If there was ever a reason to finally do away with the positional rankings for All-NBA teams, it’s Joel Embiid’s flagrant omission from First-Team All-NBA honors. The powers that be thought it appropriate to put the direct runner-up to MVP on the Second Team to adhere to a positional preference more than half of NBA teams have moved past. Almost every team has embraced positionless basketball. So why can’t the league? By grasping onto outdated thinking, the league has relegated Embiid, the most dominant big man in the game, to second-tier recognition. He also took his 76ers to the fourth seed in the East and into the Eastern Conference Semifinals while saddled with some of the worst teammates in NBA history.
Embiid averaged 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 4 APG, 1 SPG, and 1.5 BPG on shooting splits of 49/37/81. He led the league in scoring at 30.6 points per game. That mark led him to be the first big man to lead the league in scoring since 2000. He was also the first big man to average 30 points in a season since 1982.
Those numbers led many to believe he was robbed of this year’s MVP trophy, after Embiid lost out to Nuggets center Nikola Jokić by a margin of 875 total points to Embiid’s 706 total points. To regulate Embiid to Second Team based purely on position is egregiously stupid. Whatever team Jokić is on, Embiid should be right next to him. Especially considering one of the players who did make the All-NBA First Team, Devin Booker, fooled everyone into thinking he was a superstar this year, putting up a K-Mart Kobe Bryant impression in the second round against the Dallas Mavericks. No more evident than in Game 7, where he scored 11 points. Booker was the first Suns player to earn ALl-NBA First Team honors since 2007.
The other three First Teamers, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić, and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, deserve their place on the First Team echelon. In addition, the All-NBA First Team was made up solely of players 27 years old or younger for the first time since the 1954-55 season, which shows how talented the league has become on the back of its youth.
If anything, Booker should have been bumped to the Third Team and perhaps not honored at all if voting was paused until after the playoffs. Many have argued for end-of-season awards to be given out after the playoffs have ended, so voters can see how players perform under the harsh lights of the do-or-die postseason. Booker’s anemic 43 percent FG shooting and Game 7 flop were enough to merit his absence from All-NBA ballots if this were the case. The same could be said for his Suns teammate Chris Paul, who choked, again, in the playoffs, burning out a series earlier than he did last year, this time averaging 13, 7, and 4 in the WCSF. Nevertheless, Paul was named to the All-NBA Third Team.
If voters are not going to consider the postseason in their voting, then Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgous-Alexander (24.5 PPG, 6 APG, 5 RPG) or San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray (21 PPG, 9 APG, 8 RPG) should have received a spot on the Third Team over Karl-Anthony Towns, who is no longer the best player on his team. This season, that honor belongs to Anthony Edwards. But, again, the NBA had to fulfill a meaningless positional framework, so big man KAT made Third Team. Hell, Pascal Siakam wasn’t even an All-Star this season but snuck his way into Third Team honors.
The NBA’s voting metrics need to catch up to how the game is being played. Positionless basketball is the new era of hoops and has slowly taken over conventional thinking since Don Nelson’s days as the Warriors coach in the early 90s. Today, more than half of NBA teams don’t employ a traditional center. All four teams remaining in the playoffs are playing five out. So what’s the point of clinging onto archaic modes of recognition while leaving a bonafide MVP candidate off the league’s highest team honors. Embiid was already snubbed when it came to this year’s MVP. Yet, the league decided to deny him another deserving honor with outdated logic.