Denver’s Nikola Jokic was the runaway MVP this season, which made it a virtual certainty that he would also be an All-NBA first-team selection.
Here’s the rarity: The MVP runner-up was not a first-team selection.
Jokic headlined the All-NBA first team that was unveiled Tuesday night, but Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — who was second in the MVP race — only made the second team. Jokic and Embiid are primarily centers, in the eyes of most voters, and that meant they were vying for that position on the first team.
The rest of the first team: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (the only unanimous first-team selection) and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard at forward, along with Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Dallas’ Luka Doncic at guard.
The second team picks, along with Embiid at center, were the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and New York’s Julius Randle at forward, plus Portland’s Damian Lillard and Phoenix’s Chris Paul at guard.
And the third team selections: Utah’s Rudy Gobert at center, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and Washington’s Bradley Beal at guard, and Miami’s Jimmy Butler and the Clippers’ Paul George at forward.
“I am humbled and honored,” Beal said.
The All-NBA voting still classifies by position — with two guards, two forwards and a center on each of the three teams — in a league that has gone increasingly positionless. There are 15 players on the final list, which essentially breaks down to the top six guards, top six forwards and top three centers, not necessarily the best 15 players.
And the MVP award has no positional breakdown. Voters choose five players; positions don’t matter. For All-NBA, a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league serve as the selectors.
It was the first time since 1994-95 that the MVP runner-up wasn’t a first-team selection; it was a collision of two centers for one spot that season as well, with MVP David Robinson getting the first-team nod and runner-up Shaquille O’Neal winding up as the second-team center pick.
There have been similar examples before, and even four instances — albeit none under the current voting format — of the MVP not making the All-NBA first team. It happened to Bill Russell in 1958, 1961 and 1962, and then to Dave Cowens in 1973.
Blake Griffin was third in the MVP voting in 2013-14; he was also second-team All-NBA that year because he finished behind Kevin Durant and James — the top two MVP votegetters — in the voting for the two forward spots.
The same thing happened to Carmelo Anthony in 2012-13; he was third in the MVP race, behind James and Durant, and was second-team All-NBA as well because they took the two slots at forward. Alonzo Mourning had a similar fate in 1999-2000; he was third in the MVP race, but just second-team All-NBA at center because he was behind O’Neal, that season’s MVP.
Making All-NBA represents a big payday for Doncic, who is now eligible to sign an extension worth about $201 million this summer — a raise of about $33 million over what his max contract value would have been without this All-NBA nod.
But it also was a big hit for players like Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, both of whom could have seen the rookie extensions they agreed to last year rise by $33 million in total value, from $163 million for five years to $196 million.
Tatum actually got more votes than Irving, but Irving made the third team because of the positional breakdown. Irving was sixth among guards in the voting; Tatum was seventh among forwards.
RETURNEES FROM 2020
Doncic and Antetokounmpo were the only first-team picks from last season to be first-teamers again this season. Lillard made All-NBA for the fourth consecutive season, the last three of those coming with him as a second-team pick.
Jokic, Paul and Leonard were second-team selections last season, while Butler was a third-team pick for the second consecutive year and fourth time in five seasons. Paul becomes the 24th player in NBA history to make at least 10 All-NBA teams.
Gobert also made the third team for the third consecutive year, his fourth All-NBA nod overall.
James was third team last season, and his streak now includes 13 first-team selections, three second-team nods and the third-team appearance in 2020. He becomes the first 17-time All-NBA player; Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan were all 15-time picks.
THE NEW FACES
Randle and Beal were the only first-time selections on the All-NBA teams this season.
Curry wasn’t All-NBA last season after missing basically the entire year with injuries; this became his seventh All-NBA nod of his career.
George returned to All-NBA for the first time in three years. Embiid and Irving are back after missing out the teams last season.
HE’S NOT BACK
All-NBA players from last season who didn’t make any of the three teams this season: the Lakers’ Anthony Davis (first-team in 2020), Brooklyn’s James Harden (first-team in 2020 for Houston) and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam (second-team in 2020).