Friday, April 18, 2014

The Year That Was: NBA Regular Season Awards

Having a Year
What a weird year. A third of the East tried not to win games. The Phoenix team that lost the game of musical chairs for the final seed in the West probably would have had home court in the East. The top two seeds in the East spent the last six weeks stumbling over their shoes, giving hope to all of the teams that were feeling stupid for trying. The weakest rookie of the year class ever, any number of guys taking time off to get right for playoffs that are going to be one and done, and everyone just waiting around for 80-plus games to see if Miami still has an on switch.

But before we get into all of that, a nod to the games that were. Which were all kinds of fun to watch, assuming, of course, that you didn't pay any attention to the Eastern Conference.

NBA First Team: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love and James Harden.

Comments: Really thought hard about Paul George instead of Harden here, as pace of play is probably making The Bearded One look better than he is, and leading a team to the #1 seed should get you a guy on the first team... but George just gacked his way through the last 20+ games, and shooting 42% from the floor can't be the best we can do here. As for the others, these are pretty much a slam dunk, with the lone surprise to some being the best guy on a non-playoff team (Love) getting the nod. This is controversial only if you haven't seen him play, and as soon as he gets out of Minnesota, no one will argue with this assessment again. (Curry vs. Chris Paul might not have gone for the Warrior in a normal year, but CP3's injury made it a done deal.)

NBA Second Team: Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah,  Chris Paul, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge.

This is the group of guys who showed you just how crazy valuable they were by missing a portion of the season, and having their teams suffer from it. Davis would have been the defensive player of the year if he had just made it through the season, and might have dragged the Pelicans to playoff contention, too. Paul's the best real point in the league, and George, we've discussed. Portland played at a top seed level with Aldridge, then nearly spit the bit without him. Finally, there's Noah, the linchpin of the Bulls, who pretty much dragged that franchise to another playoff run despite their best intentions. Huge respect for that guy.

NBA Third Team: Al Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, Damiam Lillard, Blake Griffin, Goran Dragic.

My third team would hang with either of the teams above for vast stretches of time, because they are just so idiosyncratic. Jefferson's never been better in the hyper-effective and increasingly anachronistic post game, while Dragic was the engine to a Phoenix team that deserved so much more for its heart. Ibaka just keeps shaving his game upward, and is now a consistent asset on both ends of the floor. Lillard is Steph Curry without quite so many highlights, while Griffin finally added health and tolerable free throw shooting to his game.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams. I get the idea that we shouldn't encourage anyone from one of the worst teams in NBA history, and that the up-tempo game meant cheap numbers for all... but his numbers are just wildly better than everyone else's, and he passes the eye test for me. If he ever gets a jump shot, he's showing up in some of the other lists. Runners-up: Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee.

Defensive Player of the Year: Noah. Davis and Ibaka will have their adherents. I might never have seen a more lockdown point guard than Patrick Beverly, but he can't stay healthy. But the plain and simple nature of this award is that the bigs will win it unless a small does something off the charts, and Noah's just been amazing this year.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix. We can give this to Gregg Popovich every year, but since that's not feasible, let's give it to the guy who more or less doubled his expected win total despite injury issues, a bunch of bigs that can't play defense, and in the murder conference. Actually, scratch that; anyone that wins this award is unemployed in 18 months. Pops, take your award!

Sixth Man of the Year: I kind of hate this award, since it doesn't really come into play in the thin and win NBA. If it really went to a dedicated non-starter, rather than just a bench gunner, Nick Collison would have gotten a sniff at it back in the day. But since we have to award it, let's throw it to Taj Gibson, who was a wrecking crew for Chicago.

Most Valuable Player:
Durant. OKC didn't have Russell Westbrook for much of the year, played in the Murder Division of the Murder Conference, and nearly got the #1 seed anyway. I don't generally quote numbers in making these judgments, because game speed and context matter so much, but Durant just won a scoring title while shooting 50.3% from the floor... and making 192 threes. Oh, and just in case you think he's just a scorer, 7.4 boards and 5.5 assists are actually right there with James. Dude is just unfair.

All-Overrated: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Rudy Gay. All of these guys give up tons at the defensive end, don't justify their brand name, and will hoist up shots late as if there were playing 1 on 5. You can have 'em.

All-Improved: Jodie Meeks, Deandre Jordan, Gerald Green, Paul George and John Wall. More than a matter of just getting minutes, these five made themselves money for years in the future. Meeks was one of the few consistent pieces of evidence that the Lakers actually like Mike D'Antoni, while Jordan took to actual coaching from Doc Rivers like a duck to water. Shame that Rivers can't teach him FT shooting. Green went from fungible rotation guy to essential viewing, George became a star, and Wall developed a 3-point shot and pick and roll game with Marcin Gortat.

Sometime before the playoffs start, picks. Check back for those, as last year's were startlingly good, which means this year is going to be a flaming mess...

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