Every week a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss several topics regarding both the NBA and basketball at large with quick, paragraph-long responses. After taking a break last week, we’re back to discuss all of the 2013-14 awards as the NBA’s regular season comes to a close. So you’ll be seeing our picks for the Most Valuable Player, the Defensive Player of the Year, the 6th Man of the Year, the Most Improved Player, the Rookie of the Year, the Coach of the Year, and the General Manager of the Year. We’ll also be giving our picks for this year’s champion. The panel for this edition of the Fastbreaks column are Andrew Greer, Jordan Wolf, Anthony Jimenez, and Andrew Oppo.
Question 1: Who is the Most Valuable Player?
Andrew G: Kevin Durant. Durantula (I will still call him that, though I’ve warmed up to Slim Reaper) finally emerged to answer the question we were all asking: how good could he be if Westbrook were out? We got our answer for several stretches during the season; he was a scoring machine, even more so than normal, while also being a legitimate triple-double threat game in, game out. He has simply been the best player in the league. He’s led the Thunder to the second-best record in the league, better than his main competition for the MVP trophy in both Lebron James of the Miami Heat and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, and as for the one team that sits ahead of Oklahoma City in the standings, the Spurs were on the wrong end of a clean 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Durant-led Thunder.
Jordan: Sorry, LeBron James, your reign of terror over the MVP award is finished. It’s Kevin Durant’s time. KD had to deal with his team’s second best player being out for over 30 games this year, and…somehow performed better. Even as defenses sent in the dogs on him every time he touched the ball, he went off in every way possible. You may remember his insane stretch of 30 point games, or his numerous game-winners, or the countless failed nicknames that fans tried to give him as a result of being in awe of his phenomenal performances. This is why KD is the MVP. It’s not voter fatigue; it’s not media bias; it’s not LeBron hate. He was simply better.
Anthony: This year, the NBA’s most valuable player was Kevin Durant. With Westbrook missing over 35 games, the Thunder managed to have the second best record in the league and a lot of the credit goes to the Slim Reaper for stepping up his game. In the absence of Westbrook, Durant was forced to orchestrate the offense more and had career highs in APG, assist rate, and AST/TO ratio. He’s also the leading scorer in the league.
Oppo: This was Durant’s year. Despite earlier controversy, it’ll end up being a pretty uncompelling decision for voters as Durant locked up the trifecta of flashiest stats, best record, and cleanest narrative over his main competitors. Miami’s late slump may have solidified that for some, but I’ve been on the KD Train for a while. Despite being the most unstoppable and consistent basket-getter of this era, the label “pure scorer” sells him way short. He’s an underrated defender, he’s shown himself more than capable as a distributor in Westbrook’s absence, and he finished second among SFs in rebounds. With Russell out, casual fans and heathen naysayers alike got the proof positive of Durant’s immense value they so needed unjustly demanded. But rest assured they’ll be up to their old tricks if OKC doesn’t get it done in the playoffs.
Question 2: Who is the Defensive Player of the Year?
Andrew G: Roy Hibbert. Yes, Roy Hibbert has struggled of late. Yes, Indiana has struggled of late. But even with these prolonged second-half swoons, the Indiana Pacers are still one of the elite defensive clubs in the league. In addition, of all players in the league who have played half a season and average half a game minutes-wise, Roy Hibbert leads the league in stingiest field goal percentage against when players shoot at the rim. He’s also fourth in the league in blocks per game and in a tie for second in the league in Defensive Rating.
Jordan: Bulls fans may have expected to have a team capable of beating Miami and Indiana in the East going into this season, but one torn meniscus later and the outlook was bleak. Surprisingly, the Bulls played well enough to give them an outside shot at making noise in the playoffs, and this is largely due to the performance of Joakim Noah. His defense was superb, along with many other great attributes. Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard are other candidates, but Noah trumps them in nearly every aspect. His opponents’ FG% at the rim is extremely low, he gets a decent amount of blocks, and seems to shut down any primetime big who he faces. Noah is clearly the defensive player of the year.
Anthony: Early in the year it was a one man race and going down the final stretch Joakim Noah emerged as the frontrunner and will be this year’s Defensive Player of the Year. A couple of months ago it appeared that Roy Hibbert had this award locked up, but with the Pacers losing their footing and Chicago losing Derrick Rose once again and trading Luol Deng, Joakim Noah stepped up and took the reins of the franchise. Since January the Bulls have the best points allowed per 100 possession, with Noah holding opponents to a FG% of 47% at the rim, one of the best among starting bigs in the league.
Oppo: I treat this award as the defensive MVP and I have to give that to Noah. I won’t say he’s the best defender in the league, but after watching him function as the defensive and emotional anchor of this depleted Bulls team, for which he plays 35 MPG of high-energy defense (and offense), I won’t hesitate to call him the most valuable. One of the league’s most capable and tenacious defenders, he’s the heart and soul of the defensive machine Thibodeau has built in Chicago, which has kept this team near the top of the East despite major losses and one of the worst offenses in the league. Seriously, how did this team almost win 50 games? And if that story doesn’t convince you, he also happens to lead the league in both defensive rating and defensive win shares.
Question 3: Who is the 6th Man of the Year?
Andrew G: Where would the Chicago Bulls be without Taj Gibson? With the departure of Derrick Rose once again due to injury, Chicago needed someone to step up in a big way to take some of the offensive burden. While Carlos Boozer regressed offensively, Taj Gibson lept in to take the reins as the anchor of the second unit both offensively and defensively. Gibson’s excellent play this season has led to wins and more minutes for Taj in crunch time, even at the expense of Boozer. Gibson’s impact has been big: when he’s on the floor, the Bulls’s Offensive Rating is four points better than when he sits, while Chicago gives up nearly two more points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.
Jordan: Taj Gibson is the second Bull to win an award. In the presence of Carlos Boozer, Gibson has realized that he needs to step up off the bench and fulfill the needs of the 4 position for the Bulls. He has played spectacular defense and rebounds effectively. And he isn’t just an energy big off the bench – he actually plays more minutes per game than the starter, Boozer. He’s part of the reason why the Bulls are competitive – they’re staying afloat due to his defensive spark off the bench and facilitating role on the offense. Without him, the Bulls are in a considerably worse spot.
Anthony: This award is a tough one this year because there hasn’t been a media darling, but if recent history has taught us anything it’s that the sixth man award goes to the reserve who has the highest PPG total. But this year the award should go to Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson. It’s interesting that this year Gibson actually plays more minutes per game than starting power forward Carlos Boozer, but you can’t blame Thibs with the regression of Boozer and with Gibson being a rock defensively and providing some much needed offense to this Bulls team that struggles to score.
Oppo: I gotta go with Taj Gi- NOPE. I’m going with Mr. Sixth Man of All Time, Manu Ginobili. This is part completely legitimate selection, part reminder that the perpetually underrated Ginobili is still damn good, and part me realizing that there is too much agreeing going on here right now. His minutes may be down, but he’s still giving the Spurs exaclty what they need, posting per-36 numbers (19.5/7/5 on 59 TS%) that are actually slightly better than his career averages. The old man’s still got it and the Spurs keep rolling.
Question 4: Who is the Most Improved Player?
Andrew G: This is probably the most difficult award to consider, but once I preclude all second-year players (who generally improve after their “rookie wall” season) and players who have simply improved as the result of increased minutes or opportunities, I have to give the award to Kawhi Leonard. A lot of people expected huge things out of him before the season started, but those expectations were unfounded in Gregg Popovich’s system. However, despite playing two fewer minutes per game this season, Leonard has seen improvements statistically across the board. Leonard’s PER has increased by nearly 4 points and his win shares have improved as well. Plus, there’s the stat that’s been floated around comparing when Leonard plays versus when he doesn’t; the Spurs are 54-11 when he plays and only 8-8 when he sits.
Jordan: The Most Improved Player award should go to a player who grew at an exponential rate over the course of the season, and showed significant improvement from the year before. Therefore, this award should go to Phoenix Suns’ guard Goran Dragic. The Dragon was mostly known to well-informed basketball fans as a talented player with a pretty high ceiling. Well, he hit the ceiling, broke through it, and made a hole in the roof. He elevated Phoenix to a high level of play that almost put them in the playoffs in a season in which the sights were initially set on Andrew Wiggins. Had fellow guard Eric Bledsoe not had to deal with injury issues, the Suns may have ended up in the postseason, carried mostly by Dragic.
Anthony: Can we give this award to the entire Phoenix Suns roster? Jeff Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for the work he’s done with this roster and winning 47 games with what they have is incredible. Goran Dragic had an all-star caliber season, Eric Bledsoe proved himself in the league with good production in a larger role, Gerald Green became useful once again for like the third time in his career, the Morris twins are actually useful and Miles Plumlee became a thing this year. So many candidates on one team but there can only be one, and it will be Goran Dragic.
Oppo: Dragic shed the label of “solid starter” and played like a star this year in his new role on the Suns. They narrowly missed the playoffs in the cutthroat West but no one expected them to be anywhere close to there in the first place. The whole Suns team was an emblem of improvement and Goran led the charge. He’ll likely get some acknowledgment in the MVP voting and he deserves it. Just an awesome season from a guy who’s becoming one of the league’s most exciting scorers.
Question 5: Who is the Rookie of the Year?
Andrew G: While I worry that voters may actually choose Victor Oladipo for this award as a protest for what the 76ers did, Michael Carter-Williams has had the award locked up since his debut performance against the Miami Heat. He’s also first among all rookies in points, assists, total rebounds, and steals. Yes, the Sixers are a bad team and play at the league’s fastest pace, which has inflated his stats all season long. However, Michael Carter-Williams’s season has been keeping the Sixers from being abhorrently unwatchable.
Jordan: I’ll separate myself from the masses here and say that Victor Oladipo is the rookie of the year. Why? Because I don’t believe players on teams who lose 26 games in a row should win any award ever. MCW may have put up slightly better numbers, but Oladipo’s line of 14/4/4 is nowhere near pedestrian. Oladipo played great for the Magic, and is a good piece going forward. His defense is solid, he has a solid jumper, and is an above average athlete. While MCW seemingly was the better rookie, Oladipo gets my vote as he was a better part of a team, and put up good enough numbers to get the nod.
Anthony: Rookie of the year award usually goes to the player who has the highest points, assists, and rebound totals. This year Michael Carter-Williams is that man and he could very well be the unanimous ROY. Not trying to discredit Carter-Williams but this year’s class was mediocre and it was his award to since day one when he nearly got a quadruple double against the defending champs, the Miami Heat.
Oppo: To the surprise of few, this season didn’t feature a truly great rookie performance. The top of this class was relatively weak but there were still a few standouts. Carter-Williams will almost certainly take home the award thanks to his hot start and his 17/6/6 line being the most attention-grabbing among rookies. I won’t pretend this is some great unjustice — he’s a good choice — but I’d cast my vote for Oladipo. He’s just the better player right now. He’s already a good defender, he scores at nearly the same rate as MCW on a per-possession basis, but with better efficiency, and he’s played a similarly large role for Orlando as MCW has for Philly. Awards aside, Orlando has a very promising young PG moving forward.
Question 6: Who is the Coach of the Year?
Andrew G: Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Bobcats deserves a ton of credit for improving the Bobcats, and he’s my pick for the Coach of the Year. Charlotte’s only notable acquisition in the offseason was Al Jefferson, a player who himself admits is a below-average defender. Steve Clifford inherited a team that was 28th in Offensive Rating (98.3) and 30th in Defensive Rating (108.9) and has improved both this year to the point that Charlotte sits 23rd in Offensive Rating (101.3) and 6th in Defensive Rating (101.3). The Bobcats are making only their second ever appearance in the playoffs with Steve Clifford at the helm.
Jordan: This award would have gone to Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek had the Suns made the playoffs. But since they didn’t, I’ll have to give this award to…Gregg Popovich? It feels weird and I personally don’t agree with the COTY simply being given to the best coach in the game today, but this is an exception. Right now, if I had to put money on one team to win it all, I’d choose San Antonio. Why? Because, as previously stated, Pop is the best coach alive and he’s done a fantastic job at resting his players and “seasoning” the bench for a playoff run (not to steal your thunder, Andrew). Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are about a million years old but still so, so good that they’ve got me thinking that the fountain of youth was discovered in San Antonio. The Spurs are so well rounded and poised for a deep run, and coach Popovich is to thank for that.
Anthony: Should not be a surprised based off who I think should win MIP, the COY is Jeff Hornacek. No one thought much of the Phoenix Suns going into the season and they were in the playoff hunt going into game 81. That’s pretty impressive if you look back at pre-season expectations from pundits.
Oppo: There are a number of solid candidates this year but no clear choice. Hornacek has the most obvious “how the hell did this team do so well?” record improvement that voters look for, but I place a lot of that credit on the big strides his players have made and I’m hesitant to pass judgment on a first year head coach. Picking Popovich might feel like a copout to some, but has he not been the most outstanding coach in the NBA? Fans and voters want to make Coach of the Year a tidy narrative, in which one coach heroically leads a band of misfits from obscurity to relevancy, ignoring all the other factors that went into that improvement. This is why Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Byron Scott have the same number of CotY awards as Phil Jackson. We don’t need a narrative to see how great a coach Pop is. Every year, people expect the Spurs to finally fall off and, once again, there they are at the top of the standings. Yes, he’s had a fantastic core of players to work with, but the team went 11-3 without Parker, 6-2 without Duncan, and 10-4 without Ginobili. His backups routinely keep pace with the league’s elite. He’s implemented a system and culture in San Antonio that works beautifully; you watch the Spurs and you’re watching a well-oiled machine.
Question 7: Who is the General Manager of the Year?
Andrew G: If Ryan McDonough doesn’t win it, it’s a travesty. The Phoenix Suns were supposed to be getting beaten soundly in the trades that shipped off Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. They had taken on end-of-the-rotation players and late first round picks. They were supposed to be redundant at the point guard spot with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, while lacking at small forward and center. Jeff Hornacek was supposed to lead the Suns to the worst record in the West. Instead, the Suns turned into the surprise team of the league, defying all expectations in battling until the very end for a spot in the playoffs, all while having built a young core with more future assets.
Jordan: Phoenix Suns’ Ryan McDonough should win this year’s GM of the Year Award. Entering the year, I already thought he was in the running, but the fact that Phoenix came within two games of reaching the playoffs solidifies his case. They have four picks in this year’s exciting draft, a good young squad with a core of Dragic and Bledsoe, and no real bad contracts to speak of. Expect the Suns to make waves in the coming years, and thank McDonough’s first year in the desert for that.
Anthony: This is a weird one because I don’t think this individual had the intention of his team being competitive this year and that is GM Ryan McDonough. Traded away the likes of Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, all who were starters last season, for youth (Eric Bledsoe), expiring deals (Emeka Okafor), throwaways (Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green), and draft picks. It was obvious that the Suns were looking to rebuild and were stocking up on assets. However, much to the surprise of everyone the pieces clicked and the Suns ‘Slash Brothers’ and floor spreaders offense worked. With cap space and the multiple draft picks they have acquired, the future is bright for the Phoenix Suns.
Oppo: Can’t argue against McDonough. I think he benefited from a very healthy dose of luck and I’m sure he didn’t expect the Suns to be this good either, but results are results. This was a rebuilding year and his moves were forward-thinking and sound. Turnarounds like this are extremely rare and he should get his share of the credit.
Question 8: Which team will win the 2014 title?
Andrew G: I want to give the title to the Spurs; they’ve been the most impressive team this season and are among the league leaders in just about every statistic that generally points to potential champions. However, for the Spurs to do that, they’d likely have to go through the Houston Rockets and then the Oklahoma City Thunder in back-to-back series. Unfortunately for San Antonio, the Spurs are a combined 0-8 against the two teams. Taking that into account, I’ll have to take the Miami Heat. Their path looks good to the Finals, with only an unproven Toronto Raptors and floundering Indiana Pacers in their way, and once they reach the Finals, I can’t see Miami losing to an Oklahoma City or Houston.
Jordan: My pick for this years champion is the Oklahoma City Thunder. I know I said that the Spurs are playing on another level, I know that LeBron James is the best player in the game, I know that the Western Conference is incredibly stacked. But what we saw from Kevin Durant earlier this year likely will carry over to the postseason, as we saw KD mentally “proving them wrong” night in and night out earlier this year. Many will say Miami will win it all, or that the Spurs or Clippers will represent the West in the Finals. This will make Durant angry. KD angry. KD score. KD win. They’re a deep squad as well, with Reggie Jackson getting some attention for 6th Man of the Year, and Nick Collison and Steven Adams giving good minutes in the paint off the bench. Expect Russell Westbrook and co. to let Durant do his thing, and be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.
Anthony: I’m going with the Miami Heat for the three-peat. They played the season extremely safe with Dwyane Wade making sure he makes it to the postseason with fresh legs and without nagging injuries. Miami’s main threat in the East, Indiana, is a mess going into the playoffs, and, despite Brooklyn going 4-0 against them; the enigma that is the Chicago Bulls; and an unproven team in the Toronto, none of those teams pose a legitimate threat in the playoffs. At this point you can pencil in Miami as the Eastern Conference Champions and I don’t see anyone in the West dethroning them.
Oppo: If I were a betting man, I’d probably put my money on the Heat. The West is stacked with good teams, so everyone has an extremely tough road to the finals, while the Heat’s alleged main competitors, the Pacers, have struggled mightily down the stretch. But I’m not a betting man… so I’m taking the Oklahoma City Thunder, because Kevin Durant shall lead us from darkness into a new tomorrow. And because I just can’t fucking deal again with the idiots who’d give Durant the pre-Heat LeBron treatment if he stays ringless. I just can’t.