It’s about that time of the year again. It’s time to announce the most important All-NBA squad, a lineup composed of the most unusual players who led a team in time on the floor.
I started this because guys like LeBron James and James Harden are likely to lead their respective teams in total minutes, but there will be players who got a ton of burn on rebuilding teams that need someone, anyone to be a key cog during that phase. There could also be minute eaters on contending teams, an aging player with fresher legs than expected, or one who came back from a devastating injury only to pick up where he left off.
Since 2007, these are not the best All-NBA teams ever. Given the minutes they’ve totaled, maybe they’d log all of them together, 2,000-minute lineups bad enough to get coaching staffs fired, but net top-five picks. The good and bad even themselves out, really. As an example of how these rosters look, below is what 2016’s looked like.
Clarkson received a ton of minutes despite competition in the backcourt in Kobe Bryant, D’Angelo Russell, Louis Williams, and whatever they could get from Marcelo Huertas and Nick Young. Meanwhile, Fournier had a rare, healthy season and appears to be one of the few players to spend a handful of years in Orlando. Davis was a choice for a similar, but more weird reason. He was reasonably healthy on a team with a roster that dropped like flies. Due to his decline in overall scoring efficiency, Matthews may not have completely recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, but is still capable of eating a ton of minutes at a position thin on depth league-wide. And finally, Barnes was a selection because of his age (35 years old) and having his two highest minute totals in his two most recent seasons.
This season was a challenge to find a five-man squad because most stars had great health, fueling an unexpectedly (to me, at least) great regular season. Below were my five picks.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic, 2,412 minutes
Payton led the Magic in minutes despite going back-and-forth between starting and coming off the bench, a common theme on this list. It felt unlikely that Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, or Serge Ibaka would rank first because of their minute-crunches up front, but Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier were key cogs, much less tradeable than the frontline or Payton. In particular, there wasn’t a ton of depth behind Fournier until Orlando traded Ibaka for Terrence Ross, but Fournier played 14 less games than Payton and, well, now we’re here.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about Payton. That’s not to say he hasn’t improved. He’s a triple-double candidate with enough minutes, his shot percentages from around the rim to 16 feet have increased each year, and he’s still only 23 years old, but there’s a ceiling for guards who struggle from beyond the arc (27 percent on 2.2 attempts per 36 minutes), don’t draw a ton of fouls (2.7 team fouls and 3.2 free throws per 36), and aren’t freakishly good on defense. It’s hard to find consistency with that player type, especially on a mess of a roster.
Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers, 2,397 minutes
Clarkson makes his second-straight appearance, playing the second-most minutes among players of the last five years who started less than one-fourth of their games. The obstacles to playing time weren’t as stiff this time around. Kobe Bryant retired, Louis Williams’ career year with the Lakers lasted only until the trade deadline, and Nick Young missed 20 games in the best season of his own career.
But a bad team typically mixes in young pieces no matter what, like Tyler Ennis and David Nwaba, and just about any Laker was going to make this list. If it wasn’t Clarkson, it would’ve been Brandon Ingram or someone like Nick Young, second and fifth in total minutes, respectively. This might be the last time Clarkson is in this post anyway. Every summer is obviously important for teams, but it #feels even more so for the Lakers to return to playoff contention, and trading Clarkson and/or another young building block #feels necessary in order to do that.
Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings, 2,063 minutes
If not for the shocking mid-season trade, DeMarcus Cousins would’ve led the Kings in minutes. If not Boogie, it would’ve been Rudy Gay, but a torn Achilles injury sidelined him for the rest of the season and possibly some of 2018. That left the random assortment remaining, and Collison squeaked by with just over 2,000 minutes. Collison’s one of 30 “active” players who’s averaged 10 or more points per game in each of their first eight seasons. It doesn’t feel like it was already his third season in Sacramento, but who knows if he’ll keep the streak going there as he’s a free agent this summer.
Collison’s also the third guard on this list, but we were thin on candidates this season.
Nik Stauskas, Philadelphia 76ers, 2,188 minutes
Any 76er was going to make this list, but the Stauskas reclamation project topped T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington by 50 to 70 minutes. Suddenly, Stauskas’ next contract looks interesting. After a frustrating first couple of seasons, he became a league-average three-point shooter with the help of super-hot shooting from the corners at 48.5 percent. Stauskas could still improve around the rim, 53.6 percent this season when the average is 63, but he’s at least taken about 80 percent of his shots in the most efficient areas of the floor. That should bode well with a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, or at least one of the two being healthy.
Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets, 2,197 minutes
Chandler rounds out the squad as the tiny-ball center, leading the Nuggets in total minutes despite missing the 2016 season due to hip surgery. In second and third place for Denver was Danilo Gallinari, who’s only played 60 percent of games since 2012, and Jameer Nelson, who is old.
There should be minute shifts next season as Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, Juan Hernangomez, and Jamal Murray enter another year of their rookie contracts. That’s a ton of prospects, but Chandler and Gallinari should still get a ton of play if they stick around and stay healthy. Both offer the versatility and bodies to be modern-day power forwards, but it seems like the Nuggets are also primed for a trade. They’re deep, but too deep.
Honorable mentions: Dennis Schroeder and Tobias Harris.
As usual, hopefully Boris Diaw has 4,000 minutes in him next season.
Minutes and other stats, unless noted otherwise, were from Basketball-Reference.