G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden has had a remarkable season. He is the best player on the league’s best team. He leads the league in scoring. Perhaps most impressively, there has not been a prolonged period of time this season during which he was not considered the MVP frontrunner. Harden is an offensive machine, recently becoming the first NBA player in history to both score and assist for 2,000 points in a single season. He is perhaps the league’s most unstoppable scorer, as he has scored more points in isolation situations than any other team in the league. Adding more perimeter defenders has also allowed Harden to spend more of his time on defense in the post, where he is both more comfortable and more effective. After years on the fringe, Harden has solidified himself as one of the league’s five best players. Houston has looked nearly unbeatable when their big three of Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela suit up, losing only three times in 43 games, and, at this point, are almost co-favorites with Golden State to win the title. The combination of personal and team success leave little to no doubt that Harden will be a member of the first team all-NBA for the fourth time in five seasons.
G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The second guard spot has a number of competitors, but a combination of injuries to some of the other guys and Lillard’s second half explosion make him the frontrunner. Since the all-star break, the Blazers point guard has put up 28.5 points and 6.7 assists per game, while leading his team, supposedly stuck in neutral and unable to escape the bottom half of the playoff picture, into third place in the brutal Western Conference. Lillard is among the league’s most deadly three-point shooters, and he has coupled that with an improved ability and desire to get to the rim and the free throw line this season. He is currently shooting a higher percentage of his shots at the rim or from beyond the arc than either of the past two seasons, and his mid-range shooting has drastically decreased. Lillard is often at his best against the top teams and in the biggest moments, and his Blazers will be a team to look out for in the postseason. Lillard is not one of the two best guards in the league, but his performance this season more than warrants this spot.
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
If anyone besides Harden has a viable MVP argument, it’s LeBron James. Over the past two months, James has averaged a 30-point triple-double while shooting over 54% from the field. The Cavaliers team has also rebounded after a rough January to find themselves in the same position as the start of the season: as the prohibitive favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. James is playing with his worst supporting cast in years, but that has not slowed him down. In fact, he is currently putting up career-best assist numbers. For all the talk about Davis, Lillard, or Antetokounmpo carrying their respective teams, LeBron has a comparable roster and has collected more wins than any of those players’ teams. I could go on and on about James’ mind-blowing numbers, but the bottom line is that he is still the unquestionable best player on the planet and there is no debate that he will earn all-NBA first team honors for an unprecedented twelfth time.
F: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
The question isn’t whether Davis belongs on this team but rather whether he should be considered a forward or a center. I have him slotted as a forward, where he has played 52% of his minutes this season and where he would have almost exclusively played had DeMarcus Cousins not torn his achilles in February. Davis’ performance since Cousins’ injury has been nothing short of spectacular. The injury was depressing for many NBA fans, mostly because Cousins was in the midst of a fantastic season and the injury was a devastating one, but also because of what it meant for the Pelicans as a team. At the time, New Orleans was in seventh place in the hotly-contested West, and their prospects of holding onto that spot looked slim. Instead, the team has gone 19-13 without the mercurial big man, and that has almost entirely been product of Davis’ dominance. Since Cousins went down, his frontcourt mate has averaged over 30 points and 12 rebounds per game. He also leads the league in blocked shots per game. This recent run has separated Davis from the pack and established him as the premier big man in the game. He earns this distinction for the third time in four years. (Note: If Davis is the center, Giannis becomes the second forward on the first team, Aldridge replaces him on the second team, and Jimmy Butler steps in on the third team. In this case, Jokic would miss out on all-NBA honors).
C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Although Davis is the league’s best big, Embiid has made a case that he is its best center. Although a late-season freak injury hampers his candidacy, the competition at center simply isn’t stiff enough. Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic are fantastic offensively, but struggle to handle opposing centers or protect the rim. The opposite holds true for Rudy Gobert. Embiid can do it all. Offensively, he can score from the perimeter, take his man of the dribble, face up from the mid-range, or dominate the low block. On the less glamorous side of the ball, he alters many shots at the rim and can adequately switch to the perimeter and cover guards. In his first full NBA season (if 63 games can be considered a full season), Embiid has averaged about 23 points and 11 rebounds, along with three assists and two blocks per game. He has also authored a historic turnaround in Philadelphia, who sits fourth in Eastern Conference with 50 games and also sports a top-five defense, anchored by Embiid. It really is scary how good this guy is with so little professional experience, and if his growth continues at this trend, this will be the first of many such honors for the 76ers center.
G: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Even though DeRozan is scoring at a lower and less efficient clip than last season, his evolution as a player has been crucial to Toronto’s unexpected first-placed finish in the Eastern Conference. DeRozan is currently blowing out his career highs in assists and three-pointers made, even though his perimeter shooting has lagged off after a hot start. Much of the credit for Toronto’s success has to go to the much improved bench, but DeRozan continues to demonstrate that he is one of the league’s most underappreciated stars. The numbers, especially compared to some other guys this season, may not be eye-popping, but guiding a written off Raptors team to regular season conference title is not small feat. DeRozan has had a viable argument as the league’s second best two guard for a number of years now, and he should finally get that recognition in the form of a selection to the all-NBA second team.
G: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Oladipo has possibly authored the league’s most pleasantly surprising story of the season. After a lost season in which he played second fiddle to Russell Westbrook’s one-man show (if that’s even possible), the former number two overall pick finally followed through on the potential that many saw from him coming out of Indiana in 2013. The situation in Indiana struck a middle ground between unfortunate situations in Oklahoma City and Orlando. He has been the primary offensive threat, like in Orlando, but this time he was surrounded by a solid collection of B-level NBA starters. He has made the most of this opportunity, putting up career bests in scoring, assists, rebounds, and efficiency from the field and from three point range. Oladipo’s offensive game is very straightforward and ruthlessly efficient; he doesn’t waste dribbles and attacks the rim with vigor. He can score solidly from all three levels. He also led the league in steals and deflections and helped his Pacers team, supposedly in the midst of a rebuild, to the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed. Indiana has flown under the radar all season, but they have navigated a difficult end of year schedule to separate themselves from a pack of chasing teams and will next look to make noise in playoffs.
F: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
After his jaw-dropping performance in the 2017 finals, many expected Durant to battle LeBron for the crown of world’s best player. Although he couldn’t quite accomplish that, the reigning finals MVP was able to continue his run of producing at a high level and helping his team pile up wins. Injuries have led the Warriors to their worst record in the Steve Kerr era, but it was still good enough to comfortably finish with Western Conference’s second-best record. Handed more responsibility within the offense with fellow superstar Steph Curry missing upwards of 30 games, Durant saw a slight uptick in his scoring and assists this season, while losing a bit of his unsustainably high efficiency from a year ago. Durant’s offensive game, at this point, is a finished product. We know what he can do, and, to date, he continues to produce. He will soon complete his tenth consecutive season averaging over 25 points per game. His big improvement this season came on the defensive end, where his combination of footspeed and length permits him to stay with quick guards on the perimeter while also being a more than competent rim protector. For a prolonged stretch of time this season, Durant led the league in blocks per game. While the former MVP’s production is worthy of a spot with the first team, the Warriors struggles without Curry in the lineup mar his candidacy a little bit, especially when compared to some of his competitors who had to carry their respective teams without the same level of help that Durant has. Durant will have to settle for the second team for a third consecutive season.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak is another player whose production alone would merit him a place in the first five. Antetokounmpo has improved exponentially in each of his five NBA seasons, with his scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage going up in each year. The Greek Freak peaked this season, putting up 27 points and 10 rebounds on 53% shooting. At times this year, especially early on, Giannis looked virtually unstoppable, as he can effortlessly step through or around anything the defense throws at him. Antetokounmpo still struggles with his outside shooting, shooting 35% or below from all distances besides at the rim. Defenses managed to adjust a little bit later on the season, but Giannis still proved more than capable of putting up big numbers. However, the Bucks’ disappointing season makes it impossible for the Greek Freak to overtake Davis. Milwaukee has one of the most complete and talented rosters in the Eastern Conference, yet they are in a fight at the bottom of the playoff picture right now. The defending most improved player took another leap forward this year, but it was not quite enough to get him out of the all-NBA second team.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns’ numbers were bound to take a slight tumble with Minnesota bringing Jimmy Butler on board to take on some of the offensive burden. Still, Towns continues to demonstrate that he is one of the league’s most consistent players, pacing the league with 67 double-doubles en route to averaging over 21 points and 12 rebounds per outing. Towns is one of the most complete offensive bigs in the game, as he can score from all three levels and is virtually impossible to guard on the low block, due to his combination of size and soft touch. Among the upcoming crop of young star bigs who like to shoot the three, Towns is by far the most efficient, shooting a more than respectable 42% clip from downtown. Defensively, Towns has had his fair share of troubles, but he has showed signs of turning the tide late in the season. The final step to this season for Towns will be to knock out Denver in a winner-take-all game tomorrow to get his franchise to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, but he has done enough this year to earn a spot on the all-NBA second team.
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
On numbers alone, Westbrook’s second consecutive astonishing season would qualify him for the first or second team. However, we all now what Westbrook is capable of. Stats come easily to him. It is more important to judge such a unique individual talent by the success of his team. espite a much-publicized and much-improved roster, the Thunder will at best eclipse last year’s record by only one game. Westbrook continues to be inefficient and to make it difficult for his teammates to get into a flow. It is hard not to notice how much Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have struggled, especially when compared to Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, or even Enes Kanter, the guys they were traded for. Westbrook is a supreme talent, but unlike DeRozan or Oladipo, he does not maximize the ability of those around him. It was hard to notice last season when Oklahoma City had what appeared to be a thin roster, but Westbrook’s inability to adjust has been disappointing.
G: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Despite having only played 51 games this season, Curry has a viable argument to being on the all-NBA third team. Firstly, his production alone is easily worth a first-team spot alongside Harden. He bounced back from a slightly disappointing 2016-17 to look like a lower-volume version of his two-time MVP self. In fact, Curry is currently registering a career-high true shooting percentage of 67.5%. Curry has also demonstrated his value to the Warriors, who have not looked like the same team–by any stretch of the imagination– when he has not suited up. Finally, his closest competition for the spot have not been healthy either. Although they have not missed as many games as Curry, both Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul have missed over 20 games, and neither has been nearly as productive as Curry. It is likely that some voters will leave Curry off of their ballot because he has not reached the 60-game threshold, but he has done enough to earn this recognition.
F: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
It feels a little weird having George in this spot. As discussed earlier, he has seen a drop in production and efficiency from last season. George had been touted as the ideal complementary piece, one who could thrive both with and without the ball. Instead, the Thunder offense has remained Westbrook-centric and George has floated in and out of rhythm. However, George has had some hot streaks and his one consistent has been on the defensive end of the floor, where he is among the league’s steal leaders and where Oklahoma City has performed strongly all year. The forward pool from this season is thin, and George’s closest competitor, Jimmy Butler, has missed time with an injury. Despite coming up short up expectations, George did average over 20 points and helped the Thunder turn around a potential disastrous season to at least reach the playoffs. George, who has struggled down the stretch, will have a chance to justify this spot by putting together a strong postseason.
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge, on the other hand, has been performing at a high level all year for the San Antonio Spurs. Top to bottom, this is not a very good team. Without Kawhi Leonard, they do not have enough guys who can create their own shot, which leaves that entire responsibility to Aldridge. He is just 0.1 points short of his career high of 23.4, and is doing so at better than 50% from the floor. Aldridge, never known for his defense, as also been a solid presence at that end of the floor for the league’s second best defense. Aldridge thrives in isolation out of the midpost, and surrounded by fundamentally sound shooters, instead of shot creators, that has been his primary situation this season. Despite a trying season last year at the end of which he demanded a trade, Aldridge has bounced back to reach a likely fifth all-NBA selection of his career.
C: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jokic continued to grow in his third NBA season, following through on many of the flashes he showed late last season. He has piled together 10 triple-doubles, and is averaging over 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game this season. He is the ideal center to run a an offense through, and the Nuggets front office has done a nice job surrounding him with selfless guys who cut well and can score from both inside and outside the paint. Jokic has established himself as one of the very best offensive centers in the game. He still struggles on defense, but has shown signs of improvement. Jokic’s brilliance has mostly translated to team success, as it appears as if the team is at its most devastating when the center is given free reign. However, the Nuggets will need to win their season finale against Minnesota to reach the postseason.