The NBA announced Thursday the league’s three All-NBA teams. Houston Rockets guard James Harden was the only player to be unanimously voted (100 votes) to the first-team. He was joined by Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.
Notable snubs nationally were Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Indiana’s Paul George, who lost out on a lot of potential money. Both players needed to make an All-NBA team in order to be eligible to receive the a “super-max” five-year, $207 million contract offer from their current teams.
Locally, the focus is on Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns finished 16th in voting with 50 total votes and a pair of first-team votes. This made him the first player left off the teams and left him four points shy of Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan — who landed on the third-team. Utah’s Rudy Gobert anchored the second-team.
Shortly after the announcement, Towns himself, retweeted this from his former Kentucky teammate Devin Booker.
So we're gonna pretend KAT wasn't suppose to be on any All-NBA?????
— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) May 18, 2017
Offensively, there is no comparison between Jordan and Towns. Towns became the league’s first player to ever score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and make 100 3-pointers in a single season. He finished the season averaging 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 83.2 percent at the free-throw line. Jordan averaged 12.7 points and 13.8 rebounds per game while shooting 71.4 percent from the field and just 48.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Jordan’s field goal percentage is greatly enhanced by easy dunks, while Towns attempted 275 3-pointers. Jordan attempted only 25 shots beyond five feet and made 11 of them.
There is no argument which player is better offensively. So why did Jordan receive four more votes than Towns? While some are suggesting their team’s win-loss total played a large role, it is more reasonable to point at the defensive ratings of the two players.
If win totals were such a big deal, Anthony Davis should not have been voted first team. His New Orleans Pelicans finished three games ahead of the Wolves with 34 wins. Davis produced similar offensive numbers to Towns but at a lower efficiency and missed seven games due to injuries. But again, his defensive numbers were much better than what Towns produced.
Looking at the defensive ratings of Jordan and Towns, there is a notable gap. Over 100 possessions, Towns gave up an estimated 110 points, compared to Jordan’s 102 points. Jordan’s 4.6 defensive win-shares topped KAT’s 2.8 by a decent margin. Most notably, Jordan’s 3.0 rating in defensive plus-minus was 10-times Towns’ rating of 0.3.
To argue that Towns’ offense is better than Jordan’s defense is certainly fair. As is arguing his defense is better than Jordan’s offense focused around alley-oops. You can also argue against Jordan saying his horrendous free-throw shooting makes him a liability late in games, because it does. Though, the fact of the matter is voters care a lot about defense. Then again, one voter voted Kawhi Leonard for third-team, so it’s hard to say what some voters were thinking.
For Towns, there is only so much he can control. If he improves his defense even just a little bit under head coach Tom Thibodeau, he probably will not have worry about being snubbed for the next decade.