Article by Eugene DeCosse
This has probably been the closest MVP race in recent memory with many candidates deserving the MVP title, including, Anthony Davis, LeBron James (what would the MVP contest be without him?), Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul. But, when you really think about it, it boils down to Curry or Harden. Both have been phenomenal throughout the season with Curry leading the Warriors to the NBA’s best record and possibly the most dominant season since MJ’s Bulls in ‘96 and Harden single handedly commanding the injury embattled Rockets to a second seed in the tough Western Conference. A legitimate case could be made for both but in my opinion Curry has been the MVP this season. Although pundits like to point at Harden’s superior stats in the WAR (wins above replacement), VA (Value Added), and points categories, they forget that Curry has sat out many fourth quarters for rest because the Warriors have often entered the final quarter leading by double digit points. When you talk about efficiency in the minutes the two have actually played Curry definitely has the edge with a higher PER (player efficiency rating) and RPM (real plus minus), which are both benchmarks for on-court efficiency. The Warriors have been an outstanding 16.2 points better when they have Curry on the court, while Harden only improves his team by a great but not comparable 11.3 points. This is probably attributable to the Warriors being better on both sides of the ball when Curry is on the court, while the Rockets are actually worse on defense when Harden is on. This, combined with the fact that the Warriors are simply having a historic season, make Curry my MVP.
Most Improved Player of the Year
This year, no one has seen close to the improvement that Jimmy Butler has had. He has gone from a good role-player and a plus defender to arguably the best player on the Bulls. His accomplishments this season have been outstanding and right now he is one the best two way guards in the NBA. His scoring from last season has improved tremendously. He has been scoring 7 more points per game this season compared to his last. But his scoring improvement doesn’t just stop there, since last season he has not only increased volume but also increased efficiency in 3P%, FG%, and FT%. This remarkable increase across the board along with his newfound leadership abilities puts him at the top of my list for Most Improved Player this year.
Defensive Player of the Year
For this award it really boils down to four players Draymond Green, Deandre Jordan, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. However in my view there is no doubt Draymond Green deserves this award and that he could possibly even be in the shortlist for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. First the fact that he was the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams in recent years has certainly helped his candidacy. Additionally being a defensive stalwart both down low and on the perimeter has set him apart from his counterparts. All the other players on the list only really dominate in one facet of defense, Jordan and Duncan in the post and Leonard on the perimeter. While there is no doubt all these three have been good at their respective jobs, Draymond has been able to work in the post like Jordan and Duncan and wreak havoc on the perimeter like Leonard. His excellence everywhere in defense has been unprecedented and he arguably has been the only player in the last decade and definitely the only one this year to effectively guard PG through C. In a league where DPOY winners are usually only low post defenders or players with gaudy steal stats, Draymond Green winning the award would help put a fresh face in the mix of winners of this honorable award.
Coach of the Year
This year this award has been hotly contested between three rookie coaches that are all fairly recognizable faces in the NBA. Steve Kerr, who was an integral part of the second Bulls three-peat, Mike Budenholzer, who worked under possibly the greatest coach of all time Gregg Popovich, and Jason Kidd, one of the greatest PGs of all time. All these coaches have improved their teams by at least 16 wins. Jason Kidd led the largest improvement and improved the lowly Bucks by an amazing 26 wins and led them to a playoff spot with a largely lackluster squad, a squad that looked headed for the lottery again after the front office traded their best player in Brandon Knight for inexperienced assets and their post defender Larry Sanders decided to quit basketball. When looking a pure improvement in win totals Jason Kidd would win easily, but is improving 26 games from 15 wins the same as what Steve Kerr did, which was improving 16 games from 51 wins? I think not. The quality it takes to improve to 67 wins is otherworldly, especially when considering the Warriors did not make any significant roster changes over the offseason. Steve Kerr transformed a talented but fringe playoff team with a stagnating offense to the second best offensive team in the league, and meanwhile maintained and even improved upon an already strong defense to turn it into the best defensive team in the NBA. This combination of great offense and defense has been a coaching masterpiece and Steve Kerr should be rewarded for this with the Coach of the Year Award.
Rookie of the Year
Andrew Wiggins was the favorite and is the favorite to win this award, as he is the only top 3 pick from last year still healthy, Embiid being injured from before the season and Parker getting knocked out in December with an ACL injury. Although both will look to challenge him in the future this season he is undoubtedly the best out of those drafted last year. But Rookie of the Year honors does not necessarily have to go the best player from last year’s draft. A rookie is a rookie if it’s their first year in the league whether or not they were drafted last year or ten years ago. This brings up two rookies that are largely underrated that have performed at high levels over the past season: Nikola Mirotic (2011 Draft) and Nerlens Noel (2013 Draft). Nikola Mirotic has largely been the rookie with the most impact on a playoff team and has been an integral part of the Bulls’ finish as a 3rd seed. Nerlens Noel, on the other hand and much like Wiggins, has still been part of a losing team the 76ers, but has been the diamond in the rough for them being easily the best defensive rookie in the league. First we need to distinguish the better scorer between Nikola Mirotic and Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins certainly has the volume but Mirotic clearly has the better efficiency. Wiggins leads the league in PPG by an outstanding 5 points but he also has been able to play extensive minutes for a lowly Minnesota team with a handful of injuries, unlike Mirotic who has to fight for his minutes on a team full of established stars in his position like Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. Additionally Wiggins is scoring for a team primed to lose while Mirotic is scoring and playing for a team where every bucket matters in their quest for not just a playoff spot but also a division title. This is shown when we look at benchmark efficiency stats like PER, VA, EWA, and TS% where we can see that Mirotic has clear advantages in all of them and actually leads rookies in all of those categories outside of TS%. His clear-cut dominance in efficiency and the value of his minutes gives him a surprising edge over Wiggins in the Rookie of the Year debate in my opinion. Now that we have narrowed down the field to the premier offensive player in Nikola Mirotic and defensive player in Nerlens Noel it is time to compare the two candidates in terms of overall dominance. Much like the 6th man of the year award, although Nerlens Noel has better defensive contributions his shortcomings in offense are just much larger than Mirotic’s shortcomings on the defensive end. In fact Mirotic is actually pretty solid on the defensive end and makes his team a respectable 2 points better per 100 possessions on defense while Nerlens Noel actually makes his team worse on offense. While both Wiggins and Noel both have had solid seasons, Mirotic’s efficiency and contributions for a playoff team have propelled him in my mind to a Rookie of the Year award.
Executive of the Year
Whenever you are able to sign LeBron James there is no doubt you are the executive of the year and David Griffin has been able to do that and more. Along with the acquisition of LeBron James he also traded Wiggins and Bennett for Kevin Love a premier PF with the ability to stretch the floor really well. Although at the start of the season the Cavs didn’t fare that well and had some chemistry problems, Griffin made great mid season trades, He acquired Iman Shumpert as a hustling defender, JR Smith a hot catch and shoot shooter, and found a tough post defender in Timofey Mozgov. Since these trades the Cavs have been the best team in the Eastern Conference and will be looking to get a ring this post season. Anytime you transform a lottery team into a championship hopeful you deserve Executive of the Year.
Comeback Player of the Year
There is really no question that this award should go to Hassan Whiteside. He has had a whirlwind of a career since graduating college and getting picked in the second round of the 2010 draft. First he tried his hand in the D-League, but he quickly fell off and found himself traversing international leagues like the NBL (China) and the LBL (Lebanon). He finally made his first breakthrough when he won Defensive Player of the Year and Center of the Year in the NBL in 2013. This got him attention from NBA teams again and so the Memphis Grizzlies recruited him, but he quickly fell back to the D–League. This is where the Heat stepped in and picked him up. Since then this season he has quickly established his presence in the Heat lineup by averaging a double double and being 2nd in blocks per game this season. Additionally he has been super efficient this season, finishing 11th in win shares per 48 minutes ahead of notables like LeBron James and also finished 4th in rebound percentage. If there is a perfect example of a comeback, this is it.
Sixth Man of the Year
This year my Sixth Man of the Year shortlist has been boiled down to Andre Iguodala, Isaiah Thomas, and Lou Williams. Iguodala for his defense/distribution and Thomas/Williams for their scoring. First we need to further boil it down to two by determining the better scorer between Thomas and Williams. The better scorer is undoubtedly Thomas as he has averaged more points on the season and has averaged a whopping 19 points per game since joining the Celtics. In addition to his higher volume scoring he has been scoring at higher efficiency evidenced by his superior stats in FG%, TS%, and 3P%. Thomas also has advantages in assists and rebounding compared to Williams. These stats prove that without a doubt Isaiah Thomas has been the better player and scorer. Now that we’ve narrowed the shortlist to two we have to choose between the scorer and the plus defender/distributor. When you look at the normal box office stats like assists, points, and rebounds Thomas would undoubtedly have a large advantage. But when one probes deeper into advanced stats like BPM (box plus/minus) and VORP (value over replacement player) the difference is less evident. In BPM Thomas actually makes his team worse over 100 possessions on defense, mean while Iguodala makes his team 1.5 point’s better on the defensive end. But while Iguodala doesn’t make his team any better on the offensive end Thomas makes his team an outstanding 4.6 points per 100 possessions. Because of this I feel although Iguodala’s defensive contributions on the second squad were substantial, Thomas’s offensive contributions were greater and he had a greater role in his team’s playoff push than Iguodala did to the Warriors. Additionally Thomas led a team that was widely believed to be lottery bound to a playoff spot, because of these many reasons Thomas should triumph in the debate for Sixth Man of the Year.