Is there even one easy choice for an award this NBA season? Let me know if there is, because I sure as hell can’t find one. Last year, Kevin Durant was the consensus MVP, earning 119 of 125 first-place votes. Michael Carter-Williams got 104 first-place votes for Rookie of the Year. Joakim Noah got 100 first-place votes for DPOY. Goran Dragic was a pretty clear choice for Most Improved Player over Anthony Davis, Lance Stephenson, and others. The only real contest was between Jamaal Crawford and Taj Gibson for Sixth Man of the Year (neither is a threat this year, since Gibson is a starter and Jamaal Crawford simply cannot hit a three. Or a two. Sadly, he is still an elite free throw shooter. No more Jamaal Crawford digs).
Most Valuable Player
- Stephen Curry
- James Harden
- LeBron James
- Chris Paul
- Anthony Davis
Honorable Mention: Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook
If I’d put a 38 year-old Tim Duncan averaging 13 points per game at #5 instead of Anthony Davis, I’d lead with that. I thought about it. Instead, I’ll start with the champ.
Curry is the best player on the league’s best team, averaging a 24-8-4-2 stat line for G-State. Everything the team does offensively runs through Steph Curry. His transformation from last season to now is very impressive. He presents himself with a certain swagger on the court, kind of like Nick Young. Difference between the two of them is this: Curry can actually shoot. He is startlingly close to the rare 50-40-90 club, when a player hits 50% of his field goals, 40% of threes, and 90% of free throws. Curry finishes the season at 49-44-91. So close.
There are two main knocks on Curry. First, he is far from elite defensively, although his good steal numbers are deceiving. In the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine Curry was ranked as the 12th-best defensive point guard in the league by ESPN’s panel of NBA expert, behind players such as George Hill and rookie Marcus Smart.
He also has the best supporting cast than the other MVP candidates. Klay Thompson was an All-Star this season, while Draymond Green is a top Defensive Player of the Year candidate (wait) and may earn the max salary this off-season. Andrew Bogut is another DPOY candidate and a solid big man for the Warriors. Andre Iguodola and Harrison Barnes are also featured players. It is definitely the strongest group in the NBA. And yet, I still don’t really care. I’ve heard most experts say that the Warriors would still be in the playoffs without Steph. Hmm. Golden State holds a 22-game lead over the 8-seed in the West, New Orleans. Does Curry add 22 wins to the team over, say, back-up Shaun Livingston? I would definitely say yes. I don’t think G-State does makes the play-offs without Curry. Then again, I don’t think the Rockets make it without Harden or the Clippers without Paul either, but still. Curry is the best player on the best team. He may not be the best player in the league, who we’ll get to soon, but he is still the MVP.
By soon, I meant this paragraph. LeBron has been stellar this season as usual. He is averaging a 27-7-7-2 stat line, extremely MVP-like and even more so when you see the difference between the Cavs that struggled early in the year and the group we’ve seen since LeBron took two weeks off early in the season. Yet, I just gave my reason for having him at 3. Did you catch it? He rested for two weeks this season, which is why he’s missed 23 games. I can’t vote for a guy that misses that much time, partially by choice, for MVP. I just can’t. He’s still the best player. That just doesn’t always mean MVP (cough, Karl Malone in ’98. Cough).
James Harden has been incredible. He finished second in the league in scoring to go along with 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. He carried the Dwight-less Rockets on his back en route to a 2-seed in the Western Conference. His non-Dwight starting lineup features a rotating cast of studs like Trevor Ariza, Terrance Jones, Jason Terry, the curse-bearing Josh Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, and Kostas Papanikoloau. Crazy.
Chris Paul has carried his team at times like James Harden, during the stretch of games that Blake Griffin missed with injury. Harden has a weaker supporting cast and better numbers, which is why he gets the nod, but Chris Paul is the best defensive player on this list unless you want to make an argument for Anthony Davis. I debated putting Paul ahead of LeBron at 3, but feel better about keeping him behind the King.
Anthony Davis gets the last spot over Russ simply because his team made the play-offs. “But, Westbrook is the only reason the Thunder were in play-off contention at all,” you may argue. First of all, I’m not sure I totally buy that. His +/- rating (determines how many points a team gains or loses with the player on the court) is never significantly better than the team’s margin of victory or defeat, and it’s because he constantly jacks up stupid shots. Check out his shot totals in the team’s final 11 games: 16, 17, 16, 29, 29, 32, 20, 29, 16, 19, 43, 27, 20. That’s 313 shots in 11 games, or about 27 per. On those 27 shots, his field goal percentage is 41%. Monopolizing an offense with low efficiency doesn’t earn anybody an MVP in my vote, so I’ll put him at seventh on my ballot.
I threw in Duncan for fun. He’s averaging a 13-9 and he’s got almost 39 years on his life’s odometer. He’s still the heart of the Spurs. I love that guy.
Rookie of the Year
- Nikola Mirotic
- Andrew Wiggins
- Karl-Anthony Towns
There is simply no one to place third in this voting, even though Nerlens Noel will get it. I don’t think he deserves it. He’s averaging under 10 points per game on an 18-win team. Therefore, Towns gets my write-in vote just for the hell of it since he had a more impressive season than Noel. I don’t care that he played in college. His team had more wins in a 39-game season than Wiggins’ and Noel’s teams have combined in 82 games apiece. And the Wildcats get a four game cushion too. So I bent the rules. Deal with it. Now, let’s get to the players that are actually eligible to receive this award.
The most popular pick is Wiggins. Here’s the statistical comparison between Wigs and Mirotic:
Wiggins: 17 PPG, 5 RPG, 2 APG in 36 minutes per game
Mirotic: 10 PPG, 5 RPG, 1 APG in 20 minutes per game
So why Mirotic? A couple reasons. First, I simply can’t vote for a guy that averages 17 per game on the worst team in the NBA with no other scoring options (Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin, Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton. Woo!). I’d much rather vote for a 6-10 Yugoslavian three point specialist sixth man on an Eastern Conference title contender that has an amazing beard. His player efficiency rating is also significantly better than Wigs. Even though Wiggins averages 7 more points per game, he actually average fewer points per 36 minutes. With that being said, Mirotic should be the easy ROY choice, even though it’s highly unlikely that he’ll get it.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Draymond Green
- Kawhi Leonard
- Anthony Davis
I really wanted to give this one to Kawhi. He causes pure terror on the defensive end with his unfairly long arms and athleticism. However, he’s missed 18 games this season, which is the same thing I penalized LeBron for in the MVP voting.
Draymond Green can play anywhere from shooting guard to center for the Warriors, using his speed and size to defend smaller players while using his strength to defend 7-footers in the low post. He and Andrew Bogut (who comes fourth on my ballot) are the keys to the league’s best defense. Look at their other starters: Curry, Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. None of those players strike fear in the heart of an offensive player. Without Green, the Warriors defense would simply not be at the level it is now.
Anthony Davis, averaging 8 defensive rebounds per game to go along with a league-best 3 blocks per game, is a monster everywhere on the court. The only player in the league that intrigues me more for the future is Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. Davis suffers from the same problem as Kawhi and LeBron in terms of missing games, as he missed 14 games this season with a shoulder injury. Davis will almost definitely win DPOY multiple times in his career to go with his inevitable five-plus MVP awards. The kid’s only 22, you know.
Sixth Man of the Year
- Isaiah Thomas
- Lou Williams
- Tristan Thompson
I give it to Isaiah Thomas over Lou Williams here due to the huge impact Thomas made upon arriving in Boston. Since he was traded on February 19 for a first-round pick, the C’s have gone 20-10 to close out the season. He is averaging 19 points and 5 assists coming off the bench in Boston. He scores a whopping 26 points per 36 minutes. He hits the three well and gets to the line frequently. Boston wouldn’t even be in the play-offs if it weren’t for Thomas. That by itself is enough for him to earn the award.
Lou Williams has also been great coming off the bench for Toronto, but he doesn’t dish the rock as well, is a defensive liability, and shoots worse than Thomas. The main distinction between the two: Williams should be coming off the bench, while Thomas has the ability to be a starting point guard.
Tristan Thompson got the nod over Andre Iguodola for the final spot. He is the perfect sixth man for the Cavs to give LeBron or Love some rest, averaging 9 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes for Cleveland. He fits the offense well and only takes 6 shots per game at an efficient rate of 55%.
Coach of the Year
- Gregg Popovich
- Mike Budenholzer
- Steve Kerr
Pop took a team with one, maybe two stars (Leonard and Duncan) with a supporting cast of a 32-year-old Tony Parker, a 37-year-old Manu Ginobli, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Marco Bellinelli, and Aron Baynes and led that team to a 55-win season. He is the greatest basketball coach I’ve ever seen, and that’s coming from a Duke fan. A playoff run by San Antonio would solidify the pick, but Pop has already earned it.
Let me know if you heard a single person say that the Atlanta Hawks would win the Eastern Conference in the preseason. No? Didn’t think so. Their starting lineup is Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Demarre Carroll, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap. They’re all good players, but you don’t think sixty wins when you see it. Budenholzer has gotten a team full of good players to coexist to the point that they all make each other great, a quality he learned from his old boss, Gregg Popovich.
Steve Kerr has been somewhat underappreciated in his first season as coach of the Warriors, leading them to one of the ten best regular seasons in NBA history. He suffers because he signed with a team that contains Curry, Thompson, Iguodola, and Bogut. Look at the best player on the Hawks for each position stacked up against the Warriors:
Hawks: Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap, Horford
Warriors: Curry, Thompson, Iggy, David Lee, Bogut
Game. Set. Match. Warriors. Game. Set. Match. Budenholzer.
Most Improved Player
- Hassan Whiteside
- Klay Thompson
- Rudy Gobert
“Story of the Year” hands-down goes to Hassan Whiteside. Who remembers in Space Jam when the little aliens took all of the NBA superstars’ talent and morphed into a snarling group of monsters? That was Hassan Whiteside’s transformation this season.
He was drafted with the 33rd pick of the 2010 draft by the Kings. He scored zero points with zero rebounds, zero assists, and two fouls in two minutes during his rookie season. The next season he took a step forward, averaging just over one point and two rebounds per game in six minutes per game in 18 games total. On July 16 of that season, he was waived by the Kings. He then spent a season the NBA Developmental League with two teams (Sioux Falls and Rio Grande), and then signed with a team in Lebanon. In 2013, he left Lebanon for the NBL (a Chinese basketball league) where he averaged 26 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 blocks en route to the league’s defensive player of the year and center of the year. Following his stint in China, he went back to Lebanon where he was cut. Then back to China. Then he left that team. He was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies on September 25, 2014. He was then waived less than a month later.
October 30 – Whiteside gets reacquired by Rio Grande. He gets traded two days later to the Iowa Energy.
November 19 – resigned by Grizzlies. Waived a day later. Resigns with Iowa Energy.
November 24 – signed by Miami Heat, where he averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks in just 24 MPG (18 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks per 36 minutes).
How can Hassan Whiteside not win this award? In the span of four years, he was a part of 3 NBA teams, 4 D-League teams, two Chinese teams, two Lebanese teams, and was waived/released/traded five times.
Sure, Klay Thompson improved every facet of his game and became an all-star. And Rudy Gobert started to blossom, earning one of the coolest nicknames in recent history, “The Stifle Tower.” But no one can come close to what Hassan Whiteside accomplished this season. They could name this award after him and I wouldn’t argue.
Thanks for reading Part 1! Hopefully Part 2 will be up tomorrow (All-NBA teams, All-rookie teams, and All-defense teams). Also, check out my NBA Playoffs Preview if you haven’t yet.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Sean Gallipo