So who will we celebrate individually? We all know it’s about the ring. But we love to give out awards, though more than 200 million American now have “award winning” somewhere on their resume. Media members vote for NBA awards. The players association last season decided the players should be voting and unveiled their own awards. In the only overlapping categories with the media, James Harden won their MVP over Stephen Curry. That’s not unreasonable as Harden was second in the media voting and had a terrific season. Though the players did vote Curry hardest to guard and top clutch performer. But not most valuable? Whatever. Though it hardly qualifies with Kevin Durant’s reasoning the media don’t know crap and shouldn’t be voting. The players also voted DeAndre Jordan best defender while the media had Kawhi Leonard. For now, it still looks like the NBA is going to maintain its media balloting as it apparently wasn’t that erroneous. So here’s one view of those who should be walking the red carpet.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
The players award had James as player you’d secretly most want on your team. What, that’s a secret? It’s pretty unanimous James is the game’s best player. That doesn’t mean he’s the MVP every season. Michael Jordan was basically the game’s best player every season the Bulls won a title. But he wasn’t MVP every season. That’s OK. The award is not Best Player. It’s Most Valuable, which is a floating scale.
It’s generally a hybrid of the player having a great season for a team having a great season. Curry’s Warriors had a better season than James’ Cavs or Harden’s Rockets. So Curry appropriately won the tiebreaker. Jordan didn’t get it when Charles Barkley’s Suns had a better—and, remember, regular season—than Jordan and the Bulls. Maybe you can quibble in 1997 when Karl Malone won. But sometimes it’s nice to spread these things around a bit. And the Jazz did win 64 games. I don’t see Curry able to repeat and Harden won’t be asked to do as much if Dwight Howard is healthier and with Ty Lawson. With Russell Westbrook’s development he’ll likely split the vote with Kevin Durant. Anthony Davis’ Pelicans won’t finish high enough. Really, watch out for Derrick Rose again if the Bulls can put it together and pass Cleveland. And LeBron lost points last season and may again taking a few weeks off to sun himself. But James hasn’t won since 2013 and it’s probably time again.
Coach of the Year: Scott Skiles, Orlando Magic
If they make the playoffs. I’ve got them getting there, but that’s likely to be a lonely selection. Skiles is one of the best and never has won the award despite nice turnarounds in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee. The Magic has been a team performing well below its talent level. A little bit of defense could change that. If it’s looked at like some look at MVP, then give it to Gregg Popovich. He’s going to coach better than most everyone again. But his team won’t do as well, and that’s what the award is about. It’s also why a lot of winners get fired quickly: They are not always great coaches and their teams often are under evaluated.
So there will be candidates from teams not expected to do as much, like George Karl with Sacramento if he holds it together, Dave Joerger with Memphis, Terry Stotts with Portland, Randy Wittman with Washington and Brad Stevens with Boston. Two of the last six winners, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks, were fired last spring. And a third, Karl, was fired the season after he won. It’s not always an award that’s pursued.
Rookie of the Year: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
He’s going to get a lot of chances with a team not expected to make the playoffs that got rid of its starting point guard to accommodate him. He’s a legitimate talent with a point guard feel and size. It’s difficult to make much of a guess on this one before the season as you don’t see many of these guys play yet. Among the top picks, I immediately eliminate Jahlil Okafor because players on the 76ers shouldn’t be honored as long as management continues to try to lose. D’Angelo Russell is under too much pressure in Los Angeles. Karl-Anthony Towns is talented, but it’s hard to tell just what is his game. Stanley Johnson has a chance with the Pistons to do something. I’ve also heard good things about Myles Turner with the Pacers.
Most Improved Player, C.J. McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
This is generally the most difficult award to figure because the criterion is the most unclear. Some vote for high draft picks who didn’t play as much or then get better. But they were supposed to be good. So Andrew Wiggins will get votes this season as Anthony Davis did. Others like All-Stars who get better, and John Wall will get votes.
Others prefer lower level picks, like Jimmy Butler, who break through unexpectedly. McCollum has been injured and hasn’t played much. And with the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trailblazers will go for a guard oriented offense like the Warriors and he should benefit. In the preseason, Dallas’ John Jenkins, who rarely played in Atlanta, scored a lot. He could get more time on a team in decline. Some will pick Paul George, who missed last season, as sort of a comeback player, which was the old NBA award. That was changed when guys coming out of drug rehab kept winning. Also think of guys like Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans.
I usually like to vote for perimeter defenders as I equate defense more with moving your feet. Though when you ask coaches they’ll always prefer the rim protectors. There’s the sentiment to give a guy like Davis something since he won’t get MVP with a lower echelon team. The Pelicans actually weren’t a great defensive team last season even with he and Omer Asik. But I like Davis in the Joakim Noah tradition of being a big man able to switch and guard smaller players with his quickness and reach. DeAndre Jordan will get support again with the usual suspects of Tony Allen, Patrick Beverley and Draymond Green.
Sixth Man: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls might field several contenders for this one. Taj Gibson had an excellent preseason coming off ankle surgery and moving well. Noah is embracing that reserve role and will finish a lot of games. He’s moved well and showed more confidence in his offense. He could have a big season in a more open game. Perhaps Tristan Thompson with his new deal.
It’s also a competitive field and you need only look at teams with depth, like the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas could be a good candidate if he doesn’t start. The award often goes more to scoring players for that offensive boost off the bench. Jamal Crawford is a perennial candidate, but seems to be a forgotten man with the Clippers. Gerald Green is a scorer and will help Miami. Maybe Ryan Anderson in New Orleans, Jeremy Lin with the Hornets or David West with the Spurs. Manu Ginobili looks better than he has in awhile. The Lakers have nothing but reserves. We’ll first have to see who plays off the bench for more than half the season.