If only I actually had a vote to cast for All-NBA First Team. The best I can do is a hypothetical ballot with a justification for each selection.
Where do I begin… the guy actually was in the conversation half-jokingly for Most Improved Player after winning the MVP last season! Curry got the scoring title this year, joined the mythical 50-40-90 club, made over 400 3 pointers (when nobody else has ever made even 300 in a season), and lead the league in multitude of categories including True Shooting Percentage, Player Efficiency Rating, Value Added, Estimated Wins Added, Wins Shares, Real-Plus Minus, Box Plus/Minus, and Value Over Replacement Player. Oh yeah… he also helped the Warriors get to 73 wins. Whoever doesn’t include Curry on their All-NBA First Team Ballot needs to lose their voting privileges (and have me take their place).
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I’ve often been “hard” on Harden, but the guy’s offensive numbers are astonishing enough to ignore his blatant lack of defensive effort. His stat-line of 29.0 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 6.1 RPG makes it easy to overlook some less-than-flattering instances on defense. No other shooting guard in the league comes close to his impact on the court. He lead all shooting guards in Player Efficiency Rating, Value Added, Estimated Wins Added, Real Plus-Minus (made even more remarkable by the fact that he has a negative Defensive Real Plus-Minus), Offensive Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus, and Value Over Replacement Player. This looks like a another no-brainer.
Although naming Leonard to this team is going to make things a little complicated to try to fit in other players I think are worthy, he deserves this spot. Kawhi would be the MVP in any other year. He’s the only player to rank in the top 10 in both Offensive Real Plus-Minus and Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He lead the Spurs to 67 wins, averaging a career high 21.7 PPG in the process. He ranked 3rd in the league in Defensive Rating, 4th in Win Shares, and 4th in Box Plus/Minus. His defensive presence is what gets him in this conversation, and his offensive numbers ensure him a spot.
He’ll be my second forward. I wanted a true small forward along with a true power forward, but no ballot would seem complete without both Leonard and James. I feel a little sick to my stomach that Kevin Durant isn’t on this team after the phenomenal year he had, but I decided to give this spot to James by the slimmest of margins. Leonard’s defensive value made him almost impossible to remove from this list, and averaging nearly 22 points per game takes him out of the “defensive specialist” sphere that makes guys easier to eliminate from teams like this. In yet another season of dominance, James averaged 25.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 6.8 APG while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. James ranked tied for 2nd in the league in Estimated Wins Added, 3rd in Value Added, 3rd in Box Plus/Minus, 3rd in Value Over Replacement Player, 3rd in Real Plus-Minus, tied for 4th in Player Efficiency Rating, 4th in Real Plus-Minus Wins, and 5th in Win Shares. It may seem as though James has garnered less headlines this year, so as a result his numbers must not be as good as usual. The reality is that the basketball world is simply getting bored with his routine excellence year in and year out, because the numbers say that the year he’s had is every bit up to par with the standard he’s set for himself.
This was another difficult selection. I originally narrowed it down the center spot to Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, and Andre Drummond. Drummond averages about 2 points and 3 more rebounds per game than Whiteside, but Whiteside averages well over a block more per game than any other player in the league. Cousins averages about the same amount of rebounds as Whiteside and about the same amount of blocks as Drummond, but where he gains a significant edge is his offensive game. He’s 4th in the league with 26.9 PPG, about 10 more than Drummond and 12 more than Whiteside. Anchoring the Miami Heat defense, Whiteside has significantly better analytics than both Cousins and Drummond in terms of on-court impact, and this debate is starting to sound suspiciously like baseball’s statistical civil war between traditional stats like batting average, home runs, and RBIs and metrics like VORP, OPS, and the appropriately named WAR. Whiteside isn’t exactly Bismack Biyombo on offense; in this era of basketball, Whiteside averaging about 14 points and 12 rebounds with 3.68 blocks demand respect. When you witness his defensive impact on the game and examine the numbers that illustrate his worth to the Heat on the court, it becomes very difficult not to award this spot to Whiteside. Cousins’ lofty point totals pale in comparison to the multi-faceted impact Whiteside has on the game. In the end, Whiteside’s top Defensive Rating for the entire leagued tipped the scales in his favor.