The All-BDL Teams, or who we most appreciated watching in 2016-17

Yahoo Sports Staff
The BDL crew most enjoyed watching these five guys this season. (Thanks to Amber Matsumoto on the graphics)
The BDL crew most enjoyed watching these guys this season. (Thanks to Amber Matsumoto on the graphics)

Think of the All-BDL Team not as a trio of misguided All-NBA Teams, but the 15 guys we most enjoyed following throughout 2016-17. For basketball reasons and beyond, they’re just fun. They’re the league’s most fascinating characters, in our opinion, so keep that in mind if you can’t find your favorite player.

FIRST TEAM ALL-BDL

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: It’s somehow not enough to recap Westbrook’s season by noting that he averaged a triple-double. The real story of the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar’s 2016-17 was the righteous fury and ceaseless energy with which he put up those historic numbers. The departure of Kevin Durant last summer freed up Westbrook to become a fuller version of the strike-anywhere system of one his style has suggested for years. MVP or not, he was the dominant story of this regular season. — Eric Freeman

Giannis Antetokoumpo, Milwaukee Bucks: If Homer scripted the tale of a mythological Greek Freak who kept growing as he ascended the pantheon, with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, cross the battlefield in a handful of strides and possessing every skill he’d ever need to defeat an opponent, even the Iliad and Odyssey scribe would’ve broken his quill in half, crumpled up his parchment and slammed them into a ring of fire with the ferocity of an Antetokounmpo dunk. The jump shot may be Giannis’ Achilles heel, but when you can traverse the mid-range with one Euro-step from the 3-point line to the rim, it doesn’t matter. He’s a delight to watch, whether he’s opening the season with bad jokes or dropping step-back game-winners on Madison Square Garden. — Ben Rohrbach

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: It wasn’t just that Bill Walton’s career was cut short, it was that it was cut short in the worst possible era: unless you were local or had a swift sense memory when it came to catching the rare, nationally-televised game on rabbit ears, there wasn’t a lot of Walton tape to pass around. There wasn’t a lot of tape of anything to pass around, back then. The same went for Arvydas Sabonis, taken from us before he was ever given to us. Jokic was given to us last season, and yet it took nearly to 2016-17’s midpoint for us to appreciate him as something more than the super-entertaining guy with the brilliant per-minute stats. Promise to watch as much as you can, in 2017-18. — Kelly Dwyer

John Wall, Washington Wizards: If getting to run with LeBron is the dream job for an NBA-caliber shooter, a partnership with Wall can’t be far behind in that particular power ranking. The panic Wall induces in opposing defenses with his furious pace draws so much attention, creates so much space, and generates so many opportunities for smart dudes willing to run their lanes and stay ready for a pass that could be coming at any moment and from any angle. When he gets the ball and begins his burst to the basket, you can feel the chip on his shoulder — all those omissions from the lists of the league’s top three/five/whatever point guards, all those shrugs in the general direction of D.C. basketball — turn into a boulder rolling downhill, transforming one of the game’s premier tacticians into an unrestrained holy terror. It’s really, really fun to watch. — Dan Devine

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: There was no guarantee that Joel Embiid would play anything like a top prospect after two seasons on the shelf. Perhaps that’s what made his early-season success for the Sixers feel like some kind of cross between a revelation and a gift. Embiid transformed his team, turning a franchise that had become synonymous with not trying to win into one with an identifiable swagger. (Remember when there was even talk of Philadelphia making the playoffs?) Embiid’s midseason knee injury put a damper on all the optimism and served as a harsh reminder that his path to stardom is likely to be bumpy, but it arguably also imbued the 31 games he did play with more meaning. If only for a brief time, we got to see a thoroughly entertaining player do his thing. That’s worth celebrating, no matter how long it lasts. — Freeman

SECOND TEAM ALL-BDL

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: He really shouldn’t even be in the NBA. Not at 5-foot-9 (with heels on, maybe). Not as the last pick in the draft. Not as a castoff by the Sacramento Kings. Yet, here we are, and Thomas is defying everything we believed about basketball at its highest level. Seriously, guys that small aren’t supposed to be that good. He finished the season with more fourth-quarter points than anybody else in the league, firing dagger 3’s or carving his way through the trees, and he did it with the brashness of his buddy Floyd Mayweather, only with a little more humility off the court. It seems funny to see someone Tommy Heinsohn can’t stop calling “The Little Guy” scowl so hard and check his wrist to see if it’s “King of the Fourth” time, until you remember he’s for real. — Rohrbach

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: He beats you with pre-snap reads as he comes across half-court, the outcome decided three steps before you even realize the play’s started. He beats you off the bounce, from the block and — once again, after last year’s dip down below league-average — from beyond the arc. He’s a center now when he needs to be, the best playmaker in a league with an historic crop of all-time point guards, and still the best player in the world, Podoloff Trophy or no. Fourteen years later, it hasn’t gotten old. If anything, it’s only gotten more impressive. — Devine

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: The reigning back-to-back MVP didn’t match his historic 2016-17 stats, which registered less as a drop-off in form than a reminder that he set a standard no one may ever match again. Yet simply referring to Curry’s season as a return from an outlier does him a disservice. The joy of watching Curry this season wasn’t just that he still made lots of 3’s, but that he adjusted to his new reality so effectively. He navigated shooting slumps, found new ways to drive and finish at the rim, and generally reminded us that his norm-breaking shooting is just one manifestation of what really makes him special — his craftiness and creativity. — Freeman

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: It took me a while to understand why I find Irving’s flat-Earth theory so fascinating, but I think it’s because his basketball skills are so damn otherworldly. Hear me out. He’s got the NBA’s best handles — a mesmerizing display of spins, crossovers and escape artistry — and he’s an absolute killer, as evidenced by him following up one of the greatest shots in NBA history to win the 2016 Finals for Cleveland with yet another game-winner against the Warriors on Christmas. I don’t know how he does it. He probably doesn’t even know how he does it, which is why I like to imagine him pondering stuff like a flat Earth in a quest to figure it all out. — Rohrbach

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: If anyone was destined to play the martyr, it would be Kawhi, yet it is to his and the NBA’s great credit that nobody would buy that act. In what might be his best chance at an MVP season, Leonard might fall out of the top three or even four or five in some ballots, partially due to the cribbing his stats took after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich limited him to 33 minutes per game again. Those stats are at 25.5 points, 5.8 boards and 2.5 combined blocks/steals, by the way, and you haven’t had this much fun watching someone play defense since Scottie Pippen. — Dwyer

You can always rely on Kawhi Leonard for an incendiary quote after a big game.

A post shared by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Mar 28, 2017 at 10:45am PDT

THIRD TEAM ALL-BDL

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Only Kyle Lowry could remind us that it is sometimes best to find relief through pain, as the man was certainly due a nap by the time he was ruled out for several weeks due to a bum wrist in February. When any other midseason injury setback hits, especially when one daunts the prospect of a championship contender, worry and woe set in as we count down the weeks toward a best-case scenario. For Lowry, the guy that has shouldered so much for a Raptors team that always seems to run a bit short in the playoffs, the time off felt like as big a prize for Toronto as the addition of big forward Serge Ibaka. His fine play upon return (17.2 points on 48 percent shooting, 7.7 assists in 33 minutes a game, all wins) has us giddy. — Dwyer

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: I like that the NBA’s best team has a legit wrestling heel at power forward. I like that he treats defense like offense, turning ball denial, passing lane interruption, perimeter sliding and rim protection into the stuff of highlight reels. I like that he seems to derive nearly as much pleasure from setting up his big dudes — once Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, now JaVale McGee — for alley-oop dunks as he does from getting buckets on his own. Draymond’s so good at what he does that he can shoot 42 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point land and still be worth an All-NBA spot; on a team featuring two of the most gifted offensive players in recent history and arguably the purest shooter ever, he always finds ways to command your attention. (For better or, y’know.) — Devine

Dion Waiters, Miami Heat: There’s confidence, there’s irrational confidence and then there’s Dion Waiters confidence. Much-maligned during his stints as an afterthought on the LeBron/Kyrie Cavs and Durant/Westbrook Thunder, Waiters lived out his superstar dream in Miami as only Dion could, delivering a lifetime supply of daggers in wins over Golden State and Cleveland, among others, transforming into a human meme of confidence in celebration, either forgetting his favorite quote or borrowing one from Kobe Bryant afterward, and announcing a quest to become Miami’s next Dwyane Wade. The Heat were quietly one of the league’s best stories this season, thanks in large part to Waiters, and his late-season ankle injury robbed us of more Dion fun in the playoffs. — Rohrbach

Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers/Houston Rockets: I love Lou Williams because he is the same in every situation. He’ll come off the bench, take a minimum of 12 shots, make decisions with little regard for efficiency, and probably get fouled on at least one 3-pointer. Did you know he’s been in the league since 2005? He is forever young, and I would believe that he and Jamal Crawford have a relationship similar to that of Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery in “Highlander.” — Freeman

Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz: The sportswriter script too often denigrates the player the writer is charged with celebrating, and you run the risk in clumsily demeaning the talents of a person prior to championing the narrative. Even by acknowledging as much, as we just did, you push too close to the uneasy traits that usually dot these breakdowns. Joe Ingles never leaves me uneasy, because when I watch him I’m reminded that I’m watching the Jazz. That every angle (with this team) has been considered, even if the opponent beats Ingles or a teammate to the spot while they attempt to defend. Watching Joe Ingles on an island, defensively, against some of the league’s greats in 2016-17 has been a delight. Offensively? Let’s remember that the greatest fun will always be driving a slow car, quickly. — Dwyer

ALSO RECEIVING VOTES

The official 2016-17 All-BDL ballots.
The official 2016-17 All-BDL ballots.

Thanks for following in 2016-17. Hope you had as much fun as we did. Let us know who’s on your list of dudes you most appreciated watching this season, and stay tuned for our ongoing playoff previews …

MORE NBA COVERAGE:

Four Corners: Our inarguable 2016-17 All-NBA teams and awards ballots
2017 NBA Playoffs: The full schedule for all 8 first-round matchups