Trophies: Predicting the end-of-season NBA awards
Reason # 116 to prove a sign of aging: each NBA season seems to pass on quicker than the last. And just like that, while we had only barely just recovered from our pre-season preview we are already here at the end. 82 games have been played by all 30 teams, the respective playoff seedings are set, there have been some epic meltdowns, some surprising rises, and a whole lot of other-worldly individual performances.
And just before we move on ahead to start thinking about the playoffs and my trademarked annual ‘Upset Watch’ series for the First Round, it’s time to reflect and reward. Within the next few days, the NBA’s scribes (and for the case of All NBA Teams, the coaches) will fill in their respective ballots to reward individual greatness across the league. Here at Hoopistani, I don’t yet have a vote (working on it, though!). But nevertheless, here are my choices for players who should receive the end-of-season individual trophies (word to Drizzy).
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James has won this award four times in the last five years and has clearly been the greatest player in the league in that span, but his time at the top is over. This isn’t a case of voter fatigue in hoping for a change or a drastic drop in LeBron’s own production (his stats and efficiency were off the charts again). Rather, LeBron just happened to be un-upped by a man who completed a regular season touching All-time dominance. Kevin Durant is your 2013-14 MVP, and it isn’t much of an argument anymore (even LeBron thinks so).
KD led the league in scoring for the fourth time in five years. He averaged a career-high 32 points per game on career-best 5.5 assists per game to go with 7.4 rebounds per game. He neared another ridiculously efficient 40-50-90 season and went through a scoring stretch in Russell Westbrook’s absence reminiscent of the greatest stretches in NBA history. Plus, he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder remain top two in the tough West, hit a bunch of clutch shots, and picked an awful nickname for himself. We will look back at this season in the future and compare it to the greatest one season performances in the past by Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron. The rest of the MVP candidates are LeBron of course, Joakim Noah, and Blake Griffin.
Defensive Player of the Year: I had felt that Roy Hibbert would be running away with this as the Indiana Pacers were enjoying a fantastic start to the season and Hibbert was the man anchoring a historically good defense. But in the end, Joakim Noah has snuck in to block Roy, and will snatch the DPOY award. While the Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Luol Deng this season, Noah refused to give up, turning into an inspirational leader on both ends of the floor. While the Bulls still struggled offensively, Noah’s work on defense kept them among the league’s elite on that end, and helped them finish in the top four in the East. Hibbert should finish a close second with teammate Paul George getting some love, too.
Rookie of the Year: Ugh! I don’t really want to answer this. Are we going to look back and say that this was one of the worst rookie classes in history? My long term prediction is that Utah’s Trey Burke and Minnesota’s duo of Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad (both of whom got a chance a little too late) will have the most productive careers of the class. But for now, the rookie of the year award, by default of everyone being generally awful, goes to Michael Carter-Williams. He barely edges out Victor Oladipo and Tim Hardaway Jr., and even then, its sad to award someone whose team lost 26 games in a row.
Most Improved Player: An ‘honour’ so vague and random that a few months ago, James Hsu and I spent over 6,000 words trying to decipher and predict it. Back then, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, and Lance Stephenson were our favourites. Ever since, Bledsoe got hurt, Jackson disappeared, and Lance began to make some questionable decisions. So who is improving now? Instead of going into the philosophies again of the type of improvement that truly constitutes the ‘most improved’, I’ll cut right to the chase. My vote, after a lot of back and forth, goes to Goran Dragic.
Dragic upped his numbers across the board for the surprising Phoenix Suns, including a dramatic six-point average scoring improvement. He should’ve been an All Star this season and will end up in an All NBA team after being on the radar of very few this time a year ago. The Suns have half of the league’s most improved candidates, including Gerald Green, Bledsoe, and Miles Plumlee. Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephenson, and DeAndre Jordan, are candidates too.
Sixth Man of the Year: The ageless Manu Ginobili is a top candidate to win this award for the second time in his career, as are other bench stars like Jamal Crawford and the Phoenix duo of Gerald Green and Markieff Morris. But my vote goes to Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls, who has poured in a solid 13 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, in a continued stable role off the bench for the resilient Bulls. Plus, he plays solid defense that puts him ahead of other candidates, and is usually a crunch time presence for Coach Thibodeau.