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- Guard – John Wall, Washington Wizards – In the interest of full disclosure, the sixth and final guard spot came down to a choice between Kyrie Irving and John Wall. I’ll take Wall. Irving is the better scorer and shooter, as evidenced by a 58.3% true shooting and 21.7 points per game, but Wall edges out Cleveland’s “point” guard in every other area of the game. If we were to break down All-Defensive teams in this space, Wall would garner significant consideration based on his length, athleticism and tenacity, and that is an area in which Irving lags considerably behind even an average benchmark. Beyond that, Wall is the centerpiece of his team and his 10.0 assists per game cannot go unnoticed. I won’t rant and rave if you choose Kyrie Irving over John Wall, but when considering degree of difficulty (i.e. one player has LeBron to lighten the load) and overall impact, Wall’s season is the one I would choose.
- Guard – Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls – If given a vote for Most Improved Player, Butler would be the choice, and with apologies to Pau Gasol, he has been the best overall player on the Bulls roster. The 25-year-old swingman remains an elite perimeter defender, but the biggest reason for his jump in production came on the offensive end, and Butler was a legitimate two-way monster this season. Butler’s workload (38.6 minutes per game) is overkill, and he can “thank” Tom Thibodeau for that, but he averaged 20.0 points per game for the season on a very respectable 46.2% from the field and 37.8% from three-point range. In terms of other guards in consideration, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson will be the names that you hear, but Butler is the best defender of the trio and with Derrick Rose out for an extended period, Butler’s offensive game allowed Chicago to succeed without other strong options. It would have been unthinkable a year ago to select Jimmy Butler to an All-NBA team, but the leap is real.
- Forward – Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – It certainly helps Millsap’s case to be associated with a 60-win team, but the veteran forward has been spectacular in his own right. Because of Atlanta’s varied offensive system, Millsap’s raw numbers (16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds per agme) don’t scream All-NBA, but he is often the go-to option in terms of creating his own offense, and from an efficiency standpoint, Millsap has been outstanding. His ability to extend his range to the three-point line (3.0 attempts per game at 35.6 percent) has been critical to Atlanta’s scheme in providing additional space, and the Hawks organization raves about his unique and flexible game. The casual basketball fan doesn’t appreciate Paul Millsap’s quirky game, but he is a legitimate star.
- Forward – Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers – Blake was very nearly a second-team selection and any notion that he is having a “down” year is silly. Yes, Griffin is averaging more than two fewer points than a season ago (21.9 down from 24.1), but the All-Star forward is averaging a career-best 5.3 assists per game (not a small feat) as he continues to stretch his game offensively. On the defensive end, Blake isn’t a finished product, but he plays well off of DPOY candidate DeAndre Jordan and he certainly isn’t a liability. Lastly, Griffin’s rebounding is down, leading to inaccurate statements about his game drifting away from the basketball, but simply put, those rebounds are going to Jordan as he makes a push for the rebounding title. Blake Griffin could probably benefit by taking a few additional trips to the rim on a nightly basis, but in the interest of extending his career, he’s still an exceptional basketball player when he’s shooting a few jump shots.
- Center – Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks – With a comparable roster one year ago, the Atlanta Hawks won 38 games. This season, the Hawks won 60 games and claimed the number one seed in a runaway. Of course, Horford’s return after appearing in just 29 games last season isn’t responsible for all of that bump, but adding a perennial All-Star big man to the equation is always a nice thing, and Horford has been exceptional since working off the rust early in the year. Much like Millsap, Horford’s raw numbers (15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds per game) won’t blow you away, but he is easily the best rim protector on the Atlanta roster, and he has re-established himself as a big-time defender in the NBA. Horford’s ability as a knockdown shooter in the mid-range frees up Jeff Teague and others in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop action, and it is clear that Mike Budenholzer had Horford in mind when designing Atlanta’s offense. The 6-foot-10 Horford is perennially discussed as a “power forward playing center”, but let’s dismiss that right now, he’s an elite-class center who anchors everything that Atlanta does.
Next: Second Team