Alec Liebsch's 2019-20 All-NBA First team
In the wake of the NBA's decision on how the rest of the season plays out, it's safe to assume there won't be much more regular season basketball. That means we have as big of a sample as we will get for determining accolades.
Other than Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year, making an All-NBA team is arguably the most prestigious honor for a player. The 15 players nominated to this squad are the true cream of the crop for a given year, with only positional imbalance causing disparities.
Two guards, two forwards and one center get the nod for each of the three teams. That amounts to six guards, six forwards and three centers. Some players act as a guard/forward or forward/center, which can lead to some creative ways to include players.
How they categorize some players is bewildering to me, but that's a topic for another day. For now let's take a look at the recent history of the First team:
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks F: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder C: Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets G: James Harden, Houston Rockets G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Jokic earned his first career First Team honor last season, and it likely won't be his last. The Greek Freak truly broke out as well, winning the MVP award with uniquely gaudy statlines.
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers F: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors C: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans G: James Harden, Houston Rockets G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
No surprises here either; there was an argument for all five of these gents to win the MVP in 2018. LeBron's 2017-18 season was one hell of a ride in retrospect.
There are rarely surprises when it comes to the first team—except when positions are flexible. Players like Davis, George and Kawhi Leonard count at two positions, which can make it easier to move players around.
That will impact these selections. Without further ado, here's my All-NBA First Team for the 2019-20 season.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Any gripes with Giannis Antentokounmpo's selection would be crimes against basketball. The dude is a flat-out monster in almost every aspect of the game, and will likely win his second straight MVP as a result.
Everyone is probably numb to the Greek Freak's dominance by now, but it's worth re-iterating. Antentokounmpo is averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks a night. Add in that he only plays 30.9 minutes a night because the Bucks blow everyone out, and his sovereignty strengthens.
Milwaukee was well on its way to the best record in the league for a second straight year. The Greek Freak's historically unique production has been the unstoppable force pushing the team forward.
F: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Another obvious choice for the First Team is LeBron James, who has taken the league by storm once again. Getting a summer off for the first time since his rookie season clearly did wonders, as he is leading the Lakers to the 1 seed out west.
The King has a clean line of 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game this season, leading the entire league in the assists and assist percentage. James has always been the lead facilitator, but he's taken the role to new heights this season while staying excellent in other facets.
James has exceeded expectations his whole life, but this season is one his most impressive performances. Few in league history have his blend of strengths and skills; only he has maintained such greatness through age 35.
C: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic has more than earned his second straight appearance on the First Team, impacting the game in unique and underrated ways. His average of 6.9 assists a night (15th in the league) doesn't pop off the screen, but it's right in line with his assist percentage of 34.3% (17th). If Jokic monopolized the offense, he'd probably joust with James for the assist title.
But Joker is a different kind of playmaker: an infectious one. Players who go to Denver often come out the other side substantially better passers, a legitimate effect of playing with Jokic. Mike D'Antoni's classic saying that "the ball finds energy" is more true in Denver than almost anywhere else.
That's no discount to the other great passers in the NBA; Jokic is just a different breed. Oh, and he can also drop 20 points and 10 rebounds a night with ease (20.2 and 10.2 this season, respectively).
G: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Say what you want about James Harden's blunders in the playoffs. In the regular season, he's one of the best scorers the league has ever seen.
Truly embracing the "Moreyball" approach of 3s, free throws and layups, Harden has become one of the most efficient players to ever step on an NBA court. He's averaging 34.4 points and 7.4 assists a night at, yet again, excellent efficiency (.616 true shooting). He also leads the league in offensive box plus-minus at 7.9.
Harden has also improved his oft-maligned defense. Despite a lowlight reel of apathetic plays and subsequent schematic targeting on that end, he has become a passable defender (1.2 defensive BPM, 2.7 defensive win shares). In addition, the Rockets' defensive rating improves by 4.4 points when Harden steps on the court this season.
In a world where scoring and efficiency are regarded highly, the model player for both gets much more criticism than he deserves. Behind Curry, Harden is clearly the second-best guard in basketball—for now.
G: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Those two elite guards have a new challenger approaching. Luka Doncic has burst onto the scene in 2019-20, building on what he did his rookie season by taking it to another level.
Doncic's blend of wing size and guard skills was rare before he played a minute in the NBA. What we didn't expect him to do was average 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists (at a solid rate) for a playoff team in year two.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle gets substantial credit for their success this season. But Luka deserves just as much, if not more, as the alpha and omega for Dallas. The only question for this Serbian is how much better he can get.
Now that all three of my teams are out for you to see, here are some interesting tidbits about this season's group of 15.
There are two newcomers to the All-NBA party: Doncic on the First Team, and Khris Middleton on the Third. Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo have serious arguments to make their first appearances too.
As for the 13 mainstays, their nominations this year would amount to a combined 68 appearances, an average of 5.2 per returning player. James' 16th nomination certainly skews that; only he, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George would have more than 5 after these awards.
If the total amount of non-LeBron selections sounds low, there's a good reason for that. Simply put, it's really hard to make an All-NBA team. Being a top-15 player from year to year is nothing to take for granted; it's not like the All-Star Game where players and fans get to vote and there are 24 spots. It's truly a prestigious honor to make one of these teams.