The league announced the members of its 2019 All-NBA teams on Thursday. For the first time since 1997, no Spur received that honor. Both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been named to the second team last year, were left out this time around despite having similar numbers to the ones they posted last season.
It’s tempting to protest their exclusion, but unfortunately the league seemed to get it right. Both stars had cases to get a nod on the third team, with Aldridge’s being stronger, but ultimately they simply weren’t among the 15 best players in the league in the 2018/19 season.
DeRozan didn’t have the production or the narrative in his favor
I’m assuming DeRozan was listed as a guard despite spending a lot of time at small forward in San Antonio. Just going by the numbers, Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook were more productive than DeRozan this season. While he had a lower assist per game average that DeMar, Walker scored 25 points a game and actually had a slightly better assist percentage. He also got his buckets in a more efficient way. Westbrook, meanwhile, was painfully inefficient but averaged more points per game than DeRozan while leading the league in assists and finishing the season averaging a triple-double. DeMar’s numbers were good, but they just weren’t as impressive as the other two guys he was competing against. Since all three guards struggle with defense, production was paramount on this race.
Had DeRozan had a cool narrative driving his candidacy, he might have been able to overcome the edge the others had when it came to numbers. Unfortunately, he didn’t. For years his stats were suspected to be hollow, but team success allowed him to prevent the disdain analytically inclined critics had for him for years to fully reach the mainstream. With the Spurs having a mediocre season in which DeRozan again posted good numbers, but the team did better with him off the court, and with Kawhi Leonard proving to be an upgrade in Toronto, there was no heartwarming story surrounding DeMar’s season. There was one point earlier in the year when the Spurs were exceeding expectations, but it faded a bit down the stretch. Those who were skeptical about him being an elite player now had the proof they needed to leave him out of All-NBA, and they did.
It’s hard to argue with their reasoning. In fact, Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson probably had much better cases, and they were left out as well. The days of DeRozan making All-NBA teams might be over.
Aldridge’s defensive numbers doomed him against LeBron
Despite playing most of the season at center, voters considered LaMarcus Aldridge a forward, which probably hurt his chances. Instead of battling Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns for a spot, he had to split votes for third team with Blake Griffin and his monster of a season and the biggest star in the league. It’s not exactly a surprise that he didn’t come close to making it. He was doomed on name recognition alone, but the other guys also had solid cases to beat him. Not a lot of people noticed because he was in Detroit, but Griffin arguably had his best year as a pro. It’s impossible to argue with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists on efficient shooting while carrying a bad Pistons team to the playoffs. He did it all that while completely overhauling his game to help Detroit. Griffin was a lock, so Aldridge had to beat out LeBron James.
The numbers favored James, who on a down year somehow averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists on good percentages. He also carried the Lakers’ offense in a way Aldridge simply didn’t have to with the Spurs. LeBron defense was at times atrocious, but Aldridge’s wasn’t much better, going by the numbers. On his first year without solid defenders around him, the Spurs were almost six points better on that end when he sat: a massive improvement. The Lakers actually defended worse without LeBron. Pretty much every metric suggests that James’ overall positive impact was bigger than Aldridge’s.
The only two areas in which Aldridge has a case are availability and leadership. He did play around 700 more minutes and 26 more games than James (not to mention another 244 minutes in the playoffs, which LeBron missed), and he at least didn’t destroy the psyche of his young teammates. That has to count for something, but apparently not enough to tip the scales.
The only way Aldridge was going to beat James to an All-NBA spot was if voters decided to punish LeBron for missing time and not being a good leader to a young team. Ultimately, when the two were on the court, LeBron was simply better than LMA, which should not be a controversial statement.
The Spurs shouldn’t worry about All-NBA right now.
Spurs fans were used to having All-NBA performers, so the streak snapping probably feels ominous. In reality, it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: Aldridge and DeRozan are stars, but neither is one of the league’s few true elite players. Those are a prerequisite to contend, and San Antonio is lacking one now, which is completely fine.
The Spurs are reloading at the moment. They are not supposed to be true contenders yet. Hopefully they are already on their way to that point, but there’s a chance they still haven’t gotten their next All-NBA performer yet. Not having one now doesn’t mean they’ll never have one again, though. They landed the last two via trade, so they can do it again.
For now, Aldridge and DeRozan will keep the team competitive and will help the talented young core that is already in place continue to develop. We know for a fact that they can do that. Eventually the Spurs will likely have to move on from one or both of them before reaching contender status again, but those days are not here yet.