The 2022-23 season concluded on Sunday and left one of the more difficult award fields in recent memories. Numerous stars missed significant time while playing extraordinary basketball when they took the floor. Tight standings set few teams apart, and several stars led disappointing teams. The Celtics will be well-represented in among year’s selections, but the most consequential one — All-NBA — is no slam dunk for Jaylen Brown. Boston becomes eligible to offer Brown a designated veteran contract worth nearly $300-million if he makes it.
Let’s waste no time and get into my selections, based on traditional, advanced stats and a full season watching these players in-person.
1st Team All-NBA
Luka Dončić – Stats entice me more for this award than winning, where MVP should factor more heavily the inverse. Dallas’ monumental collapse will loom large to voters, and Dončić’s defense should be scrutinized. He had a historic heavy-lifting season on offense though, finishing second in points, 24th in rebounds and sixth in assists. He shot 49.6% on 22.0 shots per game, with his two-point efficiency rivaling centers. Only Jokić posted a higher WAR and VORP, a statement on the Mavericks’ horrid roster that got worse after the Kyrie Irving trade. He also played 66 games and should’ve played more if Dallas didn’t step in. His defensive metrics aren’t horrible, especially relative to his competition. We also watch. It isn’t good. I don’t knock anyone who bumps him to second, but I didn’t see a clear competitor for the position outside of Mitchell, who isn’t substantially better on D.
Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander – One of the more remarkable rises to the top of the league, taking place on a rebuilding team that made the playoffs with its No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren playing 0 games. He tied Embiid in offensive win shares, ranked fourth in scoring (31.4 PPG) without the three (2.5 att.), hit 51% of his shots and finished fourth in steals. His playmaking trailed competitors at his packed positioning (37th in AST%), making his defensive contributions important, bordering the top-10 in expected plus-minus, finishing 13th in LEBRON, fifth in VORP and seventh in WAR. Once again, bonus points for reaching 68 games and the playoffs.
Jayson Tatum – Played better than anyone in the first-third of the season and that should matter, despite his efficiency trailing as the season progressed. Nobody scored more than his 2,225 points, a credit to his availability, while averaging 30.1 PPG for the first time in Celtics history. His 46.6% FG marked a career high, he finished 35% from deep with a difficult shot profile and he cracked the top-30 in defensive rebounding share, leading the team’s best unit at preventing offensive rebounds. Tatum played massive minutes, ranked relatively high among forwards in assist share (8th) and while his defensive metrics and performance left much to be desired (159th DRAPTOR, 47th DBPM, 77th percentile EPM, -0.01 DLEBRON), a relatively weak forward field fits him in first.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – Led the best defense in the NBA and rivaled any offensive player’s impact. That makes him the biggest First-Team slam dunk, though it’s worth acknowledging the benefit he gains from playing so many minutes next to Brook Lopez and being considered a four. He, in many ways, resembles a five. Still, he finished fifth in scoring, second in rebounding, 26th in assists, 17th in shooting (55.3%), first in free throw attempts, third in PER, 10th in OBPM and third in DBPM. RAPTOR ranked him ninth in +/- (+6.2), 26th in DRAPTOR (+2.4), his +6.8 estimated plus-minus finished in the 98th percentile, second in LEBRON and his catch-all analytic rankings placed him fifth. Beyond all of that, he led the best team in the NBA.
More on him in the MVP discussion…
Nikola Jokić – This only gets more difficult when we talk MVP, but this is a different discussion. Jokić produced more than Embiid, start-to-finish, for the best team in the west at monumental levels and he barely edged out his rival. Embiid scored more and in unprecedented fashion for the position, but Jokić trailed only Sabonis in rebounding, more than doubled Embiid’s assist output and finished third among any player. Nobody finished above his 63.2 FG% among players with his 14.8 FGA. He shot 38.3% from three, albeit on 2.2 attempts.
RAPTOR put him at +14.0, and he dominates the analytics, which does need to be discussed. Does the eye test match his +4.2 DRAPTOR? His +0.1 estimated defensive +/- feels more accurate, even considering his strides, he doesn’t stack up with Embiid defensively and that’ll factor into the MVP discussion. His unmatched offensive production, however strange it may sound, pushes him ahead of Embiid in my mind for First-Team. He also played 69 games.
2nd Team All-NBA
Damian Lillard – A losing record hurts him as does 58 games in a loaded guard class. I’ll make a few exceptions for extraordinary output. Lillard ranked third in scoring (32.2 PPG), shot 37.1% on 11.3 three-point attempts, attempted 8.8 free throws, along with 7.3 APG to become the single biggest offensive engine in the league. Portland shut him down to tank, so his health did not limit him and while his defensive impact should be scrutinized for putting the Blazers in position to need to tank, his offensive metrics rivaled Jokić’s. His catch-all analytics finished sixth, and that includes defense. If you feel like his games knock him to third, I won’t argue.
Donovan Mitchell – A larger shoo-in than any guard contender to make some All-NBA team. Like Lillard, he scored 71 points in a game, and his scoring overall finished seventh. Splitting stats with Darius Garland, who had another excellent season that fell victim to a loaded season at the position, knocks him behind the First Team to me. His efficiency, 48.4% FG and 38.6% 3PT, on massive shot totals drove the Cavaliers to top-five offensive production despite having no reliable wing scorers next to him. Mitchell played 68 games, improved his defense to fit into the league’s best unit and his offensive contributions ranked seventh in RAPTOR, in the 98th percentile of estimated +/-, 14th in OLEBRON and ninth in the catch-alls. Scoring still drives his impact, and he didn’t score as much as Gilgeous-Alexander and he trails him in defensive impact. There’s a case for Mitchell over Dončić.
Jimmy Butler – Butler had a tremendous season on an awful team that quietly rivaled Tatum’s for First-Team candidacy. It, for me, landed Butler in a league of his own above the fellow guard contenders on Second Team. He played 64 games, ranked in the top-20 of limiting turnovers despite logging hefty ball time for a forward (50th in USG%). Butler scored 22.9 PPG with 5.3 APG, numbers that don’t pop as much as his 53.9% FG, improvement to 35% and sensational analytics, a fourth-place finish in BPM, seventh on offense and eighth on defense.
Only Jokić posted more win shares per 48 minutes, but that’s the problem for Butler — passiveness. While Tatum launched threes, led the league in total scoring and turned the ball over trying to make plays, Butler’s efficiency stems in part from picking his spots. He only averaged 13 shots, way too low for a star of a team with a starving offense. His wide range of impact and disruptive role in a top defensive unit land him on Second Team with 64 games.
Lauri Markkanen – Everyone knows he bloomed with the Jazz. It struck me late just how efficiently he scored this season. Markkanen finished 12th in scoring (25.6 PPG), 25th in rebounding, with 2.0 offensive rebounds each night and shot 49.9% on 17.3 attempts. He hit 3.0 threes per game, the most among the contenders for this spot, he only turned the ball over 8.8% of the time, adding to Utah’s top-tier offensive efficiency before their late tank. Leading that offense adds to the credit he deserves here, he managed 66 games and his +5.1 on/off boost for his team, according to RAPTOR, matched Giannis, Curry and Jarrett Allen’s impact on their teams. The metrics liked his offense and considered his defense a positive, save for DBPM. You could nitpick his defense when considering him for this spot, but the Third Team contenders aren’t exactly lockdown defenders either.
Joel Embiid – Changed the All-NBA process after 75 years after falling short of Jokić last year despite finishing second in MVP. This year, he’ll likely claim the latter award, but even while winning the scoring title (33.1 PPG), finishing seventh in rebounding, hitting 58.7% of his two-pointers on mostly tough mid-rangers and blocking 1.7 shots per game, he’ll have a difficult time stacking up against the width of his rival’s impact.
The catch-all analytics placed Embiid just behind Jokić, his RAPTOR rating trailed Jokić’s by nearly six points per 100 possessions, WAR by seven points and Embiid fell nearly two points behind Jokić in LEBRON. They tied PER. It’s hard to split hairs between their two all-time great seasons and Second Team looks like a snub, but he’s No. 2 in the NBA. Next year, they’ll share spots on the First Team together under the new process, but he’s not a forward.
3rd Team All-NBA
Ja Morant – Would’ve been a slam dunk for a higher team if not for the Denver gun incident that cost him eight games. He finished with 61 games played for the No. 2 team in the west, top-10 in scoring and top-5 in assists per game, while only four guards rebounded more than him. Morant and Embiid tied for 16th in ORAPTOR, while the catch-alls positioned him 17th, representative of a less efficient season than he saw last year, he finished in the 95th percentile of estimated plus-minus offensively on the league’s No. 3 defense.
Morant carried heavy weight for Memphis when he played, and while they managed without him, this isn’t MVP. Jalen Brunson handled the ball better, Jrue Holiday defended better, Tyrese Haliburton made his teammates better and James Harden stuffed the stat sheet at a higher rate. Morant made the widest impact and won. De’Aaron Fox, tough to leave off this list on the best offense ever, simply posted poor defensive production, but consider him the last left off with 77 games and astounding production inside the arc.
Steph Curry – Getting the largest games played exception to credit his 29.4 PPG, 42.7% three-point shooting over 11 attempts, 6.1 assists per game and fourth-ranked ORAPTOR. Curry simply produced too much offense to ignore in his appearances, with fewer defensive limitations than Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, who rivaled his output on the offensive end. He finished top-10 in PER, top-12 in TS%, 18th in assist rate and eight in overall RAPTOR, despite his poor defensive metrics. The Warriors struggled immensely on the road, though his stats didn’t suffer in those settings and his availability helped save them from the play-in while Andrew Wiggins sat. His 56 games won’t make him eligible in future seasons under the new CBA, showing the stringency of that rule.
Jaylen Brown – The most difficult decision on all three teams, and don’t be surprised if Kawhi Leonard’s pedigree, LeBron James’ box score stats and Kevin Durant’s absurd efficiency in the games he did play squeeze Brown from this list, along with the Celtics star’s split between guard and forward potentially placing him in the crowded guard field which he wouldn’t emerge from (he played most of his minutes at forward). Brown’s scoring prowess and availability will need to beat out the bigger names, and there is a case despite lagging analytics due in part to his staggered minutes with Tatum. Games played also matter.
Brown played 20 more than Durant, 13 more than James and 17 more than Leonard, finishing ninth in scoring on the league’s No. 2 offense. If you watched Brown, the holes become apparent, playmaking inconsistencies, trouble drawing and making free throws and defensive lapses make this a difficult decision. Durant shot 56% and nearly doubled Brown’s win shares per 48 minutes. Leonard defends at a high level. James bordered a triple-double. Even Pascal Siakam makes a case here for his width of impact. Here’s why Brown still makes it for me: his focus on two-point shooting (57.6%) helped free Tatum for an MVP level season. Brown sacrificed an on-ball role, screened more, cut his turnovers as the season progressed and keyed what emerged as a historic offense.
Julius Randle – A name I couldn’t leave off due to all the heavy lifting. Jalen Brunson might deserve more credit for New York’s success, but Randle plays at the more wide open position in this year of injuries at the wing. He played 77 games, his most impressive feat alongside ranking 13th in points, ninth in rebounds and 12th in free throw attempts for what became a top-five offense this season. His offensive contributions ranked in the 95th percentile of estimated +/- and 17th in OLEBRON. Three-point shooting, defense and decision-making make him a lightning rod for Knicks fans, but in an era where availability and totals matter as much as averages, the Knicks finished fifth in the east thanks to his ability to take the court and put points on the board every night.
Domantas Sabonis – The easiest choice between all three teams. He didn’t reach Jokic and Embiid levels, and more Anthony Davis games played would’ve made this difficult, but Sabonis transformed the Kings offense with high-post reads and made it the most efficient in league history. Sabonis posted 14 triple-doubles, shot 61.5%, led the NBA in rebounding and reached the top-10 in assists. The ease with which he finished through Robert Williams III still stands out to me among many great performances I saw this year, and he helped lead a Kings team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2006 to the No. 3 seed in the west. Defensive issues will place the microscope on him and Fox immediately. There’s nothing to knock about his regular season.
Siakam – A wide-ranging and efficient impact make him one of the best. A sluggish finish, poor defensive season from the Raptors and horrifying offensive droughts prevent him from making the list despite 71 games played.
Durant – Brilliant in every sense. Undefeated in Phoenix. Shot 55-40-90, an enhanced version of that famous milestone never accomplished in NBA history. He’s a lock with about 10 more games played. It’s worth giving some leeway for games played, as he noted on Twitter, but between a trade saga in Brooklyn and multiple injuries that barely allowed him to acclimate to Phoenix, it’s impossible to put him on a team with 47 games.
James – The numbers stand out. So does his team’s horrible performance for half of the season, dominated in part by his chase for the all-time scoring record and sporadic availability. The Lakers made up much of the ground for the play-in race without him, and he finished with 54 games, dazzled at the rim as always and shot 32.1% from three. He last missed an All-NBA team in 2003-04. This year, he probably doesn’t deserve to appear on one.
Leonard – Finished strong and started slow, battling stiffness in his knee after a 2021 ACL tear.. He looks on track to make the team next year and quietly shot close to 50-40-90. Playing 50 games isn’t close to enough though.
Fox – Available. Active. Efficient. Tough to leave off, but the team’s defensive issues stemmed in part from perimeter players like him struggling. Won’t knock you if you include him over Curry, who played 20 fewer games.
Haliburton – A lock until a late string of injuries led Indiana back to the lottery. Remember, he had a team that projected to finish near the bottom of the league well on its way to the playoffs and trailed only Harden in assists.
Harden – Biggest gap between stats and the eye test of all the contenders. The burst isn’t quite there to reach the rim. Philadelphia needed Embiid on the floor to survive in key games. His acclimation to a floor-spacing role is admirable and he played on a top defensive unit. He has a case, but he never blew me away like others here.
Brunson – Hard to leave off given his massive impact on a bad Knicks team from one year ago. He took full control of the offense and boosted Randle’s own All-NBA case. He played often and shot efficiently. His arrival played a part in the team falling to the bottom-half of the league in defense, though, and can’t be ignored.
Holiday – Dominant defensively in ways that rival some of the offensive contributions listed above. He trails those player’s offensive impact far more drastically though. It’s worth noting how effectively he helped the Bucks compete while Antetokounmpo sat — helping the Bucks score the league’s best record.
Garland – The No. 2 option and often the table-setter for arguably the league’s most underrated team and helped the Cavaliers play the league’s best defense despite starting a pair of undersized guards. He deserves more love.