Alec Liebsch's 2019-20 All-NBA Third 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. Regardless, making one of these squads is an enormous feat. Over the next three days I am going to choose my Fantastic Fifteen.
But first, let's take a look at the recent history of the Third Team:
F: Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
F: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
G: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker's nomination was the most interesting, because it qualified him for a pay raise last summer. It was a big reason the Hornets opted not to re-sign him, for better or worse. Also, LeBron's demotion to the third team looks like a Freezing Cold Takes tweet waiting to happen.
F: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
F: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Victor Oladipo broke out in 2018, making the Indiana-OKC trade one of the few deals in NBA history to see both sides (George being the other) make All-NBA the following year. Towns' inclusion in 2017-18 looks very weird in retrospect, especially when considering how much better he's gotten without a nomination since then (hint: he didn't make the cut this year).
The last team is certainly not the least in the case of All-NBA. Seeing players like Curry and James plummet to the Third Team in a given year shows just how strong the league is in terms of talent.
So with that in mind, here are my picks for the 2019-20 All-NBA Third Team.
F: Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
I left Paul George off my All-Star ballot, but that was merely due to a small sample. Since starting his season a month late, George has been nothing short of excellent in his hometown.
He's not pouring in Durant-esque numbers like last season, but he's still averaging 21.0 points, 5.7 boards, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals a night at an efficient rate (.582 true shooting). George picks his spots methodically and effectively, serving as a great complement to Kawhi Leonard.
You shouldn't ask George to commandeer the offense, but he is one of the best second fiddles of all time: a model 3-and-D wing.
F: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Speaking of second fiddles, Khris Middleton is not a bad Robin either. In a heliocentric offense where Giannis Antentokoumnpo is the sun, Middleton does more than enough as a complementary star.
Averaging 21.1 points and 4.1 assists isn't enough on its own to make All-NBA; Middleton earns this spot thanks to his ridiculously efficient .619 true shooting. That mark ranks ninth in the NBA among non-bigs, and only one of the eight ahead of Middleton has a bigger workload than his 26.2% usage rate (Damian Lillard).
This would be Middleton's first career All-NBA nod. If he continues to score in volume at such an effective rate, it won't be his last.
C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid definitely had a down season, but how much of it is his fault remains to be seen. In 2019-20, Embiid "only" averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists, all downgrades from last season. The Cameroonian big man tried to play himself into shape, which is never a good thing, and it played itself out in the box scores.
But despite a dip in production, and despite the media narratives attempting to pry him and Ben Simmons apart, the dude is still one of the two most impactful defenders in the league. The Sixers' defensive scheme is built to funnel players towards Embiid—a very effective strategy.
Even in a "down year," Embiid remains one of the best players in the league. The First Team still eludes him, but that may be an impossible climb with Philly's roster construction around him.
G: Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
In a season devoid of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul has been the second-best point guard in the league. Averaging 17.7 points and 6.8 assists isn't exactly world-beating, but leading this OKC team to the 5 seed sure is.
A true shooting figure of .609, only slightly below Middleton's, is even more impressive for a 6'1" guard in a central role. 8.1 win shares and a 4.3 box plus-minus are equally remarkable, as Paul's defense has not deteriorated nearly as much as people made it out to be.
The Thunder weren't expected to be doormats for the rest of the league, but they certainly weren't supposed to be on pace for 51 wins. Paul is a massive reason why they're topping those preseason predictions.
G: Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Speaking of efficiency, Kemba Walker is yet another beneficiary of Brad Stevens' elite offensive scheme. The UConn alum is not in as pivotal a role as he was in Charlotte, but that's clearly been for the best. Pouring in 21.2 points and 4.9 assists a night on .569 true shooting is not enough on its own for these honors. What makes Walker worthy of this designation is his selflessness.
He has helped the "J Team" of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown reach new heights this season. Many would argue that Tatum is the most worthy Celtic of a nomination. But there are two counters to that: the Celtics' system is highly dependent on its lead guard, and there are too many good forwards these days.
Losing Al Horford and Kyrie Irving was supposed to put a major dent in Boston's playoff aspirations; thanks to Walker and some internal improvements, many of which Walker gets partial credit for, they haven't missed a beat.
Just missed the cut:
F: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat - An Adebayo leap was somewhat expected, but he's been extraordinary in 2019-20. He can defend all five positions, often acts as the main playmaker for Miami (5.1 assists per game), and gets a combined 2.5 stocks (steals plus blocks) a night—all while mostly playing the 4.
F: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics - Lots of people hyped up Jayson Tatum before he was ready, but now the smooth-as-hell scorer has actually taken a leap. Being the leading scorer for Boston on acceptable efficiency (.562 true shooting) is nothing to sneeze at. And though I gave Walker and Stevens substantial credit for Tatum's surge, the third-year forward has earned plenty of his own.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves - Rarely does the fifth-best offensive box plus-minus in the league miss out on All-NBA. But centers have to be evaluated differently; his defense is still substandard in year five, and the Timberwolves are still bad.
G: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - Simmons would be a serious DPOY candidate on most teams, leading the league in steals and steals per game. The offensive game is not too shabby either; despite the Sixers' starting lineup lacking volume shooters, Simmons still leads the league in 3-point assists.
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors - Lowry might not be the best player on his own team (that honor goes to Pascal Siakam, a malefactor of the league's strength in forwards), the Villanova alum is still vital to Toronto's operation. The Raptors been one of the best teams in the NBA this season (46-18, third-best in the league), even after Kawhi Leonard's departure.
Up next is my Second Team, which will probably answer a lot of the questions/gripes you have with the above teams.
All statistics gathered from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.