Okay, we fibbed a little. We do have “real” awards to hand out, because the NBA is a league of rules, and sometimes even biased people with unbiased opinions have to color between the lines. That’s not going to stop us from using awesome, weird colors, but it is what it is. MVP! MIP! ROY! COY! EOY! DPOY! 6MOY! To the ballots that exist inside our minds and hearts, if not in eyes of the league offices — which, you’ll agree, is an oversight on their part.
1. Who is your pick for MVP?
Brian: Kevin Durant. Enough proverbial blood has been spilled over what should be a celebration of the two best players alive having two of the best seasons in the history of this game for me to feel any excitement over this choice, but it’s Kevin Durant. The Heat have had their rough patches this season. The Thunder really haven’t. I’m not going to use Westbrook’s absence in Durant’s favor, because that has no bearing on Durant’s value. Durant is averaging 32 points per game on .638 true shooting. His win shares per 48 are above .300. He wins.
Noam: Kevin Durant. MVP is an intentionally ambiguous award, leaving room for the voter to define what Most Valuable Player even means. And indeed, if your idea of an MVP is the guy who is bar none the best player in the league, LeBron James should still be the pick. But this has been the first year since 2008ish where James’ standing has even been in question, thanks to the leap Durant has made from elite to otherworldly, and I feel the leap should be rewarded.
Steve: Let me state up front that I believe Kevin Durant will be the MVP and that he deserves it. Now let me shill for Kevin Love, because I know there’s no way he gets it. But under the reading of MVP as “player who does the most for his team,” it’s hard to argue against him. According to NBAwowy.som, when he’s on the court, the Wolves’ offensive rating is 112.4 points per 100 possessions. With him off, that drops to 108.4, but what’s even more notable is on the defensive end, where the Wolves give up 114.7 points per 100 possessions without Love and 106.2 with him on the court. That means their net rating goes from +6.2 to -6.3. That’s staggering.
Ian: Kevin Durant. There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.
Jack: Kevin Durant. The criteria for this award is backwards. It’s hard to believe any player could mean more to his team’s success – offensively, defensively, and in the locker-room – than LeBron James. The on- and off- court identity his presence promotes is surely without peer: the Heat couldn’t play the truly unique style they do on either end of the floor without LeBron, and their unwavering commitment to a one-for-all identity is directly cultivated by the persona of their four-time MVP. No player’s all-encompassing influence is bigger than LeBron’s.
But Durant was simply the better player. The modern NBA has never seen an offensive season like this one before. Skeptical? Study Durant’s remarkable January, then remember the succeeding two months were almost equally mesmerizing. KD has made strides as a playmaker even the most optimistic Thunder fans couldn’t see coming, and his defensive impact has never been higher than this season’s. He was clearly basketball second-best player in 2013 and was considerably better one year later. One shudders to think just how good Durant will be when he finally reaches his ceiling.
So was KD this season’s best player? Yes. But its most valuable one? That’s certainly debatable.
Scott Rafferty: Kevin Durant is averaging 31.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He has scored 40 or more points 13 times, which includes two 50-point performances. He broke Michael Jordan’s modern day record of consecutive 25 or more point games, with 41. He has three triple-doubles – one shy of the most in the Association this season. But most importantly, he single handily kept the Thunder’s head above water while Russell Westbrook was nursing an injury for two months, and they now own the second best record in the NBA. LeBron James has had another fantastic season; Kevin Durant has just been better.
Kevin: Kevin Durant. And I’m from the “LeBron is the best player and the best player should get the MVP even if its the same guy 100 years in a row” camp, but Durant was actually legitimately and surprisingly and astoundingly the best player this year. LeBron can still dial it up to a level that Durant can’t, at least not as a two-way player, but for what happened in the actual games they played this year? Durant’s the guy.
Derek: Making the important distinction between most valuable and best player, I would give the nod to Kevin Durant. We all know the incredible scoring streaks that have been unseen since Jordan, but the most important thing he’s done is keep the Thunder in the mix despite the absences of Russell Westbrook. You could also mention the improvements of Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, but those two combined do not offset missing Westbrook alone. The Thunder have needed Durant to step up and he has risen to that challenge.
Jordan: Kevin Durant. LeBron is still the best player, but Durant’s season has been absolutely astounding, and not just because of his scoring streak. He carried the Thunder in Westbrook’s absence, acting equal parts scorer and facilitator.
Andrew: Durant. No excuses; Durant’s played like a champion. He’s had the best season of any basketball player in all known galaxies, according to multiple sources. “Best player” conversations can take a backseat for now. Durant wins the regular season, and that’s enough.
2. Who is your pick for Coach of the Year?
Brian: Gregg Popovich. In all honesty, Popovich should be winning this award pretty much every year. That he hasn’t is either a weird international conspiracy or the most blatant example of voter fatigue imaginable. The Spurs are running away with the best western conference in years and they’re doing it with Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw. Pop forever.
Noam: Gregg Popovich. Yes, it’s boring at this point, but what are you going to do in the face of a coach who collects 60 win games like ticket stubs and makes Patty Mills a valuable contributor to an NBA contender?
Steve: Jeff Hornacek. Terry Stotts has been impressive turning the Blazers around this year, but Hornacek has done amazing stuff with a team no one expected to be any good. The thing you can really appreciate about the Suns in person is how ceaselessly hard they work. Strategy and playcalling are a big part of what a coach does, but nurturing that consistent work ethic is one of the things a coach has the most direct control over.
Ian: Jeff Hornacek. Won all his arguments but lost his immortal soul.
Jack: Gregg Popovich. The Spurs will finish the season with the best record in the NBA. They’ll also finish the season with no player averaging at least 30 minutes per game. With apologies to Jeff Hornacek and Steve Clifford, all hail Pop.
Scott Rafferty: I can’t bring myself to give it to anyone other than Gregg Popovich. The way in which he has managed this team, by nurturing the bench and keeping everyone’s minutes down so they are healthy for the playoffs, has been incredible. Plus, they have the best record in the NBA. That helps with this award.
Kevin: Popovich. And I’ll honor him by not explaining my answer any further.
Derek: This is incredibly tough. Jeff Hornacek has an argument, so do Scott Brooks, Terry Stotts and a few others. However, the way Greg Poppovich continues to keep the Spurs machine rolling year in and year out is impressive, but even more so given he hasn’t had a healthy roster until the beginning of April. Even then, they have still been missing Tony Parker.
Spurs fans, you may now resume your persecution complex.
Jordan: It’s neck and neck between Steve Clifford and Jeff Hornacek, but I’m giving it to Clifford by the slightest of hairs. The reason: the defensive discipline Clifford’s instilled in his young team despite having very little defensive talent. One could say the job Clifford’s done this year has been nothing short of…stunning.
Andrew: I don’t…what the hell, Jordan. What the hell. That photoshop. What the hell.
Anyway, I made a wager with myself back in February: if the Suns made the playoffs, my non-existent vote would go to Jeff Hornacek. If they didn’t, it was Pop. Phoenix plays Memphis later tonight for a chance to keep their postseason hopes alive, but I’m not hopeful. It’s all yours, Mr. Popovich.
3. Who is your pick for Sixth Man of the Year?
Brian: Taj Gibson. I didn’t want to hop onto the Taj Gibson 6MOY campaign simply because this year is the year everyone finally realized that he’s better than Carlos Boozer, but the candidates are slim (Markieff Morris aside), and Gibson really has been the difference lately.
Noam: Taj Gibson. I really wanted to go Markieff Morris here, but I’m not sure how I can ignore Gibson’s effect on both sides of the court, even in the face of Morris’ emergence as an explosive prototypical modern 4 on offense.
Steve: Taj Gibson. The more I see him, the more I think he’d make a better starting power forward than many in the league, yet he still excels off the bench behind Carlos Boozer with nary a complaint about his minutes. I’m also partial to Gibson because although his offense has picked up this year, he’s primarily known for his defensive capabilities and 6MOY is so perpetually judged strictly on scoring in bunches.
Ian: Taj Gibson. Violence, it’s as American as pizza pie.
Jack: Taj Gibson. Gibson made offensive progress this season most thought passed him by a couple years ago, and his all-court influence on the other end remains the elite of elite.
Scott Rafferty: Taj Gibson. The Bulls were built to tank away the rest of the season when they traded Luol Deng to the Cavaliers, but they were able to turn it around in a hurry. Most of that has to do with however we want to describe the magic Joakim Noah has been able to conjure up, but Taj Gibson has played a pivotal role in that, too, by giving them a huge boost off the bench, averaging 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 29.6 minutes per contest since that trade. He’s also a great defender – an elite one according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus – which separates him from the Jamal Crawford’s of the race.
Derek: I’m going to say Taj Gibson as well, but mention something else. The Bulls have yet again been without Derrick Rose, meaning they would need everyone to step up if they wanted to continue to win games. Joakim Noah did, but then they dealt Luol Deng, yet they still continued to prevail. I’m also reclaiming this award from Best Scorer off the Bench here.
Jordan: Taj Gibson. His suffocating defense should be enough, but just in case it isn’t, he’s also upped his scoring to the point where one wonders why Carlos Boozer still starts.
Andrew: Taj Gibson. A couple months ago, I wasn’t sure Gibson would get the necessary recognition for his contributions off the bench in Chicago, where he’s the Bulls’ starting power forward in all but name. That no longer seems to be a problem; if Gibson doesn’t win, it’ll be because voters thought someone else was more deserving. And I can live with that.
4. Who is your pick for Executive of the Year?
Brian: Ryan McDonough. At this point, we should be marveling less at the fact that the Suns were in playoff contention at all and recognize how insane it is that, as of right now, they’re still alive. Jeff Hornacek (a deserving COY candidate), his staff and his players deserve the lion’s share of the credit, but several decisions the Suns have made have born immediate fruit without jeopardizing the future draft wealth they’ll see down the road. PJ Tucker might actually be a demigod.
Noam: Ryan McDonough. It may have been an accident, but regardless of intent, Phoenix’s rookie GM has created a playoff contender in the unprecedented competitiveness of the West out of waiver wire rejects and prematurely dismissed draft picks, placing the Suns in phenomenal position for a bright future.
Steve: To me, it’s Masai Ujiri yet again, having dealt his team’s nominal “best player” in Rudy Gay mid-season only to improve them. When they traded Gay, the team was 7-12. Since then, they’re 39-21
Ian: Daryl Morey. I do love you. I’d be one miserable and lonesome man without you around.
Jack: Masai Ujiri. Who knows if Ujiri envisioned such immediate on-court dividends as a result of trading Rudy Gau, but the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. The 2013 Executive of the Year took the Raptors from doormat to division winner in a matter of months, and did so while clearing their clogged cap-sheet, too. He deserves to keep the trophy.
Scott Rafferty: It would take a miracle for the Rockets to win a championship this season, but Daryl Morey has set them up for at least a few title-contending years thanks to the acquisitions made over the last 12 months, so he gets my vote. He has also established a perfect single affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League, which has helped the likes of Terrence Jones develop into important assets. The Rockets are young, stacked and hungry for a chip, with a great developmental system in place. The future is looking pretty bright in H-Town.
Derek: It has to be Ryan McDonough, right? I mean, no one saw this team coming, he selected Jeff Hornacek as head coach and many key rotation players have improved with him. If organizational functionality starts in the front office, then this one is McDonough for me.
Jordan: Ryan McDonough. Not only did he hit a home run with Eric Bledsoe and the piles upon piles of draft picks, he absolutely nailed the coaching hire with Jeff Hornacek.
Andrew: This literally came down to a coin flip. On the one hand, Daryl Morey played the long-game to perfection, finishing his remodeling of the Rockets with the acquisition of a superstar who could make Houston legitimate title contenders. On the other, Ryan McDonough struck gold with players and coaches, helping a team on the verge of tanking to the verge of playoff contention.
Physics wins, though, and so does Morey.
5. Who is your pick for Most Improved Player?
Brian: Goran Dragic. Staying Suns, Dragic has made the jump we all assumed Paul George made last year; from great second tier player to fringe All-NBA guy. Even if Goran doesn’t make that team (which he SHOULD), he deserves recognition for becoming a top flight player. This is as good as any, and for once, it won’t go to a guy who simply got more minutes. Dragic has improved his play in every way imaginable this season.
Noam: You could essentially pick any Sun and have full justification for it. Personally, I go Goran Dragic (arguably above average point guard into borderline all-star and engine for the league’s most overachieving offense) over Eric Bledsoe (sustained level of play over a massive increase in minutes and burden), Gerald Green (back from the dead), Miles Plumlee (from trade throw-in to legitamite starting center), the previously mentioned Markieff Morris, his twin brother and P.J. Tucker.
Steve: Goran Dragic. Call me crazy, but I feel like that step from rotation guy to near All-Star-caliber guy is maybe a harder one to accomplish than the kind of overlooked to respectable step that a guy like Ryan Anderson took the year he won it. Dragic was decent enough, but his play with Phoenix this season has been inspired.
Ian: Anthony Davis. Somewhere in the depths of solitude, beyond wilderness and freedom, lay the trap of madness.
Jack: Goran Dragic. There may not be a more daunting leap in the NBA than the one from impact to franchise player, and The Dragon made it look easy this season.
Scott Rafferty: I get the whole “a lottery pick that is in their second year shouldn’t get the MIP award” argument, but I’m confident in saying that Anthony Davis has improved more than anyone else since the end of last season. His rookie year was a slight disappointment (mainly because of some nagging injuries and the minutes he was allocated) but he has made a monstrous jump in his sophomore campaign. He’s only the sixth player since 1973 to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and one steal over an entire season (which is just absurd) and is the youngest of the lot, at 21, to accomplish that feat. The crux of it is he has transformed himself into a legit superstar and I didn’t expect it to happen this early.
Kevin: To me, the most important step a player takes is often his second leap, which is to say the step from being very good to being borderline irreplaceable. That’s why I picked James Harden last year even though he was already great before the season started. And that’s why my pick this year is Goran Dragic. Dragic pushed his previously solid-for-a-guard true shooting percentage up over 60% this year into “great no matter what position you play” territory. He did this while increasing his FGA’s per game by approximately 25%. And check this out: he had a career high usage rate and a (roughly) career average assist rate but a career low turnover rate. He was a legitimate star this season and the leap his team took along with him drills the point home.
Derek: It’s really tempting to award this to an Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones or Terrence Ross despite the fact that second year players are supposed to improve, and I don’t think I would necessarily be wrong in doing so. Yet, I’m going to say Goran Dragic because of what he’s done to help make the Suns the surprise of the season.
Jordan: All of the Suns. Yes, all of them. What’s that, I can’t pick all of them? Screw you, I’m picking all of them. OK, fine, I’ll pick one. Gerald Green was a fringe NBA player before this season, even with his mini-resurrections in Brooklyn and Indianapolis. Under the tutelage of Jeff Hornacek, Green’s become a crucial cog in a near-playoff team. His dunks are as delicious as ever, but he plays with a newfound sense of control – not totally, not always, but enough to where Hornacek is fine giving him the green light.
Andrew: Markieff Morris. Goran Dragic seems the pick, and the Dragon has been amazing. But, to me, Dragic’s improvement hasn’t necessarily been, well, improvement. These are skills and abilities he always had, he’s just never been put in such perfect position to shine.
6. Who is your pick for Defensive Player of the Year?
Brian: Andre Iguodala. I want to, with every part of me, give this to Roy Hibbert just to prove that rebounding has very little to do with defense, but I truly believe Hibbert has slipped. Hibbert had a stranglehold on this award two months ago, and there’s a dearth of candidates behind him, so I’ll give Iguodala something of a lifetime achievement award (also he’s been really good this season).
Noam: Roy Hibbert. The Pacers’ recent slide is ugly even without looking at the magic Joakim Noah is doing in Chicago, but Hibbert’s first two months of the season were as dominant a rim protection display as we’ve seen in recent years, and solidified the word “verticality” as an everyday part of the NBA viewer’s lexicon. Hibbsy holds on.
Steve: Joakim Noah. Noah’s always been known as a hustling defensive player, but I feel like the filling out of other aspects of his game like passing and scoring has helped his value and therefore his defense. Is that possible? Like we always hear how Kevin Love being a better defender would make him better, so why can’t Noah’s all-around improvement lift his defense as well?
Ian: Roy Hibbert. And the wind blows, the dust clouds darken the desert blue, pale sand and red dust drift across the asphalt trails and tumbleweeds fill the arroyos. Good-bye, come again.
Jack: Roy Hibbert. His pathetic declines as scorer and rebounder haven’t kept Hibbert from remaining basketball’s foremost intimidator at the rim. Indiana still sports the league’s best defense, and Hibbert is the player most responsible for that success.
Scott Rafferty: Had the Indiana Pacers not drunkely tripped over their own feet following the All-Star break, Roy Hibbert would have had my vote for Defensive Player of the Year. But they did, so Joakim Noah gets the nod. The Bulls’ rise in the East has shocked everyone and they’ve done it by sticking to their guns, playing bully ball on the defensive end. They boast the second most efficient defense in the league and are giving up just 91.6 points per game – the best in the Association. The reason they are so successful is because Noah can guard pretty well anyone and he does a fantastic job of disrupting plays with his gangly arms. He’s the anchor of their defense and a damn good one at that.
Derek: Joakim Noah. Like Scott said, this was probably Roy Hibbert’s to lose early on, but Noah has been a valuable defender for years and this year has been no different and the Bulls have reaped the benefits.
Jordan: Joakim Noah. There really should be a different award for Noah. Not quite the MVP, but something just below it, because he is everything to this Chicago Bulls team. Chicago’s defense is built around Noah’s savvy, skills and athleticism, the result of which is a system team’s hate to face.
Andrew: Joakim Noah, and that’s huge. Defensive Player of the Year can be a reputation award, secured by stellar defense the year prior that establishes a baseline on which a player is judged from that point forward. By that standard, Hibbert seemed a lock after the way the Pacers closed the 2013 season and playoffs. Then Noah broke into the bank, tore through the initial layers of security, picked the lock and laid claim to his rightful position as the screamingest, tornadoiest, best defender in the league.
7. Who is your pick for Rookie of the Year?
Brian: Victor Oladipo. OK, so this rookie class is kind of awful and while a lot of guys should end up being good players (Nerlens Noel comes to mind), choosing a “best” here is going to come with the caveat that the best is a sub 40% shooter. Michael Carter-Williams was probably better than we assumed he would be in November, but he still shot horribly. When thinking of a suitable replacement, I asked myself one simple question: which team would be most negatively affected if you told them their 2013-14 rookie class was banned?
Noam: Can I pass and give this to whoever finishes second in voting next year? No? Fine, Michael Carter-Williams. But I’m not happy about this and you shouldn’t be either,
Steve: You can cry homer if you want over this, but if I had a vote, I’d go with Gorgui Dieng. Not because he’s going to win it, but simply because his curve over his rookie season is actually a model for how to season a rookie gradually. Players like Michael Carter-Williams who explode out of the gate are the exception, not the rule, and how many possibly productive rookies — whether by design or circumstance — have never gotten the chance to build their confidence gradually before stepping into a larger role and filling ably as Dieng has done.
Ian: Steven Adams. I’m sure as hell not going to fight over her. I got more interesting things to do than that.
Jack: Victor Oladipo. The quality of competition in this race was so disheartening that it’s not even worth analysis.
Scott Rafferty: I barely watched any Philadelphia 76ers games this season because 99% of them were depressing. Victor Oladipo was on my fantasy team. I think my (bias) vote has been made pretty clear here.
Derek: This is a tough one. I’m not sure if I can pick one, but I would say Steve Adams, Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams would be my top-three. Thing is, taking into account team performance with individual numbers, I’m still not sure anyone here would really be “robbed” if they didn’t win. I look at Adams’ numbers, and while he isn’t putting up huge numbers, he’s been efficient and on a very good team. Then Carter-Williams had his hot start and still has slightly better numbers than Oladipo, but the Magic rookie has improved as the year has gone on. To make matters worse, both have played on terrible teams. Perhaps if Gorgui Dieng was able to contribute at this level all year long the picture would be a little more clear, but those three would be it. And I’m not really sure it matters which of those three you choose.
Jordan: Victor Oladipo. That he averaged more assists than turnovers (barely) in his rookie year despite having never played the point guard position full-time is terribly impressive.