It’s that time of year again. It’s been an epic NBA season with some of the all-time best and the all time worst. Without further adieu, here are the winners (and losers)..
MVP- Stephen Curry
The stats are gaudy. His game is aesthetically pleasing as any you’ll ever see. He looks like a little kid and plays the game with a commensurate amount of joy. What separates him from the rest is his competitive spirit. He looks like Doogie Howser but shoots other teams down like he’s Dirty Harry. A vote for anyone but Curry is a wasted vote. Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James will engage in a dogfight for 2nd.
Defensive Player of the Year- Kawhi Leonard
He’s the best perimeter defender in the game. He’s anchored the most efficient defense in the league by a significant margin. The fact that he’s improved enough on the offensive side of the ball to be a guy who could be the runner up in the MVP voting should never overshadow the fact that this dude is a defensive stud. Draymond Green and Avery Bradley will both get votes and deservedly so, but the way Leonard has been able to raise the level of play of those around him is a special quality for a perimeter player on the defensive end.
6th Man of the Year- Andre Igoudala
His conventional stats may not match guys like Will Barton and Jeremy Lin, but his role on the best 5 man unit in the NBA is crucial. The Warriors can get away with being small inside with two lockdown defenders on the floor in Igoudala and Klay Thompson. He missed a few weeks with an injury and he was conspicuous in is absence. His defense and ball handling enhance the Warriors lineup versatility in a unique way.
Most Improved Player- Kemba Walker
Walker’s PER jumped from 17.6 to 20.9 while his usage rate increased. Furthermore, independent of the metrics, he was he engine that drove Charlotte to a 15 game improvement year over year. The Hornets went from 24th in the league last year in 3 point attempts to 4th this year. Walker went from 4.5 threes per game attempted last year to 6.1 attempted this year and his percentage jumped from 30.4% last year to a whopping 37.4% this year. It’s one thing for a player to improve but what Walker has done is take that improvement and apply it to the most important number of all….the win column. C.J.McCollum will get consideration and Giannis Antetokounmpo should.
Rookie of the Year- Karl Anthony Towns
Remember when it was a debate who should go with the number one pick of the 2015 draft. It seems like ages ago that people were arguing about Towns and Jahlil Okafor. There is no debate anymore. Towns was far and away the best rookie. His defensive prowess at this stage of his career goes well beyond his years and he’s only getting better. He doesn’t have a discernible weakness in his game, which is a huge statement about a 20 year old kid. Towns is to rookies what Curry is to MVPs. Kristaps Porzingis had a great year for the Knicks but he’ll be a distant runner up.
Executive of the Year- R.C. Buford
Buford has built a tremendous program in San Antonio, but this year took it to a new level. Signing a star like LaMarcus Aldridge is one thing, but Buford has built the kind of program that a guy will leave $11 million on the table in one year to come to. David West has been a key piece for the Spurs and will be more of a key in the playoffs. He signed Boban Marjanovic who gives him an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt. Even signings of buyout veterans like Kevin Martin and Andre Miller give them deoth they’ll most likely never need. Although Buford should get this award pulling away, Masai Ujiri should get some consideration for the way he remade the Raptors bench.
Coach of the Year- Steve Clifford
He changed Charlotte’s style to a team that took many more three pointers as I noted earlier in discussing Kemba Walker’s improvement. Yet, in increasing their three point attempts and managing to go from 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency to 9th in offensive efficiency, he kept them ranked 9th in defensive efficiency year over year. Not only did he overcome significant injuries (Michael Kidd Gilchrist for almost the whole season and Al Jefferson for a big chunk), he also had some young players make big improvements on his watch. (Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin). There were some excellent coaching jobs this season (Terry Stotts, Gregg Popovich, and Rick Carlisle) but none as impressive as Clifford.
And Now, the Anti-Awards
Worst Defensive Player- Nick Young
People will remember Young this season for the video D’Angelo Russell took and posted of Young talking about cheating on his fiancée…and maybe that’s a lucky thing for Young. He had the worst offensive season of his career, but that pales in comparison to the turnstile he is on the defensive end. He’s a unique combination on the defensive end of a lack of awareness, ability, and total disregard for effort and energy. Did I mention that the Lakers owe him $10 million over the next two years? Andrea Bargnani was predictably awful defensively for as well and received consideration as did dunk contest winner Zach Lavine.
Most Disappointing Coach- George Karl
Let me preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for Karl’s coaching acumen, but he made a huge offseason mistake that he never recovered from. In the leakiest organization in all of sports, don’t attempt a personnel coup involving the team’s best player and then expect him to want to play nice with you, especially when said best player has a notorious attitude problem. Karl had a hard job with the Kings but he made it 100X harder on himself. It didn’t need to end like this for Karl, but he brought it on himself. The only other coach I considered for this was Alvin Gentry but injuries saved him from being exposed on an ill-conceived attempt to change the Pelicans’ system to an up tempo pace and space offense.
Most Disappointing Rookie- Sam Dekker
It was a special season for rookies and maybe it’s not totally fair to point out who was picked 18th by a team that went to the conference finals last year, but Dekker couldn’t get himself out of the D League for a team that ended up with a .500 record as an 8 seed. Furthermore, in looking at guys drafted behind Dekker, who made meaningful contributions to their team (Bobby Portis, Justin Anderson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Larry Nance Jr), and the Rockets glaring need for a stretch 4 (they signed Michael Beasley in March) where Dekker played for a Wisconsin team last year that made the NCAA final, he was a major letdown (among others) for the Rockets. Other disappointing rookies included Jerian Grant and Terry Rozier.
Least Improved Player- Brandon Knight
Knight took more shots this season in Phoenix and regressed in almost every statistical category, except for FGAs per game. Yes, he missed 30 games due to injury but he hurt the Suns more when he played than when he sat. He didn’t mesh well with Eric Bledsoe but worse off, he didn’t try. Sources tell me that he didn’t make a lot of effort to get back on the court while hurt and rebuffed encouragement to work harder to get there. The Suns gave up a valuable first round pick for Knight and paid him $70 million over five years. Their reward has been a dog who makes no effort to get better and his results are indicative. Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore both got consideration for this anti-award as well.
And now the Two Special Awards
12th Man of the Year- Boban Marjanovic
This award is normally given as to highlight a guy who didn’t get the playing time he deserved, but this year, its given out for a different reason. Majanovic is huge, but he’s really good. He’s got the biggest softest hands this side of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (Ghostbusters reference). He is a good post player and a good defensive big man. His per 36 minute numbers were excellent but because of the Spurs embarrassment of riches in the front court, Boban couldn’t get off the bench much. When Tim Duncan retires, which very well could be after this season, the Spurs are in good shape in the middle with Marjanovic. Reggie Bulock and Seth Curry were also both candidates for this award.
Ditch Digger award- Tristan Thompson
This award goes to the player who gets the most out of his talent and gets by on hard work without glory. The Cavs generate so much buzz because of the traveling soap opera known as Lebron that Thompson literally hides in plain sight. The numbers aren’t gaudy but he’s an excellent offensive rebounder and a very good screener. Defensively, he’s one of the better big men in the league at switching onto guards. Quite simply, the Cavs are a much better basketball team with him on the floor. He’s perfect for this award because reciting his stats don’t do his impact justice. Thompson is a high energy team player who’ the type of player a team wins with. I also considered Draymond Green and Derek Favors for this award but they both are more central to their teams than Thompson’s presence as purely a supporting guy.
Now…onto All NBA Teams
Being able to use Green as a center made this 5 a no brainer.
Whiteside was the best center, on a winning team, this side of Draymond. Aldridge played great defense all year and was the same offensive force we became accustomed to seeing on the 2nd best team in the NBA. Thompson subjugates more of his game than any other Warrior to enhance everyone else around him. He could be the lead dog on a title contender.
The guards were a no brainer. Millsap gets the nod because he’s become a two way force. Jordan is one of the best defensive big men in the NBA and helped hold the Clippers up in the absence of Blake Griffin. And George carried the Pacers on his back to the playoffs.
DeMarcus Cousins- He had a huge statistical year but he assisted in undermining any ability his team had to have success. Can’t be an All NBA-er on a lottery team
Anthony Davis- He missed over 20 games and regressed year over year. He had gaudy stats but didn’t make anyone around him better. They needed more unselfish lay out of him and better defense and they got neither.
James Harden- Even though the Rockets snuck into the layoffs by the skin of their teeth, Harden’s precipitous drop off was a huge reason why the Rockets grossly underachieved. The individual stats were there offensively, but his galling lack f effort on the defensive end of the floor precluded me from making him an All NBA player.
Demar DeRozan- He was the one guy that I wanted to include but didn’t have enough room for. He was an anchor for a very successful Raptors team this year. His backcourt partner, Lowry was included, which is partially a tribute to the space DeRozan provides for him. These two are the best backcourt in the NBA this side of The Splash Brothers….