The 2018-19 NBA MVP Race is almost over with the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden all but guaranteeing that this year’s battle for the crown will come down to just them. Both are considered locks for the 2018-19 All-NBA First Team, but the question remains as to who will join them.
The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook are having MVP-type statistics, but now have to fight over the last remaining guard spot on that First Team. The frontcourt positions are all but guaranteed to cause more than a little bit of controversy. With one spot remaining, who should be included among the number of excellent ballplayers at the forward position? There’s OKC’s Paul George, Golden State’s Kevin Durant, the Toronto Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard and Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James?
And what about the heated battle by the centers which include the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl Anthony Towns? All are vying for the single spot on the First Team, but one of them will have to be bumped off with only three spots total for the center position.
Selecting players for the All-NBA teams is difficult especially with the outstanding seasons that many of the league’s best players exhibited this year.
The biggest shake-up in the list is with James’ status among the game’s elite this year. After being on the First Team for more than a decade, the Lakers superstar will have to make way for others who played consistently better than he has while playing for teams that are on their way to the playoffs. This will be his first year outside of the First Team since the 2006-07 season when he was on the Second Team. But could there be a chance that he doesn’t make it to the Third Team as well? We shall see.
As for the rest of the players on my selection, you’ll have to read on.
3rd Team All-NBA
C Anthony Davis
Key Stats: 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.4 blocks, 30.36 PER
One of the premier players in the game, Davis endured a season in which he demanded a trade and had to be yanked at the end of games because of it when the trade didn’t happen as he had expected.
Despite the limitations, Davis was able to put up enviable numbers that most players can only dream of. His 30.36 PER is third best overall this season, his second-highest ever despite playing the second-lowest minutes per game of his career. But, just as with James, Davis is on the verge of not making it to an All-NBA Team because of how bad his team is and his lack of games played (56).
Regardless, the stats and the performance despite the limitations placed on him warrant a place among the top 15 players of the season.
F Blake Griffin
Key Stats: 24.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 20.97 PER
Blake Griffin reinvented himself into a stretch four as the game has transformed into an outside shooting competition. He’s shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range while shooting 6.9 attempts from downtown, easily the highest of career. The Pistons are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings because of his outstanding play.
Battling various injuries over the past few years, Griffin is as healthy as he can be, playing in 72 games so far (as of this writing), the highest number of games he has played in six seasons. He also became an All-Star for the first time in four years.
F LeBron James
Key Stats: 27.4, 8.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 25.75 PER
James’ stats, how they stand out among his peers and their historical significance would normally land him First Team All-NBA honors right off the bat, as well as MVP consideration if not for the unique circumstances that he now finds himself in.
The problem? James played in only 55 games. That’s almost half the season he didn’t play in and his team is as bad as it gets, making it a more difficult case for him to land on an All-NBA Team. As The Ringer’s Dan Devine explained, the last two players to make it to an All-NBA Team on a non-playoff, non-winning team were Bernard King in 1985 and Pete Maravich in 1978.
He will have to pull off the historically rare, but not impossible feat to even make it to the Third Team. His numbers should be strong enough to beat out the rest of the competition.
G Kyrie Irving
Key Stats: 24.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 39.9% 3-pt FG, 24.69 PER
Now fully healthy this season, Kyrie Irving is averaging career highs in rebounds, assists and steals. His 24.69 PER is also the second-highest of his career. He’s on the verge of breaking into the top three point guards in the league if he continues his growth and leads his team to one of the NBA’s best records in the coming years.
The only thing keeping him from a spot on the Second Team is the Boston Celtics’ disappointing season.
Nevertheless, Irving is learning to be a leader to this young Celtics squad. When they need a basket in crunch time, his team looks to him to deliver and he does so routinely.
G Kemba Walker
Key Stats: 25.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 21.7 PER
Enjoying his best season by far, Kemba Walker is currently sixth in scoring and is primed for a big contract in the offseason. He’s arguably the best Charlotte Hornets player ever and one who deserves to have his jersey number retired by the franchise someday. The only thing missing from his career year is a regular playoff appearance by the Hornets, something that has avoided him the past few years.
But his team’s 35-42 record shouldn’t be blamed solely on him as his supporting cast has been unable to keep up with his level of play. Not too many can, though.
2nd Team All-NBA
C Nikola Jokic
Key Stats: 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 26.77 PER
Leading the second-best team in the Western Conference, Jokic is having one of the best all-around seasons ever in NBA history and he’s hoping to be mentioned as an MVP candidate as well.
He’s arguably the best-passing center this game has ever seen and he’s part of a short list that includes great players such as Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis. He’s ninth in assists overall, and his 26.77 PER is fourth behind Harden, Antetokounmpo and Davis.
Nicknamed the Joker, Jokic isn’t fooling around when the lights are on. The Nuggets rely on him to initiate much of their offense which is predicated on plenty of ball movement. Good thing their superstar is more than willing to give up the basketball for the best shot available. Simply put, Jokic is one of the most versatile players in the game today.
F Kevin Durant
Key Stats: 26.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 blocks, 51.7% FGs, 24.29 PER
Even though many MVP candidates have sprung up this season, Durant continues to put up top-notch stats that merit having him in the conversation. The fact that he is surrounded by All-Stars no matter which way he turns in Golden State is the only thing preventing him from being one of the top candidates.
That’s one of the sacrifices that the Durantula had to accept when he joined the Warriors in 2016 in exchange for a championship (or two). Rather than add to his regular season MVP collection, he’s more than made up for the loss by owning the last two Finals MVP awards.
But make no mistake about it. He’s still one of the top five players in the game, whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs.
F Kawhi Leonard
Key Stats: 26.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 26.15 PER
The Raptors are relying on Leonard to bring them closer to their goal of winning the city’s first NBA championship. So far during the regular season, the 6-foot-7 forward has proven to be the real deal, leading Toronto to the top of the Eastern Conference during the first few weeks of the season. Though they have surrendered the top spot to the Bucks, they are far from being the inferior team. Certainly not if Leonard has anything to say about it.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is posting career highs in points and rebounds while achieving second-best stats in assists and PER. He’s proven to be quite the post-up player, too, and is learning to recognize how to exploit double teams coming at him. His defense, as always, is among the best.
It’s unlikely that the Klaw will get much consideration for MVP honors while playing only 56 games thus far in the season, but he is far and away the best player for the Raptors and one of the top three players in the east.
G Damian Lillard
Key Stats: 26.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 23.99 PER
As good as Damian Lillard is, many wonder how much better he could be if he played on a team that was competing for a championship. Had it not been for Jusuf Nurkic’s devastating injury, the Portland Trail Blazers may have had a chance this season to show us just that.
His team is currently in fourth place in the west mainly because of his leadership and tireless effort on the court. He scored 40 or more points six times this season with a high of 51 points which he dropped on OKC last month. He’s averaging a career-high 6.8 assists a game while having double-digit assist marks on 12 occasions.
Lillard is one of the best point guards in the league and continues to show that he deserves a chance to showcase his talents on the biggest stage.
G Stephen Curry
Key Stats: 27.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 43.8% 3-point FGs, 24.54 PER
He may not be in the running for the MVP Award this season, but Curry is quietly putting up numbers that are at par with some of his best years in the league. His 27.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game are the second-highest averages of his career. The 43.8 percent 3-point shooting, as has been the norm for him, continues to astound us despite the degree of difficulty of many of the shots that he takes.
He made 10 or more three-pointers six times this season and knocked down at least eight trifectas in four other games.
Coach Steve Kerr built the entire offense around Curry’s talents and he’s the main reason why the Warriors are always a threat to win a championship year in and year out. If there’s going to be an MVP from among the great players in Golden State, it’s Curry.
1st Team All-NBA
C Joel Embiid
Key Stats: 27.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks 26.16 PER
One of the few centers to play like the greats of old, Joel Embiid is a throwback to the time when legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal patrolled the paint like gigantic goalkeepers. The Sixers are title contenders when he plays. Without him, they’re just waiting to be bounced out of the playoffs.
Embiid is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and PER. In his very young career, he has shown what it takes to be a winner in this league. His presence fuels the Sixers’ defense and he has four or more blocks nine times this season and at least three 10 more times.
On March 20, Embiid recorded his third 20-rebound game of the season with 22 versus the Boston Celtics. In that same game, he also scored 37 points including 20-of-21 from the line.
If not for Antetokounmpo and Harden, Embiid would be one of the top choices for MVP this season.
F Giannis Antetokounmpo
Key Stats: 27.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.3 steals, 30.51 PER
The choice for MVP by many, Antetokounmpo is having a monster season with career highs in points, assists, rebounds and PER. On March 16, he recorded 52 points, the highest of his 6-year tenure, and added 16 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block. He also nailed 3-of-8 from beyond the arc, 15-of-26 overall and 19-of-21 from the line. These days, Antetokounmpo can do no wrong.
“I’m not going to say it doesn’t mean anything to me,” Antetokounmpo told The Athletic about being named the league’s best. “It’s one of my goals as a player to one day be the MVP of this league, but I’m not going to go into the discussions. ‘Giannis said this. James said that. Paul George said whatever. (Nikola) Jokic said this.’ I’m not going to go in a back-and-forth discussion. I don’t want to say anything.”
The Bucks are the best team in the league record-wise because of the Greek Freak who has looked like a future Hall of Famer all season long. They have the No. 1 defense in the league and the No. 3 offense overall and a huge reason for that is coach Mike Budenholzer building the team around the all-world talents of Antetokounmpo.
F Paul George
Key Stats: 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 23.50 PER
George is another player who is having the best season of his career. When Westbrook allowed his newly re-signed teammate to take over much of the offensive load for the Thunder, George responded with one insanely ridiculous performance after another. There were nights when 30-point games were the norm and 40-point games were almost always within reach.
As good as he was over the past few years, PG13 elevated his play to heights he had never before reached. Not only is he working hard on offense, but the 6-foot-9 All-Star is also playing perhaps his best defensive performance ever. The 2.2 steals per game is a career-high and leads the entire NBA.
Many consider George as the game’s best two-way player, supplanting Kawhi Leonard, and that’s no easy feat as the Raptors forward is best-known for his suffocating defense and quality offense.
G James Harden
Key Stats: 36.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 30.67 PER
Where do we start with Harden? The reigning MVP is having an even better year than the one he had last season and that’s saying a lot. After his All-Star point guard teammate, Chris Paul, went down with an injury early in the season, coach Mike D’Antoni called on Harden to initiate everything offensively for the Rockets.
Harden responded with his finest season as a pro and one that fully deserves a place among history’s best. During a 32-game stretch in the middle of the season, he scored at least 30 points a game including four games of 50, 57, 58 and 61. He topped the 60-point mark twice this year and had a total of at least 50 points nine times.
The 36.4-point average is the highest scoring average since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 in the 1986-87 season. What’s even more amazing about Harden’s performance is that he’s doing all this scoring while dishing off to open teammates at the rate of 7.6 a game. He even has the energy to rebound the ball 6.5 times and be one of the best ballhawks in the league at 2.1 per contest.
If this guy isn’t the MVP then it would be a travesty of epic proportions. Nevertheless, he’s a shoo-in for First Team All-NBA honors at the guard position for sure.
G Russell Westbrook
Key Stats: 23.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 21.0 PER
Westbrook’s recent 20-point, 20-rebound and 21-assist game may have been to honor a fallen friend, but it counts as a historic milestone that only he and the great Wilt Chamberlain were able to accomplish in their careers. The passionate way in which Westbrook approaches each game is a sight to behold and it has resulted in his third straight season averaging a triple-double.
He had an 11-game triple-double streak capped by a 44-point 14-rebound and 11-assist night against the New Orleans Pelicans on Valentine’s Day. As of this time, Westbrook owns 31 triple-doubles this year, 19 more than second-placer Jokic who “only” has 12 of his own.
The 8-time All-Star may have allowed George to flourish and get much of the spotlight this season but the Thunder are still his team.