HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The 15 players selected to the All-NBA team every season earn a place in NBA lore that is rarely celebrated the way fans do All-Star bids.
Weighing the two, however, is a battle that shouldn’t be a fair fight. An All-star nod is often based on reputation and how well someone is playing early in a given season. The All-NBA team measures the best of the very best the league has to offer in a season. The team consists of the 15 best players (by position) in the league.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
Thursday, the NBA released this year’s squad. But what about the future? What might that team look like in say, three seasons, when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, stalwarts on All-NBA teams the past two decades, are no longer active?
What is the makeup of the All-NBA team in the future? What does the league look like three seasons from now?
We take a look, courtesy of the HT (Hang Time) Time Machine, at the future All-NBA Teams …
All-NBA First Team
F LeBron James, Miami Heat: No one was sure if LeBron would stick around South Beach after the Heat won those back-to titles in 2014 and 2015. But he watched his good friend Dwyane Wade retire after the last one and vowed to finish his career in a Heat uniform as well. There are no signs of his skills diminishing either. He bounced back masterfully after the Heat were beaten soundly by the Memphis Grizzlies in The Finals in 2013. James has reinvented himself as the epitome of a point forward during the second act of his Hall-of-Fame career, leading the league in assists this season with 12.7 per game. He’s still chasing Michael Jordan‘s six championships standard, though the comparisons to Magic Johnson are much more appropriate, and at 32 he still has plenty of time left.
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers: Three straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals without a breakthrough performance would be a mental and emotional setback for most stars, but not George. He’s done nothing but build on that All-Star berth in his third NBA season. George has blossomed into the closest thing to a legitimate challenger to LeBron’s throne. He interrupted LeBron’s MVP flow in 2015, when he stunned the hoops world by averaging a triple-double (24.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 10.0 assists) while leading the Pacers to a franchise-record 63 wins and finished as the MVP runner-up this season. The only threshold left for George to cross is to lead the Pacers past LeBron and the Heat into The 2016 Finals.
C Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: Gasol served as the backbone for the Grizzlies’ 2013 championship team, though Zach Randolph walked away with Finals MVP honors, and solidified his status as the most complete big man in the game with his performance each season since. While he’s never piled up the kind of impressive numbers that would allow him to stick out historically among players at his position, Gasol does have three Kia Defensive Player of the Year awards on his mantle and a championship on his resume. If Ed Davis can replace Randolph as Gasol’s tag-team partner in the low post, the Grizzlies could have another run or two in them before it’s time to break this veteran crew up and start over.
G James Harden, Houston Rockets: The two-time (and counting) scoring champ, Harden has supplanted his former teammate and friend Kevin Durant as the league’s most prolific scorer. He’s averaged 30 or more points in three straight seasons, including this one (31.7) and has led the Rockets to the playoffs in each of his four seasons in Houston. Harden has evolved into more than just a scorer, too, leading the Rockets in assists (7.6) and steals (2.3) while adjusting to playing alongside Patrick Beverly in the starting lineup instead of sixth man Jeremy Lin. Harden’s career went to another level since he radically changed his look in training camp before the 2013-14 season by shaving off his trademark beard and mohawk in favor of a bald head and clean-shaven face. Who knew?
G Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors: With his ankle injuries behind him, the sweet-shooting Curry finally claims the first-team spot from Chris Paul and a crowded, star-studded point guard field. Curry’s work as a shooter — he’s shot 45 percent or better from beyond the 3-point line every season since 2011-12 — overshadows the fact that he’s become the consummate playmaker and leader for the league’s most exciting team. Curry put together a 20-10 season at the point (23.6 points and 10.4 assists), the only point guard to do so in the past three seasons, while leading the Warriors to a top four finish in the Western Conference playoff chase for the third straight season. With Curry and Klay Thompson (still the league’s best-shooting backcourt) as the catalysts, the Warriors are trying to crash the conference finals party.
All-NBA Second Team
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: Durant and the Thunder never have recovered from that deflating 2013 playoff fizzle after Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury. Durant and Westbrook remain two of the league’s most striking talents and they’ve been super productive. But the supporting cast issues have continued to be an issue in Oklahoma City. The Thunder haven’t advanced beyond the conference semifinals since then. Durant has finished in the top three in the scoring race in each of the past seven seasons, losing out this year in a tight race with his friend and ex-Thunder teammate, Harden. Durant’s famous “I’m tired of finishing second” diatribe from a few years ago won’t go away this season.
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: Maybe it wasn’t all Chris Paul after all. Griffin’s continued work on his low-post game has paid serious dividends for the Clippers since they made that blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics for Rajon Rondo and the now-retired warriors Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce at the trade deadline in 2014. Griffin refocused himself defensively and as a rebounder, averaging 22.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and a surprising 2.1. blocks in earning another All-Star nod. Clippers coach Brian Shaw (as well as team president Phil Jackson) have had a huge impact on Griffin’s reconstruction of his game. Garnett’s influence certainly helped, too. Griffin learned some lessons from his playoff battles the past five years with the Grizzlies as well.
C DeMarcus Cousins, Boston Celtics: Cousins is the latest in a long line of big men whose careers have been bolstered by playing alongside the maestro, Paul, one of the greatest point guards and leaders of his generation. Cousins was in danger of playing himself out of the league in Sacramento, where his attitude and antics overshadowed his All-Star talent and potential. But joining forces with Paul and Celtics coach Doc Rivers on a revamped Celtics roster after the Big 3 era ended saved him. Cousins has been a (mostly) model citizen in Boston, bruising his way to a 20.9-point, 13.4-rebounds, 2.1-block season for a team that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
G Chris Paul, Boston Celtics: Wherever Paul goes, the fortunes of his team seem to rise. He did it in New Orleans … and with the Clippers … and is doing it with the Celtics, who stopped their decline with that blockbuster trade with the Clippers at the trade deadline two and a half years ago. Paul has avoided the nagging injury issues that plagued him earlier in his career and has helped rescuscitate the careers of both Cousins and former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, who have formed a dynamic inside-out big man duo for one of the best teams in the league. Paul did it all for the Celtics this season, averaging 18.4 points, 9.3 assists and 2.3 steals, while also shooting a career-best 44.2 percent from 3-point range.
G Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: That extra help Irving and the Cavaliers hoped would come in the free-agent summer of 2014 never came. LeBron decided to stay in Miami and the Cavaliers were forced to forge ahead with a backcourt of Irving and Dion Waiters and All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who demanded that trade from Portland two years ago and got it. Irving is still fighting the injury issues that cost him all but a few games at Duke and more in his first few seasons in the league. In fact, he’s played just 68.5 games per season in his career. But when he’s out there, it’s an absolute showcase. He captured MVP honors in the 2016 All-Star Game, dazzling the crowd in Paris the same way he does crowds in NBA arenas. The next step? Taking the Cavaliers into the league’s elite.
All-NBA Third Team
F Kevin Love, Los Angeles Lakers: Love wasn’t the big man Lakers fans had in mind to bridge the gap between the Kobe Bryant era and the future. But no one’s complaining now. Love is in the middle of the storm for a team that surprised everyone this season by making the playoffs with a young point guard, Trey Burke, and a high-flying future All-Star in Andrew Wiggins assuming huge roles on a rebuilt team. The Love-for-Pau Gasol trade was a gamble for the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, as both teams were in need of the right fit for their respective needs. The ex-UCLA star Love is averaging 24.3 points and 13.6 rebounds for the Lakers, who have slugged their way back into the playoffs. The Timberwolves are still in Lottery-land.
F Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz: Favors has been on a steady climb since moving into a starting role for the Jazz after Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap departed the premises during the free-agent summer of 2013. A no-frills performer who avoids the media glare at every turn, Favors has a hard time doing the same on the court. The league’s leading rebounder in each of the past two seasons (15.3 this season), Favors also averaged 16.3 points, 3.4 blocks and 1.9 steals for a Jazz team that battled all the way down to the last week of the season for the eighth and final spot in the West. He finished third in the voting for the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award and is living up to the hype that suggests he might be a young Dwight Howard.
C Dwight Howard, Dallas Mavericks: Howard got what he wanted in free agency in 2013 — a fresh start in Dallas. Playing alongside a slowing Dirk Nowitzki has forced Howard into a leadership role for the Mavericks that he struggled with in his one season with the Lakers and at the end of his tenure with the Magic. There are those who will argue that Howard is still the best big man in the game when healthy, but he has never quite regained the edge he had before that back surgery that marked the end of his time in Orlando. And truth be told, he has simply been passed up by Gasol and Cousins. Still, he averaged 18.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for a Mavericks team that won 50 games for the first time since their 2010-11 championship season.
G Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers: Holiday’s work as both a scorer and facilitator helped separate him from a crowded field of point guards. The Sixers All-Star is also a relentless defender, arguably the best defensive point guard in the league, and has matured considerably since making his first All-Star team in 2013. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Holiday has evolved into one of the best physical specimens in the league at any position. Unlike almost every other player on this list, Holiday doesn’t have the luxury of playing alongside another (former or current) All-Star. He averaged 23.2 points, 9.5 assists and 5.6 rebounds this season, leading the Sixers in the first two categories and finishing third in rebounds. The quintessential combo-guard, Holiday can thrive at either spot.
G Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Lillard, the 2013 Kia Rookie of the Year award winner, has only gotten better since then. He’s averaged 19 or more points in every season and watched his scoring average rise with every new campaign. He averaged 24.7 points, 8.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds this year. Most impressive, however, is Lillard’s improved shooting stroke. A 43 percent shooter as a rookie, 36.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line, Lillard shot 49 percent this season, including 43 percent from deep. Mature beyond his years, even as a rookie, Lillard is the face of a Trail Blazers franchise that got back in the thick of the playoff chase again this season after a four-year hiatus. Where they go from here will depend heavily on where Lillard can take them.