Written by: Jordan Vitkauskas
We’re over a quarter of the way through the 2019-20 NBA season. Teams have started to separate themselves in the standings and a rough sketch of a playoff picture is starting to form. Additionally, many of the award races are starting to gain traction, from Most Valuable Player to Defensive Player of the Year. This week we are focusing on the coveted All-NBA teams. About 15-20 players have begun to make a case for one of the three teams with their overall play on both sides of the ball. A lot can change in the next few months, but here’s what the All-NBA teams look like through heading into Christmas Day.
Just missed the cut: Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond
G – Ben Simmons, Sixers
If you would’ve told me that Ben Simmons would hit not one, but two three-pointers before the All-Star break, I would’ve laughed and walked away. But Simmons has shown an increased willingness to take more shots from the perimeter, as he’s gone 2-for-5 from deep, compared to just six total attempts last season. Apart from that, Simmons has been his usual ho-hum self on offense, averaging a career-high 8.5 assists a game while finishing at a high mark around the rim.
His biggest improvement has been on the defensive end (although he’s always been above-average at that end), where he is tied fifth in Defensive Win Shares (DWS) at 1.9. Simmons has been a Swiss-army knife for Philadelphia, able to switch onto almost any player in the league and do so at an effective level. He’s tied for the league lead in steals with someone coming up on this list at 2.1 and should be on an All-Defensive team by the end of the season. If Simmons can continue to build on his offensive game, the 76ers could push past Milwaukee in the race to the Finals.
G – Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
With Mike Conley struggling to acclimate to the Jazz offense, Mitchell has taken a nice step forward from last years’ inefficient season and is posting career-highs in points, rebounds, field goal percentage and free throw percentage for a Utah team that has finally righted the ship after a rocky start. He’s scoring almost 25 points a game and doing so with more polished moves and a better shot selection than he did in his first two seasons. Mitchell clearly worked on refining his pick and roll game and is able to get his man stuck on a screen so he can get a more open three-pointer or jumper. He’s been more consistent as a result, scoring 20 or more points in all but six games, and Utah has come around as of late, winning six of their last eight contests.
Mitchell has had his ups and down through 2+ seasons with the Jazz, but he seems more mature on the court and finally has a better sense of how to run the offense. With the addition of Conley, he has a mentor who can show him all the tricks and tips to becoming a consistent offensive player, and a leader in the locker room. Utah has bounced back from the slow opening to now sit at 18-12 and seems firmly entrenched between the 4-7 seeds in a crowded Western Conference. If Mitchell can continue to develop and build chemistry with Conley, the Jazz will be a tough out come playoff time.
F – Paul George, Thunder
George had offseason shoulder surgery on both shoulders, and it appears to have paid off, as the 29-year-old is shooting 40.1% from three to start the season, which would be tied for the second-highest mark of his career. After missing the first two weeks recovering from said surgery, he joined a stacked Clippers lineup headlined by Kawhi Leonard, who collaborated to bring George from Oklahoma City back home for a chance at a title.
George is not being asked to do as much on offense compared to last season since the Clippers have Leonard, Lou Williams, and other playmakers on the roster to help alleviate the pressure. It’s helped him thrive, however, as George has been able to run off screens for open three-point shots, and is still pouring in 24.2 points each night. He’s the perfect second-banana to Leonard, able to take over the offense for stretches, but also not ball-dependent enough where he can play in cohesion when the duo share the court. Even though he’s missed significant time compared to everyone else in this post, I’m putting George on this list based on what he’s done in his time on the court so far, and also with the expectation that he will continue to play in games the rest of the season.
F – Jimmy Butler, Heat
“Jimmy Buckets” as he’s known, has gotten Miami off to a great start at 22-8, currently sitting as the three seed in the East. Butler’s scoring efficiency isn’t great (43.6% FG, 28.2% 3PT), but he’s averaging a career-high in assists (6.6), rebounds (6.5), and steals (2.1) while being the main catalyst on offense for Miami. He’s tied for seventh in total Win Shares and has been solid on defense as well for Miami. He has the speed and athleticism to cover quicker guards, but also the frame and smarts to handle bigger forwards.
Butler has long been one of the best two-way players in the league and it seems he’s finally found a perfect fit alongside his Heat teammates. He’s able to run the offense alongside rookie sensation Kendrick Nunn, scoring in the pick and roll, and is always ready to take a big shot late in games. There was heavy competition for this spot between Butler, Devin Booker, Kemba Walker, and others, but ultimately it is Butler’s two-way excellence that should have him firmly on an All-NBA team at the end of the season.
C – Joel Embiid, Sixers
Embiid hasn’t been up to his normal standards so far this year, but some of that can be attributed to adjusting with new teammates Al Horford and Josh Richardson. The Sixers offense as a whole has struggled, however, their defense has been among the league’s elite, allowing just 104.9 points per game (3rd-best in the NBA). While the basic stats (steals/blocks per game) don’t fully show it, Embiid has been a big factor in Philadelphia’s defense, altering shots and deterring guards from entering the paint, and is tied for ninth in DWS on the year.
On offense, he’s struggled, shooting just 47.1% from the field (second-worst of his career), and has been settling too much for contested jumpers as opposed to simply dominating guys down low. He’s attempting just 27.4% of his shots from 0-3 feet, which is not only a crime given his talents but the lowest mark of his career. Meanwhile, Embiid is taking 22.1% of his shots from three-point range, while connecting on just 31.9% of those attempts. That just can’t happen for such a dominating force in the middle of his prime. Embiid (and head coach Brett Brown) need to focus on getting more attempts around the rim, where he will either score or get fouled due to his athleticism and above-average footwork. I expect that to change later in the season, and if it does, Embiid will be making a run at another second-team appearance.
G – Damian Lillard
Lillard is picking up right where he left off last season, averaging almost 27 points each night for a Portland team that has seen a lot of ups and downs this year. He’s a human flamethrower every time he steps inside of halfcourt, capable of making 30+ footers with ease (just ask Paul George), and has improved his passing every year of his career. Lillard’s shooting numbers are slightly down this season (just 34.9% from deep), but he’s averaging a career-high 7.5 assists and is finding teammates for easy and open looks.
He’s tied for fifth in OPBM with LeBron James at 7.0 and is doing it all despite the injury bug, which has nailed Portland this year. Rodney Hood is out with a torn Achilles, Zach Collins is out for at least 3-4 months with his shoulder and Jusuf Nurkić (Lillard’s ideal pick and roll partner) hasn’t seen the floor yet after fracturing his leg last March. That’s three important pieces that would otherwise have the Blazers in the mix for a 5-6 seed. Instead, they started out 5-12, with losses. Even Lillard battled some injuries early in the year, causing Portland to get off to a slow start. But the Blazers have won five out of their last seven contests to climb back to the eighth seed in the West, and how far they go from here will fall on Lillard’s shoulders.
G – Bradley Beal, Wizards
With John Wall sidelined since Dec. 26 of last season, Beal has taken his game to another level, not only as a scorer but as a playmaker too. He’s averaging a career-high seven assists a game, while still scoring at a career-best 27.8 each night. The Wizards are not a good team, and Beal has to do everything he can each night to keep them competitive, and that should not be counted against him in terms of making an All-NBA team. He’s the most complete version of a player that he has ever been, and still has room to grow.
Beal’s development has been one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dreary Wizard’s season, that has them sitting at 9-20, well out of the playoff race. It hasn’t been all bad on the offensive end, as Beal has helped Washington rank in the top 10 in the NBA in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, and three-point shooting. Wall will likely not play this season as he recovers from a torn Achilles but come the 2020-21 season, we should see one of the more dynamic backcourts back in action, and it should allow Beal to see some more open looks to help boost his efficiency. For now, enjoy watching Beal work as one of the best scorers in the league, even if it won’t translate to a ton of wins.
F – Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
It feels strange to put the reigning Finals MVP and the person who I believe to be the best overall player in the league on the second team, but this is one of the perils of load management. Leonard has still been exceptional on both ends of the floor this season as per usual, and while the Clippers are only 22-10, they remain one of the toughest teams to play in the NBA.
The biggest improvement for the Klaw is his playmaking, where he’s averaging a career-best 5.1 assists per game. Leonard now looks a step ahead of defenses in terms of knowing the rotations and finding the best shot for his team when handling the ball. His skill and pure athletic ability almost always gives him an advantage against opposing defenders, and with so many scoring options on his team, Leonard (like LeBron James) with finding the best option for points on each possession.
Even with the load management and him playing three fewer minutes per game than last season, Leonard is still putting up almost 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals each night for one of the three favorites to take home the title. A third championship with three different franchises would vault him into the top-30 player of all-time conversation and certain cement his Hall of Fame legacy.
F – Pascal Siakam, Raptors
It’s been written about a ton this season, but that doesn’t mean Siakam is any less deserving of praise for his outstanding play this season. He’s taken the next step forward as a star (closing in on superstar status if he keeps it up) and has welcomed the role of the focal point on both ends of the floor with the departure of Kawhi Leonard. He’s averaging career-bests in points (25.1), rebounds (8.0), three-pointers (2.5) and three-point percentage (39.2%) while helping guide the defending champion Raptors to a 21-9 start.
Siakam made nice strides last year en route to winning the Most Improved award, and will actually be in the conversation for it again this season. He’s upped his scoring by almost 10 points and looks even more comfortable in the halfcourt taking weaker defenders one-on-one off the dribble. His handle is crisper and leads to fewer turnovers once he is in the paint, while his usage rate is at a career-best of 29.4%, good for top-20 in the league. Siakam is out indefinitely with a groin injury, but expect him to make his first all-star team and barring too much time missed his first All-NBA team.
C – Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
Towns has been hit with the injury bug as of late, but that doesn’t diminish his stellar play to start the year. Towns started to take the leap last season when he somehow quietly posted 24 and 12 a game while flirting with 50/40/90 shooting splits… as a CENTER. This year Towns has brought that same scoring and shooting touch while improving on his passing. He’s bumped up from 3.4 to 4.4 dimes each night while not turning the ball over any more than he did last year.
Towns has progressed in reading when double teams are coming in the post and where the subsequent open shooter will be. He’s added more moves to his post game, improved his handle, all while keeping his shot straight and accurate. Towns is even more active as a defender than in recent seasons, which is encouraging, given the lack of defensive talent around him in guys like Jef Teague and Andrew Wiggins, and despite Minnesota’s struggles in December (11 straight losses), Towns is having a career year and is deserving of the praise. He’s a borderline generational talent that hopefully will find a winning situation soon.
G – Luka Dončić, Mavericks
Dončić has been nothing short of brilliant for the Mavericks, nearly averaging a triple-double through the first portion of the season, while giving us 2-3 “WOW” plays each night. He’s figured out how to switch gears when it comes to pushing the ball and also letting the defense make mistakes and his cross-court passes create open looks for his teammates. Dončić is still sidelined with an ankle injury but has put up numbers in his second season only matched by Oscar Robertson throughout NBA history. He’s shown no fear against any opponent and can make Dallas a dangerous out in the playoffs come April. The crazy part is, Dončić is shooting just 32.6% from three-point range. Should that number improve to even at least 35-37%, he’ll add another 3-5 points per night and really put pressure on defenses in the pick and roll. For the year, he is posting close toa 29/10/9 line while shooting just over 48% from the field.
It’s rare that we get to see a superstar and potential all-time great develop so quickly at such a young age and realize that they are in fact, a potential all-time great. Dončić is that good. He’s electrifying, consistent and a true showman from the moment he steps on the court, much like Steph Curry’s first MVP season in 2015. Look for Dončić to lead Dallas into the playoffs for the first time 2016, and potentially advance to the second round.
G – James Harden, Rockets
The Beard has somehow upped his scoring to a league and career-high 38.6 points per game while taking an absurd 13.9 threes and almost 13 free throws a game. If last year was him getting his masters in one-on-one play, this year is him getting his doctorate. What makes Harden great is his ability to consistently get the switch onto a big man, and either lulling them to sleep with the back and forth dribble before either stepping back for a three or blowing by them for a layup. Now some of his fouls drawn in the lane are cheap and a result of his head and body flop, but Harden also does an exceptional job of sensing the position of the defender, beating them to a spot and using that contact to earn free throws.
His playoff failures have been well documented, and while I don’t expect the Rockets to do much the second round of the postseason, Harden’s play will make them a difficult out against any team. He leads the league in Win Shares, is second in OBMP (behind Dončić) is second in VORP behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. Harden and his new teammate (again) Russell Westbrook are starting to find their rhythm, as the Rockets have won eight of their past 10 contests.
F – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Nothing to see here. Just the reigning MVP is picking up right where he left off last season, that saw him average 28/12/6 while leading the Bucks to the best record in the NBA. Antetokounmpo added more bulk this offseason and improved an outside shot that is really starting to look more comfortable for him each night. The Greek Freak is pouring in 31 points a game and more importantly, is shooting a career-best 34.2% from three-point range on over five attempts per game. That was the last piece of the puzzle for Giannis, who simply has every other skill in his repertoire. He can pass, scoring in traffic, defend all five positions on defense, and most importantly, has the killer instinct to know when to take over games, as he did against the Lakers last week. He torched the Los Angeles defense for 34 points, including a career-high five 3’s, several of which came from a few feet behind the arc.
Antetokounmpo is almost at the true peak of his powers. There’s almost no answer for him. His only weakness besides the outside shot is his free throw mark, which has dipped to a paltry 59.8%, but even that doesn’t matter too much when he’s taking over 10 attempts a game and still getting to 30 points each night. If his three-point stroke is improving, there’s no reason that his numbers at the charity stripe won’t return to his career mark of 72.8%. The NBA better get used to seeing Giannis on lists like these, and additionally in MVP ballots. He’s got almost a full decade left of tormenting opposing defenses, and the only hardware left for him to acquire is the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy, which Milwaukee has a decent chance at winning in the next 2-3 seasons. Sit back and enjoy the show.
F – LeBron James, Lakers
The first Lakers representative on this list, James has come out of the gate firing on all cylinders for the top seed in the Western Conference. Acting as the de facto point guard, he’s almost an automatic double-double each night, leading the league with a career-high 10.6 assists per game while piloting a Lakers offense that leads the league in shooting at 48.4%. He’s averaging 25.8/10.6/7.5 in year 17 and is even 12th in DWS at 1.6. It’s remarkable that he’s playing anywhere at this level given the miles on his body, but it seems the extended rest form missing the playoffs last year has paid off for him and for the Lakers.
It’s frustrating that it took till Anthony Davis arrived for LeBron to care about playing for the Purple and Gold, but he finally does. From game one he’s hustled back on defense, taken charges, had better body language on the court and made the effort to get every teammate involved on the floor. LeBron’s been phenomenal running the offense, using his all-time vision and knowledge of opposing defense to pick the best possible option in order to score each possession.
The Lakers went from possible second-round exit to a team that could challenge the Clippers for the Western Conference title come May. The key will be whether he and Davis can stay healthy that long, but if they can, teams will be hard-pressed to beat that duo in a seven-game series. Years of suffering for Lakers fans appear to be over at the moment, and they have to thanks James as being one of the biggest reasons for that.
C – Anthony Davis, Lakers
I’m cheating slightly here with Davis, as he has only played about 35% of his time at the center position, per Basketball-Reference. Sue me. But he’s deserving on an All-NBA first team spot due to his strong play on both ends of the floor. The Brow has been everything that Rob Pelinka and the Lakers could have imagined when they sent their major trade package featuring young guns like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to New Orleans back in July.
Davis has come out on a mission, averaging 28/9/3 a game while quarterbacking one of the best defenses in the league. His length, athleticism, and defensive IQ have enabled him to pay attention to all five positions on the court and provide stellar help defense when teammates have gotten beat. Davis leads all centers and is third in the league in Defended Field Goal Percentage (behind Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam) with just a 38.7% mark.
On offense, he’s proved to be the most dominant low-post scorer Los Angeles has had since Shaquille O’Neal. Davis has had the following games this season: 50/7/6 vs. Minnesota, 41 & 9 at New Orleans, 40 & 20 vs. Memphis and 33/11/7 at OKC. Those are just to name a few. He’s scored under 20 points in just five games and has been able to either score or get to the foul line when fully determined. Davis is lethal rolling to the basket or popping out to take his man one-on-one, as he has a strong enough handle to create space for an open jumper.
Davis has been even better lately, averaging over 33 points and 10 rebounds on 52% shooting over his last eight contests. He’s squarely in his prime and is capable of carrying any group on his back for long stretches in order to win games. Barring something wild this offseason, Lakers fans can expect Davis to re-sign for the next few years, thus keeping Los Angeles in title contention during that span. All is right in Tinseltown.
*Feature image courtesy of Heavy.com.
*All stats are from Basketball-Reference, ESPN.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
*All statistics are updated as of 12/24/2019.
*All video highlights are courtesy of YouTube.
*Shooting splits (i.e. 44/40/37) are in order of FG%/3PT%/FT%.