I come to you tonight antsy with anticipation. I can’t remember the last night that there wasn’t any form of basketball on television. I’m not exactly sure what to do with myself. Maybe it’s loneliness I’m feeling. Maybe it’s anxiety. I’m not sure. I just know that it doesn’t feel right without basketball. It’s only a two-day break and maybe I need it but I’m definitely feeling a bit queasy. I’ll probably end up re-watching some games on League Pass or playing a couple games of NBA 2k13. But for now, I’ll just write. Because that’s the greatest meditation I have.
I’ll tell you what I DON’T have — an MVP ballot. But that’s okay; that’s the beauty of blogging. I don’t need one. I can come to you today with a set of opinions. Agree or disagree, either is fine by me, but I’m going to use this down time to share my “end of the season” awards.
MVP – 1. LeBron James 2. Kevin Durant 3. Carmelo Anthony 4. Chris Paul 5. Tim Duncan
This is a no-brainer. If someone wants to be that asshole to put Kevin Durant No. 1 on their ballot, then they shouldn’t be given a ballot next year. James is having one of the greatest seasons of all time and was the catalyst in the second longest winning streak in NBA history. In February, he averaged nearly 30 points, over seven assists and over seven rebounds while shooting a mind-boggling 64.1 percent from the floor. I don’t really know what else to say — there’s really no argument for anyone else.
It speaks volumes to just how amazing LeBron has been that Kevin Durant had his best season as a pro and still shouldn’t receive a single No. 1 place vote. Durant was awesome. He increased his assist rate, his TrueShooting% and improved defensively while leading Oklahoma City to the No. 1 seed. Durant’s the second best player on the planet and this year really separated him and LeBron from the rest of the pack.
Anthony, Paul and Duncan were all great. Anthony stole the scoring title within the Knicks’ system, which was impressive, and he’s arguably the hottest player entering the postseason. If it were possible to give Chris Paul Coach of the Year, I’d do it. Duncan steamrolled through the season with arguably his best statistical season of his career. And umm, he’s 36.
Rookie of the Year – 1. Damian Lillard 2. Anthony Davis 3. Bradley Beal
I’ve gone back-and-forth on this award all season long. My heart wants to pick Davis, but my mind keeps telling me Lillard. Cascada told me to listen to my heart, but, begrudgingly, I had to go with Lillard. Lillard was thrown in the fire immediately and didn’t disappoint. He has his flaws — his shot selection leaves some to be desired and, like most rookies, he struggles on defense — but overall his season was so impressive that he’s got my vote.
NBA heads around the internet have made a great argument for Davis, but the time he missed due to injury does matter (Lillard led the league in minutes). When I think back on Davis’ rookie year I won’t remember any specific games or moments. I’ll remember how much potential he flashed and I’ll remember his incredible efficiency but I won’t have a moment to put in my memory banks to come back on and say “THAT’S A ROOKIE OF THE YEAR MOMENT.” Lillard on the other hand scored 38 in a duel against Kobe and had this magnificent 37 point performance against the Warriors.
Beal started slow but came on near the end of the year. A case could be made to put Drummond in the third spot but if I’m going to deduct points from Davis for missing games then I have to for Drummond too. Beal has played like a potential All-Star since (ironically) the All-Star break. He and John Wall made the Washington Wizards a tough team night-in and night-out.
Sixth Man of the Year – 1. Jarrett Jack 2. JR Smith 3. Jamal Crawford
While 90 percent of NBA analysts will tell you that Smith and Crawford are the two most deserving players off this award for their contributions off the bench, give me Jarrett Jack. Jack turned into one of the best off-season acquisitions and was a big part of Golden State’s success this season. He ranks No. 2 in bench players in assists, behind only Andre Miller, and scores the ball at a high rate. He shot 40.6 percent from three and gave Golden State the flexibility to play Stephen Curry off-the-ball — a set that netted a offensive rating of 108.6, a full five points higher than the team average, per NBA.com.
Smith and Crawford are both high-volume gunners off the bench with the ability to create for themselves. And for some reason our definition of “Sixth Man of the Year” has turned into that. We’ve come to expect bench players to come in and score immediately off the pine. But give me Jack and his duel threat ability to score and create for teammates.
Defensive Player of the Year – 1. Marc Gasol 2. Joakim Noah 3. Andre Iguodala
At the All-Star break I would have picked Joakim Noah and I’m still picking Noah if he would have stayed healthy. But he didn’t. And it’s tough to remain a defensive threat with health issues — just ask Dwight Howard. Speaking of Howard, we’re not even having this discussion if he isn’t injured for basically the entire year.
Which is why I’m choosing Marc Gasol. Gasol is an actual grizzly bear anchoring a team called the Grizzlies. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe points out, the Grizzlies give up just 95.4 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the floor and 102.8 when he’s not. Some would argue that Gasol’s teammate Tony Allen deserves some mentions, and he does, but his constant gambling, which serves well in the Grizzlies’ packed-in, always rotating defense, isn’t a style that serves well when you think of the best defensive player in the league. Allen is a psychotic, animal with relentless energy but he’s not the same defender without Gasol’s constantly active hands and feet protecting the rim.
How does a team go from 20th in defensive rating one year with little chance of winning a title, to 11th the next year with championship hopes? By adding Andre Iguodala. The Nuggets give up 105.4 points per 100 possessions with Iggy on the bench, per NBA.com, which would put them 24th in the league. With Iggy on the floor that number moves to a very respectable 100.9, good enough for 10th in the league.
Most Improved Player of the Year – 1. Lance Stephenson 2. LARRY SANDERS! 3. Jrue Holiday
This is always a tough category to choose and it’s been well-documented on the Internet that the interpretation of this award needs to be clarified and uniform to those who vote. Otherwise we should just rename it the “name anyone here and get bitched at by NBA elitists” award, which I’m totally okay with. Because regardless I was going to pencil in Lance Stephenson just for fun.
But take a look at what Stephenson has done, besides the numbers. Stephenson was irrelevant for his first two seasons in the league. He struggled to find minutes and when he did, he’d do something incredibly dumb and would be yanked immediately. But Stephenson has become a ball-handling creator for the often stalled Indiana Pacers offense. His overall numbers may not stand out in a box score but just a year ago it looked like he would be playing overseas and would become another obscure reference in the future; now he’s playing 28 minutes a night on the No. 3 seed in the east.
SANDERS! became somewhat of an Internet icon and is one of the most entertaining players in the league. His knack for weak side defense and mind-boggling 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes has made him somewhat of a spectacle. He could even get looks for Defensive Player of the Year. Now that I think about it, he probably deserves Most Improved. But I’ve gone too far now, no going back.
Coach of the Year – 1. George Karl, 2. Gregg Popovich 3. Erik Spoelstra
I don’t subscribe to the “don’t have a superstar, can’t win in the NBA” theory and apparently Karl doesn’t either. Karl has taken this group of Nuggets, through injuries and all, to the No. 3 seed in the stacked western conference playoffs.
Denver is 38-3(!!) at home. Think about that. 38 and 3. In. The. Western. Conference. Popovich feels like the go-to choice for Coach of the Year every season and Spo catapulted himself into the conversation by managing a 27 game winning streak but what Karl has done this year is fascinating.
Thanks for reading and follow me on Twitter @lashy!
EDIT at 10:18 EST — playoff predictions are coming out tomorrow, so stay tuned.