Written by Henry Standage (@henrystandage)
This NBA season started with a sucker punch. Six minutes into the season Gordon Hayward was lying down on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena. Seconds after Hayward fell gruesomely on his leg, basketball ceased to exist. We weren’t thinking about how much opportunity the injury would present for Jayson Tatum or how Brad Stevens would make it work — like he always does. We were horrified, and scared for Hayward — the person, not the basketball player.
And so for NBA fans who had just witnessed the most exciting off-season of my lifetime (I mean seriously — Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler all changed teams. And that’s not even mentioning the corpses of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard), basketball ceasing to exist was about as big a bummer as you could’ve wrote up to start a season.
Over the ensuing 24 hours, waves of support poured out for Hayward, before Hayward himself was updating us with a smile. All of a sudden, it felt like basketball was back. And like it always inexplicably seems to do, the NBA managed to make the best out of a horrific situation. Tatum led the league in 3 pt. % over the first 3 months of the season, whilst Boston led the conference in wins through the first half of the season.
In late January, the surging Pelicans seemingly had their season ended when Demarcus Cousins tore his Achilles. A similar sadness swept over the league. We couldn’t believe it.
“You’re telling me we don’t get so see Boogie in the playoffs AGAIN.”
We didn’t know that Boogie being out would lead to Anthony Davis dominating the league for the next 3 months like he was playing on rookie mode in 2K or that the injury would lead to Rajon Rondo deciding to play regular season basketball for the first time in a half decade. But that’s what happened.
So for those asking, how basketball fans slog their way through an 82 game regular season every year — that’s why. The league never fails to surprise and amaze you. Even on Wednesday, the last day of the season, Markelle Fultz who LITERALLY FORGOT HOW TO SHOOT A BASKETBALL FOR THE FIRST 72 GAMES OF THE SEASON, became the youngest player to record a triple double in the history of the association. Oh, and Westbrook averaged a triple double for the second straight year after threatening the entire locker room that he’d strangle anyone who went up for a rebound with one of Melo’s hoodies. Not to mention the Western Conference which in the second half of the season was more hectic than a Kardashian pregnancy (Sorry, Tristan – maybe if you worked as hard as hitting threes on the court, as you did off, you’d average more than 5.8 points a game).
That’s a great note to leave on – now for the All-NBA Teams.
Quick precursor: The All-NBA teams are awesome because it’s the only NBA award where every person’s ballot is going to be unique and different. It relies upon very subjective values, like is 51 games of Steph Curry a more intriguing choice than 80 games of Kemba Walker (for me – yes). As a rule of thumb – I generally like to have players who will be competing in the playoffs on my All-NBA Teams, because I think the award isn’t just about who played the best basketball, but it’s also a reflection of the successful storylines and narratives across the league. Incidentally, I ended up having one non-playoff player included on my second team, and I considered 5 others for my third team.
G Damian Lillard
G James Harden
F LeBron James
F Giannis Antetounkoumpo
C Anthony Davis
Harden, James and Davis were all locks, which left one guard position and one forward position open. This year, a lot of elite point guards missed significant time with injuries (Curry, Paul, Wall, Irving) and some not-elite point guards missed time too (John Wall…is Wall’s 189 million dollar contract the second bleakest looking max deal after Blake Griffin?) Lillard, Oladpio and Westbrook are really the only candidates for this spot. I took Lillard, but that’s not a knock on Westbrook. He was incredible in the second half of the season, and genuinely carried that team at times when George and Melo were slumping. However, he still holds them back in the fourth– while Lillard is a cold blooded killer. Oladipo was the best player on the most surprising team of the year, but first team All-NBA feels like a stretch – the choice is Lillard.
For the other forward spot I took Giannis. It was between him and Durant and I felt like Giannis brought it more every night than KD. Unfortunately for Giannis, he received the most incompetent coaching a superstar has received since Mike Brown had LeBron losing perennially in conference semi-finals.
G Russel Westbrook
G Victor Oladipo
F Kevin Durant
F LaMarcus Aldridge
C Nikola Jokic
Westbrook, Oladipo and Durant were leftovers from the first team considerations, so they slide in here. Aldridge makes it, after having an excellent make-or-break season for the Spurs. I’m not sure a team has overachieved on its talent more than this year’s Spurs. It’s Popovich so it wasn’t entirely surprising, but Aldridge provided a consistent 20+ points for a team that didn’t really have anybody else they could rely on game to game. He earned this spot.
I picked Jokic based on how integral he is to that Denver offense. His hands are the centre of the universe for that team, and he makes everyone better. Did you know Jokic averaged more assists (6.1) than Ricky Rubio (5.3), Kemba Walker (5.6) and Kyrie Irving (5.1)? With Paul Millsap only playing 38 games, Denver had no business sniffing the playoffs, let alone riding a 6 game win streak into a win-or-go-home last game of the season.
This is where it gets tough. For the two guard positions the candidates are Ben Simmons, Bradley Beal, Demar DeRozan, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler.
Mitchell’s numbers aren’t quite as good as the other guys and Booker’s team won 21 games, so they’re the first two to go.
Side note on Booker: His stats don’t mean a whole lot because, well, his team was 40 games under .500, but holy cow can that guy fill up a stat sheet. Here’s a fun blind eye test:
Player A: 25.3 (points), 4.7 (assists), 5.1 (rebounds), 45% (FG).
Player B: 24.9, 4.7, 4.5, 43%.
The numbers aren’t too far off eh?
Player A is 2010-2011 Kobe Bryant
Player B is 2017-2018 Devin Booker.
Man can fill up a stat sheet. He’ll still be 21 when next year’s regular season starts. Yikes.
Anyway, next to be eliminated is Butler. He had his most efficient season ever, but he only played 59 games. I really wanted to include Beal, it was awesome watching him reveal that it was him in fact, who was Washington’s best player. He carried that team all year and showed some leadership qualities that hadn’t even been hinted at in years prior. Unfortunately for him, the Raps won the second most games in the league this year, so they deserve at the minimum one All-NBA player and I’m too much of a basketball purist to have Bradley Beal and Demar DeRozan as a starting backcourt. Simmons gets the point guard nod.
For the forward spots I’m taking Paul George and Karl Anthony Towns, but I don’t feel good about having KAT at forward. It was between him and Kevin Love, and I took KAT by a smidge. George is the lucky beneficiary of a weak small forward crop this year, I could’ve moved Simmons to forward, but after moving KAT to a forward spot, my hands already felt filthy. My centre is Embiid, who I counted out as a guy who could give you 50+ games, prompting me to bet under on Philadelphia’s 41.5 win total. I’ve never been happier to lose a bet – I’ll pay money for that guy to stay healthy every year.
G Ben Simmons
G Demar DeRozan
F Paul George
F Karl Anthony Towns
C Joel Embiid
This was a nerve-wrecking exercise without full bodies of work from a glut of banged up star players. On the bright side though, if the NBA votes the same way I do, we’ll be welcoming five fresh faces to the All-NBA teams.
Quickly, let’s run through the rest of the awards gauntlet
MVP: James Harden
He was the runner up in 2015 and 2017 and he’s the best player on the team with the best record in the league. He plays basketball with the flair of a Brazilian soccer player, and the ref manipulation of a Portuguese soccer player, but he’s the MVP this year.
ROY: Ben Simmons
Donovan Mitchell was everything I ever wanted Dion Waiters to become, which is about as high a compliment as I can give anyone, but this is Simmons’ year. The ability to lead Philadelphia on a 14 game win streak to close-out the season, including several tight statement wins and several severe beat downs, sealed the deal for me. Ben Simmons is that guy you’re praying the teacher puts you with for the basketball scrimmage in gym class. It takes a special kind of player to watch him and think “Man he’d be fun to play with”. The current ranking list for guys you’d want to play with is something like:
- Carmelo Anthony
- My Italian friend Luigi who bricks a shot from 25+ feet every time he receives the ball in transition.
- DJ Khaled
- Russell Westbrook.
(You’ll have to excuse the omission of Lonzo Ball. This was a list for grown men – not 15 year olds).
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens
Hands down, the toughest individual award. I almost went with Quinn Snyder (Utah) or Dwayne Casey (Toronto) but I don’t think anybody has done more with less than Stevens. The man had Greg Monroe getting triple doubles. I’ll repeat that. THE MAN HAD GREG MONROE GETTING TRIPLE DOUBLES. Have you seen Greg Monroe play basketball? He plays basketball like his parents are making him do it, or they’ll take away his real passion of playing the violin.
The NBA awards take place June 25th, when I will be humiliated and somehow get all of my picks wrong.
Henry Standage is a blog contributor majoring in English at Western University. He is currently in the midst of once again convincing himself into believing in this years England World Cup team.
Find him on twitter @henrystandage