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Sam Smith's 2015-16 NBA Awards Predictions
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By Sam Smith | 4.11.2016 | 2:20 p.m.Unlike Hollywood’s Academy Awards, we here in the NBA celebrate the rainbow of humanity. All races, creeds and colors are eligible for the annual awards. So here are the winners. On one ballot, anyway.
Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Really, is there a debate? Not only has Curry became the face of the NBA still in the time of LeBron and his Warriors—and they are his—staking a claim to greatest of all time, but his story is one of the most amazing in NBA annals, from even unable to get a scholarship at his pro playing dad’s alma mater to being the fifth guard picked in his draft and almost traded instead of Monta Ellis to a player many regard as the best ever at what he does. And he looks like those of us who can’t play. Great story, great guy, great team, deserving back-to-back MVP.
I have LeBron second, though I suspect Kawhi Leonard gets some local votes for the Spurs’ great season, and probably LeBron one as well. LeBron still impacts the game like few others and even if he’s not quite the overwhelming force he was, he’s still a dominant figure impacting his games. I go Chris Paul third for his play in holding the Clippers together without Blake Griffin and still a clutch shot maker. As for the playoffs, that’s yet to be finalized. Then Leonard fourth for his surprising development as an MVP candidate and Portland’s Damian Lillard fifth, if only so he’ll feel better about not being an All-Star. He has been terrific in leading the big surprise Trailblazers.
Coach of the Year: Terry Stotts, Portland Trailblazers
Yes, the surprise Trailblazers and, not that it is figured in, but one of the truly wonderful people in the NBA. Stotts long apprenticed under George Karl and later Rick Carlisle, had a top man stint with the Bucks, and his knowledge, experience and maturity has helped the Trailblazers into the playoffs when no one expected it after they lost 80 percent of their starters from what was supposed to be a contending team. It’s the best coaching story, and there are many. Usually overlooked as he prefers, but the Spurs have had the most anonymous great season because of the Warriors phenomenon. Gregg Popovich is always worthy, but I like to spread it around and he’s won some. I’ll go with Boston’s Brad Stevens second and Toronto’s Dwane Casey third. I could make cases for Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, though I think that’s more the Nicholas Batum acquisition and Kemba Walker’s improvement. Also GM Stan Van Gundy has done a lot to help excellent coach Stan Van Gundy. Stevens, who as a college guy wasn’t very good or respected around the NBA his first season, has come on to lead a disparate group into strong playoff position. Casey seemed to be teetering on keeping the job in recent years. He’s led his guard oriented group without the usual analytical three-ball to be a tough, relentless group. I was stumped on Steve Kerr. I voted for Steve Kerr last year and he should have gotten it. He’s still one of the best coaches, but between missing half of the season ill and a slight improvement, albeit to a record season, it’s confusing to make the choice. My hesitation is his teams can only get worse after this and he’s not winning that way. Though he should. He’s the best young coach in the league.
Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
This one could or should be unanimous as well. It’s something of playing in obscurity with a losing team in the Western Conference that was pushing for a 20-win season until recently. Towns is the rare rookie who is polished, solid with fundamentals, works hard and seems team oriented. He’s already one of the best centers in the NBA and ready to help his team take a big jump. Though he slowed late, the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis has been the surprise of the draft class elite. It was supposed to be a three-player draft, but he’s shown excellent skills and maturity to handle New York with aplomb. How did Kentucky ever lose? The Suns’ Devin Booker came on late and has become the Suns’ franchise player moving forward even in a guard-heavy environment.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
This guy basically defied classification. I can make a case for him being a top five MVP, but his teammate is No. 1. He deserves something because he’s perhaps as vital to the Warriors’ success. An amazing story as a second round draft pick in the Dennis Rodman role of most overlooked ever in the era when scouts say they don’t miss anyone. He gets the nod over top perimeter defenders like Kawhi Leonard because he defends every position. Of course, the Spurs have other guys to do that more than the Warriors. But his versatility and relentless play are inspiring. I prefer this vote to be among the perimeter defenders as opposed to the centers and rim protectors. They are considered vital defenders in the NBA, obviously. And you can make a case for guys like Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside. But I prefer the lockdown guys, especially in this era of perimeter offensive play versus postup, power play. I go with Allen second as even aging he is still a smothering and bothersome individual defender and Leonard third, both just ahead of Boston’s Jae Crowder, a spirited defender as well. LeBron could get in there, but rests too much on defense on lesser scorers these days.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
This award, like the Most Improved, is usually most difficult to select given the wide range of candidates and varying definitions, though you’d think sixth man is fairly obvious. It’s generally a big scorer in the great Celtic tradition dating back to Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek. But some score in different ways, like the Thunder’s Enes Kanter. I do like to spread around awards unless someone is truly dominant, and though former Bull Crawford isn’t the biggest scorer he has the greatest impact for a top team, which reflects the award. Crawford came to the role reluctantly, as any young players does, but embraced it like Havlicek and has become the model for the original Celtics sixth man to provide an offensive spark and energy. I like Jeremy Lin second for the pivotal role he’s played for a much improved Charlotte team with timely shooting. I’ll admit I never believed he could maintain this level of play even during his Linsanity period in New York. Then the Nuggets Will Barton. He’s overlooked on a losing team, and you don’t usually reward players from losing teams. But he’s also a good Most Improved candidate as a second round pick and who come on to be a reliable sixth man shooter and a player who will have an evolving NBA market.
Most Improved Player: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics.
He’s averaged 20 points before, though in Sacramento. Which I guess is tough playing with DeMarcus Cousins. But he’s been traded twice, was the last pick in in the second round and was supposed to be a reserve and has emerged as the go to closing scorer on a winning team. There are so many candidates for this award given the lack of criteria. I like to lean toward actual improvement instead of being given a chance to play. If you are a high pick and didn’t get a chance, the improvement should be natural. It’s always possible everyone misses, like on Draymond Green. But Thomas at maybe 5-7 just made it into the draft, was moved twice, though teams did want him. And now is a vital shot maker for the Celtics. Impressive development. C.J. McCollum fits that category of getting a chance with Portland’s roster turnover. He’s taken advantage in becoming one of the elite scorers in the league. He’s a worthy winner as well and a tough choice. He also shows being a four-year college player unless you are a super athlete gives you a better chance to have a better pro career. He was injured his first season and a backup to Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews last year, so never got much chance. He’s showing now. There are many good choices still, like Barton, Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard going from small star to big star, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kemba Walker. I’ll go third with Walker. He’s elevated himself—and thus his team—by becoming a true scoring threat despite his size, the new NBA helping the small guy as well. He’s improved his shooting statistics and the Hornets have become a tough out as a result.
First Team: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Andre Drummond
Second Team: Russell Westbrook, Damien Lillard, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns
Third Team: James Harden. Klay Thompson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins
The question will be what to do about Cousins. Despite his impressive statistics, I’m reluctant to even put him third team, but there are so few productive centers anymore. I was tempted to give Tim Duncan a lifetime achievement vote. Cousins is a great talent; no argument. But he does so much contrary to the interests of the game and his team, and his team is a perennial loser. You can’t be an all-league player never even being on a .500 team. He is selfish in his shot selection, his temper leaves his teammates to be uncertain about approaching him and his attitude hurts everyone on the team. Towns has been a quiet revelation and I’d frankly rather have him than Cousins. I went with Paul to match my MVP list. Westbrook puts up great numbers, but without Durant last season he still wasn’t a playoff player. That’s just a part of it. He just does too much at the end of games to sometimes hurt team success. He’s a fabulous competitor, but loses what it is to be a guard at the end of games in his manic desire to succeed. I left off Anthony Davis not to deny him a big bonus as he needs to be an all-NBA player again to get one. But he sat out a quarter of the season and his team did poorly, though again plagued with injuries. I’m also reluctant to reward Harden the way he plays and the schism that he’s helped nurture there with Dwight Howard. But he does have an amazing ability to score.
First Team: Karl Anthony-Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Emmanuel Mudiay.
Second Team: Nikola Jokic, Frank Kaminsky, Stanley Johnson, DeAngelo Russell, Josh Richardson.
First Team: Andre Drummond, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen, Jae Crowder.
Second Team: DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson.