There are six spots in total. Can Lowry or DeRozan have one? Can they have it?

Despite their last second playoff elimination at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, 2013-14 was a tremendously successful season for the Toronto Raptors. They set a new franchise-record in wins at 48, captured their second-ever division crown, and pushed a veteran-savvy Nets team to the brink of elimination. I’m currently in the process of writing an extremely wordy eulogy of the season, so if you would like to wax poetic, do so here, here, or here.

The team was led by a pair of guards in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry who both enjoyed breakout seasons. For DeRozan, it was a case of development and hard-work meeting opportunity. For Lowry, he stayed healthy and focused which allowed him to actualize his potential. DeRozan was named to the All-Star team as a reserve, while Lowry was narrowly edged out by Joe Johnson. The pairing ranked among the league’s best, despite John Wall’s claims to the contrary.

However, were their heroics sufficient to garner a spot on an All-NBA roster?

Let’s quickly review the voting process. The award is voted upon by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. They are instructed to fill out a full ballot of three teams consisting of two guards, two forwards and one center per team. Voters are also encouraged to only cast votes for players in the position they normally play (so no DeRozan as a forward, for example). First team votes count for 5 points, second for 3 and third counts for 1. The five highest totals form the first team, the next five for the second, and the remainder for the third team. Votes are cast prior to the post-season, meaning the award is solely based on regular season accomplishments.

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Three teams with two guard spots each leaves six spots in total. However, three spots are all but guaranteed for Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and James Harden.

Paul missed 20 games due to injury, so he’ll likely fall into the second team. He averaged 19.1 points, 10.1 assists, 2.5 steals while posting a 58.0 TS%. He led the league in both assists and steals per game. His Clippers won 57 games in the Western Conference. Simply put, he was tremendous, and had he played the entire season, he would be a lock for the first team.

Stephen Curry is also guaranteed a spot. His Warriors finished with a record of 51-31 while Curry led his team in scoring (23.1) and assists (8.4). He was Golden State’s only reliable scorer and the team’s best playmaker. Most impressively, he was able to score both efficiently, and in high volume. He posted a true-shooting percentage of 61.0%, which ranked just below the likes of LeBron James (64.9) and Kevin Durant (63.5).

Finally, although fans love to throw shade on his admitted abhorrent defense, James Harden is absolutely deserving of a first or second team spot. The Rockets won 54 games playing in the incredibly difficult Southwest Division (seriously, Spurs, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Rockets all made the playoffs). Harden averaged 24.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while scoring at a rate of 61.8 TS%.

Paul, Harden and Curry’s dominance leaves three spots left for an impressive crop of players. I’ve lumped the contenders into groupings.

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The Former Winners

Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker have all found themselves on the list in the past. Wade leads the pack with 8 selections while Parker and Westbrook are tied with 3 appearances apiece. All three players have established brands and hail from the league’s elite teams. Luckily for Raptors fans, they missed significant portions of the season due to injury which hurts their cause. Wade missed 28, Parker missed 14 and Westbrook missed 36 games.

The Nike/Adidas All-Stars

John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are on television every single day and not just during their games. Wall and Lillard are signed with Adidas, while Irving is in Nike’s camp. John Wall listens to Lady Gaga while shopping for Beats by Dre, Kyrie Irving is Uncle Drew, while Lillard has “No Rings“, but over $100 million reasons to smile. They might not be household names, but the increased awareness has certainly boosted their popularity. For example, despite Irving’s lackluster season, he was still voted as the starting point guard in the Eastern Conference for this year’s All-Star game. Each player has their merits, that’s without a doubt, but their public profile gives them an edge in popularity.

The Unknowns

This is where we find DeRozan and Lowry. They were vital to their teams’ success, but lack a #brand. This list also includes Goran Dragic, Mike Conley and perhaps even Isaiah Thomas. Dragic’s breakout year in Phoenix didn’t go unnoticed, as he was named the Most Improved Player and DeRozan was voted to the All-Star team. Aside from that, there aren’t any big commercials or awards on their resumes. They only have the stats to back-up their cases.

The 7-Time All-Stars

You can never count out Joe Johnson, amirite Raptors fans?

Statistical Profile

Given the names listed above, Lowry and DeRozan have plenty of opposition. However, based on on-court statistical production alone, there is a case to be made for either of them (but mostly Lowry, as Braedon Clark of Raptors HQ outlined). The data was pulled from basketball-reference. I color coded the tiles to give a relative scale of their production. Green is good, red is bad. If anyone knows how to embed a table with Tableau software, please let me know (email: [email protected]).

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Based on just the numbers alone, Lowry has a good case. He battled through a spate of injuries and played almost the entire season. Aside from raw per-game scoring, he ranked above average in just about every category. He also boasts the fourth-highest win shares total (a testament to his health). Most importantly, Lowry’s defense factors in as a plus. In addition to leading the league in charges taken, Lowry was a central figure in one of the league’s 10-best defenses.

Lowry’s closest competitors are likely Dragic, Lillard, Parker, Conley and Wall. Dragic is a worthy competitor, and if you want to put him over Lowry, I’d be totally fine with that. Lillard played on a better team and was ridiculously clutch, but his defense is on-par with Harden’s, which is to say it’s a significant negative. Conley fits a similar profile as Lowry in that he’s a good two-way player, but he missed more games and I’d argue his supporting cast was much better (Marc Gasol is a top-15 player IMO). Wall doesn’t have much of a case over Lowry, as his team performed worse and he scored less efficiently (midrange jumpers will do that). Had he played an entire season, I would have Parker over Lowry, but he missed a bunch of time and the Spurs didn’t miss a single beat without him. That’s not to say that he’s not fantastic, as I think the world of Parker, he just wasn’t as productive in my mind.

DeRozan falls more into the middle of the back. He scored less efficiently than Lowry, but his function in the offense was entirely different, which makes comparing aggregate statistics between positions a futile task. He got to the free-throw line a tonne, and despite his defensive shortcomings, he did lead the Raptors in scoring. However, given the names on the list, he falls short in my mind. Also, there is no way two Raptors should be on the list. If I had to pick one, I’m going with Lowry.

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Having said all that, merit and statistical production isn’t everything. Narratives, star-power and team performance also matters. In an ideal world, voters would make decisions with clarity and full knowledge of each player’s candidacy, but they’re not. For the most part, they’re like everyone else — they’re lazy, so they rely on heuristics.

If voters rely too heavily on heuristics, Lowry’s case is diminished. He doesn’t have much name recognition and he has a poor reputation around the league. The former also applies to DeRozan.

Contrast them to Wall, for example. Wall was drafted with the first overall pick, so he’s expected to be good. He’s also incredibly athletic, which makes him flashy. Thunderous dunks and superhuman quickness tends to leave a bigger impression than charges drawn. Pair that with his All-Star selection, and Washington’s best season in years. The narratives surrounding Wall’s coronation easily tops that of Lowry for DeRozan’s.

The same applies for players like Parker and Lillard. Parker is a central figure to the Spurs, who led the league in wins last season. Obviously, he needs to make it. Meanwhile, Lillard’s case is almost exactly the same as Wall’s. Game winners and incessant television commercials have a way of making legitimate defensive shortcomings disappear (except in Harden’s case).

I’m inclined to be cynical, so I don’t expect Lowry or DeRozan to beat the odds. I think the Wall will likely sneak in ahead of Lowry for the reasons listed above. If the voters are anything like me, they filled out the ballot with only a nary glance at basketball-reference. I could be wrong, but I’m not holding my breath either. It’s also entirely possible that the Raptors votes are split between the two.

My Ballot

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  • johng_3

    1st team
    Guards: CP3, Curry
    Forwards: Lebron, Durant
    Center: Noah

    2nd team
    Guards: Harden, Dragic
    Forward: Griffin, Aldridge
    Center: Howard

    3rd team
    Guards: Lowry, Parker
    Forwards: Love, George
    Center: Anthony Davis

  • noname

    I’d put Lillard at
    second, slide lowry to 3rd, and kick out parker for the reasons you stated he
    may not be on the team. Even if Lillard’s defense isn’t great, you can’t
    discredit how he basically carried that Blazers team.

    • DDayLewis

      What’s your case for Lillard over Lowry?

      • noname

        well I thought it would be kinda self explanatory if you watched the blazers but here goes…he is waaaaaay more clutch than Lowry which is really suprising considering his age and level of experience compared to lowry, he is a better shooter and overall scorer than lowry while lowry is a better facilitator. Lowry is a better defender but if you look at it this way, lowry has only been consistent for half a year after 7 and a half years of being a jerk and an inconsistent player. Lillard shows up in the Nba and shows consistency and humbleness from the get go, plus he’s young and has a lot of room to improve (but that doesn’t count in all-nba consideration I was just pointing that out). If I could pick between lowry and Lillard, I’d pick Lillard. With that being said, I still am happy that we have lowry.

        • DDayLewis

          I watched about a dozen Blazers games this season, and just about every Raptors game. It’s not readily apparent that either player was more productive based on just the eye-test alone.

          Lowry and Lillard’s true shooting percentage was nearly identical and their PPG averages aren’t off by much. Also, the Raptors had far fewer quality offensive players than the Blazers. It’s one thing to have a tremendous scorer like LaMarcus Aldridge on the team and a pair of floor spacers in Matthews, Batum. It’s another to have cramped spacing playing alongside John Salmons and Tyler Hansbrough.

          Defense matters, and they’re worlds apart on defense. Lillard had to be hidden on defense against tough matchups. Lowry never needed to someone else to cover for him. It’s a category that heavily favors Lowry, which is why I pegged Lowry ahead of Lillard.

          The award is for this season’s contributions. Their histories shouldn’t matter. Almost everyone would pick Lillard over Lowry going forward, but that’s not a point in Lillard’s favor for this year’s award.

          • noname

            well, the fact that Lillard has more go to players on his team proves how Lowry is a better facilitator…but I think Lowry’s defense is starting to get a little overrated. He still gambles and has it bite him in the ass (although not as often as the past), and he still gets blown by on isolations when guarding quick point guards. But even then, I guess he’s still better than Lillard on defense.

    • johng_3

      You can’t discredit Lowry for carrying this team to the playoffs. And plus he has an All-NBA PF beside him in Aldridge and a top 5-7 SF in Batum. Its not like he is carrying so crap team

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  • LawrenceTalbot

    One man’s opinion:

    1st team:
    Guards: Curry, Dragic (best all-around guard in the league this seasons; good at everything, dragged a crap team to within a game of the playoffs)
    Forwards: Lebron, Durant
    Center: Ehhhhh….. Noah (only because of how much time Gasol missed)

    2nd team:
    Guards: Paul, Lowry
    Forwards: Griffin, Aldridge
    Center: Marc Gasol

    3rd team:
    Guards: Wade, Wall (Westbrook missed too much, Parker/Lillard/Harden all stink on D, Conley’s the third best player on his own team)
    Forwards: Love, Dirk
    Center: Dwight (underachieved, but dearth of competition)

    Biggest snub: Paul George. Melted down just a little too much in the second half of the season, failed in a leadership role.

  • Louvens Remy

    What’s wrong with you people? Carmelo Anthony is not all NBA???? I don’t understand it at all. He’s freaking way better than Paul George who everyone drools over but is just a glorified Rudy Gay with better defence. And stop it with the Pippen comparisons for him. Good god.

    • DDayLewis

      Melo was a tough omission. His Knicks being so dogshit really worked against him.

      • Louvens Remy

        What does his team have to do with an individual award?

        • DDayLewis

          Well in a vacuum, nothing. But the All-NBA teams, like most awards, have always carried a strong link to team success.

          • Louvens Remy

            There is no way. Well, maybe the inception of blogging. (jokes)

      • Louvens Remy

        He is one of the top ten best players in the world. He’s better than Paul George who somehow is smoke and mirroring everyone into thinking he’s Scottie Pippen. You say Melo’s team sucked then so does Kevin Love’s team, every freaking year he’s ever been in the league. You need to change your ballot. LOL

        • DDayLewis

          Love’s numbers > Melo’s numbers. Also, the Wolves were better than the Knicks.

          • Louvens Remy

            Melo should be one of the top 15 best players in the league based on his performance. Nothing to do with your team. It’s always the best players. This isn’t a list of the best 15 teams. I would change Paul George for Melo.

          • Louvens Remy

            Melo 27.4 PPG 8RBs, 40% from 3, 85% FT is not on any all NBA teams? What the hell is wrong with writers that write for the NBA? I watch a lot of basketball but it becomes somewhat of a groupthink when clearly one of the 10 best players is ignored in favour of the flavour of the year (Paul George). Basically, Paul George’s first month of play catapulted him to superstar status. No one seemed to want to correct the fact that he was just OK, the rest of the year. Save his defence.

            • DDayLewis

              Melo is one of the best players in the league, and if you want him in over a guy like Paul George, feel free. I value team performance in the award, and even with that in mind, it was still hard to omit Melo.

  • Louvens Remy

    People need to do themselves a favour and just go look at Rudy Gay’s stats and then compare them to Paul George. Let’s stop making that guy into something he is not. He’s not a superstar even though we so badly want him to be. He’s really good but not heaps better then we all make him out to be.
    Great dunker though.

    • DDayLewis

      People can differ on how much they like something.

  • Devon Corbliss

    Explain how “Wall doesn’t have much of a case over Lowry, as his team performed worse
    and he scored less efficiently (midrange jumpers will do that)” But had more assists, points, steals, blocks, AND less turnovers. (“I’m a DC fan so I’m biased to be fair.) But I think it’s at least an arguable case, if not a good one.

    • DDayLewis

      He scored far less efficiently, committed nearly two times as many turnovers per game, the Raptors fared better and the Raptors had less offensive weapons as compared to the Wizards.

      It’s not a wide gulf between the two players, but it’s enough where I’d firmly have Lowry over him. Managing possessions is extremely important.