Being named an NBA All-Star is a signature accomplishment in the career of most players. Of course, it can mean different things for different players: it's a February tradition for LeBron James and an acknowledgement of status for DeMar DeRozan.
The identity of the 24 players who will be named to the All-Star teams is always heavily covered, and the list of snubs and surprising selections always generates a lot of buzz. Yet there is another honor, given at the end of the season, that is more exclusive than being an All-Star but always seems to generate less chatter among the masses: the All-NBA teams. Made up of only 15 players, the All-NBA teams consist of the best two or three players at each position. There are no Mo Williams or Jamaal Magloires to sully the waters here; this is the cream of the crop.
With that in mind, I'd like to explore the chances that Kyle Lowry, the most egregiously snubbed All-Star this year, has of making one of the three All-NBA teams. Only three times has a Raptor been selected to an All-NBA team: Vince Carter twice (Third team in 1999-2000, Second team in 2000-2001), and Chris Bosh (Second team in 2006-2007).
Lowry is having a career year in almost every available measure and has been the raging heart and soul of a Raptors team that has a shot at securing the third seed in the Eastern Conference and setting a new team record for wins in a season. (They'd have to go 8-3 over their last 11 games to do that.) Will that be enough?
Let's take a look at Lowry's chances by examining the resumes of the other contenders for the six guard spots on the First, Second, or Third team. Each All-NBA team is made up of two guards, two forwards and a center. That means Lowry is competing against both point guards and shooting guards for one of those six spots. Here are my picks for all three teams and thoughts on whether or not Lowry gets in.
Stephen Curry, Warriors
Key Stats: 23.5 PPG, 8.5 APG, .602 TS%, 23.3 PER
If Curry can maintain that stat line through the end of the season, he will be the first player in league history to average at least 23 points and 8 assists while sporting a True Shooting percentage better than 60. This season he has performed the difficult feat of using more possessions while also upping his efficiency. The Warriors have been slightly disappointing to some, but it's hard to pin much of the blame on Curry. He's only missed three games during a season when First team stalwarts like Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose have missed significant chunks of time or, in Rose's case, essentially the whole season.
On defense he's never going to be confused with Sidney Moncrief, but the Warriors' defense hums at a top-five level whether Curry is on or off the court. What's more impressive is how the Warriors' offense craters when Curry hits the bench, falling off by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors are equivalent to the Heat's league-best offense when Curry plays, and significantly worse than Philly's D-League outfit when he sits. That's the definition of value, and a big reason why Curry deserves a spot on the First team.
Chris Paul, Clippers
Key Stats: 18.5 PPG, 11.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 25.6 PER
There's a decent argument to be made that this spot should go to James Harden, but only because Paul has missed 19 games so far this season. (Paul also shot 0-12 from the field last night, but let's just assume that was an aberration.) That's the only legitimate reason why Paul shouldn't make the First team for the fourth time in his career and third year in a row. Paul is up to all of his usual Chris Paul tricks while being at the helm of a looming juggernaut: since the All-Star break the Clippers have pounded teams into submission, posting a net rating of +10.8 points/100 possessions, behind only the indestructible Spurs. They've done all of that without the services of J.J. Redick, who has been out with a bulging disc in his back since early February.
Paul remains an elite defensive pest, a passing savant and the player most likely to injure an opponent with his ass. Unless a late season injury forces him to miss more games, I think this spot is safely his; doubly so if the Clippers are somehow able to catch the Thunder for second in the West.
James Harden, Rockets
Key Stats: 24.9 PPG, 5.7 APG, .617 TS%, 22.9 PER
This year the NBA's wizard of efficiency (he even has a beard!) has officially staked his claim as the best 2-guard in the NBA. With Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant in decline and no clear contenders on the horizon, Harden might hold the belt for years to come. Playing alongside Dwight Howard for the first time, Harden has pushed the Rockets into title contention with another brilliant offensive season. Outside of a dip in his free throw rate Harden has increased his already absurd efficiency to new heights. I'll admit to being turned off by Harden's endlessly flailing arms as he hunts for fouls in the lane, but it's hard to argue with the results.
Harden's defensive lapses have been lampooned all over the Internet (here's an example from SB Nation's Mike Prada), so I won't go into it much other than to offer a small nugget of information in Harden's defense: the Rockets' defense is no worse with Harden on the court than off. It's very difficult to determine cause and effect on defense, so that could be attributable to a number of things. In any case, Harden's overwhelming contributions on offense far outweigh his deficiencies on the other end. He's safely in on my second team.
Goran Dragic, Suns
Key Stats: 20.4 PPG, 6.0 APG, .613 TS%, 22.0 PER
This is where it starts to get tough. Dragic, like Lowry, is the unquestioned catalyst of a surprise team who is enjoying a career year. Unlike Lowry, Dragic has the misfortune of playing in the Western Conference, where his Suns are in danger of missing the playoffs despite being very likely to finish with close to 50 wins. It's a mad, mad world.
Dragic has been a revelation this season, shooting better than 40% from three and 50% overall. He's at the helm of a top-10 offense and has kept the ship afloat in minutes without Eric Bledsoe, who has played in only 32 games this season. The Suns' offense has collapsed without Dragic on the court, and he has developed into a knockdown shooter while deploying a series of crafty hesitations that make him an elite finisher (among guards who have taken at least 200 shots in the restricted area, Dragic's 68% shooting is best). He's certainly not the defender Lowry is, but his edge in efficiency and tougher schedule give him the slight nod.
In my mind there are four candidates for these final two spots: Lowry, John Wall, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard. Good arguments can be made for each, but decisions have to be made, so here goes:
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Key Stats: 17.6 PPG, 7.7 APG, 20.5 PER, 5,874 charges taken
I'll admit to having seen far more of Lowry's work than that of Wall, Parker or Lillard, but I think the evidence tends to lean in Lowry's favor. He has the highest PER of the group (albeit only slightly), has been as efficient shooting the ball as a noted marksman like Lillard, and is a legitimate rebounding threat from the point guard position. He's a great finisher around the basket and, outside of a slump in February, an elite three-point shooter. He has an outsized impact on the Raptors' offense and has been great on defense this year, gambling less than in seasons past.
If I can delve into the unquantifiable world, it's also obvious that Lowry has been the Raptors' emotional leader this season. There have been many nights when his will made the difference between a win and a loss. (For example, a huge late three in Boston last night.) Whether it was taking a critical charge, making a huge three or somehow coming up with a key offensive rebound, Lowry has been nothing short of spectacular. The numbers are one thing, but it also seems to me that Lowry has meant more to his team this year than any of the other candidates for this spot.
John Wall, Wizards
Key Stats: 20.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 100 3PM, 20.1 PER
Wall has always been an athletic marvel, but this season he's really started to round out his game in new ways, most notably by adding a semi-reliable three-point shot. Wall has made 100 threes this season, just over double the amount he'd made in his first three years. He's also shooting a respectable 36% from distance. All in all, that's a very encouraging sign for a player that Washington invested five years and $80 million in before this season.
Washington's offense really suffers when Wall goes to the bench, though that has moderated since the Wizards picked up Andre Miller from Denver. He remains an elite finisher at the rim and a terror in the open court. Opponents boast a modest 16.0 PER against Wall, according to 82games.com, and he possesses all the physical tools to be an elite defender.
Wall is one of the most active midrange shooters in the league (459 attempts), but does it with middling success, shooting 37%. It's a shot he probably relies on a bit too much, but that's not enough to bump him off this list.
So, there you have it. With apologies to Parker and Lillard, I think they just miss the cut. With three more weeks left in the regular season this list is subject to change, and a prolonged slump from one of my picks or hot streak from someone else could change things. For now, though, I think Lowry has done enough to become the third Raptor ever to make an All-NBA team.
What do you think?