up the LEBRON leaderboard through the course of the season was consistent and ended with him right up with the top players. Elite impact on elite durability puts Tatum in this top team.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo: The former MVP continued adding to his game this year, boasting a career best A- Middle Game Talent grade that unlocks his finishing ability (an A+ talent grade for a 7th straight season) even more. A+ Playmaking Talent complements Giannis’ ability to score for himself, and we saw that culminate in the 3rd highest offensive impact per 100 possessions this season. If next year his Perimeter Shooting somehow also gets to A- territory, we may be store for the most dominant offensive player the league has seen.
Defensively, Giannis took on a new role as a Mobile Big and didn’t show quite the mastery he’s had as a Helper in the past, but that didn’t keep him from A+ impact and the 6th highest D-LEBRON among players who weren’t full-time centers this season.
C: Nikola Jokic: Our repeat MVP for the season of course also earned a spot onto the 1st team with his impact. Somehow the MVP of last year had new career highs in our Playmaking Talent (2nd ranked), Finishing Talent (8th ranked), and Middle Game Talent metrics this time around. How insane is that? His perimeter shooting dropped off a tad, but he also saw the highest defensive impact he’s had in over half a decade this year while showcasing more mobility in ball screen situations, leading the NBA in our Screener Mobile Defense metric. We dug into his defensive strengths and vulnerabilities in our All-Defensive Teams article.
BBI’S 2nd TEAM ALL-NBA
G: Dejounte Murray: More impactful in prior years due to his defense, Murray this year saw his offense take a big leap into the higher tiers of impact among Point Guards this year. With career highs in Perimeter Shooting Talent, Playmaking Talent, Finishing Talent, AND Middle Game Talent, Murray’s play rose to a level that will leave those not up to speed on his game a bit puzzled at his placement on this 2nd team. This season he was a new player from last year, and the Spurs operating in the perpetual shadows from a national TV exposure standpoint meant many missed out on a breakout year for a budding star.
And while his defense was more tame with him taking on a heavier offensive focus, it was still a big strength of his and a differentiating one compared to his PG peers, helping him close the gap on offense while all but 1 (Steph) ahead of him had negative impact seasons defensively. While many PGs above him were hiding on defense, Murray took on a Wing Stopper defensive role and was strong in it. That, along with a heavy minutes load this season, got Murray to his 2nd team place.
G: Chris Paul: The perfect conductor for the Suns orchestra of an offense, CP3 yet again lands himself in award territory after another wonderful season. Unlike his 2nd team backcourt partner Murray a dozen years younger than him, CP3 has impressed less with growth and more so with his ability to maintain his skills and effectiveness even as a 37 year old. Breaking our calculations on offensive role, Paul’s frequency of driving to pressure the defense to most often find open players (against aggressive coverages) or dominate defenses as a midrange assassin (vs switching and drop) created an incredibly unique approach from an action type compared to shot profile standpoint (with him not frequently getting to the rim despite driving a ton).
The most impactful player in our Low Activity defensive role, CP3 has added value with communication and timely help and disruption in a job many are in to coast through. That defensive value along with his strong offense led to CP3’s high LEBRON Wins Added that yielded a spot on this 2nd team.
F: Kevin Durant: The Slim Reaper continues to be an incredibly effective and unique offensive player, with elite levels of shooting from midrange and the perimeter along with elite playmaking, all while rarely creating his own shots at the rim. His approach that perhaps creates playoff vulnerabilities in some ways, while also leading to many “there’s nothing you can do” moments for a defense, led to his third highest offensive impact among forwards this season. Defensively in his Helper role he had a positive impact, which overall enabled him earning a spot on this 2nd team.
F: LeBron James: Perhaps the best NBA player ever evolved his game as a 37 year old and saw a career high Perimeter Shooting Talent rating and his highest Middle Game Talent rating in years. Despite his team’s underwhelming season performance, LeBron put up another incredibly impactful season and through no Lakers bias of my own earned a spot on this 2nd team through his LEBRON Wins Added and LEBRON.
C: Joel Embiid: Embiid was a familiar name with an jump in performance in several key areas, with career high marks in out talent metrics for Perimeter Shooting (4th among Centers), Playmaking (2nd among Cs), Finishing (4th among Cs), and Middle Game attacking (2nd among Cs). As an all-around offensive weapon that is also a strong defender, Embiid was this season’s clear cut 2nd most impactful Center.
BBI’S 3rd TEAM ALL-NBA
G: James Harden: The new 76er had quite a down year relative to his norm. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge that. He had his lowest rating in our Perimeter Shooting Talent (96th percentile) metric and 2nd lowest in our Playmaking (99th percentile) and Finishing Talent (93rd percentile) metrics. His performance in each, while lower, was still at very strong to elite levels. He was still the third most efficient perimeter isolation scorer, per our Stable Isolation Efficiency metric. He also had e a career high rating in our Middle Game Talent metric, with more willingness and effectiveness in an area once purposefully avoided by him in Houston.
Harden is certainly a less exciting pick as a dropping player than rising players like Booker/Doncic/Morant, but the math shows Harden had a higher aggregate impact than those alternatives and a higher per 100 possession than all but Morant, who would’ve gotten this spot on a LEBRON tiebreaker had his LEBRON Wins Added been closer to Harden’s.
G: Jrue Holiday: Another player with few holes in his game, Holiday’s 2-way impact lands him a spot on this 3rd team. Holiday raised his game this year in several key areas, with his best Perimeter Shooting and Playmaking Talent (10th highest this year among Guards) ratings of his career. Hid Middle Game Talent was the second highest of his career, and he also had one of his most impactful defensive seasons as well.
Holiday was the 2nd best guard defending in ball screens (Via our Ball Handler Screen Defense Metric), took on tougher matchups than 99% of players in our database, and was an elite on-ball defender while doing so. That earned him a spot on our 3rd Team All-Defensive honors.
F: Jaren Jackson Jr.: JJJ earned our Comeback Player of the Year award this season, going from 11 games played to a durable contributor for Memphis. He was a strong contributor on offense, but his primary value was on defense, where he had the 2nd highest impact among Anchor Bigs this year.
From his 1st Team All-Defense writeup: JJJ had a breakout year, finishing 6th in D-LEBRON, after missing almost all of last year due to injury. He was 5th in our Rim Protection metric, establishing himself as an elite paint presence. He also showed versatility as a defender, finishing in the 75th percentile among bigs in our On-Ball Defense metric. 44.14% of the 2-pointers he contested resulted in blocks, which ranked 3rd this season among Bigs.
F: Pascal Siakam: Siakam took another step forward this season with his development, posting new career highs in our metrics evaluating Finishing Talent, Playmaking Talent, and Middle Game Talent. His skill set resulted in a few impressive stable efficiency marks, such as A+ Roll Man efficiency and A- efficiency in isolation, post ups, cuts, and on dump offs. Strong durability and impact led the Raptors rangy forward to his placement on this 3rd team.
C: Rudy Gobert: Our repeat winner of our Defensive Player of the Year award, Gobert draws the strong majority of his impact on the defensive end.
From his 1st Team All-Defense writeup: At this point, Rudy Gobert’s name should be laminated on the first team. The best paint protector of the last decade just keeps rolling, another day at the office….punching in at the time clock…. Same as it ever was. But in addition to that, he’s had a career year in the dFG% disruption vs expected from opponents, holding opponents to a FG% at the rim 13.39% lower than expected (while also accounting for who that player was). He also had a career year in our On-Ball Defense metric and with his Screener Mobile Defense rating as well. Elite rim protection along with improved mobility materialized into the top defensive impact in the NBA this season, earning Gobert our DPOY award and a spot on the 1st team.
Where the Data Differs
Here are a few notes on several (very very good!) notable players not on any of our All-NBA lists, but we expect to see receive votes and recognition from others:
G: Ja Morant, Devin Booker, & Luka Doncic: All elite and electric offensive threats with negative impact defense, these are the exact types of players our data approach will tend to rate lower (due to looking at both ends of the court) than public voting that has a hard time combining evals of both offense and defense and stacking players up in an overall sense.
Between these three you have the 3rd and 4th most impactful offensive PGs per 100 possessions and 3rd on the SG side. All three are unquestionably rising star players in the league, and will be for years to come. None were far off from recognition on these top 3 teams, and all 3 would be on All-Offense lists if were to recognize them. In those 4 key offensive talent areas we’ve referenced throughout this article, Luka has 4 A+’s and both Booker (Playmaking A-) and Morant (Perimeter Shooting A-) have 3.
Unfortunately, all three were also in the bottom third of players in our database in defensive impact per 100 possessions. Had their offense been a tad higher, enough to overcome that defense, they could very well be on these lists (as Trae Young is). As the heliocentric key of Atlanta’s offense, the advanced on/off part of LEBRON that accounts for lineup combos by both teams and adjusts for variance-driven outcomes (LA-ORAPM) recognized that Young was immensely impactful to Atlanta’s offense.
Doncic specifically performed relatively poorly (only 80th percentile) in that metric, and the reason was easy to see even in the basic data. Dallas’ offense has been more efficient with either of Brunson/Dinwiddie in and Luka out, and among 2-man groupings of those 3 the one with Luka sitting has fared best offensively. For stats looking at results and discerning player impact, that’s going to hurt him. Here’s the basic data on those Dallas lineup combos. If we set up these teams by player talent data rather than impact, Luka would be on. But that weird result with Dallas’ offensive results dragged Luka down just enough to miss these teams by aggregate or per 100 possession impact.
The other route to higher aggregate is of course minutes. Young played ~800 minutes more than some other top guards that missed the list. That matters, both for team success and for these calculations. Having an elite impact is immensely hard. Sustaining it for hundreds and hundreds of more minutes as another player performing at the ~same level should be recognized.
For Morant, more minutes played definitely would’ve gotten him on these lists, as he was the 3rd highest Guard in our per 100 possession LEBRON metric but missed 25 games this season, holding down his aggregate impact.
Keep an eye out for all three of these players next year!
F: DeMar DeRozan: If this were an All-Offense list, DDR would be another name referenced. The season’s 3rd highest impact Power Forward per 100 possessions offensively, he impacted games with his ability to dominate inside the 3-point line and with strong playmaking to support that scoring. His offense not being in the outlier range + very negative defensive impact held him off these lists, but he’s an exciting offensive player that had MVP candidate stretches of play this year.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns: KAT, much like DeRozan, had a combination of top offense and very poor defense for his position that makes him an exciting player to watch but does hold his impact back. He would’ve been our 4th team Center if we had a 4th team, so he’s not too far off from breaking into these top 3 tiers. If there were multiple Centers on each team as there are Guards and Forwards, we’d see him on here for sure.
F: Porzingis: KP hasn’t gotten much attention elsewhere, but had a surging impact late in the year and got up to the 9th highest LEBRON at the end of this season. His ~1,500 minutes played on the year is what kept his LEBRON Wins Added low enough to be off of our lists, but what he did do in his limited while still large sample is worth commending.