2014 NBA Awards Predictions (Sunday Sports Column)

 

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BY COREY MUELLER

Now that the NBA regular season has come to a close, it’s time for the experts to vote for the many awards given out to the best players of the year.  I’m no expert, so ranking the NBA 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team is not for me, but I can give my thoughts on the other categories.  Although the official ballots are not available to the public, Grantland’s Zack Lowe had access to a ballot through Bill Simmons, and that article can be found here .  I’ll be basing my predictions off of said ballot, as well as my personal opinion and limited knowledge through my fantasy basketball experience.

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Most Valuable Player:

1. Kevin Durant

2. LeBron James

3. Stephen Curry

4. John Wall

5. Paul George

The debate between KD and LBJ has raged on all year, but I have to give it up to Kevin Durant.  Only 25-years-old, KD won his 4th scoring title in 5 years, the first since one Michael Jordan did it in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.  Durant also becomes only the 5th player to win 4 or more scoring titles, joining MJ, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and George Gervin.  There’s no taking away from the stellar year LeBron had, though, as he shot 56.7% from the field and scored his most 3s since joining the Heat in 2010.  Lebron, however, saw a decline in most of his stats.  The 29-year-old superstar averaged a rebound (from 8.0 to 6.9) and an assist (from 7.3 to 6.4) less this year than last, as well as going from .9 blocks per game to .3.  There’s no questioning LeBron’s defensive presence on the court, but his stat sheet has shown a slow decline from previous years.

Kevin Durant has shown similar stats, like a decline from 1.3 blocks to .7, but his 4-point average jump is nothing to brush off.  KD also averaged an assist more per game, most likely due to Russell Westbrook’s absence.  Durant was able to lead the Thunder to a 59-23 record this season with Westbrook out for 36 games, while LeBron and the Heat posted a 54-28 record in the East.  Durant missed 1 game all season; LeBron sat out 5, in which the Heat went 2-3 (including losses to the Celtics and Sixers).  The discussion of the team surrounding both players always arises in the Durant VS. LeBron debate, but this year is shaky for both teams.  Westbrook only played 46 games, and Dwyane Wade played 54 of the 82 regular season games. That discussion can be saved for another day, but in short, Durant seemed to carry more of the responsibility on the Thunder than LeBron had to on the Heat.

The stats are strikingly close, but I have to give the edge to Kevin Durant this year.  Both had outstanding years this season, but KD did just a little more.  As for the other candidates, Curry led the Golden State Warriors this year with his highest points-per-game totals, as well as career high assists and most 3-pointers made in a season.  John Wall was able to swing the Wizards from a 29-win team in 2013 to a 44-win, playoff contending team in 2014. He had career high points, assists, and steals this season, but it may be premature to give him MVP this early in his career.  Finally, Paul George, last year’s Most Improved Player, had his best scoring season yet and was able to lead the Pacers to the 1st seed in the East, despite the huge slump Indiana has been in the last 2 months.  Had this slump not occurred, George would be right up in the debate with LeBron and KD, but unfortunately his stats dropped significantly since February.

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Defensive Player of the Year

1. Joakim Noah

2. Roy Hibbert

3. DeAndre Jordan

This was a tough decision as well, as Hibbert was so good until he and the rest of the Pacers seemingly stopped playing for the last quarter of the season.  Hibbert is one of the largest threats, literally, to have protecting the basket.  At 7’2”, he gets in the way of any attempt to get to the hoop, and he causes opposing teams to miss nearly 60% of their shots when he’s near the rim or shooter.  Noah, however, is a much quicker defender and never messes up a pick-and-roll defense.  When I picked Joakim Noah up on January 15th, a week after Luol Deng was traded, Noah was averaging 1.1 blocks per game, but finished the season with 1.5 blocks to his name.  Noah was on an upward curve while Hibbert sloped downwards, and Noah’s 1.2 steals per game heavily outweighs Hiibert’s .4.  Noah also posted 4 triple-doubles this year, an impressive stat for any player, but even more so from a center.  Hibbert also only grabbed a meager 6.6 rebounds to Noah’s 11.3.  The scale tips more heavily in favor of Noah, especially with the overall performance Noah put up this year.

DeAndre Jordan was my last candidate because of his shear dominance on defense and third-most blocks on average per game this year.  Jordan is terrifying to go up against, and he grabs more than 13 boards per game, but Noah does it without a team of elite stars around him.  I couldn’t include Anthony Davis in this category for the fact that he missed 15 games this year.  Davis’ impressive 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals would have gotten him this award had he stayed healthy; unfortunately, his sputtered injuries make it difficult to give him it when Noah and Hibbert missed 3 games combined this year.

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Most Improved Player

1. Goran Dragic

2. DeMarcus Cousins

3. Anthony Davis

Goran Dragic shot 50.5% from the field and 40.8% from beyond the arc, 6% and 9% higher in each respective category from last season.  He’s scoring 20.3 points, nearly 6 points more than last year, because of his high efficiency from the field.  Dragic fits in Phoenix’s fast-paced offence, and thrives off the pick-and-roll.  Eric Bledsoe and Dragic pair up extremely well in Phoenix, and they led the Suns to a 48-34 record, missing the playoffs by 1 game.

DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings is my #2, even though it’s only his 4th year in the league.  He averaged 5 more points this year and nearly doubled his blocks per game, and shot almost 50% from the field this year.  Unfortunately, he’s still immature on the court, complaining and getting unnecessary technical fouls.  This poor attitude, as well as the terrible 28-54 record that the Kings held this year, hinders him from receiving this award.

Based purely on stats, Anthony Davis should be the Most Improved Player this year.  He went from 13.5 points to 20.8, as well as added 2 rebounds and half an assist per game to his stat sheet, but I also have to take into consideration his injuries.  Just like the Defensive Player of the Year, he missed too many games to be eligible for this award, and his limited affect on the Pelican’s 34-48 record also hurts his chances at this award.

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Sixth Man of the Year

1. Taj Gibson

2. Jamal Crawford

3. Manu Ginobili

Taj Gibson stepped his game up this season with the Bulls.  Boozer had an average, if not below average, season, and this called for great help from Gibson.  Gibson didn’t shy away, and made the Bulls frontcourt one of the most intimidating both offensively and defensively in the entire NBA.  Gibson averaged a career best 13.1 points per game and played every game, even starting a few with an injured Boozer.  His presence down low drew a few double-teams and this opened the floor for the Bulls, but he also provided immense help on defense.  He averaged 1.4 blocks and .5 steals off the bench, which is impressive even if he were a starter.  He aided his team more than any other bench player in the league.

Jamal Crawford seems to be a candidate for this award every year, especially because of his 18.6 points per game and .9 steals.  He is, however, on the star-studded Clippers where JJ Reddick can score 15 points off the bench because of the supporting cast.  It’s not fair to say the team around Crawford is too good, but they sure do make it a lot easier for him to get open on the perimeter when 3 of the other players potentially could pull a double-team on any given play. Unfortunately, Crawford missed 13 games and the Clippers didn’t suffer at all from it: they went 11-2 without him.

Finally, Manu Ginobili rounds out this category for my predictions.  Ginobili put on a strong showing, as usual. Unfortunately, he played 800 minutes less than Gibson and 500 minutes less than Crawford this year. He has the highest Player Efficiency Rating out of the three, but he is, again, on the bench too much.  He’s only averaging 22.8 minutes per night, and his assists, rebounds, and steals have all seen a decline.  Gibson, due to minutes and higher stats overall, gets this award in my book.

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Rookie of the Year

1. Michael Carter-Williams

2. Victor Oladipo

3. Trey Burke

The rookie class this year was weak. There’s no other way to put it, but this year’s rooks heavily underperformed.  We saw flashes of greatness from Michael Carter-Williams, especially in the season when he nearly posted a triple double with points, assists and steals (22-12-9).  MCW only played 70 games this year, but he’s more deserving than any other rookie this year.  Yes, Oladipo played in 80 games, but he came off the bench in nearly half of them.  MCW started all 70 games he played, and had significantly better points, assists and rebounds. The only thing Oladipo bested MCW in was shooting percentage, and that was 41.9% to MCW’s 40.5%.  Both horrid, but it only gets worse behind them.  Trey Burke is one of the few other honorable freshmen this year, playing 70 games in Utah.  He shot 90% from the free throw line and dished out almost 6 assists per game, so keep an eye on him as he matures in the league.  Unfortunately, no one compares to Michael Carter-Williams from this year’s rookie class, so the award, in my opinion, is his.

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Coach of the Year

1. Tom Thibodeau

2. Gregg Popovich

3. Jeff Hornacek

This was probably the most difficult category to rank, solely due to the fact that Popovich is consistently the best and the success of both the Bulls and Suns were incredibly impressive this year.  Thibodeau deserves this award, though, after losing Rose to injury and Deng in a trade that should have sunk the team.  Thibodeau came out in a press conference after the trade and said the team wasn’t going to tank, and they did far from that.  A lot of the credit goes to my Defensive Player and Sixth Man of the Year, but the team went 34-15 after letting Deng go.  Thibodeau still ran his staunch defense and utilized players like DJ Augustin in his offensive scheme, ultimately putting the Bulls in the 4th seed in the East.

Not much can be said for Gregg Popovich because we have come to expect the Spurs to be dominant.  Popovich should win the Coach of the Last Two Decades award, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist (yet….).  The unageing Spurs run Popovich’s system nearly flawlessly, putting themselves in first in the West with the best record in the entire NBA.  Given the circumstances, though, Thibodeau’s season was much more difficult and deserving of this award.

I know I gave three awards to Bulls members, but they were all incredibly deserving of their respective awards.  We’ll soon see how accurate I am when the awards are given out!

 

 

 

 

 

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