Sunday, April 21, 2013

NBA Year End Awards

I initially started this as a “Bucks end-of-season awards” piece, but that quickly became depressing so I moved on to the NBA as a whole. The internet would do just fine without my opinion on the matter but I really wanted to write something NBA-centric, so deal with it.

1. Lebron James, F, Miami Heat
2. Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Carmelo Anthony, F, New York Knicks
4. Chris Paul, PG, LA Clippers
5. Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs

Well, duh. I don’t really feel that this choice needs much explanation, but I’ll give you one anyways. Lebron is the best player in the league. He plays on the best team, a team that happens to be the best because he plays on it. He just set career-highs in field goal %, 3-point %, and true shooting %, and also posting career lows in fouls and turnovers per game. His PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was off the charts (blowing away the rest of the league), and he also managed to be one of the top defensive players in the league. If stats are not your bag, watching any Heat game will tell you everything you need to know. He’s the boring choice for MVP, but he’s unquestionably the right choice. In a world where Lebron James does not exist, Durant would be the worthy MVP. But Lebron does exist, so….

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trailblazers
2. Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Hornets
3. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
4. Andre Drummond, PF/C, Detroit Pistons
5. John Henson, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks

This race is just as clear-cut as MVP. Lillard ran away with it plain and simple, keeping a mediocre Portland team relevant for a majority of the season. Despite coming from a small school and playing a demanding position both physically and mentally, Lillard played more like a 10-year veteran than a rookie. He finished 12th in scoring (19.0 ppg), 17th in assists (6.5 apg), 5th in made threes (185), and second in minutes (38.6 mpg). He played big in big moments, having some of his best games against the top teams in the league. He was putrid defensively, but that’s not all that surprising for a rookie who carried as big a load as he did.

Davis was a nightly double-double threat who averaged nearly two blocks a game, and probably would have given Lillard a run for his money had he not missed 18 games due to injury. Every other candidate had their moments but couldn’t maintain production consistently.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
3. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
4. Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets
5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Gasol’s traditional numbers aren’t flashy (7.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks), but he’s the anchor of the toughest defensive team in the league. He’s the Grizzlies’ quarterback on defense, making sure everyone’s in the right spot and helping out when they’re not. He’s too strong for opponents to take one-on-one, and protects the basket well against penetration. He does it all.

All of the other players on the list had tremendous defensive seasons in their own right, but Gasol was head and shoulders above the competition. Noah would have made it more of a discussion, but simply missed too many games with a foot injury.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
2. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
3. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets
4. Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors
5. Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder

This was the toughest one for me to pick. I considered copping out and splitting the award between Smith and Crawford, but I took a stand and chose Crawford. Smith has been ridiculously hot since the All-Star break and as a result is probably the odds-on favorite, but Crawford’s been consistently excellent off the bench all season, and I think consistency should play a huge part in this award. Crawford has a significant edge in FG %, 3-pt %, and FT %. Smith has a large edge in rebounds and points per game, but also plays more minutes; Crawford’s per-36 minutes scoring average is better.  Neither guy plays a lick of defense, so there’s no edge to be had there. Smith’s tremendous run of games will probably earn him the award, but I find Crawford equally deserving.


Most Improved Player
1. LARRY SANDERS!, Milwaukee Bucks
2. Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Hornets
3. Earl Clark, Los Angeles Lakers
4. Nikola Vukevic, Orlando Magic
5. Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic/Milwaukee Bucks

This award literally has no criteria, so there’s almost no wrong answer. You could legitimately argue for Lebron or Durant, and no one could tell you you’re wrong. But I view this award differently than most people. Here’s how I view it; who made the greatest leap in usefulness? Who went from being a bottom-of-the-roster player or fringe rotation guy to a legitimate NBA player? Paul George and Jrue Holiday aren’t eligible for me; they were already good players who just saw a boost in playing time or progressed as they were expected to. All of the players I listed were either unknowns or poor players that made huge strides this season.

Sanders may be a homer pick, but his progression is nothing short of incredible. Prior to the 2012-13 season, he was barely playable. Inefficient offensively and undisciplined defensively, he pretty much only saw playing time because the Bucks had no one else. His per-36 minutes numbers really tell the story; he’s retained his elite shot-blocking skill while drastically cutting down on his fouls, and improving in every other statistical category. He’s become one of the better defensive big men in the game despite being undersized for his position, and has grown into a much more efficient offensive player, showing better hands in the post and cutting down on the foolish shots.

Vasquez had a similar boost in productivity this season, but showed some flashes at the end of last year. Vukevic probably had the best season of the group, but also showed flashes last year and almost fits under the category of a good player who saw a big boost in minutes.

Coach of the Year
1. George Karl, Denver Nuggets
2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
3. Eric Spoelstra, Miami Heat
4. Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
5. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

This one’s pretty difficult to pick without actually knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. We can judge a coach’s performance based on how his team played relative to our expectations, or based on perceived level of difficulty based on injuries. But it’s pretty much impossible for us to know everything a coach does for his team, especially in the locker room. There are a lot of unknowns, but I went with my gut feeling here. Karl’s Nuggets have been impressive all season, weathering a difficult schedule early on before going on a late-season tear that earned them the third seed in the West. The Nuggets were their usual dominant selves at home, but became a better road team this season and imposed their unique style of play on just about every opponent. And they managed all this without a star player, a truly impressive feat in a league dominated by star players. Cases could be made for anyone on this list, but to me Karl stands out.

So there are my picks. Now go enjoy the playoffs.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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