I think Marcus Smart has been making a strong case for inclusion on the all defensive team. He has been the clear best defender on a good defensive team. I wondered if, half way through the season, folks thought he would have a shot at all-defensive team this year. To figure it out, I think it's important to keep in mind the following points related to that particular nomination process:
First off, this is a media voted team. This isn't selected by some group of advanced thinkers, or even guys who are intimately involved in the league. Most of the voters are local media guys, meaning they see half the league 2 times (when opponents play "their team") if they are really paying attention. I think this is a vote where, the more you see a dominant defensive player, the more likely you are to notice him.
Because of this, we need to remember that the vote will be...
1. Two years behind what is happening. There are some instances where a guy will get credit for a great season coming out of nowhere, but generally, this team more closely resembles "who were the best defensive players 3 years ago" rather than "who were the best defensive players this year".
2. Heavily skewed toward players and teams that appear on national TV a lot. If you catch a guy 5 or 6 times on TNT or ESPN and listen to the supposed enlightened national TV announcers gush about a guy, that's going to influence a lot of these guys.
3. Media members seem to heavily rely on team output to quantify an individual's defensive impact. If player X is the best player on a great defensive team, he must be better than player Y, who is the best defensive player on a worse defensive team. Ridiculous, but that's what passes for knowledge. Also, they will treat this like an all star game where they tend to reward 1 or 2 guys based on how good the team is. If you have 2 teammates who are all defensive team caliber and generally viewed as better than you, unless your team is the '04 Pistons on defense, you aren't getting on.
4. Stars generally get preference over defensive specialists. The media is much more likely to have Anthony Davis on the team than Robert Covington.
The Other Guys
There are 2 first team and 2 second team all defensive slots for guard. As I mentioned above, this isn't the type of thing where someone comes out of nowhere and shows up on the team. You can generally look at the votes from the prior year and make your list of potential winners:
LAST YEAR'S TEAM:
Victor Oladipo - He has established himself as a star, and he's the best perimeter defensive player on a very good defensive team. This team doesn't get a lot of national exposure, but everyone knows what Oladipo is about. Has missed a few games, but not significant enough to knock him off the team.
Jrue Holiday - Another border-line star player. Holiday is clearly exceptional the more you watch him, but the Pelicans don't get a lot of shine nationally. I wonder how voters will react to a team with 2 supposed "elite" defenders being 25th in defensive rating.
Dejounte Murray - Murray scored high on the best defender on a great defensive team scale last year. He's out this year, and so won't be repeating.
Jimmy Butler - Butler gets high marks for the star quality. Minnesota wasn't very good defensively, but he still got on the 2nd team. Philadelphia is better than Minnesota defensively, but they haven't been as good this year. I wonder how voters will react to the 76ers being 10th in defensive rating and if anything getting a bit worse after trading for Butler.
OTHER TOP VOTE GETTERS:
Chris Paul - This is the "lifetime achievement award" in full effect. Paul has missed enough time that he's not likely a serious candidate. Without Houston repeating their impressive defensive performance from last year, the voters will likely catch up with the rest of the basketball intelligentsia that already knew Paul isn't all-defensive material any more.
Klay Thompson - The Warriors have struggled defensively (16th in defensive rating), and I believe Draymond will get the Warriors vote. He has been solid, but not great this season on the defensive end. They aren't good enough to get 2 guys on the team. I would be surprised if he were on the all defensive team.
Andre Roberson - Out with an injury. Won't play enough games.
Josh Richardson - An interesting consideration. Raised his profile by increasing his scoring output.
Ben Simmons - Scores well in the "star" and "good team defense" categories. Probably loses enough votes to Butler to not be a candidate.
Jaylen Brown - I don't think anybody who has seen the Celtics thinks Jaylen has even been consistently good this year. I thought he might have a shot coming into this season (I actually thought he was a bit more deserving than Smart last year) but this year, it isn't even close.
The case for Smart:
The Celtics play a ton of games on national TV this year (4th most in the league with 39 of 82 games on national TV). Boston is 5th in defensive rating, and have been in the top 5 the entire year. Horford has been hobbled by injury, and people are noticing. Baynes is a stud, but he doesn't play enough to merit all-defensive votes. Brown has not been great defensively. Smart is the Celtics "guy" in this space. While he is not a star, everyone knows who this guy is. Getting promoted to the starting 5 helps, as will his offensive improvements. Like him or not, he has cultivated a reputation as an agitator. I think he has a well deserved reputation among players as a guy that sucks to play against.
I don't know if the voters are smart enough to reward him, but I think he belongs on the 1st team this year with Oladipo. Holiday might get the 1st team nod (though Davis seems penciled in at this point, and I have a hard time believing voters are going to vote in 2 guys to the first team from a bottom 6 defense). Butler might get the first team nod as well. But I think Smart has a legit 1st team case.