It feels like the NBA season started just yesterday, and only recently, were we discussing the Los Angeles Lakers decision of firing Mike Brown. But a whole season has passed, and as the playoffs are set to begin, it’s time to hand out my awards to the players who have deserved it the most this season.
Most Valuable Player:
- Lebron James
- Kevin Durant
- Carmelo Anthony
Honorable Mentions: Chris Paul, James Harden, Tony Parker
The question shouldn’t be if Lebron will win the MVP for the fourth time in his career; instead, it’s if anybody else will receive any first-place votes. While Durant and Anthony have had superb seasons, with Anthony having established himself in the class of the elites, the award is still given to the most valuable player, not the best player.
While James does have two other legit stars on his team, what he has done for the Heat this season has been incredible. James finished the season averaging 26.8 points, 7.3 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game, but he had the most efficient season of his career, shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from behind the arc. The Heat finished with the best record in the NBA, while also recording a remarkable 27 game winning streak. They now stand as favorites to win the championship for the second straight year. The Heat would not be anywhere close to those accomplishments if James was taken away from the team.
Durant is the closest player to James’ level in the NBA today, but is not as impactful as James. Durant had a remarkable season, finishing the season averaging 28.1 points, shooting 50 percent from the field, and while he has made strides in his passing (averaged a career high 4.6 assists) and his defense, it still does not compare to James’ all-around game.
Anthony recorded perhaps the best season of his career, winning his first scoring title at 28.7 points per game. He accepted a new role for the Knicks before the season began, moving to power forward, and has carried New York’s new offensive attack that focused on floor spacing and dribble penetration to set up three point attempts. Anthony finished 4th in PER rankings, and took the challenge of guarding bigger power forwards, allowing them to shoot just 35 percent on low-post shots.
Defensive Player of the Year:
- Joakim Noah
- Marc Gasol
- Andre Iguodala
Honorable Mentions: Paul George, Luol Deng, Larry Sanders
The only factor that might take the award away from Noah is his problems with a plantar fasciitis injury. In a season where Derrick Rose did not play 1 minute, Noah led a Bulls defense that finished third in points allowed per game. He also averaged career highs in rebounds (11.1), blocked shots (2.1), and steals (1.2).
Gasol has made a tremendous impact defensively for the Grizzlies this season, leading Memphis to be 1st in points allowed per game. The Grizzlies gave up 89.3 points per game, and allowed just 95.4 points per 100 possessions when Gasol was in the game. His individual stats were not as good as Noah’s (7.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks), and it’s hard to credit Gasol with all the defensive impact when the team also has all-star Zach Randolph and defensive guru Tony Allen.
Iguodala has been one of the best perimeter defenders for years, and his move to Denver in the offseason solidified the Nuggets as a legitimate contender. The Nuggets won just 38 games out of 66 in the shortened 2011-2012 season, but boosted up to 57 wins this year. His emphasis on defense has allowed players like Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried to fully develop their offensive games.
Sixth Man of the Year:
- J.R. Smith
- Jamal Crawford
- Jarrett Jack
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, Vince Carter
Had this been a mid-season award, Crawford would be given the title hands down. After starting the season on fire, Crawford has cooled off in the last couple of months, and still remains a very weak perimeter defender.
Smith, on the other hand, has put together the best season of his career. Smith established himself as the second scoring option for the Knicks this season, and averaged career highs in minutes (33.5), points (18.1), and rebounds (5.3). Since March, Smith has been averaging 23 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the field, and 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Jack has been one of the best sixth man players for years, and moving to the Warriors in the offseason proved to be no different. He took the role of backing up both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and even takes the responsibility of setting Curry up offensively when both players are in the game. The duo of Curry and Thompson as spot-up three point shooters with Jack dishing them the ball proved to be great success throughout the season. It’s too bad Smith just had a better individual season.
Coach of the Year:
- Gregg Popovich
- Kevin McHale
- Erik Spoelstra
Honorable Mentions: Tom Thibodeau, George Karl, Mark Jackson
Year after year, the San Antonio Spurs continue to consistently record 50 plus wins. Popovich has installed a system in San Antonio that every player has been willing to follow (Stephen Jackson might be the only exception), focusing on unselfish, pass-first offense, a defense that directs penetrators into the paint where Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are guarding the basket, and of course, establishing a rest schedule for the veteran players. With injuries to Parker, Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Duncan, and Gary Neal, Popvich was still able to direct the Spurs to the number 2 seed in the west.
McHale deserves more credit to be a coach of the year candidate. Last week, I made his case right here, and still believe he should receive some first-place votes.
Spoelstra gets overlooked as a great coach because of the talent of the Heat, but this season, has established the perfect, wide-spread offense for the Heat. After three seasons, it looks like Spoelstra has the Heat team in control, and the 27 game winning streak helped prove that.
Rookie of the Year:
- Damian Lillard
- Anthony Davis
- Bradley Beal
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless
Just like the MVP should unanimously go to James, the ROY should unanimously go to Lillard. Lillard hasn’t missed a game this season, making every start and averaged 38.6 minutes per game. He is also on a Portland team that has a non-existent bench, and averaged 19.0 points and 6.5 assists. While he did have the green light on offense, averaging 15.7 field goal attempts per game, Lillard was still efficient, shooting 43 percent from the field.
Davis made a solid impact for a rebuilding New Orleans team, but still remains very raw on the offensive end. Most of his points come from dibble penetration, or put backs on offensive rebounds, but was able to make a defensive presence, averaging 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
Most Improved Player:
- James Harden
- Larry Sanders
- Jrue Holiday
Honorable Mentions: Greivis Vasquez, Chandler Parsons, Brook Lopez, Omer Asik
It’s hard to think that a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team could win a most improved award in the coming season. But that’s what Harden could be on the verge of doing. Harden saw an increase in minutes played, let alone a new role as the number 1 option for the Rockets, and surprised many. Harden established himself as an all-star player, averaging a career high 25.9 points, which is nearly a 10 point increase from the 16.8 points he averaged last season with the Thunder. He also averaged a career high 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds, while leading the league in free throw attempts. Harden also led the youngest team in the NBA to almost 50 wins, and a berth in the playoffs.
Sanders improved his production tremendously, going from 3.6 points per game in the season before, to 9.8 this year. He also increased his rebounding average from 3 to 9.5 this year, while averaging 27 minutes per game. The biggest difference that Sanders had made on the Bucks this year was at the defensive end. Advanced stats say that the Bucks allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions with Sanders on the floor, and a dismal 105.8 points per 100 possessions with Sanders out.
Holiday seemed like a legitimate winner for the award a couple months ago, but slumped in the last few months of the season. With a season in which Andrew Bynum became the biggest distraction quite possibly in the entire league, Holiday made his first all-star team, and averaged career highs in points (17.7) and assists (7.7). Still, Philadelphia finished as a sub-.500 team and missed the playoffs for the first time in two years.