Season stats: 64 games, 2,211 minutes, 25.5 points,
6.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 60.1% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +7.2 EPM (fourth), 15.3 estimated wins added (fifth),
+4.32 LEBRON (sixth), 9.6 wins added
While injuries and a down shooting year prevented Steph Curry
from maintaining an MVP-caliber impact, he was still a sensational
player throughout 2021-22 and arguably the NBA’s best guard. His
playmaking and defense felt a bit better than recent seasons,
whether it was leveraging his gravity to whirl complex reads to
teammates, playing the passing lanes for takeaways or cutting off
drives with his strength and quickness on the ball.
Despite his shooting decline, Curry still drilled 37.4% of his
pull-up threes and ranked among the league’s best
off-the-bounce marksmen. That jumper remains as devastating as
ever to opponents, and his off-ball movement bends defenses like
nobody else. His constant threat to shoot and hard-nosed screening
opened up countless quality looks for the Golden State Warriors'
offense. Averaging over 25 points on over 60% TS, given the
perceived improvement as a facilitator and defender, along with the
sustained off-ball goodness, was enough to earn Curry a First-Team
The two-time MVP feels like the victim of expectation bias, in
some regard. His season was brilliant and still rendered him a
superstar. But it was below the lofty standard set for himself, so
those who surprised or surpassed expectations benefitted while he
was dinged. Nonetheless, Curry is a deserved First-Team player and
squeaked past a few other worthwhile candidates.
Season stats: 76 games, 2,731 minutes, 26.9 points,
8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 57.8% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +5.8 EPM (eighth), 16.3 estimated
wins added (third), +5.02 LEBRON (fourth), 12.7 wins added
A bumpy first couple months from Jayson Tatum didn’t indicate a
spring-time appearance on any All-NBA squad, let alone First Team.
However, the fifth-year wing discovered his shooting stroke in
December and beyond, which amplified his defensive prowess and
continued growth as a distributor. He really exploded after the
All-Star Break, when he averaged 30-7-5-1 on ~ 65% True Shooting in
20 games following February’s intermission.
All season, teams loaded up to contain Tatum and he sprayed
timely reads to open teammates. Although his outside jumper didn’t
reach the levels of recent seasons, he enjoyed significant strides
as a finisher and foul-drawer, while shooting a career-best 52.4%
on twos. His 68.0% mark at the rim tied a career-best, and his .300
free-throw rate was the second-highest of his young
In fact, his +1 Relative True Shooting* (rTS%) — how far above
or below one’s TS% is from league average — this year was his best
since his rookie season, a time when his scoring load was much
simpler and relied less on self-creation. When he was afforded more
opportunities to brandish his off-ball talents — with Marcus Smart
taking over more ball-handling duties — Tatum also cooked as a
spot-up shooter, cutter and mismatch scorer inside.
Defensively, his crisp execution in a switch-heavy scheme —
along with his intersection of length, mobility and instincts — was
integral for Boston’s top-ranked defense. The Celtics thrived on
eliminating gaps of space for opposing offenses, and Tatum executed
that quite well throughout the year.
While this is by no means the leading aspect of his candidacy,
he also was an iron man, finishing fourth in minutes played this
year. Boston demanded a ton of him on both ends and he was great,
especially after a slow beginning.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Forward
Season stats: 67 games, 2,204 minutes, 29.9 points, 11.6
rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 63.3% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +7.3 EPM (third), 15.5 estimated wins added
(fourth), +6.59 LEBRON (third), 12 wins added (fourth)
Fresh off an NBA championship and Finals MVP — a run where he
displayed significant and vital growth — Giannis Antetokounmpo once
again added dimensions to his offensive repertoire. Thanks to more
counters in the half-court, a better mid-range pull-up and
persistently great finishing, he nearly secured the scoring title,
averaging a career-high 29.9 points per game.
His footwork as a shooter and patience as a driver are notably
improved from both MVP campaigns (is a third in the works?), and he
also carried over his passing development that bubbled during last
year's postseason. Among lasers to corner shooters, deft feeds to
cutters or other reads stemming from the mammoth attention devoted
to him, Antetokounmpo was better equipped than ever to pick apart
Amid Brook Lopez’s prolonged absence, Antetokounmpo shouldered a
massive load defensively. He was Milwaukee’s lone credible
rim-protector and had to fill an array of ball-screen coverages,
namely dropping, trapping and switching. There were some bumps
along the way, but he remains an elite weak-side helper. His
versatility proved instrumental in preventing the Bucks from
entirely cratering without Lopez around (14th in Defensive
Joel Embiid, Forward
Season stats: 68 games, 2,297 minutes, 30.6 points, 11.7
rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 61.6% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +7.9 EPM (second), 17 estimated wins added
(second), +6.7 LEBRON (second), 12.5 wins added (third)
For the second consecutive season, Joel Embiid performed like a
top-three MVP candidate with a legitimate case to bring home the
trophy. After expanding his scoring versatility a year ago, he
returned to build upon that, claiming the scoring title and
creating for others like never before. He was a grab-and-go machine
off the defensive glass, forcing cross-matches in transition to
either score for himself or generate beneficial matchups for his
In addition, Embiid's pick-and-roll game grew, which largely
came into relevancy once James Harden entered the fold. The
28-year-old big man showcased patience and savvy as a roller, and
his interior passing was considerably better than previous years.
The elite post scoring and foul-drawing continued to fluster
Although his defensive consistency wavered, the Philadelphia
76ers still finished tied for 10th in DRTG (according to Cleaning
The Glass) despite quite limited personnel around him. That’s
predominantly a product of his rim-deterrence, versatile
pick-and-roll coverage and timely rotations. More than a few times
this season, Embiid’s wide-ranging defensive exploits led the
Sixers to victory.
He also played the most minutes and games of his career, a
number that would’ve been even higher had he not been sidelined for
nine games with COVID in November. Embiid was dominant last year
and returned a shade better, buoying a shorthanded Philadelphia
roster much of the season.
Nikola Jokic, Center
Season stats: 74 games, 2,476 minutes, 27.1 points, 13.8
rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 66.1% True Shooting,
Advanced stats: +9.3 EPM (first), 20.7 estimated wins added
(first), +7.63 LEBRON (first), 14.9 wins added (first)
Speaking of buoying a shorthanded roster, that was the ethos of
Nikola Jokic’s follow-up season after earning MVP in 2021-22. The
Denver Nuggets were without their second- and third-best players
virtually all year in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., but won
48 games to finish sixth in an excellent Western Conference behind
the greatness of its superstar big man.
Jokic was an even better scorer than last season, lofting in
floaters, fadeaways, pull-up jumpers and spinning finishes at
foolishly-high rates. His level of scoring volume and efficiency is
not quite to the degree of Curry in 2015-16, but it’s not far off,
which is wildly impressive.
He also grew defensively, both in his rebounding and on the
interior. His hands are arguably the best in the NBA, and he uses
them to ping-pong rebounds into his mitts or break up passes.
Of course, the passing is still absolutely brilliant. Jokic
organizes the four players around him, dicing up opponents with
skip passes, one-handed outlets, short-roll dimes and a plethora of
other reads only he can execute. This dude was masterful all year
and a joy to watch.
Trae Young, Guard
Season stats: 76 games, 2,652 minutes, 28.4 points, 9.7
assists, 3.7 rebounds, 60.3% True Shooting (.460/.382/.904
Advanced stats: +4.9 EPM (11th), 14.2 estimated wins added
(sixth), +3.02 LEBRON (20th), 8.8 wins added (eighth)
Do not be fooled by the Atlanta Hawks’ underwhelming regular
season. Trae Young was absolutely splendid and spearheaded
Atlanta’s second-ranked offense. To compensate for the lowest
free-throw rate since his rookie year (.358), he simply turned it
up everywhere else as a shooter. He posted career-bests at the rim
(59%), from mid-range (47%) and beyond the arc (39%), which gave
him the best rTS% of his NBA tenure at +3.7.
When teams funneled him inside the arc and sat on lobs near the
rim, Young took advantage by hunting out cozy mid-range jumpers,
and relied on his silky floater less often. Nobody hoisted more
pull-up triples than Young this season (525), and he cashed in on a
respectable 37.0% of them. With his deft
handle and shiftiness, he routinely carved out space for open
looks, often on stepbacks or sweeping crossovers into
As a passer, everything just seemed a little crisper than in
prior years, which augmented his already dazzling playmaking
portfolio. Virtually every read with either hand is in Young's
arsenal, and he can manipulate defensive positioning via ball
placement and look-offs. He’ll vary the release speed and angle of
his feeds, whether it’s a lob inside, skip to the exterior or
threading the needle into tight quarters.
He’s a truly elite offensive engine, and while his defense is
quite poor, it doesn’t come close to quelling his All-NBA
credentials. Young played a ton, was great in those minutes and
propped up everyone around him by consistently spinning the defense
into rotation. The man is a superbly adroit savant.
Devin Booker, Guard
Season stats: 68 games, 2,345 minutes, 26.8 points, 5.0
rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 57.6% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.5 EPM (16th), 11.9 estimated wins added
(11th), +2.71 LEBRON (26th), 7.6 wins added (15th)
Another inaugural All-NBA honoree next to Young, Devin Booker’s
scoring versatility, playmaking and improved defense helped key the
Phoenix Suns' franchise-best 64-win season. In the 11 games he
played post-All-Star Break without Chris Paul, Booker was
especially magnificent. The Suns went 8-3 in those outings, where
Booker averaged 28-7-4.5-2 on ~ 64% TS. When Paul returned, Booker
continued his torrid pace, averaging 31-6-4.5-1.5 on ~ 64% TS in 17
total contests after the All-Star Break.
All year, Booker delivered with impressively tough shot-making.
The way he sets up/utilizes screens and maneuvers off the ball are
harmonic fits in head coach Monty Williams’ motion-based offensive
scheme. Playing alongside someone like Paul — who is maximized in a
ball-dominant role — Booker’s ability to fashion high-level
offensive impact off the ball (with brief touches) enables the
Point God to flourish. He’s best flowing into the Suns'
well-designed Chicago action, which allows him to pull up for
jumpers, toss lobs to a diving big man or find a shooter around the
The 2021-22 campaign also represented the strongest defensive season of
his career. His size and lateral quickness helped him stymie
certain assignments on the ball. He’s long been pretty punctual and
good as an interior helper. The attention to detail defensively was
consistently a boon for Booker and the Suns.
Luka Doncic, Forward
Season stats: 65 games, 2,301 minutes, 28.4 points, 9.1
rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 57.1% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.5 EPM (17th), 11.7 estimated wins added
(13th), +2.54 LEBRON (30th), 7.1 wins added (23rd)
Similar to Tatum, Luka Doncic struggled out of the gates, but
gathered a ton of momentum as his team climbed the standings. Once
the three-ball exited freezing temperatures, he percolated as a
Doncic worked quite often from the post or off the ball for
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, at least considerably more
than he did under Rick Carlisle. Luka's size, touch and playmaking
warped defenses. Along with those tweaks, he exhibited heightened
defensive awareness off the ball and applied his frame to turn back
Aside from those shifts, though, 2021-22 was a prototypical
Doncic year on the whole. His passing was among the league’s best
and massively eased the tension of creation for his
With elite change of pace/direction, a 6-foot-7 frame and
slithery handle, Doncic is a spectacular slasher. He averaged the
second-most drives per game this season and converted 55.5% of his
shots off of them. Preventing his paint touches is ridiculously
tough, and helps headline his status as a potent initiator.
Kevin Durant, Forward
Season stats: 55 games, 2,047 minutes, 29.9 points, 7.4
rebounds, 6.4 assists, 63.4% True Shooting (.518/.383/.910
Advanced stats: +6.4 EPM (fifth), 13.0 estimated wins added
(seventh), +3.79 LEBRON (ninth), 7.5 wins added (17th)
Kevin Durant was marvelous in his 14th year, donning various
hats for the Brooklyn Nets while many teammates shuffled in and out
of the lineup or grappled with inconsistency. He still lorded over
the mid-range, shooting a preposterous 55.5% on 407 attempts in
that area (fourth-most). His offensive versatility shined, as he
worked out of ball-screens, pindowns, transition opportunities and
a host of other contexts to slap down 30 a night.
When teams doubled, Durant comfortably and promptly fed an open
teammate, and was entirely ready for the swath of defensive
attention. In single coverage, he elevated over the top and left
the opposition praying for solutions.
Brooklyn’s defense as a whole ebbed and flowed its way to a
20th-place finish, but Durant excelled as an interior helper,
rebounder and communicator. In the Nets’ switch-heavy scheme, he
constantly organized and streamlined the carousel of defensive
assignments for everyone.
The Nets were a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde club, though to no
indictment of KD, who tailored his game on both ends to fill
whatever gaps presented themselves on a nightly basis.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Center
Season stats: 74 games, 2,476 minutes, 24.6 points, 9.8
rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 steals, 64% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.6 EPM (14th), 12.8 estimated wins added
(ninth), +2.83 LEBRON (22nd), 8.2 wins added (11th)
Playing for the same man who once helped unlock some of Jokic’s
latent greatness, Karl-Anthony Towns diversified and bolstered his
offensive prowess in his first full season under Minnesota
Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch.
Compared to previous seasons, Towns operated less on the low
block and more as a face-up scorer and driver. Midway through the
year, he really began trimming down his three-point volume in favor
of drives and shots inside the arc, which ignited some dominant
stretches of play. Rattling him, something that physicality
and discipline might have accomplished previously, became rather
The versatile shooting continued to keep defenses honest, and he
wielded the jumper into driving angles using fakes and jabs. Towns
attacked off the catch, navigated the lane with a controlled pace
and proved adept at adjusting around late-arriving help near the
rim. If the opposition sagged off to prepare for a drive, he’d nail
Early in the season and at other points of his career, he
drifted toward flashy over effective passes too often, a habit that
largely evaporated by year’s end.
Finch also reshaped Minnesota’s ball-screen defense from
generally playing drop to trapping/showing, a switch that better
suited Towns’ game. His mobility and active hands turned teams
over, and he stayed engaged much more often than he tended to in
Everything coalesced for Towns and the Timberwolves this season.
He ruled and should earn an All-NBA appearance for the second time
in his career.
Ja Morant, Guard
Season stats: 57 games, 1,889 minutes, 27.4 points, 6.7
assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 57.5% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +3.5 EPM (32nd), 8.3 estimated wins added
(39th), +3.45 LEBRON (12th), 7.1 wins added (22nd)
Captaining the upstart Memphis Grizzlies is Ja Morant, who
completed the leap from rising star to full-fledged star in his
third year. The most important storyline in Morant’s evolution was
his scoring development.
A season ago, he averaged 28 points per 100 possessions on 53.7%
TS (-3.5 rTS%). This year, he averaged 39.6 points per 100
possessions on 57.5% TS (+0.9 rTS%). Per game, the scoring jumped
from 19.1 points to 27.4 points.
To significantly increase efficiency and volume to the magnitude
Morant did is incredibly arduous. That sort of maturation cannot be
Fueling this for him was the transition from a good driver to an
elite one. In 2020-21, Morant averaged 18.4 drives and
shot 45.1% on them. In 2021-22, he averaged 20.9 drives and shot
51.0% on them. My hunch is that Morant added core strength, which
empowered him to both have better balance as a finisher and convert
a greater number of those acrobatic sequences near the hoop.
The bounce and flexibility have long been prevalent, but they
were sometimes muted by insufficient strength. Those occurrences
were less frequent in Year 3, as he stayed on balance against
rim-protection or even plowed through it at times. Pair his
blossoming as a scorer with his dribble penetration, pick-and-roll
artistry and playmaking savvy, and Morant has emerged as one of the
NBA’s top offensive guards to earn his first All-NBA berth.
DeMar DeRozan, Guard
Season stats: 76 games, 2,743 minutes, 27.9 points, 5.2
rebounds, 4.9 assists, 59% True Shooting (.504/.352/.877
Advanced stats: +3.2 EPM (38th), 11.6 estimated wins added
(15th), +1.4 LEBRON (69th), 6.5 wins added (29th)
Dubbed "The King of The Fourth," DeMar DeRozan anchored a
Chicago Bulls squad ravaged by injury with absurd bucket after
absurd bucket for various parts of the season. His 157 points in the clutch
trailed only Embiid (158), and he did it on a sparkling 67.0%
The veteran wing predominantly operated from the top of the key.
He weaponized his size, footwork and handle to frequent the
mid-range, where he continuously rained contested pull-ups over the
outstretched arms of ill-fated defenders. When they infringed upon
his airspace, DeRozan busted out fakes to draw fouls or step
through into space for easier shots. When too many eyes or bodies
flocked his way, he rifled passes to open teammates.
He ranked in the 100th percentile in mid-range frequency (71%)
and 88th percentile in accuracy (49%). According to PBPStats, his
1,249 self-created shots were third league-wide, and he posted an
Effective Field Goal percentage of 51.7% on them, nearly 3.5
percentage points higher than the NBA average.
DeRozan put on a shot-making clinic all year and guided Chicago
to its first playoff appearance since 2016-17.
LeBron James, Forward
Season stats: 56 games, 2,084 minutes, 30.3 points, 8.2
assists, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, 61.9% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +6.1 EPM (sixth), 12.8 estimated wins added
(eighth), +3.44 LEBRON (13th), 7.9 wins added (13th)
LeBron James authored a divisive and injury-riddled season, but
he was damn good when he suited up. His 39 points per 100
possessions were his most since 2009-10, while his +5.3 rTS% was
his highest mark since 2017-18. As Los Angeles touted a revolving,
mercurial cast of role players, both in name and production, James
embodied a number of responsibilities and handled them
At times, he played center and the Lakers posted a minus-0.3 Net
Rating in those 2,133 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass (which is
relatively good given their minus-3.6 season-long NET). Other
times, he operated as the lead guard. His scoring chops glimmered
on and off the ball. Despite the Lakers’ prohibitive floor-spacing,
he was a bruising, powerful driver, living at the hoop and holding
court in the paint (~ 75% around the rim).
Although James’ defense faltered post-All-Star Break — where he
often failed to rotate off the ball or pick up assignments in a
timely manner — he was overwhelmingly good in the 41 games
pre-All-Star Break. He roamed the back line as a low man to alter
shots inside, discreetly hunted takeaways in the passing lanes and
overwhelmed some players at the point-of-attack with his size and
This season will not distinguish itself among James’ many, many
standout campaigns, yet he played excellent ball when available.
It’s assuredly an All-NBA-caliber year, even amid his own absences
and shortcomings, as well as the Lakers’ collective struggles.
Pascal Siakam, Forward
Season stats: 68 games, 2,578 minutes, 22.8 points, 8.5
rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 56.5% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +2.3 EPM (61st), 9.2 estimated wins added
(28th), +1.75 LEBRON (57th), 6.6 wins added (27th)
Emblematic of Toronto’s bounce-back year is Pascal Siakam, who
starred in his 68 games, particularly as the season progressed.
When injuries and a cold spell plagued All-Star Fred VanVleet in
the second half, Siakam shouldered a heftier load and papered over
his co-star’s struggles.
Whereas last year Siakam looked a smidge slower than the seasons
prior, his verve and zip returned to sharpen his creation chops.
His handle and first step were reliable advantages against
like-sized forwards, and he consistently exploited mismatches.
Siakam seeks out contact to score through, banking on his touch and
balance as the bedrocks of this gambit.
With the Raptors’ creator options fairly limited beyond Siakam
on many nights, opponents sent waves of reinforcements toward his
drives and aimed to disrupt him. Instead, Siakam became an even
better facilitator, pivoting, prodding and weaving his way into
open passing angles for a career-high assist rate of 22.5%.
Toronto flew around defensively and notched the NBA’s top
turnover rate. Such an approach played up the mobility and ground
coverage of its rangy wings, and Siakam’s capacity to handle the
taxing responsibility helped achieve that. His off-ball awareness and motor
seemed to trend upward throughout the season, and he really capped
things off well in recent weeks.
The 28-year-old had a phenomenal year and was a massive part of
Toronto winning 48 games.
Rudy Gobert, Center
Season stats: 66 games, 2,120 minutes, 15.6 points, 14.7
rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 73.2% True Shooting (.713/.000/.690
Advanced stats: +5.1 EPM (10th), 11.7 estimated wins added
(11th), +4.97 LEBRON (fifth), 9.4 wins added (sixth)
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year who’s received three
straight Third Team All-NBA selections carried forth his
consistency in 2021-22. Rudy Gobert glued together Utah’s shoddy
perimeter defense with elite pick-and-roll coverage and
rim-protection, ensuring the Jazz still finished 10th in DRTG.
Opponents shot 13.1% worse than their average
on attempts within 6 feet of the hoop against Gobert. That number
doesn’t even include the assortment of looks he dissuaded
altogether from his domineering presence.
Utah experimented more with its ball-screen defense this season,
having Gobert switch, trap or show periodically — and the big man
fared pretty well in those situations. As a drop defender, his
positioning, length and agility are remarkable. Nobody performed in
drop coverage better. His short-area quickness for a 7-foot-1
center is astonishing.
By no means did Gobert spearhead the Jazz’s top-ranked offense,
but it certainly wouldn't have reached those heights without his
rarified finishing (~ 77% at the rim), roll gravity and
space-chiseling picks. He ties together much of their efforts and
punctuates many possessions in some form. His screening often
completely neutralizes point-of-attack defenders, and provides
ball-handlers a vacant runway to the paint.
Gobert is just damn good. He’s among the league’s preeminent
defenders and a wonderfully complementary offensive player. That
was once again the case this season.
Because this season was
overflowing with talent, Nekias, Mark and I also included a fourth
team for our honorable mentions. I won’t go into detail about each
player, but we wanted to publicize those players who just missed
the cut, enjoyed stellar campaigns and certainly have a case for
Chris Paul, Guard
Season stats: 65 games, 2,139 minutes, 14.7 points, 10.8
assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 58.1% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.8 EPM (12th), 11.4 estimated wins added
(16th), +3.56 LEBRON (11th), 8.0 wins added (12th)
Donovan Mitchell, Guard
Season stats: 67 games, 2,266 minutes, 25.9 points, 5.3
assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 57.2% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.1 EPM (20th), 10.9 estimated wins added
(18th), +2.07 LEBRON (39th), 6.4 wins added (32nd)
Zach LaVine, Forward
Season stats: 67 games, 2,328 minutes, 24.4 points, 4.6
rebounds, 4.5 assists, 60.5% True Shooting (.476/.389/.853
Advanced stats: +2.6 EPM (54th), 8.8 estimated wins added
(31st), +0.73 LEBRON (106th), 4.6 wins added (62nd)
Jimmy Butler, Forward
Season stats: 57 games, 1,931 minutes, 21.4 points, 5.9
rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 59.2% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +4.5 EPM (15th), 9.8 estimated wins added
(23rd), +3.61 LEBRON (10th), 7.20 wins added (21st)
Bam Adebayo, Center
Season stats: 56 games, 1,825 minutes, 19.1 points, 10.1
rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 60.8% True Shooting
Advanced stats: +3.9 EPM (22nd), 8.5 estimated wins added
(36th), +2.54 LEBRON (30th), 5.6 wins added (42nd)