NBA Fact or Fiction: Is the 65-game rule an All-NBA disaster?

Each week during the 2023-24 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.

[Last week: Can the Oklahoma City Thunder win it all without playoff scars?]

This week's topic: The 65-game rule is an All-NBA disaster

We are just weeks from the end of the regular season, so let us take an early look at the All-NBA landscape to discuss the 65-game rule, which requires players to appear in at least 65 games to qualify for the honor, and the supermax stipulation, which requires players to make All-NBA in order to qualify for a bigger contract.


If these five players, in some order, are not on your MVP ballot, you might want to rethink your choices.

The 65-game rule has no bearing on this list. The only player who would have challenged any of these guys is Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, and he has not played since the end of January. In no world would someone who has played only 34 games challenge for a spot on the All-NBA first team. Scottie Pippen in 1997-98 and Yao Ming in 2006-07 are the only ones to play fewer than 50 games and make an All-NBA roster in an 82-game season. Neither made the first team, and both at least played half the year.

Injuries would have claimed Embiid's All-NBA status, regardless of a 65-game rule.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 18: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat and Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers speak after a game at the Wells Fargo Center on March 18, 2024 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 Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid's knee injury took him out of All-NBA consideration. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) (Tim Nwachukwu via Getty Images)

Gilgeous-Alexander, 25, is averaging a 31-6-6 on 54/37/88 shooting splits and leading the league in steals per game (2.0), pushing one of the league's youngest rosters into first place in the Western Conference. Antetokounmpo is a two-time MVP averaging a 31-11-6 on better than 60% shooting from the field for the East's second-place team. Dončić, also 25, has been on the first team for four years running, and he's nearly averaging a triple-double (34-9-10) while leading the NBA in scoring. Jokić should probably be the three-time defending MVP, and he's averaging a 26-12-9 on 58/35/83 splits for the West's No. 2 seed.

I have heard some quibbles about whether Tatum deserves the fifth spot, but there should be none. The Celtics own the NBA's best record by more than six games, and Tatum is unquestionably their top option. He's averaging a 27-8-5 for a team on pace to win 65 games and submit one of the best net ratings in history. Sure, Tatum's numbers are down slightly from last season, when he made his second straight appearance on the first team, but he is also sacrificing touches in a starting five that boasts four other All-Star caliber players. His usage is down, and yet his game has become more efficient than ever before.


You could argue that several players from the third team deserve consideration here. (We will get to them.) I'm not sure anyone who has already failed to reach 65 games challenges them. (We will get to them, too.)

Maybe Donovan Mitchell, who is averaging a 27-5-6 on 47/37/86 shooting splits for a team still in the hunt to place second in the East. His bruised left knee pushed him over 17 absences earlier this month, and a nasal fracture will keep him from at least four more games, limiting him to a maximum of about 60 games.

The two guards listed here are pretty impeccable, though. Brunson is enjoying a breakout season for a Knicks team in position to secure a home playoff seed, averaging a 28-4-6 on 48/40/84 shooting splits. Edwards is the best player on a team still in contention for the West's No. 1 seed, averaging a 27-5-5 (on 47/37/84 shooting splits) — and climbing in the absence of injured All-Star teammate Karl-Anthony Towns.

We are not limited to two guards on any All-NBA team, since the league has gone position-less, but the backcourt options better be stacked to start overloading those spots on a second team. If we are just going to rank the top 15 players from any one season in order, I am not sure anyone who has missed more than 80% of the season should be considered anyhow, so the 65-game rule need not apply. You would have to be exponentially better to close the gap on anyone who has played a heftier chunk of the season.

Regardless, I am not sure any guard on the third team warrants consideration over the three frontcourt players listed here. Davis is averaging a 24-12-4 on better than 60% true shooting while playing some of the most impactful defense in the league. Durant is one of the 15 greatest players in the history of the NBA, averaging a 28-7-5 on absurd 53/42/85 shooting splits. Similarly, Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP still performing as one of the game's best two-way players, averaging a 24-6-4 on even better 53/42/88 splits for a Clippers team that should secure a home playoff seed in the loaded Western Conference.


Let's get this out of the way: Curry and James are two of the greatest players ever to grace the game, enjoying fairly typical individual campaigns at their advanced ages, even if their teams are headed for the play-in tournament. The advanced statistics make their cases clearer, because one bends the floor in his team's favor, and the other reads the court like a computer. Make a case against either at your own peril.

Brown is the second-best player on an all-time great regular-season team, submitting the best season of a career that landed him on last year's second team. Any advanced statistical determent is outweighed by his willingness to assume responsibility for defending the opposing team's best player — and doing it at a high level for the NBA's second-rated defense. (It may also be unfair to feature two Lakers and one Celtic in a year when one of the rivals has been leagues better than the other, but we don't need that argument.)

Sabonis leads the league in rebounding while averaging damn near a 20-15-10 triple-double (20-14-8) on incredible efficiency (61/41/71). He has also not missed a game for a franchise trying to earn its first playoff appearance in 17 years. That is more than enough to decide between him and Miami Heat big man Bam Adebayo, whose defensive edge is winnowed by his 11 absences and inferior statistics this season.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - MARCH 20: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on March 20, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. 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 Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
An All-NBA selection would help Haliburton qualify for the supermax. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) (Nic Antaya via Getty Images)

Now, for Haliburton, whose start to the season warranted early consideration for the first team. A strained left hamstring cost him 10 games in January, and it is pretty clear he is still pushing through pain. His skid in statistical production actually dates back to a bruised left knee that cost him a game in mid-December.

  • Before Haliburton's initial injury: 26-4-12 on 52/44/88 shooting splits

  • After Haliburton's initial injury: 17-4-11 on 45/31/84 shooting splits

One is an All-NBA player; the other is not. Somewhere in between might be a third-team selection.

Except, it is the reason for Haliburton pushing through pain that has caused a bit of an uproar. It appears he is trying to reach 65 games, since missing that mark (and All-NBA as a result) could cost him in excess of $40 million over the life of his five-year max rookie extension. He must play eight of his team's final 12 games to reach the 65-game plateau, which means he could rest his hamstring four more games and still qualify for the bigger contract — if he even wants to on a team still fighting for a guaranteed playoff seed.

If it were up to me (it's not), and I were deciding between Haliburton and a handful of comparable players, I would simply not rob him of $40 million. This standard — the one that forces voters to consider a player's future earnings as part of the process, which was decided without input from the panel — is far more of a problem than the 65-game rule, which was agreed upon by the National Basketball Players Association.

With all due respect to DeMar DeRozan (whose latest under-the-radar campaign is mired on a sub-.500 team), Damian Lillard (who has admittedly had his most trying season), Tyrese Maxey (who has fallen back to Earth in Embiid's absence) and Jamal Murray (who can barely crack 65 games), here is a position-less list of players who might have an argument against Haliburton, Sabonis or anyone else you think I left off:

  • Bam Adebayo (58 of 69 games), Miami Heat (38-31, 7th in East)
    20-11-4 on 52/32/75 shooting splits; 19.7 PER, 5.6 WS, 2.1 BPM, 2.1 VORP, 57.1 TS%

  • Devin Booker (56 of 70 games), Phoenix Suns (41-29, 7th in West)
    27-5-7 on 49/37/88 shooting splits; 22.1 PER, 7.6 WS, 3.0 BPM, 2.5 VORP, 60.9 TS%

  • De'Aaron Fox (61 of 69 games), Sacramento Kings (40-29, 8th in West)
    27-4-6 on 47/37/72 shooting splits; 19.9 PER, 5.0 WS, 2.0 BPM, 2.2 VORP, 56.6 TS%

  • Paul George (62 of 68 games), Los Angeles Clippers (43-25, 4th in West)
    22-5-4 on 47/40/89 shooting splits; 18.8 PER, 5.8 WS, 2.7 BPM, 2.5 VORP, 60.3 TS%

  • Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves (47-22, 3rd in West)
    14-13-1 on 65/0/65 shooting splits; 18.9 PER, 9.4 WS, 1.7 BPM, 2.0 VORP, 66.7 TS%

  • Victor Wembanyama (61 of 69 games), San Antonio Spurs (15-54, 15th in West)
    21-10-4 on 46/32/81 shooting splits; 22.6 PER, 2.8 WS, 4.3 BPM, 2.8 VORP, 56.2 TS%

  • Zion Williamson (58 of 69 games), New Orleans Pelicans (42-27, 5th in West)
    23-6-5 on 58/36/70 shooting splits; 23.2 PER, 6.6 WS, 4.3 BPM, 2.9 VORP, 61.9 TS%

Any of them would be a worthy choice. You can also make a pretty simple argument against each of them. Not productive enough. Not available enough. Not qualified enough on the fringe of this list as a deserving teammate. Not dynamic enough. Not impactful enough. Not committed enough to a full 82-game season.

Point is: There are plenty of deserving candidates — 15 listed here, plus six to a dozen more — and no one who failed to reach 65 games is decidedly more deserving. That list, by the way, boasts: Jimmy Butler, Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Mitchell, Julius Randle and Towns. Who would you remove to pick someone else?

The problem has far more to do with contract clauses than the 65-game rule, and tying the two together is the most ridiculous aspect of it all. That is the players' fault for agreeing to both, not the voting panel's fault for following the rules. We would be arguing Haliburton's All-NBA case either way, and if he doesn't make it, the $40 million should be more of a talking point than the possibility that he might not add an All-NBA nod to his résumé because Devin Booker (or whoever) was just as good in a few more games.

Incentivizing players to appear before fans who paid exorbitant sums of money to see them is a good thing. That was the goal, and it appears to have paid off. Except for Haliburton, but that's another story.

Determination: Fiction. The 65-game rule is fine. The supermax stipulations are the problem.