My 2018 All-NBA 1st Team
G: Damian Lillard
G: James Harden
F: LeBron James
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Anthony Davis
The name on this list that seems the most unlike the others is obviously Damian Lillard. He is the only player on this list to have never finished higher than 8th in MVP voting in his career. But Lillard has elevated his play this season. His Blazers are currently the 3rd seed in the Western conference and sport a 4.7 net rating with him on the floor, per NBA.com. Lillard has quietly had a generic-brand version of James Harden’s insane MVP season. His 59.3% true shooting percentage is even more impressive when considering the fact that his usage rate is over 30%. To be that efficient while carrying that large of an offensive load, especially when considering the lack of floor spacing around him, is quite impressive. While I do believe that some of the other guards that I have omitted from my 1st team are outright better than Lillard in a vacuum (Steph Curry, Chris Paul, maybe even Jimmy Butler), Lillard has played far more games and minutes than any of them. To be valuable, you have to be available to play.
The aforementioned name-brand MVP season James Harden has had is truly remarkable. It’s easy an easy to make the argument that adding a hall-of-famer like Chris Paul would add 10 wins to an established playoff team. But when you dive into the numbers, you start to realize how much Houston relies on Harden’s absurd shot creation. You’ll start to notice a trend of what I value. If you can create efficient offense very frequently, you’re likely contributing to winning basketball. Harden’s 36.1% usage rate is actually up 2% from last year, when he was their only shot creator. Pair that with with a mind-boggling 61.9% true shooting percentage and you have yourself one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the 2nd unanimous MVP in league history, although I’m sure a few diehard media members will vote for my first forward selection.
Surprise surprise, LeBron James is still really good at basketball. He’s averaging career highs in both rebound percentage and assist percentage for a team that might be the least talented he’s played on since he first left Cleveland back in 2010. No Isaiah Thomas for the first half of the year. Garbage Isaiah Thomas for 15 games. Kevin Love missed 23 games. Throw in an enormous roster overhaul at the trade deadline, a leave of absence from his head coach and Tristan Thompson continuing to prove that the Kardashian curse is a real thing. With all of these complications, it’s easy to envision LeBron falling off a little this year, his age 33 season. But no. He’s been just as awesome as he’s ever been, at least on offense. And oh-by-the-way, he played in all 82 games for the first time in his career.
My second forward spot was a little more difficult to decide. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant have had monster seasons, and it was hard to ignore the difference in their teams’ win totals. Many would argue that the Bucks have underperformed relative to their talent level, and that’s probably true. But it’s hard to place the blame on Giannis. Let’s return to the true shooting/usage rate litmus test. 31.2% usage paired with 59.8% true shooting is on par with his All-NBA counterparts. The only difference? Giannis is doing it without much of a 3-point shot. He’s only taking 1.9 3-point attempts per game, compared to 5 for LeBron, 8.6 for Dame and a whopping 10 for The Beard. He’s the best possible outcome for an offensive player who doesn’t shoot. Combine that with the fact that he’s an all-world defender who can guard every position, sporting a 32% block rate and a 21.7% steal rate. Giannis’ overall numbers are just a little better than KD’s, and the Warriors have struggled without Steph Curry (7–10 in their last 17 games). It’s close, but Giannis’ insane season can’t be ignored.
Believe it or not, classifying Anthony Davis as a center in order to fit him onto the First Team isn’t technically cheating this year. According to basketball-reference, Davis has played 51% of his minutes at center this season. This is helpful, because his performance this year undoubtedly warrants him a spot on the First Team. Through sheer Herculean effort, Davis has carried a team that was left for dead after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn achilles to the postseason. The Pelicans finished their season 48–34, which is somewhat astonishing when looking at their roster. Davis finished the season with a PER of 29, second only to James Harden. He’s also 5th in defensive RPM among players playing more than 26 minutes a game. Other than Kawhi Leonard, Davis might be the most impactful player on both ends of the floor. On offense, he runs the floor like a deer and can finish at the rim or for mid-range with ease. On defense, his length frightens defenders and deters them from coming near they paint, lest they get their shot swatted into the stands. We’ve always known he was a freak of nature. Now he’s maximizing his freakish talent.