Every NBA season is a showcasing of the greatest basketball talents in the world. From Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks to James Harden of the Houston Rockets, the NBA has had its fair share of all-time great individual seasons. However, since the early stages of the NBA in the 1940s, the honor of “All-NBA” has been annually presented to the best players in the league. The current 2018-2019 NBA season has been extraordinarily special, because this may be the greatest collection full of MVP-caliber individual seasons. While the MVP discussions have dried down to two players, the All-NBA First-Team, Second-Team, and Third-Team honors are still debatable. The way these All-NBA honors are awarded is based off of which deserving player had the most significant contribution to their team success, thus having the best individual season.
ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM:
It is my distinct pleasure to tip this All-NBA honors list with the most underrated player in the NBA. While Lillard is extremely humble off the court, his elite game has not been matched by another point guard in the 2018-2019 NBA season. The heart and soul of Pacific Northwest basketball has also shown that he is the most clutch player in the NBA, hitting timely shots at the end of games, which were crucial in leading the Blazers to a 53-29 3rd place record in the tougher Western Conference. Lillard, without the presence of another All-Star talent, has single-handedly lifted this Portland team to a top-5 record in the NBA. My favorite part of Lillard’s game, outside of his scoring (25.8 PPG on 52.2% EFG%/58.8 TS%) and passing (6.9 APG/116.7 ORTG) skills, is his fantastic ability to silence his critics. Lillard is also a walking bucket from anywhere near half court, as shown by his 39.1% FG in shots taken 30-40 feet away from the 3 point line, and his elite defense and all-time great scoring was displayed while leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a 4-1 playoff series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden has arguably been the best player in the NBA this season. Within the first 30 games, the Rockets were sitting at 14th place in the Western Conference. Shortly after those first 30 games, the Rockets lost stalwart point guard Chris Paul to a hamstring injury until late January. Center Clint Capela and shooting guard Eric Gordon also missed significant time with injury as well in the winter months. During this time, James Harden single-handedly carried the Houston Rockets to a 21-11 record during those months, averaging 40 PPG in that time frame, which led to his crowning as back to back scoring champion. His record streak of 31 30 point games was also a key role in transforming Houston into one of the 3 best teams in the league, and the best 3 point shooting team. Harden’s defense also significantly elevated, with his average of 2 steals per game and a league lead in deflections, along with a 90th percentile ranking in post defense. As the Rockets close out the Jazz in the 1st round, Harden’s performance in the 2nd round against the Golden State Warriors will be key in evaluating his MVP-level play this season. However, because of the comparison between the Rockets start and their finish with Harden shouldering the load, there is no doubt he unanimously deserves this All-NBA First-Team spot as the best guard of the 2018-19 NBA season.
The 2nd best basketball player in the world. What more can be said? The Warriors SF was had one of the most efficient seasons of his career, shooting a career-high 52% from midrange. Durant’s overall field goal percentage was also 52.1%, one of the highest among the leaders in PPG. KD himself averaged 26 PPG over the course of 78 games, proving his efficient production despite the presence of 4 other All-Stars. Over the course of the past two seasons, Durant has also made himself a defensive powerhouse in the NBA. His unbelievable length and versatility has categorized him as a center that can move like a point guard, on offense and defense. While KD may have not hit all the buzzer beaters and clutch shots, there is no doubt that he was the most integral part of the Warriors’ attack due to his offensive and defensive versatility, leading them to the best record in the tough Western Conference. The best aspect about Durant, however, is the fact that he is the most unguardable player in basketball. His unbelievable quickness with respect to his height allows him to score with ease. Like Blazers guard Damian Lillard and his teammate Stephen Curry, Durant is a walking bucket beyond half court, because no player in the NBA has a unique-enough combination of height and quickness to stay with him, allowing his handles to create open jump shots and making him the greatest mismatch the NBA has ever seen, let alone present day and the 2018-19 NBA season.
The Greek Freak was the best player in basketball this season, period. The best player on arguably the strongest roster in the NBA has to be one of the two unanimous selections on the All-NBA First-Team. A candidate for both the MVP and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo averaged almost 28 PPG on 58% shooting, along with 1.5 BPG and top-10 in defensive rating for the regular season, proving his value offensively and defensively. The Bucks forward is also my choice for the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player and the 2019 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, as he is the “queen” in the chess game that is the league-best Milwaukee Bucks defense. Like I mentioned earlier, this season is a collection of the greatest individual seasons of all time, and there is popular belief that Giannis has played the best basketball, because of his unselfishness to play team basketball, as well as his elite level of offense and defense. While he may not have lost key members of his team for extended periods like Harden did, there was no questioning Giannis’s dominance on the court. If he gets to the rim, it’s 2 points for Milwaukee, because no defender in the NBA can stop the freakish athleticism of the bullet train from Athens. Despite drastically different weight dimensions, Antetokounmpo has been compared to Hall-of-Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, widely regarded as the most dominant basketball player of all time. While some may disagree, there can be no question from any basketball fan that Giannis will be the greatest Hall-of-Fame power forward to have ever played this game, and maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance, that he ends up being one of the 3 best basketball players to have ever played the game.
“Trust The Process.” The injured center prospect from Kansas who once issued these words is now the best center in basketball, and my final winner of the All-NBA First-Team award. Embiid’s importance to his team, showcased through his elite two-way play, is what attracts my vote for All-NBA First-Team this year. “The Process” is the most important player in Philadelphia Sports, as the 76ers, with 3 other All-Stars or All-Star caliber players, were humiliated at home in Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets due to his persistent injuries. When the health of one superstar concerns a team’s ability to win with 3 other above-average or arguably elite players, that speaks measures that Embiid has been the 76ers franchise this season, and will continue to be so. Philadelphia basketball runs through “The Process”, especially their defensive rating when he is not on the court. Even with lockdown defenders like point guard Ben Simmons and top-17 player Jimmy Butler, Embiid’s commanding presence and athleticism at the rim makes him the best shot blocker in basketball, and such a force at the defensive end. Just like how Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, and Antetokounmpo himself are the respective crown jewels of their elite defenses, Embiid is the crown of Philadelphia’s championship-caliber defense, indicated just by his presence on the court. However, this is not to say “The Process” is not one of the best offensive players in the game. Embiid grabs almost 14 rebounds per game, along with a 27.5 PPG and 4 APG, with about 2 blocks per game, which shows his impact on Philly’s defense. Time and time again, the Sixers franchise is Joel Embiid, Joel Embiid, and more Joel Embiid, because Philadelphia’s system is built to run around Embiid. If Joel doesn’t play at his 100%, the 76ers as a team are so much worse, as evidenced by Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets. Embiid’s monster play this year on both offense and defense has not only convinced critics that he deserves the All-NBA First-Team, but that his 2018 season may have been one of the most overshadowed and underhyped MVP campaigns of all time.
Now that I outlined my All-NBA First-Team, these are some players I really wanted to award as All-NBA First-Team for this year, called my honorable mentions (or All-NBA Second-Team).
Honorable Mentions (All-NBA Second-Team):
The best basketball player in the world. The greatest shooter of all time. Not having Curry in my All-NBA First-Team sucks, because Curry had an absolutely phenomenal season, starting red-hot in October and finishing the same way in April. He shot 47% from the field and 44% from 3 point range, while helping the Warriors to the best record in the Western Conference. Curry’s importance to his team cannot be stressed enough, as shown in the drastic difference while comparing Golden State’s record with and without him. His average of 27.5 PPG with 5 APG do not reflect his unselfish play in Golden State’s system, because not only his unselfishness key to Golden State’s efficiency, but also because Stephen Curry has been the Warriors’ system for the past few seasons, this season in counting. For reference, his shooting numbers were 64.1% TS (2nd among Top 10 Players behind Giannis) and a league-leading 60.4% EFG, along with a 22.5% assist percentage, showing not only his unselfishness on offense to play without the ball in his hands, but also his elite efficiency when shooting the basketball in just this season. Curry’s overall game can be summarized in one number: a league-leading 14.1 net rating, which labels him as one of the most impactful players in basketball over the course of this season. His incredible jump shot, lack of selfishness, value to his team, and efficiency, especially in the clutch, are the factors that put him on my All-NBA Second-Team (Honorable Mentions) for this season.
Uncle Drew. One of the most clutch players to have ever played this game. Kyrie definitely deserves an honorable mention for All-NBA First-Team, because he is the unquestioned leader of a top 5 team in the NBA, not just in the Eastern Conference. While he may not have been near the league lead in scoring, Kyrie’s 24 PPG was still essential in taking the Celtics to a top-4 record in the Eastern Conference. His average of 7 APG was almost Top 10 in the entire NBA, and his playmaking ability was easily top 3 among the entire NBA. Like always, Kyrie’s consistency and efficiency never strayed, two integral components in compensating for a lack of consistent production among Boston’s younger players. One of Kyrie’s best attributes is his awareness to avoid turnovers, as his 2.6 turnovers per game were tied for the lowest among top-15 players (Chris Paul). His lack of turnovers has contributed to his clutch play this season, like the clutch layups to win games against the Pacers and the Thunder. Even while being criticized as too passive of a player, Irving can still take over games like the other top 10 players in this game, and his ability to produce in a not-so-great season for the Celtics puts him on this honorable mentions (All-NBA Second Team) list.
Paul George. MVPG. Call him whatever, but he’s had one of the best seasons this year for any position, let alone a small forward. One of the best two-way players in basketball, George’s play this season cemented his status as a top-10 player in the NBA. He can be one of the best offensive players in the NBA, averaging 28 PPG on 44% shooting and a whopping 39% from beyond the arc. At one point this season, George was the frontrunner for both NBA MVP and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and still is the expected winner for the latter. PG had the league-lead in steals per game, and his defensive tenacity alone has made him into one of the best pure defenders in the league. He can guard 1-on-1, in the post, perimeter, wherever. The highlight of George’s season was definitely carrying the Thunder to the playoffs, especially with the lack of good shooters and high-IQ players on that team. One may argue that Paul George was the main reason that Oklahoma City was even making noise in the star-studded Western Conference over the course of 2018, however I think the argument is much less complicated than that. PG is the 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder. That team lives and dies with him. Despite the deep-rooted belief that veteran point guard Russell Westbrook is the heart and soul of OKC, that statement is only true to such an extent. Paul George is the present and future of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it is for this reason that he’s an honorable mention (All-NBA Second-Team) for All-NBA First-Team.
The Klaw. The most consistent playoff performer in the NBA. Call him whatever, but he’s had one of the best comeback seasons in recent memory. Considering the injury he suffered in 2017 and all the scrutiny surrounding his departure from San Antonio, Leonard’s individual comeback may have just paved way for the Raptors to elevate their status as a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. After playing 60 games this year compared to just 9 last year, Kawhi averaged 27 PPG on almost 50% shooting, with about 2 SPG. Despite finishing with one less win compared to their #1 seeding in the Eastern Conference last year, the Raptors, in their first season under Nick Nurse, finished with the 2nd-best record in the NBA with Kawhi at the helm. Leonard’s veteran presence alone has developed the younger Raptors develop, especially Pascal Siakam. Leonard’s defense has and will always be a given for any team that he plays on. He guards the most imminent threat on every opponent, and is key due to his tenacity and elite hands, especially in 1-on-1 defense. He has made some very impactful plays, such as the chasedown block on Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and the steal and score on Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan late in the season. This might be deja vu for most basketball fans, but Leonard is one of the two best two-way players in this game, period. This consistency makes him a lock for this honorable mentions list, and if it wasn’t for elite individual success from other forwards, the Klaw is easily an MVP candidate and an All-NBA First-Team honoree.
Jokic is just a special, special talent. There hasn’t been a center with the generational offensive talent that Jokic has been gifted with. Nearly averaging a triple double per game, Jokic is a point guard in the body of a center, averaging 7 assists per game and dribbling the ball up the floor just like any other point guard would. The Joker has been such an elite floor general this year, and his playmaking ability and unselfishness have improved the ability of the Nuggets’ guards to play more efficient basketball under new head coach Mike Malone. He has shot an insane 51% this season, and 30% from 3-point range, an excellent number for a center. Jokic’s maturity this season has really been displayed, especially in the Nuggets’ turnaround from the 9th seed in the Western Conference to a top-4 record in the NBA. The development of the Joker’s unique offensive talent has made Jokic one of the most difficult players to defend in the entire NBA, let alone the conference. He just bodies smaller defenders to the rim, and if there’s no path to the rim, he’s shown such high IQ this season to make the correct pass and facilitate the Denver Nuggets offense as a point god in the body of a center. Due to his offensive prowess as an elite floor general and his ability to elevate the play of teammates through disciplined, unselfish, and efficient basketball, Nikola Jokic has made my honorable mentions (All-NBA Second-Team) list.