As we close in on the end of the NBA regular season, it’s time to discuss not just the Playoffs, but also the Award winners for the season. The traditional awards like MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and so on will be discussed plenty over the next couple of weeks. I’m here to bring you some imaginary awards that you’ve never heard of and probably will never hear of again.
The Olajuwon Award for Best Foreign Born Player
To Dirk Nowitzki, who remains atop the list of foreign players in the league even though he’s the longest tenured one in the league and that list continues to grow. The number of quality foreign players in the NBA is greater now than it ever has been, and that’s what makes Dirk’s win all the more impressive. With the brothers Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Luol Deng and Andrew Bogut all established as veteran foreigners, and up-and-comers like Goran Dragic, Rick Rubio, the brothers Nikola (Pekovic and Vucevic), Nic Batum, Serge Ibaka and Al Horford making noise and coming along in their own right, it’s the longest tenured foreign player in the NBA who takes home the award.
The only true opposition for Dirk this year was Goran Dragic, who carried the overachieving Suns to 47 wins, about thirty more than I expected them to have. The most difficult decision related to this award that I needed to answer was who to name it after. While Olajuwon was born and raised in Nigeria, he did go to college in the United States. Should that disqualify him from having the award named after him? Should it be named after Dirk since he is the best foreign born player not to go to college in the United States? Should I have included Steve Nash as one of the established veteran foreigners even though he’s from Canada and 8,000 miles past his prime? Should I still be thinking about this made up award?
The Hassan Whiteside Award for Boy, Sonny Was Way Off On This Prediction
To the lowly Detroit Pistons who just sucked. There isn’t a more eloquent or fancy way that I could put it. They just sucked. Bad basketball. Weren’t people calling for this team be the Memphis Grizzlies of the East, with all of those lefties and all of that size? Weren’t they being picked to be a potential top five team in the Eastern Conference? That couldn’t have been just me, right? Eh, I hope not. I was suckered in by the Josh Smith signing, the Brandon Jennings trade, and the potential of a Monroe/Drummond frontcourt. I decided to overlook all of the possible downfalls; the spacing, the shooting, the shot selection, the coaching, and the potential for some all-time crappy body language. Just a piece of advice to basketball fans trying to sound smart; don’t look past that stuff. And don’t put a whole bunch of trust in a raw, unpolished freshman center from the MAC Conference.
The Andrei Kirilenko Award for Most Curious Hairstyle:
To Chris Douglas-Roberts, for whatever the hell is happening on top of his head. Not that I’m complaining; truthfully, I’m a fan, and I’m just happy to see CDR in the NBA getting decent minutes—and hitting game winners!—for a playoff team, albeit a fringe one in the Eastern Conference. I always felt like at the very worst, that would be CDR’s fate. But back to the bigger issue… the hair, and more specifically, who would be the namesake of the award. I opted to go with AK-47, even though he’s still in the league and that could’ve been enough to land him the award since his current hair-style resembles that of a four year old girl whose mother cuts her hair. Kirilenko’s legacy in my mind will be his mane. In his 12 year career he’s rocked spiked hair, slicked back hair, the Ivan Drago look, the Bieber before Bieber, the Mohawk, and the faux-hawk. That’s a tremendous hair catalog right there.
The Benjamin Linus Award for Most Influential Mid-Season Pick-Up
To Byron Mullens, who under normal circumstances would be one of the last players you would expect to win any award that has to do with positive influence, unless he could positively influence a situation by grabbing something off of the top shelf. The Philadelphia 76ers were in a position this year that many teams before them have been in and unless new Commissioner Adam Silver makes some changes, many teams down the road will be in. The idea of losing games might seem like an ass-backwards concept to those that aren’t familiar with jargon like tanking, lottery, and tremendous upside (©Jay Bilas), but in the NBA this is a familiar, yet unfortunate reality.
All sorts of anti-tanking solutions/lottery alterations have been suggested in the past few months, so I might as well toss my hat in the ring. Bill Simmons’ Entertaining As Hell Tournament idea would deter teams from tanking quite as shamelessly if there was a Playoff spot dangling there at the end of the regular season, but as long as the teams with the worst records have the best odds to acquire the top picks in the NBA Draft, the system is still flawed and teams will continue to purposely suck based on hopes of lottery luck. Therefore, I propose that all fourteen teams in the draft lottery have even odds to obtain the first five picks. After the first five draft spots are randomly drawn, teams would then be assigned their draft spots based on their record, with the worst record remaining getting the sixth pick, next worse receiving the seventh pick, etc. Would teams blatantly throw away seasons if they had the same odds as every other team to get a top five pick? I like to think that they wouldn’t.
Until large-scale changes are made then teams are going to continue to make shady and downright one-sided deals. And until things change, scrubs like Byron Mullens are going to be acquired for conditional 2nd round pics. Is it really a good thing when Byron Mullens is getting minutes for a team that doesn’t care about losing 26 straight games?
The Lucy Knight Award for Most Influential Off-Season Pick-Up
To Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, who has always flown under the radar and comfortably remains there despite being the best statistical center in the NBA this season. I had the Bobcats pegged for 32 wins and yet another trip to the lottery, but presented the caveat that if Big Al came into town and played like the best center in the league then I thought the Bobcats could play .500 ball and steal a playoff spot. Lo and behold, the Eastern Conference was historically crumby and Jefferson exceeded even my heightened expectations by planting himself firmly on the left block and devouring every post defender that crossed his path.
Since the beginning of March, Jefferson has averaged 25 points and 11 boards a night and rightfully took home March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month Award. I had him seventh on my MVP ballot, higher than most will likely have him because I turned my head away from the fact that his defense is still below average and he isn’t exactly a guy that makes his teammates better. In all fairness, that doesn’t matter or take away from Jefferson’s brilliant regular season, MJ’s savvy management move in the offseason, or the prospect of Big Al leaving Miami’s bigs lying in a puddle of their own blood.
The Sam Young Award for Oddest Frequent Starter on a Playoff Team
To the entire Phoenix Suns starting frontcourt, even though they won’t be featured in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. This is reason no. 104 why the NBA should re-structure the postseason so that the sixteen best teams in the NBA make the Playoffs. Just humor me and take a look at what the matchups would look like under this model.
1: San Antonio Spurs v. 16: Charlotte Bobcats
8: Golden State Warriors v. 9: Dallas Mavericks
4: Indiana Pacers v. 13: Phoenix Suns
5: Miami Heat v. 12: Chicago Bulls
3: Los Angeles Clippers v. 14: Brooklyn Nets
6: Houston Rockets v. 11: Toronto Raptors
7: Portland Trailblazers v. 10: Memphis Grizzlies
2: Oklahoma City Thunder v. 15: Washington Wizards
While you continue to admire how much fun that would be, take a bit of time to admire the fact that the Phoenix Suns are going to finish with the 13th best record in the NBA with a starting frontcourt of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, and PJ Tucker. That nugget alone should win Jeff Hornacek the Coach of the Year Award.
The Other Sam Young Award for Best Shot Fake
Congratulations to the folks who made the bet that there would be two imaginary basketball awards named after Sam Young, you may proceed to the ticket counter and pick-up your winnings! And for the one individual who parlayed that with Al Jefferson winning two imaginary basketball awards, you hit the jackpot. Oh yeah, that was me… I made up this whole imaginary award thing. Big Al’s shot fake is so exaggerated and deceptive, and it manages to work almost all of the time because defenders are required to respect his mid-range game. Even though Jefferson doesn’t come off as a particularly speedy player, his ability to get by the defender after he jumps and finish in all sort of wacky ways in the paint is severely underrated.
Speaking of underrated, I never quite appreciated how good Dwyane Wade’s shot fake was until I saw him do it over and over again against the Chicago Bulls in person. I’m not talking about the shot fake on the perimeter that has been suckering unsuspecting defenders into jumping towards him on the jump shot for years. I’m marveling over the number of fakes Wade uses in the paint and how effective they are. It’s a blast to watch. I suspect it’s been added to his game because he’s not quite as springy as he used to be, but regardless, I enjoy it quite a bit.
The Heisenberg Award for Being a Chemistry Guy, but Kicking All Kinds of Ass in the Process
I have a great appreciation for some of the pioneer Chemists in the NBA. Guys like Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House, Robert Sacre, Patty Mills, and Andrew Bynum (just kidding) have blazed a trail for end of the bench guys who make an impact even without stepping on the court. The Chemist position on the NBA roster doesn’t typically log big time minutes. So why not expand the award, and name it after the most well-known chemist in the United States… Walter Hartwell White, aka Heisenberg. The Heisenberg Award will annually go to the guy in the NBA who preserves a team’s chemistry in times of need, but also handles his business on the court. Heisenberg cooked mad glass, but he was also a prominent figure in distributing it and making fat cheddar, yo. Cheddar.
Joakim Noah personifies what the Heisenberg Award is all about. When Derrick Rose went down he refused to let the Bulls die. When his best friend and team leader Luol Deng was traded in a move meant to save some money, he let the Bulls brass know that they better tread lightly. Noah took his game to another level and in turn, the Bulls have rallied behind the new face of the franchise. Even though he has the reputation of being a guy you’re supposed to hate if he’s not on your favorite team, it’s impossible to hate the way Noah plays the game. The relentlessness that he plays with is intoxicating. I’ve been to a lot of NBA games over the past decade and I’ve never seen someone play as hard as Joakim Noah did. Another staple of Joakim Noah’s game is his passing; how the hell does a center lead his team in assists? He’s just so different in all of the right ways. His work ethic and unselfishness are contagious, and that’s why Noah wins the Heisenberg Award. He’s the head of the most dangerous team outside of Miami in the Eastern Conference. Given the burden Noah carries, I suppose you could say that he is the danger.