The 2022-23 NBA season has been one for the books, rife with explosive scoring, riveting postseason scrambles, a couple of blockbuster trades, and, unfortunately, far too many injuries and cases of load management that nearly marred what’s otherwise been an exciting year. The star power is silly. The buckets are plentiful. The championship is way harder to predict than it normally is.
Today, we’re taking a look at every regular-season award except Most Valuable Player, which gets its own special column on Friday. For now, here’s a detailed look at how I voted for everything else: Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, three All-NBA teams, two All-Rookie teams, two All-Defensive teams, and—drumroll please—the first Clutch Player of the Year.
Without further ado, here’s my official ballot, with explanations for why I voted the way I did.
Rookie of the Year
1. Paolo Banchero
2. Walker Kessler
3. Jalen Williams
Unlike the MVP race, this award has been wrapped up for months. Even when you try to view Banchero’s season with a negative tint, he’s still the clear choice. The 20-year-old is an inevitable, perennial All-Star, averaging 20 points, seven assists, and four rebounds per game.
Who cares that the Magic are headed to the lottery and have been better when he’s on the bench? Or that he’s shooting 30 percent from behind the 3-point line and is occasionally overwhelmed on defense? There have been stretches when Banchero’s looked like a cross between DeMar DeRozan and Blake Griffin. He’s smooth and confident, enjoys contact, and, despite spending most of his minutes in lineups that can’t space the floor, still finds ways to demonstrate plenty of craft.
With spin and hesitation moves galore, mixed with an advanced understanding of angles and body control, Banchero changes tempo on command while rarely getting sped up. Blink, expecting a dribble handoff, and he’s at the rim.
Only eight players have attempted more free throws than Banchero this season—the aforementioned DeRozan isn’t one of them! And only 29 rookies in league history have taken more. It’s scary to consider Banchero in his prime if the Magic surround him with shooters and don’t put him in lineups that feature two other big men. He’s been the best rookie by a decent margin from wire to wire, which is nothing to sneeze at and an extremely fortunate development for a floating franchise that could just as easily have chosen Jabari Smith Jr.
Even with no. 2 pick Chet Holmgren out for the entire season, this class is loaded with talent. Many of these players have seen their athleticism translate at the professional level (Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin) or had a positive impact for a winning team (Keegan Murray).
Those three candidates will crack plenty of ballots. Walker Kessler should, too. He ranks first among all rookies in win shares and value over replacement player, and he’s somehow already established himself as an elite rim protector. Only Jaren Jackson Jr., Nic Claxton, and Brook Lopez have blocked more shots, and Kessler leads the NBA in effective field goal percentage. (If you’re friends with a Timberwolves fan, don’t let them click on this link.)
The 22nd pick has been a full-time starter since early January, when Kelly Olynyk injured his ankle. In that time, Kessler has averaged a double-double and nearly three blocks per game. The Jazz allow just 0.93 points per direct play when Kessler defends a pick-and-roll in drop coverage, which is better than pretty much every other center who’s done it at least 500 times this season.
Kessler’s known for his verticality and for standing in the lane and making himself huge; his most quintessential play as a pro might’ve been against the Celtics, when he smothered Grant Williams at the rim on a last-second, game-saving block. But he’s also reactive. Kessler can really move when he wants to, and he has hips that turn fast enough to erase the occasional blow-by when he’s up trying to contest a pull-up.
Kessler’s Rookie of the Year case is easy to pick apart, if you want. He has a microscopic usage rate and a narrow role on a team that isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. Thunder wing Jalen Williams, on the other hand, has shined with more responsibilities, and he’s a tentacle-armed two-way All-Star in the making. (Only two NBA players boast a longer difference between their wingspan and height.)
Since mid-February, he’s looked like a future cornerstone, averaging 19, six, and four. He’s had above-average defense, bold shot making, and 55/44/88 splits. But he also just makes plays most rookies don’t—JDub isn’t fazed by whomever OKC is facing. (On the night LeBron James broke the scoring record, Williams was the only player who didn’t rest in the fourth quarter. He finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, and six steals.)
Take this rebound and putback as an example. Marcus Morris decides to take the play off, so Williams responds by outhustling three Clippers for the loose ball.
Stuff like this is great to see and also maybe the least remarkable part of his game. Williams has verve. He can see the entire floor. He’s patient, creative, and fearless. During sequences when pretty much any other rookie would melt, Williams pulls himself together and makes something out of nothing.
There’s a lot to be excited about in Oklahoma City. The next few years of Williams’s career sit at the top.
Honorable mentions: Keegan Murray, Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin
There isn’t much to say here except that Christian Braun is actually a 32-year-old veteran. I also want to give a sincere apology to Dyson Daniels, who appeared in only 58 games but [slides oven mitts on] may ultimately be one of the three or four best players in this draft class.
Sixth Man of the Year
1. Malcolm Brogdon
2. Immanuel Quickley
3. Norm Powell
This award race has been anticlimactic despite having no real front-runner or star power. Actually, it’s boring as hell. No bench players have stood out in a traditional sense. But the three on this ballot have all made winning, solid two-way contributions for most of the season. As the most efficient option who’s logged the most bench minutes on the best team, Malcolm Brogdon is my default winner.
As one of last summer’s marquee trade acquisitions, Brogdon has not disappointed in Boston. He has the team’s second-highest assist rate while drilling a career-high 44 percent of his 3s. He’s been even more accurate off the dribble than spotted up, too, and never slid into a prolonged shooting slump (like some of his teammates) at any point during the season.
Quickley’s total numbers off the bench are very good but not quite at Brogdon’s level. He might be more dynamic, though. He’s a better finisher and defender who makes 52 percent of his floaters and ranks first in points allowed per direct play as the ball handler’s defender in a pick-and-roll, per Second Spectrum. He’s an absolute pest in these situations, trailing, ducking under, and recovering. Quickley has been relentless, and it’s no coincidence that the Knicks allow almost a dozen (!) fewer points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court.
Norm Powell rounds out the trio as a knockdown spot-up outside shooter who gets downhill and can guard up a position. He’s a solid uppercut off the pine who’s embraced that role and will see his name on plenty of ballots, even though he missed most of March with a shoulder injury.
Honorable mentions: Tyus Jones, Bennedict Mathurin, Bobby Portis
Coach of the Year
1. Mike Brown
2. Mark Daigneault
3. Joe Mazzulla
Mike Brown should receive every first-place vote. He might as well have walked on water. Brown not only broke the Kings’ 16-year playoff drought—the longest in professional sports—but also made it feel like a footnote to something greater. The Kings are very good! Brown’s confidence and trust helped lead them to the West’s no. 3 seed. He leaned into his personnel’s strengths (up-tempo offense!) and rode them to a yearlong Light the Beam–themed fiesta. Bravo to him.
But it’s also not like Brown doesn’t care about defense. Far from it. If you don’t believe me, look no further than a March 13 game against the Bucks, when Brown called timeout two minutes into the first quarter because Kevin Huerter was out of position while trying to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in transition.
Brown didn’t even try to hide his frustration, barking at one of his best players: “If you don’t get over there, I’m not gonna play you!” Yes, Giannis had a Giannis game, and the Kings lost. But this moment was still telling. It’s how you build culture and set accountability. Brown understands the weakest points on his roster, but that won’t stop him from trying to fix them. (Also: Huerter didn’t wilt. He went on to hit a season-high eight 3s that night.)
Daigneault also has a strong case. Yes, he has a top-10 player on his team. But Oklahoma City’s season could very easily have slipped into a Victor Wembanyama fever dream. They’re more talented and self-sacrificing and have had better injury luck than the Rockets, Hornets, Spurs, and Pistons this season. But everyone assumed the Holmgren-less Thunder were headed for the cellar, too. Instead, they might make the playoffs, in large part because of their collective defensive buy-in. As the youngest team in the league, OKC has drawn 30 more charges than any other team. This is remarkable.
Now, the semi-controversial pick. Mazzulla has faced a ton of criticism from the Boston media this season. Some of it’s warranted. He’s just 34 years old, is mistake prone, and was thrust into an uncomfortable, pressure-packed situation after the Celtics suspended Ime Udoka for the entire season shortly before it started.
The stakes are incredibly high. Mazzulla had never even sat on the front of an NBA bench before opening night, but his responsibility—which he took on without two of the team’s strongest voices around to help—was still to lead, motivate, and strategically guide a team that had just blown a 2-1 advantage in the NBA Finals. (Will Hardy—another candidate for this award who was a lead Celtics assistant coach last year—left for the Jazz.)
And when you sit back, let the context simmer, and take a big-picture view of what Mazzulla has accomplished in his first year, it’s kind of remarkable. To start, despite Robert Williams III (their third-best player) being healthy enough to start only 18 games, the Celtics will finish with the second-best record in the NBA, the top net rating, and the honor of being the only team with a top-five offense and defense. Not for nothing, they’ve also won more games than they did last year.
Coming off that Finals collapse, when their attempts to score often made it look as if those games were played underwater, Mazzulla prioritized spacing and implemented a 3-point-heavy system. While the league’s average 3-point frequency dropped this season, Boston’s rose more than 5 percent. And after going 13-22 in clutch games last season, Boston has the second-highest winning percentage in crunch time this season.
There are also ego-driven complications every coach has to deal with. Mazzulla passed that test. He got a proud veteran like Brogdon to accept and thrive in a full-time role off the bench for the first time in his career. (Brogdon has started zero games this season, which is two fewer than Payton Pritchard.) After a summer when the Celtics reportedly offered Jaylen Brown for Kevin Durant, Mazzulla never lost his second-best player’s attention; now Brown may make his first All-NBA team.
For more than half the year, Mazzulla had an interim tag on his job title. It was removed before he coached in the freaking All-Star Game, just over halfway through the Celtics’ season, which could’ve ended before it began. Mazzulla deserves credit for keeping a championship train on the tracks, and then some.
Honorable mentions: J.B. Bickerstaff, Jacque Vaughn, Taylor Jenkins
Most Improved Player
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
2. Lauri Markkanen
3. Nic Claxton
The parameters of this award are way too broad; it should, in my opinion, apply only to players who’ve already been in the league three seasons. But even if you wanted to include second- and third-year players—like Tyrese Haliburton—Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lauri Markkanen would still be my picks this season.
Separating the two MIP front-runners isn’t easy. I gave SGA the slight edge because he has way more playmaking responsibility, on a slightly superior team. Also, he went from a rising, talented, idiosyncratic point guard for an organization that felt years away from competitive relevance to an uncomplicated pick for first-team All-NBA, averaging 31.5 points per game (seven higher than last year) on a feisty group that may make the playoffs.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s free throw rate climbed 15 points this season. That’s massive. He’s made more freebies than any other player in the league. He’s also a midrange devotee, taking more shots between 8 and 16 feet than pretty much anyone else; SGA went from averaging 3.4 shots in that area last year to 6.3 this season, and he’s made about half of them. None of this additional offense lessened his willingness to disrupt actions on the other end, either. Gilgeous-Alexander is the only guard who averaged at least one block and one steal this year.
Coming into this season, we already knew that he was a big problem when attacking the basket. This year, he perfected that strength with perfectly timed downhill drives that have made it nearly impossible to slow him down. Here he is clearing Kawhi Leonard out of the way by waving Isaiah Joe to the left wing, then immediately dusting Terance Mann (a very good on-ball defender!) on a right-hand drive:
He loves taking off before the screen arrives, putting help defenders who’re expecting to switch (or drop or hedge) off-balance. SGA is still only 24 years old, and if he stays on a steep upward trajectory, it’ll be a long-term doomsday scenario for the Western Conference.
Markkanen was a revelation from day one in Utah. He started in his first All-Star Game, should absolutely crack an All-NBA team, and, in an offensive system that accentuated his ability to shoot off movement, established himself as one of the hardest covers at his position. Like SGA’s, Lauri’s scoring average spiked this season, with career-best efficiency—from 14.8 to 25.6 points per game—but beyond precise shotmaking, Markkanen’s free throw rate also soared. Two years ago it was 17.7. Last year it was 22.6. This year it’s 35.0. Markkanen also ranks first in points per touch among all players who’ve appeared in 50 or more games, at 0.497. (Embiid is third.)
And then there’s Claxton, who became one of the best and most dependable defenders in the entire league after previously spending his first three seasons as a bit piece with unrealized potential. He’s given the Nets exactly what they need inside, blocking more shots than everyone except Brook Lopez.
Claxton spent most of the season leading the league in field goal percentage, too, with a broadened offensive skill set that ventured beyond dunks and open layups.
Honorable mentions: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Draymond Green
2. Evan Mobley
3. Brook Lopez
With so many worthy candidates who do very different and impressive things, this was far and away the award I spent the most time thinking about. Much like MVP, Defensive Player of the Year revolves around personal taste. Different voters care about different things, be it blocks, steals, deflections, positional versatility, or, simply, how often someone rotates to the right spot at the right time. How do you compare such a diverse set of roles, inside contrasting schemes, surrounded by distinct teammates? Should we just hand it to the best defender on the best defense? How about the player who has the highest on/off impact?
Responsibilities vary. A center who primarily sits in drop coverage should be celebrated if they force a bunch of pull-up jumpers and protect the rim. But if that’s all they can do, what happens when certain matchups expose their rigidity? What about a top-notch on-ball locksmith who loses focus on the weak side? Or the switch-everything Swiss Army knife who’s constantly sabotaged on a team that’s littered with weak links?
There are myriad ways for any one individual to positively affect a team’s defense, and being able to do different things, at different times, against different types of opponents, should matter quite a bit. At least it does for me. Another element is availability, which factors into this race as the primary reason one clubhouse favorite didn’t crack my top three.
Let’s get this out of the way: I love Jaren Jackson Jr. Last year he finished second on my ballot, I thought his first All-Star berth was well deserved, and I think he belongs on one of this season’s All-Defensive teams. He averages a league-best 3.0 blocks and is beloved by advanced catch-all stats, and the Grizzlies allow 106.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor and 111.6 when he’s off it, which is the same gap between the no. 1 Cavaliers defense and the 21st-ranked Wizards.
But he’s also played just 1,760 minutes. That’s 500 to 1,000 less than other top candidates and about the same as Malcolm Brogdon, my pick for Sixth Man of the Year. Some of the disparity is thanks to an injury that kept JJJ out of the season’s opening month. But he also averages only 28.4 minutes, largely because he can’t stop fouling people. The Memphis big has committed at least five fouls in 18 games, which only three other players have topped, and only Domantas Sabonis spends a higher percentage of his minutes in foul trouble, per Bball Index.
Put another way, he’s committed more total fouls than Bam Adebayo, even though Bam has played 800 more minutes! And as I pored over this year’s DPOY options, my mind kept drifting toward the same question: Should I value reliability or peak impact? Per minute, JJJ might be the best defender. There’s also 20 minutes every night when he’s on the bench, plus another 20 games when he didn’t even suit up, that need to be squared with a whole bunch of other deserving choices.
In trying to balance everything, I kept returning to one of the shrewdest, most technically sound and revolutionary defenders who’s ever played: Draymond Green, six years removed from his first and only Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
Green’s body of work this season had the fewest flaws. He still does everything very well, on time, with force, for a confounding defending champion that looks the part only when he’s on the court.
The Warriors have the 18th-best defense this season. That’s bad. And rewarding anyone on it—especially one who punched one of his teammates in the face—is a hard sell. But Golden State’s defensive woes aren’t on Draymond. The Warriors allow a whopping 6 more points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor, and have the best defense in the NBA when he plays. (That’s the third-highest gap among all players who’ve logged at least 1,000 minutes this season.)
It’s not a coincidence. Without him they’re discombobulated, careless, and noncommunicative. With Draymond—who’s spent a higher percentage of his minutes at center this year than any other in his career—this team is generally a bear, whether the lineups are big or small, full of rookies, vets, sieves, or willing system contributors. Take a look at Golden State’s roster. Their injuries and absences. For them to allow 109.8 points per 100 possessions in Green’s 2,245 minutes is incredible.
For the entire season, Draymond ranks fifth in defensive estimated plus-minus. He’s tied for first in defensive DARKO, seventh in defensive real plus-minus, and seventh in defensive LEBRON. As the closest defender on 12.5 contested shots per game (a very high number), Green holds opponents to a puny 44.1 effective field goal percentage, which ranks first out of 310 players who’ve contested at least 250 shots.
When he’s the help defender on a drive, opponents generate just 106.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s the second-lowest mark this season among all players who’ve logged at least 500 of those plays, according to Second Spectrum.
All these numbers are competitive or favorable when stacked beside everyone else who’s competing for this award, but Green has also spent about 40 percent of his minutes on opponents who aren’t 4s or 5s, per BBall Index’s tracking of positional matchups. He ranks near the top of the league in defensive role versatility, too. There are very few assignments he can’t handle (like earlier this year, when he spent an entire game glued to De’Aaron Fox).
All put another way: Green still checks the most boxes. He roams. He shrinks the floor. He deters straight-line drives. He stunts. He closes short on cold shooters and runs great ones off the line, hardly ever losing balance, overreacting, or drifting too far out of position. Green can execute any and every pick-and-roll coverage—switching, dropping, blitzing, etc.—at a high level, and he’s smart enough to know what is and isn’t a threat. There’s no fooling this man off the ball.
Watch him all but single-handedly get a stop on this possession. It begins with his head on a swivel, immediately spinning back to Jabari Smith Jr. after he cuts off Daishen Nix. Draymond knows a flare screen for Jalen Green is coming, so he flies out to the 3-point line and shuts it down, then switches back onto Smith without ever taking his eyes off Green, who blows by Anthony Lamb, only to be greeted in the paint by a windmill-swinging 7-foot-1 wingspan:
Here’s breakneck Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey thinking he can get to the rim by rejecting Tobias Harris’s ball screen and beating Green—who’s seemingly out of position—to the hoop. Nope!
Basketball is fast. Draymond digests everything as fast as anyone. Isolate against him at your own peril. Take him into the post and there’s a very good chance you will not score. According to Second Spectrum, he allows a shot quality of 41.6 percent, which is lowest among all players who’ve defended at least 50 post-ups this season. Opponents rarely pass out of these situations, too, because the Warriors don’t ever feel the need to send help.
Green isn’t flawless, but in an incredibly tight race I ultimately found it easier to poke a hole or two in everyone else’s case.
Meanwhile, as the proverbial “best defender on the NBA’s best defense,” Mobley ranks first in defensive win shares, defensive real plus-minus, and luck-adjusted DRAPM. He’s a premier switching big who protects the basket, rebounds, and puts out more fires than initially meets the eye. For way more details, I profiled him last week. And, having watched just about every one of Mobley’s defensive possessions this season, few do a better job encapsulating why he’s unique. The lateral quickness. The length. The timing. It’s all so special:
When it comes to getting stops, this 21-year-old is a prodigy who’s destined to win the award more than once.
And then there’s Lopez, a constant anchor for the championship favorite’s brick-wall defense. Lopez has contested nearly 175 more shots than anyone else this season, and when he gets a hand up there’s a very good chance it’s not going in. The Bucks are still formidable when Lopez isn’t on the court, featuring two other outside candidates for this award, all functioning within a system that, at this point, runs like an unruffled assembly line of drop coverage stops.
But with Lopez standing in the paint they allow 107.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s several points better than the league-leading Cavaliers. He’s blocked the most shots, and 64.7 percent of them are recovered by Milwaukee, a startling rate that isn’t coincidental.
Honorable mentions: Jackson, Nic Claxton, Bam Adebayo
G Jrue Holiday
G Alex Caruso
F Draymond Green
F Evan Mobley
F Brook Lopez
None of the first-team members needs to be explained, so let me wax poetic (again) about Caruso, pound for pound my favorite defender to watch on a nightly basis. The real reason I trust catch-all defensive metrics is that they love Caruso as much as my eyes do. He ranks first (with a serious lead!) in defensive estimated plus-minus, and defensive RAPTOR, and trails only Mobley in luck-adjusted RAPM.
Caruso can always be heard calling out help or yelling an instruction that moves a teammate to the right spot. He knows what’s going to happen before it does, always sacrifices his body, and is the single best guard at turning defense into offense. He’s deflected the fifth-most passes this season, tied with Dejounte Murray, who’s played over 1,000 more minutes.
To be honest, if Billy Donovan had just kept Caruso in the starting lineup alongside DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine instead of waiting until after the All-Star break to bench Patrick Williams, he might have been my Defensive Player of the Year. Instead, Caruso will have to settle for a first-team All-Defense spot. When he’s on the court, Chicago holds opponents to 106.6 points per 100 possessions. When not, they allow 113.1. The impact and value is uncanny.
G Derrick White
G Dillon Brooks
F OG Anunoby
F Jaren Jackson Jr.
C Nic Claxton
If the season had ended in December, Anunoby might have won Defensive Player of the Year. His popularity peaked, but his quality of play did not. Anunoby still leads the league in steals and is second in deflections. Advanced stats love his production, as does Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who throws OG at whoever happens to be the opposing team’s best player, from Nikola Jokic to Donovan Mitchell and everyone in between.
Derrick White elevates a switch-everything Celtics scheme that needs aggressive help defenders as much as lockdown combatants on the ball. White leads all guards with 75 blocks, and he’s drawn 48 offensive fouls on a team that allows a paltry 107.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Apologies to Jaden McDaniels, whom I originally had listed as a second-team guard, but the NBA wouldn’t let me slot him there. So congratulations to Dillon Brooks, whose impossibly annoying on-ball defense is impossible to disentangle from the most essential strands in Memphis’s DNA.
Honorable mention: Jaden McDaniels, Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Herb Jones, Lu Dort, Mikal Bridges, Walker Kessler, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid
G Luka Doncic
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
F Jayson Tatum
F Giannis Antetokounmpo
C Nikola Jokic
This is all pretty straightforward, a group of MVP candidates who’re each responsible in their own way for helping push the entire league’s offensive rating up by nearly three points above what it was last year (a jump that hasn’t been seen since at least 2005).
Luka, Shai, Tatum, and Giannis are all averaging more than 30 points per game, while Jokic leads the league in true shooting and ranks second in assist rate and defensive rebound rate. The closest thing to a debate here is at the second guard spot. I recently went on The Bill Simmons Podcast to chat about it. With such a loaded pool, and any of four or five wildly effective stars vying for a place next to Doncic, I made a case for Damian Lillard.
A few days later, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that Portland had shut Lillard down. He finished at 58 games (which would bar him from qualifying for awards consideration under the new CBA) on a team that’s desperately tanking. So, even though Lillard still ranks seventh in win shares per 48 minutes and third in estimated plus-minus—while averaging a hyper-efficient 32.2 points and dropping at least 40 on 15 separate occasions—Gilgeous-Alexander gets the nod.
I didn’t write that preamble to make it sound like SGA had backdoored his way into this spot. Go back to the Most Improved Player section for more details there. Shai has been a miracle all year, shooting 51 percent and leading a team that entered this season with Victor Wembanyama highlights fluttering beneath Sam Presti’s eyelids.
G Damian Lillard
G Donovan Mitchell
F Jaylen Brown
F Jimmy Butler
C Joel Embiid
All-NBA teams will be positionless next year, so assuming good health for all, Embiid will almost definitely be on the first team then. In the meantime, having him on the second team is both laughable and what unfortunately happens when you’re born at the same time as someone who’s ever so slightly superior.
Jaylen Brown has emerged this year as one of the best scorers in basketball. He’s making 58 percent of his 2-point shots and remains a torpedo in transition (only Giannis and LeBron have more fast-break points) where his effective field goal percentage is a blistering 66.9. Since breaking his face in early February, Brown is averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, as the second-best player on a team with the second-best record. Brown’s advanced numbers aren’t great, but some of that’s due to how well the Celtics play when he’s on the bench (Boston staggers Jaylen and Tatum).
With Miami plodding through a disappointing season, Jimmy Butler has quietly churned out the most efficient campaign of his career, with the sixth-highest PER—above SGA, Tatum, LeBron, Steph, Durant, etc. He ranks fourth in estimated plus-minus and second in win shares per 48 minutes, a number that’s shocking when put into this context.
Donovan Mitchell scored 71 points in a game against a team that isn’t the Houston Rockets. He’s been the second-best guard in his conference for the entire season, a primary ball handler on a strong playoff team that struggles to space the floor and desperately needs independent shot creation. There’s real competition here, but Mitchell can’t be ignored.
G De’Aaron Fox
G Steph Curry
F Lauri Markkanen
F Julius Randle
C Domantas Sabonis
Let’s start with Curry, who, like Dame, wouldn’t be close to qualifying for this team under the new 65-game minimum. That rule is dumb. Curry might still be the best guard in the league. He’s averaging nearly 30 points per game and but a few generous bounces away from another 50/40/90 jewel.
Curry is averaging the third-most pull-up 3s of his career (6.1 per game) this season, and a career-high 45.1 percent of them have gone in. Does it make sense to leave this kind of performance off an All-NBA team? Games matter. Winning does too. But there are exceptions to every rule; Steph freaking Curry having one of his all-time best seasons is a very good example.
Fox has made 23 more clutch field goals than anybody else in the league, and in the last five minutes of a game when the scoring margin is within five points his true shooting percentage is 61.4 and his usage rate (42.8) is the second-highest in the league. These numbers defy the laws of biology. It’s a season that should somehow be immortalized in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has sucked all suspense from the NBA’s first Clutch Player of the Year award (more on that below).
Minor footnote, but he’s also one of two major catalysts on a team that will likely finish third in the Western Conference after having not made the playoffs in 16 years. No big deal. Most of the attention Fox has garnered is due to all he’s accomplished in crunch time. But those marks shouldn’t overshadow his work in the first 3.5 quarters. He has been one of the most efficient and effective high-volume drivers all season, with the lowest turnover rate of his career, and an automatic floater.
Sabonis, Fox’s teammate, is a lock here as the foundational conductor of the NBA’s top offense. He’s averaging 19.2 points, is tied for the league-high with 12.4 rebounds per game, and has the NBA’s 19th-highest true shooting percentage. Sabonis will also finish with more total assists than Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Darius Garland, and Chris Paul. Say what you will about his defense (Heat and Lakers fans will), but when you’re this good at generating open looks on one of the best teams in the league, there’s really no argument for being left off.
Picking the last forward spot was tough. It took every fiber of my being not to include Kawhi Leonard, who spent the first six weeks of the season defrosting before a multi-month stretch where he has stood 100 feet tall. The nod instead goes to Randle, who made second-team All-NBA two years ago and has been even better this year. It’s been a strange comeback, to be honest. Randle went to war against his team’s fan base last season. This year, he’s led them to their best record in a decade.
Before spraining his ankle against Miami last week, he was averaging 25, 10, and 4, shifting about half of his long 2s behind the 3-point line, where a career-high 40 percent of his shots have come from. Aesthetically, Randle is an acquired taste. And, to be honest, I’m not particularly keen on it. He’s a hero-ball enthusiast who forces shots that must secretly infuriate his teammates. (Quickley’s pointing at RJ Barrett here will never not be funny.)
But consistent production is consistent production. Randle has scored more points than everyone in the league except for Tatum, Embiid, Luka, Giannis, and Shai. And the benefits of having him available every night ultimately outweighed his defects for a Knicks team that’s back in the playoffs.
Honorable mentions: [Deep breath] LeBron James, Ja Morant, Paul George, Devin Booker, Pascal Siakam, Darius Garland, James Harden, Tyrese Haliburton, Jrue Holiday, Kawhi Leonard, Trae Young, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Edwards, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Zach LaVine
Most Clutch Player
1. De’Aaron Fox
2. Jimmy Butler
3. DeMar DeRozan
Not to mimic someone else you might know who works at The Ringer, but this is like the Best Supporting Actor race at the 1991 Academy Awards. There’s Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, and then the field. Fox wins. Case closed. It doesn’t matter who else is mentioned or nominated. But congratulations to everyone for making an appearance.