Predicting the 2013-14 All-NBA teams
SI.com’s NBA team will be rolling out predictions as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season, which is now officially less than one week away.
Here, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward take a crack at predicting the 2014 All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams, while also listing a handful of candidates who just missed out.
The All-NBA teams are voted on by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The selections below represent The Point Forward’s best guess as to which players will win the award, not necessarily the players we feel will be the most deserving.
The Point Forward Predicts 2014 All-NBA First Team
G: Chris Paul, Clippers | No. 3 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2008, 2012, 2013), Second (2009), Third (2011)
It was strange to hear Paul say this week that he envisions himself retiring “a little early” because the 2013-14 season has all the makings of a high-water mark for his career. There’s plenty of time for the future in the future. Right now, Paul, 28, is squarely in his prime and surrounded by one of the NBA’s deepest and most exciting rosters. That he plays for a big-market team that has managed to grasp top billing in Los Angeles certainly doesn’t hurt his case when it comes to awards like this. Widely regarded as the most complete point guard in the game, Paul has ascended to a consensus pick as the No. 3 player in the league this offseason, and he’s a First Team shoo-in as long as he enjoys good health. Watching Doc Rivers guide Paul as he seeks to fill in the glaring gap in his postseason résumé is just one of this season’s many intriguing subplots.
G: Derrick Rose, Bulls | No. 12 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2011)
The 2011 MVP has been busy this month, using Chicago’s preseason slate to provide strong answers to the many questions and doubts that arose after he missed the entire 2012-13 season as he recovered from a knee injury. In his last three exhibition contests, Rose, 25, has scored 78 points in 80 minutes while shooting 62 percent from the floor. He’s dropped defenders with his crossover and finished plays above the rim, and he’s generally looked like he made the most of his 18-month rehabilitation. Had SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014 list been crafted after the preseason, there’s a good chance Rose would have been pushing for a spot in the top-five. Simply put, Rose at 100 percent health is as good as any guard in the league, and the Bulls won an outstanding 78.3 percent of the regular season games in which Rose played from 2010-12. If Chicago heads for a 55+ win season as many expect, the “comeback” narrative will land Rose a First Team spot easily, and perhaps even find him in the MVP conversation.
F: LeBron James, Heat | No. 1 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2006, 2008-2013), Second (2005, 2007)
No matter your favorite advanced statistics poison — Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus — James led the league last year, and there’s nothing stopping him from doing it all over again in 2013-14. At 28, he’s a strong candidate to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, and he would undoubtedly win his third straight Finals MVP if the Heat complete their three-peat, as the oddsmakers expect. James’ buddy Jay-Z once rhymed: “Seven straight summers, critics might not admit it, but nobody in rap did it, quite like I did it.” Barring catastrophic injury, the back-to-back MVP is a lock to make his seventh straight All-NBA First Team. We’re so fully immersed in the LeBron Era now that the real question is how many years will it take for someone to unseat him from the First Team. Could it be… another seven?
F: Kevin Durant, Thunder |No. 2 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2010-2013)
The Thunder’s 25-year-old forward appears eager to get back on the court following a summer that began earlier than expected. Time flies, and Durant is already entering his seventh season, having spent the last four years steadily climbing from “great scorer” to “elite player” to “the best on the planet not named LeBron James.” Although he used the “James Harden vs. Dwyane Wade” debate as his foil, Durant’s “pass the torch” message is really just an extension of his earlier “I’m sick of second” declaration: He’s more than ready to live in an NBA world that isn’t quite so Heat-centric. Without Russell Westbrook to start the season, Durant will get to flex his leadership and shooting muscles early on. Would that showcase period plus, say, a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference be enough to finally get Durant over the LBJ hump when it comes to the MVP voting?
C: Dwight Howard, Rockets | No. 7 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2008-2012), Third (2007, 2013)
Injuries and a non-alpha role with the Lakers rightfully cost Howard, 27, his First Team slot last year. Both problems now appear solved: Howard is healthy, and he’s embarking on a partnership with James Harden that should be devastating to opposing defenses. Even in his limited capacity in 2012-13, Howard led the NBA in rebounding for the fifth time in six seasons, and his addition should bump Houston up several notches on the defensive efficiency charts and in the standings. After he disappointed in L.A. and left the Lakers hanging, no one in the league has more to prove than Howard. He meets that challenge with physical tools that few players, if any, can match. The Rockets organization did its part setting the table for Howard, and now it’s his turn to reestablish his position as the league’s most dominant interior force.
The Point Forward Predicts All-NBA Second Team
G: Tony Parker, Spurs | No. 4 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2012, 2013), Third (2009)
San Antonio’s offense is built to engage numerous options and counters, the bulk of which are enabled by the threat of Parker’s scoring. When he darts into the lane off the dribble, his finishing ability demands an immediate address from the opposing defense — a collapse that often frees up one of the Spurs’ deadly, waiting shooters. Yet Parker’s efforts off the ball are almost equally important; few work harder to make catches in a position of advantage, as the Spurs playbook runs its point guard by a gauntlet of screens to create space from his defender and momentum going towards the basket.
That bore out in Parker’s shooting efficiency, as he made 53.4 percent of his shots within the three-point arc last season. Parker very nearly propelled San Antonio to the NBA title last season despite a postseason hamstring strain largely because of all he produced or facilitated on offense. We can expect more of the same this season, as he scores, creates and reads the floor in a way that few can.
G: James Harden, Rockets | No. 11 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Third Team (2013)
Harden’s 2012-13 season was an experiment of sorts, as his game was fully unbridled after a few years of productive restraint in Oklahoma City. The result: 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game as the first option on a top-10 offense. One could certainly take issue with some of Harden’s decision making — the over-dribbling, the reckless driving, the jump-passing — but in all he did a magnificent job of stretching good per-minute numbers as a third option with the Thunder into great per-game numbers as the lead ball-handler for the Rockets.
He should be even better in the coming season, as the arrival of Dwight Howard gives Harden both an elite pick-and-roll partner and a crucial offensive counterbalance. Harden’s shooting percentages took a bit of a dive in his first season in Houston due to the burdens of high usage; in creating so much of the Rockets’ offense, he was bound to suffer some dip in scoring efficiency. But Howard will soon share some of that burden, giving Harden an opportunity to be a bit more discerning in his shot selection, while also ensuring that opposing defenses don’t collapse too hard on Harden’s forays into the paint. It’s the foundation of a beautiful partnership, and for Harden should translate to another incredibly productive campaign executed at a slightly more efficient clip.
F: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks | No. 10 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2010, 2013), Third (2006, 2007, 2009, 2012)
Last season was a special one for Anthony, as he managed to pull off a near career-high in effective field goal percentage while attempting more shots per minute than at any point previously. It remains to be seen whether he can replicate that exact performance, but at the least we can expect Anthony to continue apace as the successful centerpiece of the Knicks’ offense. His ability to both overpower smaller forwards and stutter past bigger opponents makes him an impossible one-on-one cover — so slippery that New York’s approach is structured around his ability to attack mismatches.
To carry that kind of weight while managing such palatable shooting percentages is remarkable; only four other elite scorers — George Gervin, Bernard King, Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade — in NBA history have matched Anthony’s 2012-13 marks for usage and effective field goal percentage, all of whom were named 1st team All-NBA in those specific seasons. Anthony doesn’t have the all-around game to pull off anything more than a 2nd team nod, but he does enough offensively at such commendable proficiency to be worthy of that honor.
F: Kevin Love, Timberwolves | No. 13 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2012)
Fluke injuries kept Love off of the All-NBA teams in 2013, but a full return to action should allow him to reclaim his spot. It won’t be easy; these forward slots are insanely competitive, and one could very easily see any number of capable candidates tabbed for a 2nd-team forward slot. We like Love, in part because he has the means to stand out from the rest of the power forward pack by way of bulk rebounding and accurate three-point shooting. The league might run deep with skilled and productive bigs, but none that produce in the particular ways that Love can — a uniqueness that should bode well for him in any such voting exercise.
He’s also still a bit underrated as a scorer. Love popped off a career-high 26.0 points per game in 2011-12, and while he shouldn’t be expected to repeat that volume in Minnesota’s more balanced offense, he’s more versatile — and more capable of creating shots — than for which he’s given credit. Combine that with all-world rebounding ability, the range to stretch the floor and the vision to set up his teammates, and the basis for Love’s All-NBA candidacy becomes clear.
C: Tim Duncan, Spurs | No. 6 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (1998-2005, 2007, 2013), Second (2006, 2008, 2009), Third (2010)
San Antonio is Tony Parker’s team, and Kawhi Leonard might already be the Spurs’ most important player. But lingering in the frame is Duncan, who remains a crucial contributor to both an elite defense and a resilient offense. Even if Duncan’s production regresses a bit after an amazing, throwback season last year, he’s still poised to help sustain San Antonio’s title contention. Defensively, his intuitive reads and long arms make him a worthy backbone for a stout system — one which should again rank in the top five in points allowed per possession. That Duncan shades so many plays with minimal movement and stripped athleticism is extraordinary; while many bigs preserve some semblance of their former effectiveness deep into their careers, Duncan’s longevity as a top-flight interior defender has been both marvelous and unusual.
Offensively, Duncan does well as a reset point for San Antonio’s offense, a periodic post-up threat, and a still-potent pick-and-pop player. He hasn’t been capable of carrying an offense for years, but he hasn’t had to. Gregg Popovich has perfectly tailored his offense to account for what Duncan can and cannot do, thus maximizing what the all-timer does well while moving away from the areas of the game in which he might fall short. As a result, Duncan continues on as one of the best two-way players in basketball, allowed to make full use of his persistent talents.
The Point Forward Predicts All-NBA Third Team
G: Stephen Curry, Warriors | No. 15 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: No previous selections
If he’s able to build on his postseason momentum, Curry will soon be mounting an all-out assault on the NBA’s elite class of guards. He is definitively the league’s best shooter, as his 45.3-percent shooting from beyond the arc last season is unfathomably high for a player who takes so many of his attempts off the dribble. His range is so deep and his release so quick that his simply having the ball in his hands applies a world of pressure to opposing defenses. They have to pay him mind no matter where he is on the floor, all of which opens up even more opportunities for Curry to make use of his still-underrated playmaking ability. He’s an incredible offensive talent and an ever-improving defender, fit for this kind of distinction as Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant are nudged out by way of their respective injuries.
G: Dwyane Wade, Heat | No. 8 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2009, 2010) Second (2005, 2006, 2011), Third (2007, 2012, 2013)
Many have attempted to write off Wade based on his injury history, his age or his deference to LeBron James. Yet he’s still using possessions at a superstar rate while maintaining a gaudy level of shooting efficiency — the combination of which makes him one of the most productive scorers in the league. That he appeared limited while battling through injury in the postseason isn’t all that relevant; a healthy Wade is a much more dynamic threat, both in terms of creating his own offense and fueling the Heat’s array of hungry perimeter shooters.
It also need be noted that for all of Wade’s more irritating defensive habits (jogging back in transition, gambles in passing lanes, etc.), he provides a level of help that’s generally unfathomable among guards. His strength, timing, and athleticism make him an uncanny shot blocker for his position, a talent that plays a functional role in Miami’s frenzied defensive scheme. Part of the challenge in allowing Chris Bosh to contest opponents so far away from the rim is that it leaves the basket unattended. Wade — along with James and Shane Battier — helps to fill that void with timely rotation.
F: Blake Griffin, Clippers | No. 19 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2012, 2013)
This should be a banner year for the Clippers, with Griffin set to be a pivotal element in their poised defensive improvement and efforts to sustain a more sophisticated offense. Any steps toward becoming a more complete player should go a long way; Griffin has already made a claim as one of the league’s better players on the strength of his offense and rebounding alone, and a year under Doc Rivers should help him shore up his fundamentals on the other end of the court. Meanwhile, the acquisitions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley will do wonders for a scorer and passer of Griffin’s caliber. Every pick-and-roll will be that much more open, ever post-up opportunity that much less crowded.
That’s a daunting possibility considering that Griffin was already among the most feared finishers in the league — a freak athlete with supernatural body control. Griffin will play more next season (he was limited to 32.5 minutes per game due to a bad case of Vinny Del Negro), score more freely and defend more capably. It would be difficult to knock him off this list given all that he brings to the table, and especially given the player he might soon become.
F: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks | No. 16 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2005-2007, 2009), Second (2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011), Third (2001, 2004, 2012)
While many have chosen to interpret Nowitzki’s diminished 2012-13 production as evidence of his inevitable decline, a deeper dive reveals plenty of reason for optimism. Nowitzki was more or less in full form once he was able to acclimate himself to a season in progress with an unfamiliar roster and has continued that precedent in the preseason by moving well and connecting on characteristically impossible fadeaways. Dirk’s not done yet; he’ll face some stiff competition for this spot but should have the guard help he needs to mount a resurgent season for a potent Mavs offense.
Few are more capable of properly balancing a high-level offense. On top of his incredible shooting touch and creativity with the ball, Nowitzki has a firm grasp of when to force the issue and when to find the open man. That equilibrium will be far better served on this year’s roster, which is stocked with better passers, shooters and scorers relative to Nowitzki’s supporting cast last season.
C: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies | No. 14 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2013)
Gasol is already one of the NBA’s very best defenders and would likely contend for an All-NBA spot on that strength alone. Yet it’s his capacity for all kinds of offense that really makes him a lock for the honor. When Memphis needs a facilitator to read the floor and make plays from the high post, Gasol — with his high vantage point and great vision — is a perfect fit. When the floor needs to be spaced for Zach Randolph to work from the block, Gasol waits in perfect position and capitalizes from mid-range with amazing frequency. When Memphis needs a quick post-up counter, an impromptu pick-and-roll big, a natural draw for double teams, a — well, you get the point. Gasol wears so many hats for the Grizzlies and succeeds in almost every phase of the game. He’s not as prolific a rebounder as some would like nor as assertive a scorer, but there’s an elegance in the way his game seems to always be in perfect balance.
The Point Forward Picks Top-5 Close Calls
G: Russell Westbrook, Thunder | No. 5 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Second Team (2011-2013)
Westbrook’s All-NBA candidacy is totally dependent upon when he returns to the court and when he’s able to recapture top form. Although he reportedly took part in a portion of Oklahoma City’s practice this week, Westbrook, 24, isn’t expected back until 4-to-6 weeks into the season, and there will likely be at least some adjustment period once he’s cleared. That’s a huge chunk of the year to lose given the fierce competition among a deep pool of quality guards, even if a fully healthy Westbrook would be a strong contender for his first career First Team selection. It would be a big mistake to totally write him off: Should he return on schedule, Westbrook would have a solid four-and-a-half months to make his case over the likes of Parker (who has been overlooked in the past), Wade (who has missed a chunk of each of the last two seasons) or Curry (who has yet to receive All-NBA recognition).
G: Kobe Bryant, Lakers | No. 9 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: First Team (2002-2004, 2006-2013), Second (2000, 2001), Third (1999, 2005)
Could this be the seaon that Bryant’s 15-year streak of All-NBA recognition comes to an end? Like Westbrook, his fate is tied to his health, but his outlook is complicated not only by the severity of his injury (an Achilles tear) but by also his age (35) and his team’s outlook (L.A. will have its hands full trying to compete for a postseason berth). Even if Bryant defies the odds and makes a quick return, there’s little margin for error here. With the seven guards already mentioned, plus Deron Williams and a host of youngsters (Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, John Wall and Damian Lillard, to name a few) all knocking at the door, Bryant will be on the outside looking in unless he is able to score at the elite pace we’ve become accustomed to over the last decade-plus. Bryant can’t control the fact that the Lakers are in a bridge season, but surely the All-NBA voters would reward him if he finds a way to finish among the league’s top-five scorers for the 12th straight season.
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers | No. 18 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Third Team (2011)
It’s painful to say, but we’re nearing the point where we should be referring to the Blazers forward as LaMarcus “also receiving votes” Aldridge. Perennially on the fringe of both the All-NBA rosters and the West’s All-Star team, Aldridge finds himself in a very, very tight race with Griffin, Love, Nowitzki and perhaps even Chris Bosh. With his solid 21-point, eight-rebound average for four years running, history suggests that the 28-year-old Aldridge’s path to recognition is dependent on his ability to pull the Blazers back into the West’s playoff picture. If the Blazers finish above both the Mavericks and Timberwolves in the standings, or if one of his competitors succumbs to injury, Aldridge is a reliable and worthy candidate. If not, he will go down as one of the very best of the rest.
F: Paul George, Pacers | No. 25 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: Third Team (2013)
How is it that George, a 23-year-old, two-way wing who captured All-Star, Most Improved, All-NBA Third Team and All-Defensive Second Team honors, is projected to take a step back here? Well, it’s not a matter of the team that he plays for, as the Pacers should again be among the East’s upper echelon. This one is all about external factors. Indeed, it’s possible that George takes another leap forward individually this season and still gets snubbed here, simply because both Love and Nowitzki are back in the mix after their 2012-13 seasons were compromised by injuries. How can George hold onto his spot? The surest path would be big-time progress on the offensive end, as his scoring volume (17.4 points per game) and shooting efficiency (42 percent shooting) both fall short of the standard set by the league’s elite wings.
C: Brook Lopez, Nets | No. 30 on SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2014
All-NBA: No previous selections
Lopez, 25, was the “last guy cut” in the 2012-13 All-NBA voting, and he leads a deep crop of center candidates that also includes Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Roy Hibbert. The Nets center finds himself in this discussion largely because of his scoring: he ranked 10th in the league with 19.4 points per game last season. The offseason additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko will almost certainly cut into Lopez’s raw numbers, but his consistently outstanding advanced stats should help keep him in the discussion. If Brooklyn meshes well and finishes the season near the top of the standings in the East, Lopez is well-positioned in the event voters decide that “someone on the Nets needs to get recognized.” Brooklyn’s guards and forwards just don’t compare as favorably to the other candidates at their respective positions. Garnett, it should be noted, hasn’t received All-NBA recognition since 2008.