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NBA considering dropping positions from All-NBA

Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid in Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets boxes out Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half at the Wells Fargo Center on March 14, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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76ers center Joel Embiid finished second in MVP voting each of the last two years. But because another center – Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic – has won the award both seasons, Embiid has been relegated to the All-NBA second team .

Which didn’t sit well with many people.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is giving a “fair amount of consideration” to removing positional requirements from All-NBA voting.


I think we are a league that has moved increasingly toward positionless basketball, and the current system may result in some inequities based on the happenstance of what your position is.

The NBA is not positionless. Most players still fit into a fairly defined position. The problem is the positions the league uses for All-NBA – two guards, two forwards and a center – are antiquated. Now, teams typically deploy a point guard, two wings, a forward (who might be another wing or more of a big) and a center.

Two centers can’t make the All-NBA first team without voters fudging positions. However, two point guards often make the All-NBA first team.

Maybe the latter isn’t a problem. Teams sometimes make their best perimeter player into a point guard even if he would’ve been a shooting guard or maybe a small forward in a prior era. See James Harden and, to a lesser degree, Luka Doncic. Allowing two point guards onto the first team even while teams typically use only at a time better reflects the league’s talent dispersal.

But if two point guards can make the All-NBA first team, why not two centers?

Right now: Because the league says so.

That not might not remain the case, though Silver said he’d consult the National Basketball Players Association on the issue.

He definitely must involve the union on the other common complaint about All-NBA – that it determines super-max eligibility. That was agreed upon by owners and players in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


Right now we agreed with the Players Association to use those designations to trigger certain bonuses in players’ contracts, frankly because we couldn’t come up with a better way that would feel objective to everyone involved. I think we all recognize that doing it on a pure stats basis or just using analytics, there would be unfairness there, because it doesn’t pick up the intangibles. Certainly, I don’t think anyone wanted the league office to do it. And we came up with this proxy for the media to do it.

I understand from a player’s standpoint, saying, “Can’t believe the media has been given this power over me.” I will say, when you have a hundred media members essentially on the panel, it seems to work its way out. We are going to discuss that with the players and sit down once again and see if there’s a better way to do it.

Silver is right: A purely statistical requirement or the league office deciding would be worse ways to determine super-max eligibility.

But there is another way: Remove the eligibility requirements altogether. Let teams and players be free to negotiate who gets super-max deals. The team-wide limits on the number of super-max contracts could remain in place. But teams could decide for themselves when a player is worthy.

Of course, I’m not sure owners or players collectively want that.

Owners want protection from marginal players demanding the super-max. All-NBA criteria creates a hard limit.

Similarly, rank-and-file players want to limit the amount of money going to stars because that leaves more for everyone else. In the NBA’s system, owners and players share revenue roughly 50-50. With that agreed upon, players must determine how to divide their share. A large majority of players – who each get one vote in their union – have virtually no chance of ever securing a super-max contract.

In terms of fairness, the All-NBA requirement is flawed. I – and I believe many voters – view All-NBA as for the players who had the best regular season. But sometimes teams have other priorities – namely, the playoffs. That leaves players who’ve proven their value in the postseason but didn’t have an elite regular season in the right year – like Klay Thompson, Jayson Tatum – shorthanded.

But again, this isn’t about fairness. It’s finding about a system that a majority of owners and majority of players both believe serves their interests.