Well, that was a fun ride.
Finally, the NBA season has ended and it’s time we focus on the real season – playoffs. The top 8 teams from each conference will battle it out, needing 16 wins, to conquer the Mount Everest of professional basketball and be part of the history books. A lot of story lines are ready to unfold, giving us a chance to know our favorite players more now that they’re under the spotlight for the next month or 2.
For the rest of the 14 teams, it’s back to the drawing board. They’re given almost 6 months to scout upcoming rookies, develop current youngsters, rehab fallen stars, and rehash the front office. Easier said than done, of course. This season is not without its own story lines that made every NBA team intriguing to watch. Even watching the Philadelphia 76ers was interesting, seeing how they would successfully tank this season in pursuit of improvement.
A lot of players have surprised everyone too, with their magnificent play to put their teams in contention. Stephen Curry, who just broke his OWN record of 3-pt field goals made, became the best point guard in the NBA. James Harden showed that there’s more to him than his beard. LeBron James is still LeBron James. And Russell Westbrook channeled Michael Jordan as he dominated the league during the last 2 months.
The MVP discussion has been the tightest it has been for as long as I can remember, and that’s what made this group of players fun to watch. We have not even started with the Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and all other major awards given at the end of each season.
Now, here are my predictions on who should rightfully win the following awards:
Executive of the Year: David Griffin (Cleveland Cavaliers)
When you get 3 superstars, a solid rim protector, and 2 athletic “swingmen,” chances are you have a solid team. When Griffin realized that LeBron was coming home, he surprisingly traded a young stud (Wiggins) for a solid stud (Kevin Love) to partner with Kyrie Irving. Injuries to Anderson Varejao meant that the Cavs lost their 2nd best defender, but the acquisition of Timofey Mozgov from Denver proved to be a solid one. Trading for JR Smith and Iman Shumpert from New York have also proved to be very fruitful for the Cavaliers, who now looks as deep as ever. After a slow start, the Cavaliers are primed to get to their 2nd Finals appearance, thanks to David Griffin’s solid moves and, of course, LeBron James.
Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
Thomas had a very interesting season. First, he was signed by the Phoenix Suns to form a very small 3-guard rotation under coach Jeff Hornacek’s system. Second, he was traded by the same team that signed him to the Boston Celtics, a team that was nowhere near Playoff contention at that time. Throughout those transactions, Isaiah Thomas became the “spark plug” that both teams needed off the bench. Lou Williams (TOR) and Andre Iguodala (GSW) have been valuable to their respective team’s depth as well, but Isaiah is one of the reasons why Boston is a 7th seed in the Playoffs.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
The logical choice would also have been DeAndre Jordan (LAC), who stepped up when it mattered the most to the Clippers, especially after losing Blake Griffin. But Draymond Green is your not-so prototypical defender, making him the unlikely winner. Let me explain: at first, the stats won’t show how he impacted the game defensively (1.3 steals, 1.6 blocks) more than DeAndre Jordan (1 steal, 2.2 blocks). But thanks to basketball-reference.com, it shows that Draymond Green is ranked 4th on defensive rating (estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) with 96.9 (DeAndre is at 7; 98.5). Green also has a +16 net rating when he’s on the court for Golden State, 2nd behind Stephen Curry. And the best part about him, Draymond can guard all 5 positions despite his lack of height. Stats will never show how pure the will and heart is.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls)
When the Bulls traded Luol Deng, they lost their 2nd star that would blossom with Derrick Rose (pun intended). Little did everyone know that Jimmy Butler was going to be that star. Even when Rose stayed healthy during the first couple of months of the season, Jimmy Butler was the main guy for Chicago. Not bad for a guy picked last in the 2011 NBA Draft. He’s now a 2-time minutes leader for the season, putting up 20 points (increase of 6.9 from previous season), 5.8 rebounds (.9 increase), 3.3 assists (.7 increase) game averages and a PER of 21.32. He’s primed to get a huge paycheck when he becomes a free agent after the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves)
When Kobe was asked what he thought of Andrew Wiggins, he said that Wiggins is “a reflection of himself.” When the Black Mamba gives you that much high praise, you know you’re for real. Wiggins won 4 Western Conference Rookie of the Month, only missing out on March when Jordan Clarkson (LAL) was proving to be a great rookie as well. But it was only a matter of time before we give this kid the award. Nikola Mirotic (CHI) had him run for his money in the last couple of weeks, playing a more important role for a Chicago team struggling with injuries, and Elfrid Payton (ORL) found the groove during the same period, almost flirting with triple-doubles. But Andrew Wiggins is still head and shoulders above the competition. Hats off to what Nerlens Noel (PHI) accomplished in a tough first year in the league, but I can’t wait for what Wiggins will do next season as an encore.
Coach of the Year: Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors)
He set the most wins for a rookie head coach with 67. To put that in comparison, he was only 5 games shy from the best record set by the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls. That’s coming from a rookie head coach whose last profession was a color commentator for TNT. Granted that he played with 2 of the greatest coaches ever, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, but what he accomplished with Golden State is something to behold. He changed that team’s offensive AND defensive philosophies, having a 10.1 point winning margin (the highest since the ’97-’98 Bulls that Kerr played for). Mike Budenholzer had the Atlanta Hawks playing like champions, acquiring home court advantage in the East, but no one thought Golden State will be this good. Steve Kerr is one reason why. The other…..
Most Valuable Player of the Year: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
How do you define the Most Valuable Player?
If it means best player in the world, then LeBron James will get his 5th MVP.
If it means best player this season, OKC will have 2 back-to-back MVPs because no one played better than Russell Westbrook this year, especially when Kevin Durant went down.
If it means the most important player in his team, James Harden gets the nod as the Houston Rockets would be lottery teams without the beard.
So how do you define it?
Stephen Curry gets my vote for being the best player on the best team. Don’t get that description wrong. Stephen Curry didn’t became the best player just because his team is the best this year – Curry IS the reason why Golden State is the best team.
There you have it. I have a strong feeling that I will sweep the award predictions when they’re finally released in the coming weeks. I’ll be writing about my NBA Playoffs First Round predictions tomorrow, so stay tuned!
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/1CNQ7pW)