The year of the Warriors continues. Steph earns one of the guard spots….obviously. The 4th best PER season of all time was something special to watch. Countless jaw-dropping moments that make you question NBA logic like few other players have done: transcendent in every way. Speaking of special guards, Chris Paul put together another stellar performance in 2016. He continued to average his usual 20-10-4 splits with consistency that was needed for the Clippers. The mix of an absolutely atrocious bench rotation and Blake’s selfish injury could have wrecked the Clips. Yet CP3 churned out one his best season, by the slimmest of margins he deserves the nod Over Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had another phenomenal year going for 18 triple-doubles. That number itself is astounding, but there are holes in his season, and game for that matter, that still plague him. He is still slightly too turnover prone, and is an astoundingly poor three point shooter (as in top 5 worst of all time with 1500+ attempts). Russ is phenomenal, just not quite first-team quality yet.
Kyle Lowry showed up in shape for the first time in his career, and in-turn became better defensively and in pick and roll situations…. weird how that happens. All kidding aside though he was great for a really improved Raptors team. He is the driving force behind a 50 win team, and he plays hard every night–great to see him figure it all out this year. The final two spots in the backcourt come with some slight contention. Some pundits believe in Harden here, but I can’t. I get his “usage rate” and “carrying a dysfunctional group” argument, but he showed up out of shape, fresh out of Kardashian land, and set himself and his team up for failure. He plays the laziest form of defense, and it has clearly rubbed off on his team. Damian Lillard was the key cog for a resurgent Trail-Blazers group, igniting them offensively when they needed it most, all the while leading them to a 5 seed in the West–amazing. He’s probably the closest thing we have to Curry in terms of off the dribble jump shooting, and degree of difficulty shot-making. Klay gets the final nod for a couple reasons: first he plays hard non-stop on the defensive end–where it would be easy for an offensively focused sniper to slack. He is typically tasked with guarding the opponent’s best guard so Steph can stay fresh, and he shoots at a great clip on the offensive end. Not to mention beating Steph in the 3 point contest when Steph has had a shooting year from another galaxy beyond the arc. That’s enough for me.
Balancing the forward spot can be rather challenging. LeBron and Kawhi get the first team nods. Both players had uber efficient seasons, Lebron a little more so offensively and Kawhi more so defensively. They led their teams to a top 3 finish, and just make things happen. Kawhi isn’t quite on LeBron’s level of playmaking–LeBron makes almost the perfect basketball decision each time down the floor. Kawhi does that on the defensive end on a slightly smaller scale– like a mirror cat this guy. Kevin Durant and Paul George occupy the second team, both coming back healthy after injury plagued 2015 season. Kevin again proved to be deadly in the half-court regaining his All-NBA stature and approaching his usual 50-40-90 mark. He’s been crazy consistent since coming into the league in 2007. A near 25-7-4 guy, KD will challenge many career records before he is done. Seeing Paul George come back from that nasty Team USA broken leg has been a joy. He’s been explosive again, which wasn’t a sure thing when he injured the leg originally. He averaged a career high in points (23.1), rebounds (7.0) and assists (4.1) all while bouncing back to his pre-injury form. He carried Indiana to the 8 seed, and with that roster: kudos.
Third team for me boiled down to consistency. This could’ve easily gone to Anthony Davis for his 25 million dollar Rose Provision money, but I wasn’t impressed with The Brow the way I needed to be. His numbers, besides his FG%, were pretty much the same, but something was off. It could be due to the plague of injuries suffered in New Orleans, I’m not totally sure. But I expected a year where Davis carried the Pelicans to the playoffs regardless (ala 4th year LeBron), but he couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m just let down….tough to tell. I went with consistency instead. Two players that keep their head down and make things work nightly for their team. Paul Millsap was a defensive revelation in Atlanta this year, garnering some DPOY buzz and rightfully so. He guards the toughest front-court assignment nightly for the Hawks and shoots it well enough to play alongside Horford and be a nice shooting threat. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to initially fit in the Spurs brand of basketball, but once it clicked in January, he became deadly again. He makes the mid-range relevant again, and carried a front court that has been shaky since Timmy clearly isn’t himself anymore (which is an article for another day). Consistency wins for me at forward.
The NBA granted actual writers who vote (not myself) the ability when casting their vote to place Draymond at the center position– a move I feel was quite justified granted his continual floating role and integral part of that defense. Draymond earns this nod over DeAndre, but not without debate. DeAndre is one of the best rim diving/rim protecting big men the league provides, but his deficiencies are too much to look past when you consider what Draymond does for Golden State. DeAndre still can’t play in crunch time, and he can rely too much on athleticism to get shot blocks–sacrificing sound positioning to take his attempt at blocking the shot. Not to mention the CP3 factor. Draymond is simply special, and when you win 73 games….you earn two 1st team spots. Although DeAndre has some deficiencies, the man continued to rim-protect/rim-run with the best of them. He plays every night, works hard and is just a game changer for the Clips…without DeAndre their defensive weaknesses are obvious, and they clearly don’t win 50 games.
The final spot goes to DeMarcus Cousins, aka the league’s biggest risk/reward. There isn’t a more dominant low-post threat in the league when he’s going right. He can turn over either shoulder, knock down jump shots and bully his way around the paint. He’s adept at touch on jump hooks, passing out of double teams, and rim running to finish with a quality PG. He scored a career high 28 ppg this year and expanded his range to the 3 point line while also improved on the defensive end when providing effort, but therein lies the problem. There are some blatant times where he doesn’t run back, or slacks on the defensive end. The Kings decided to bring in Rajon Rondo to run alongside him. This has been a total disaster for DeMarcus. He has taken steps back in his maturity process and it’s slowly becoming more obvious that it could be what keeps him from ever reaching his full potential. What a shame it would be for one of the great low-post scorers of our generation end derailed due to his attitude. If only there were a way to get him out of Sacramento, or with the right coach. If only…