We are in the middle of a thrilling 2022 NBA playoff run. We’ve had major upsets (bye, Chris Paul!), surprise breakouts (see you again soon, Brandon Ingram!), and the ascendance of dominant superstars (hey there, Luka!).
With only four teams left, I wanted to look back at the action so far and reward those players who showed out when the lights were brightest. I’m using the traditional All-NBA voting rules, with two guards, two forwards, and a center, for two teams. Extra weight is given to those players who advanced further in the playoffs.
Official selections for the 2022 All-NBA Playoff teams: First Team
G: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
G: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
F: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
F: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and Steph Curry have all dominated in the playoffs for the four teams still alive.
Butler: The Heat forward has suffocated foes defensively and done exactly what the Miami Heat needed on offense. He won’t always score 30 per game, but he’s picked up the offensive slack while the sharpshooting Heat have run remarkably cold from deep (just 32.7% as a team, down from a league-leading 38.6% during the regular season).
His 41 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics reminded viewers that Jimmy always turns it up for the playoffs. He has five 40-point games in his Miami playoff career and ZERO in the regular season.
Doncic: Little needs to be said about Doncic. Doncic is averaging a cool 32/10/7 with almost two steals per game on 47% shooting from the floor despite dealing with an injury in the first round. He’s playing like a bigger Houston-era James Harden, but he hasn’t stifled his teammates in the same way.
After getting abused defensively in Game 2 against Phoenix, Doncic rose to the challenge and began providing much more energy and effort on that end. These playoffs have served as a coronation of sorts for Doncic, andetting past the favored Warriors would further cement his status as the most unguardable player alive.
Curry: The GOAT shooter is “only” shooting 45% from the field and 36% from three, but he’s still the engine of the most beautiful offense in basketball. 27/4/6 isn’t a shabby statline, and Curry is in the midst of another deep playoff run.
He’s played superb team defense, using his bulked-up frame to keep players from taking him into the post as they once did. Watching him and Doncic clash in the Western Conference Finals will be a joy.
Tatum: The young star has been making deep playoff runs for his entire career, but this is the best he’s ever been. He’s gone toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the pre-playoffs consensus two best players in basketball, and emerged victorious both times.
He gobbled up Durant defensively in a first-round sweep and then had his signature playoff moment with 46 points in an elimination Game 6 against the fearsome Milwaukee defense. His cool, methodical offensive game and quiet but locked-in defense are reminiscent of prime Kawhi Leonard.
Embiid: Finally, Embiid snags the center spot. Although his raw numbers don’t compare to Nikola Jokic’s, he practically won the series against Toronto in the first round by himself (33 points in a closeout Game 6), and he played through myriad severe injuries against the Heat to drag the 76ers to two wins. Unfortunately, Joel and playoff health have been star-crossed lovers, so here’s hoping we finally get to see Embiid complete a playoff run with his full powers next season.
Official selections for the 2022 All-NBA Playoff teams: Second Team
G: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
G: Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
F: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
C: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Morant: The young guard’s defensive effort leaves something to be desired, but it’s undeniable that his incredible finishing skill and insane athleticism translated to the playoffs better than many expected. Morant was averaging 38 points per game against the Warriors before he was injured in Game 3, and his ailment changed the course of the series.
He overwhelmed a Timberwolves team determined to make him a passer in Round 1 with pinpoint-accurate lobs and no-look lasers to shooters (he averaged 10.5 assists per game in that series). Morant is going to make a lot of postseason noise in his career.
Brunson: The Mavs guard has been a happy surprise. The smaller guard has struggled in playoff games in the past, but his newfound assertiveness and increased tenacity in attacking the basket continued in the playoffs to a shocking degree.
He has looked comfortable putting his shoulder into bigger defenders for a bully-ball layup or a reverse pivot fadeaway jump shot. He carried the team against the Jazz while Luka was injured and even had a 41-point game in Game 2. His playoff averages of 23/5/4 somehow understate his substantial impact, and the Mavs wouldn’t be in the final four without him.
Ingram: The lanky forward only made it through one round, but he has to be on here for his scintillating performance against an enormously favored Phoenix team. Ingram averaged a cool 27/6/6 on 41% shooting from deep despite being the focal point for one of the best defenses in the NBA. If his fantastic playoff form continues for the Pelicans next year, an Ingram-Zion Williamson-CJ McCollum trio will be one of the most offensively potent combinations in the league.
Antetokounpmo: It’s crazy that Giannis is second-team when he’s been arguably the best player in the playoffs this year. But this is a postseason award, and winning matters. Picking between him, Jimmy Butler, and Jayson Tatum for the first-team spots was an impossible task.
Regardless, Giannis proved beyond a doubt that he’s the best player in the NBA. His playoff averages of 32/14/7 are obscene. Without Middleton’s injury, the Bucks might very well be favored to repeat.
Jokic: The Serbian center only played five games, but a dearth of other strong center candidates and his individual brilliance still give him the nod. By the end of the series, the reigning two-time MVP had wholly solved the self-proclaimed best defender of all time in Draymond Green, and Jokic finished with games of 37/18/5, 37/8/6, and 30/19/8. Unfortunately, even Jokic’s divine passing couldn’t help his teammates make shots, and the Nuggets had no other firepower. Regardless, Jokic remains one of the steadiest playoff contributors around. I look forward to his playoff return next year.
Honorable Mention: Jaylen Brown, Devin Booker, Pascal Siakam, Anthony Edwards, Desmond Bane, Bam Adebayo