The All-NBA teams have long been the measuring stick to judge who have been the best players in the league for a particular season.
As the years go by and the league becomes more and more talented, All-NBA First Team becomes almost impossible to make. It also becomes more prestigious for the five that stake the claim to the list.
This season, there isn't much debate for the spots at the forward position. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the front-runners for MVP before the pause button was hit on the season, look like stone-cold locks to make All-NBA First Team. But who will grab the centre spot?
Take a quick poll of NBA fans and you may hear different answers: Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert and last year's first-teamer Nikola Jokic all have the numbers to put them in the conversation.
There's only one right answer - and it's not even close.
The case for Anthony Davis
Davis is having himself a year. He's fit in perfectly next to LeBron in Los Angeles. His averages of 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game are on par with the incredible numbers he put up in New Orleans despite becoming a "second option."
According to Basketball-Reference's MVP tracker, he'll likely finish in the top five of MVP voting this season, and he'll be in the discussion for the Defensive Player of the Year award, anchoring one of the top defences in the league.
Right now, AD is pound for pound the best big man in the NBA.
There's one problem, though. He isn't a centre.
Davis has only played 38% of his minutes at the centre position this season, a huge drop off from when he made the All-NBA First Team as a centre in 2016-17 (64%) and 2017-18 (51%).
Maybe the problem isn't that Davis isn't playing enough "centre" but that we still vote on All-NBA based on positions. Does Davis deserve an All-NBA First Team vote? Absolutely. But if you vote for him, you have to vote for him as a forward because that's what he is with the Lakers.
He's having a great year, but he hasn't been better than LeBron or Giannis, so Davis gets bumped down off of the First Team.
The case for Joel Embiid
When Embiid is healthy and engaged, he's one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He was once again voted as a starter in the All-Star Game, so the fans still clearly view him as one of the best bigs in the league.
Averaging three fewer minutes per game this season, Embiid's per 36 numbers are still on par with his career-best numbers from a year ago, which is pretty impressive considering how he's had to change his game to accommodate Al Horford in the frontcourt.
However, Embiid still has trouble staying healthy. He's only played 44 of a possible 65 games so far this season - that matters. It's why even though Kawhi Leonard is putting up career-numbers, you can't vote him onto the First Team. Availability is still an underrated ability. Had Embiid been healthy all year, would the 76ers be flirting with the fifth seed in the East? Would they have been as inconsistent as they've been?
A healthy Embiid could've been the answer to a lot of their problems and a healthy Embiid could've also been the easy vote at centre for All-NBA First Team.
The case for Rudy Gobert
Gobert finally became an All-Star this season. The logical next step is making All-NBA First Team.
Gobert has been an All-NBA performer twice in his career. In 2016-17, he led the league in blocks and was named Second Team All-NBA. Last season, after a career-year, he was named Third Team All-NBA.
His numbers this year? Right on par with last season's campaign, averaging 15.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He's also been available to play in all but two Jazz games this season. He's done enough to warrant a good long hard look for All-NBA First Team.
But he's not the right answer here. Not for First Team, at least.
What makes Gobert special is his defence. That's what brought him to the dance, that's what turned him from a nobody to an All-Star. However, this season there's been stretches where the Jazz are better defensively when Gobert is off the floor. Since the All-Star break, with the two-time Defensive Player of the Year on the floor, Utah is giving up 116.9 points per 100 possessions. With him on the bench, the team is giving up 106.3 per 100, according to NBA Stats.
Granted, it's a small sample size and some metrics point to Gobert still being the best defender, most notably ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
However, Gobert's best quality is his defence and at no point in the season should his team be better defensively with him on the bench. Additionally, the Jazz no longer have one of the 10 best defensive ratings in the league after ranking second in 2018-19 and first in 2017-18 in that category.
Some might be able to overlook that stuff and vote him as the best centre in the league. I can't and neither should you.
The case for Nikola Jokic
If you haven't come to this conclusion by now, let me spell it out for you: Jokic should be All-NBA First Team this season.
Unlike Davis, he's played 100% of his minutes at the centre spot, per Basketball Reference's play-by-play data. Unlike Embiid, he's appeared in every single one of his team's games. And that's coming off a summer where he decided to take on National Team duties at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
And finally, unlike Gobert, his team doesn't go through stretches of the season where they're better with him off the floor then when he's playing. In fact, Jokic was just starting to round into playoff form before the pause in the season.
Since the All-Star break, Jokic has even been locking in defensively!
With Jokic on the floor, Denver is giving up 111.2 points per 100 possessions. With him off the floor? The Nuggets are giving up 114.0 points per 100. Don't tell me Jokic doesn't impact defence!
He proved he can defend in the playoffs as well last season when the Nuggets were giving up nine more points per 100 possessions when Jokic sat down.
The biggest knock on Jokic is that he can't defend. Maybe he's not always a willing defender but he's certainly proven that he can defend. Couple that with his impact on the offensive end, and he's closer to being a more complete centre than more realize.
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