Forecasting All-NBA Teams for the 2017-18 Season at Halfway Mark
Championship odds for every player’s team come courtesy of TopBet. Do not underestimate their incusion, as the players were picked based on not only what they’ve done, but what they should continue to do. Naturally, then, selections will take into account whether a player figures to get enough run down the stretch, which in turn means we need to understand the stakes his team is facing from here on out.
All-NBA 1st Team
Guard — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (-250)
Stephen Curry’s ankle injury earlier in the season initially looked like it might impeded everything from his All-Star candidacy, to his All-NBA eligibility. About that, though…Yeah, not so much.
Curry has come back in a big way. The Golden State Warriors see their net rating plummet by more when they play without him than anyone else on the roster, and he continues to be a tried-and-true offensive force.
To wit: Curry is currently matching his true shooting percentage—cumulative measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw efficiency—from 2015-16, when he was named the NBA’s first and only unanimous MVP while turning in the greatest individual offensive season the league has ever seen.
Don’t just slot him for First Team duty. He’s now MVP-hopeful material.
Guard — James Harden, Houston Rockets (+800)
Speaking of MVP material, James Harden continues to tear things up with the Houston Rockets.
Missing time with a hamstring injury opened the door for Curry—and LeBron James—to enter that discussion, but it has done nothing to jeopardize Harden’s First Team credentials. On the contrary, he’s more of a safe pick here than his backcourt partner.
The key for him: defense. No, seriously. We know what he can do on offense, and he’s doing it all. But he’s long been criticized for his defense. He appears more locked in than ever this year, particularly in one-on-one situations.
Forward — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (+650)
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season-long soap opera does nothing to detract from LeBron James’ argument. He remains the best player in the league, even in his age 33 go-round.
In fact, prior to Isaiah Thomas’ 2017-18 debut following his recovery from a hip injury, LeBron was notching near-career-best levels of efficiency at the offensive end. He still takes off plays defensively, and the Cavs as a whole are complete crud on that end. But his team remains the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference entirely because of him.
We shouldn’t be saying things like this about him in Year 15. And yet, here we are, singing his praises, without exaggeration.
Forward — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (+5000)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a top-five player, period. It doesn’t matter that he lacks an established jumper. He does everything else.
Run pick-and-rolls? Yup. Lead fast breaks? Absolutely. Serve as a rim-running diver? You bet. Protect the rim? Of course. Switch almost everything in space on defense? Yup again.
Across-the-board contributions like his—which are punctuated by unprecedented per-game averages—have to be awarded First Team honors. His Milwaukee Bucks are, in no uncertain terms, a terrible championship bet at +5000, but he’s a lock for this specific distinction.
Center — DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans (+15000)
Picking a center created the first real controversy. We could go with Joel Embiid here, because of how important and effective he is on the defensive end. But we just cannot ignore DeMarcus Cousins’ insane usage with the New Orleans Pelicans.
At the time of this writing, Cousins is averaging around 25 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. That is not a typo. And despite his turnover woes, he’s posting by far the best true shooting percentage of his career.
In the end, that’s what does it for us. He’s shooting better than 35 percent on a steady volume of three-pointers, while Embiid continues to hover under 30 percent in that area. The profound impact Cousins has on the Pellies’ offense, as of now, beats what Embiid is doing in Philly.
All-NBA 2nd Team
Guard — Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (+3000)
Russell Westbrook began the season off this list. Both he and the Oklahoma City Thunder were struggling to get their act together.
Eventually, though, fellow stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George encouraged Westbrook to stop adjusting to their arrivals. They wanted him to just be himself, which he’s since done.
And it’s working.
Westbrook still takes the more-than-occasional bad shot, but the Thunder’s net rating with and without him is night and day. And although he won’t garner real MVP consideration, he’s on the verge of averaging a triple-double for the second consecutive season.
Guard — Chris Paul, Houston Rockets (+800)
Selecting Chris Paul was tough only because of his injuries. Knee issues have forced him to miss almost half of the Rockets’ games. At this stage of the season, we could just as easily strike him from the discussion.
Still, looking toward the end of the year, if he doesn’t miss more than a handful of games, he’ll have to make the Second Team or Third Team. His numbers are too absurd—18.8 points and 8.8 assists per game while slashing 45.3/39.5/90.4—and Houston’s offense is an unfathomable fireball whether he’s playing with or without Harden.
On top of all that, he’s one of the main reasons why the Rockets register as a real threat to the Warriors’ reign. Indeed, the defending champs will still be heavily favored in a seven-game series, but Houston has the three-point variance and, thanks in large part to Paul, the defensive chops to give them a worthy fight.
Forward — Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (-250)
Kevin Durant’s season has somehow felt quiet. Curry is in part to blame. He’s very clearly established himself as the Warriors’ most valuable player, which, along with people now being numb to Durant playing for Golden State, has bilked the all-world forward of his typical shine.
But then you look at the numbers, and you realize Durant is flirting with another 50/40/90 shooting slash while contending for the lead league in blocks per game.
Good luck keeping him off the All-NBA ballot this year. After all, in any other season, he’d be a First-Team shoo-in.
Forward — Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (+15000)
Anthony Davis has played himself into fringe-MVP-candidate territory.
Everything you know about him remains true: He’s vicious off the dribble and in the post; he’s an active defender; and he refuses to cede too much control of New Orleans’ rebounding duties to Cousins.
Except, now, he’s so much more than all of that. Davis is quietly posting a career high in assists per 36 minutes, and he’s canning his threes at a personal-best rate amid watermark volume. He really is blossoming into the total package.
Center — Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (+8000)
We’ve already made Joel Embiid’s case for him. He challenged Cousins for the top center spot. But we have one last mind-blowing note that perfectly encapsulates just how indispensable he is to the Sixers, turnover warts and all.
In the time he’s spent with Philly’s other four starters—Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric—the team is outscoring opponents by 17.8 points per 100 possessions. Play those four with anyone else on the roster other than Embiid, and the resulting lineup gets torched, on average, by more than nine points per 100 possessions.
All-NBA 3rd Team
Guard — Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics (+900)
Kyrie Irving almost didn’t make this cut, which won’t make sense to a bunch of people. He’s on the best team in the Eastern Conference and proving once and for all he can succeed without LeBron.
There admittedly aren’t any red flags against him. He’s playing the best defense of his career and holding serve compared to last season with his offensive output and production—no small feat when you consider he’s Boston’s only player capable of hitting shots consistently off the dribble.
Something is still missing, though. His offensive efforts are, once again, impressive. But he hasn’t made a noticeable leap. It also doesn’t help that the Celtics have the NBA’s second worst offense, behind only the Brooklyn Nets, since Dec. 15.
Nonetheless, he gets the nod. And he deserves it. We can’t knock him too much given his drastic defensive reinvention.
Guard — Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (+15000)
Damian Lillard’s spot very easily could have gone to DeMar DeRozan. The Toronto Raptors swingman is finally a threat from beyond the arc and has improved a great deal out of the pick-and-roll. Where we could easily say for years that Kyle Lowry was Canada’s most important player, we no longer have that luxury.
But improving in a larger area of weakness is more impressive than expanding a strength. And Lillard has turned into an adequate, if average, defender for the Portland Trail Blazers—who rank an astounding ninth in points allowed per 100 possessions.
If we’re going to reward Kyrie for sustaining his offense while beefing up his defense, we must do the same for Lillard.
Forward — Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves (+3500)
Truth time: We’re stepping out on a ledge here.
Jimmy Butler was voted into the All-Star game as a guard. All-NBA voters could subsequently treat him as such. But Cleaning The Glass has him rather than Andrew Wiggins playing more small forward for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And so, we stretched his positional designation to make room for Lillard.
It doesn’t actually matter how we interpret Butler’s position. He should make an All-NBA team anyway. He’s anchoring one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses—albeit one with a crummy shot profile—and the Timberwolves’ defensive structure verges on very good whenever he’s in the lineup.
Forward — Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (+3000)
Paul George’s offense has been fine in Oklahoma City. He’s getting his 20-plus points per game and dishing a few nifty passes every night.
His defense, though, wins him this honor. He trades off guarding the other team’s best player with Andre Roberson, but he’s the one Thunder head coach Billy Donovan turns to for bigger win matchups.
When Defensive Player of the Year ballots are filled out, George will top more than a few of them. And that, combined with his steady, if crescendoing, offense gives him All-NBA Third team priority.
Center — Al Horford, Boston Celtics (+900)
Points-per-game purists won’t want Al Horford here. They’ll call for Andre Drummond. Or Karl-Anthony Towns. Or Nikola Jokic. Or maybe LaMarcus Aldridge (if they view him as a center).
To all those people: Get over it.
Horford has been no worse than the third best center this year. He doesn’t score a ton, but that’s because he doesn’t have to. He revels in doing everything else. He’s among the top screeners in the game and averaging as many potential assists a night as Antetokounmpo. (And, yes, that’s positively ridiculous.)
Amid all this, Horford finds time to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc and anchor the league’s stingiest defense. Like George and Embiid, he will also gain serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.
Plunge into his on-off splits, and he’ll gain consideration for the role of Boston’s most valuable player as well—currying favor even over Irving.
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