By Justin Cherot
We’re more than halfway through the Golden St. Warriors second straight title run 2015-16 NBA season, which in my mind is perfect timing for my first post of the new year.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t pay attention to the Association until after the Super Bowl (I think the -5.5 is a lay-up based on the way Carolina is playing, but who knows, I might be a sucker just like the public), don’t worry: I’ll catch you up in the best way I know how. I’ll give you my winners for eight awards: five awards that legitimately exist, and four awards that I more or less free-styled off the top of my dome like a header.
Let’s do this.
Coach of the Year: Steve Kerr
Crazy how I can give this award to a guy who hasn’t even coached ten games, right? I can foreshadow the shade I’ll be thrown…
“Kerr… really? Who’s second, Tyronn Lue?”
Hear me out though:
Has he been on the sideline? No. That said, don’t act like Kerr hasn’t been in Luke Walton‘s ear all season long. Don’t act like he hasn’t been behind the scenes, collaborating with Walton and staff on game planning and key points. During his absence, Walton was essentially the puppet, and who do you think was behind that curtain pulling all the strings?
Kerr laid the foundation for all of this, and is it any coincidence that the Dubs have yet to lose despite a noticeable spike in competition?
On a side note, I would have given this award to Rick Carlisle, but that might have been too much of a homer move, right? That said, it never ceases to amaze me how he keeps the Mavs afloat. On paper, they have no business being a playoff team. Their best player, Dirk Nowitzki, is literally old enough to be their youngest player’s dad. They have two wing players coming off major surgeries and are just now showing signs of being injury- free. At times, they play three past-their-prime point guards at the same time (my guys are four deep at the “past-their-prime PG” spot). They’re at an athletic disadvantage against pretty much all 30 NBA teams.
And you know what? They’ll probably win around 50 games and will be a tough out in the playoffs. At this point, if Carlisle was running for president, he’d have my vote.
The “I Wouldn’t Even Trust Him to House Sit and Water My Plants” Award: Byron Scott
I chose the “plant” analogy because, under his watch, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell–two of the better young players in this league–might already be ruined because he’s not allowing them to grow and learn. You’re 9-40… let them play. Let them make mistakes.
Not only that, but when you admittedly have a blatant disregard for advanced analytics in an era where analytically-driven teams are thriving, it’s probably not the right job for you.
On another note, I absolutely hated Mitch Kupchak saying that he was willing to sacrifice the development of his players just so Kobe Bryant can have his farewell tour. It’d be one thing if the Lakers were a playoff team, or even fighting for a playoff spot. They’re not.
Most Improved Player: Kawhi Leonard
I’m supposed to put C.J. McCollum here, but don’t worry, C.J… there’s a spot for you somewhere.
I’m going with Leonard here. We all know he’s probably the best wing defender in the NBA, but he gets the nod because in just 18 months he’s gone from an intangible glue guy to The Man on the NBA’s second best team. He’s gone from a nice fallback option to, “Holy shit, we can run our offense through him.” He’s gone from a fairly reliable spot-up shooter to the League’s second most efficient three-point shooter at 47.8%, trailing only J.J. Redick and ahead of…gulp… Stephen Curry.
So yeah, I favor giving the award to him instead of a guy like McCollum who is shining merely because of increased minutes. That said…
The “Hey, Maybe I Actually Do Know What I’m Talking About” Player Vindication Award: C.J. McCollum
I was thiiiis close to giving up on him. A couple of years ago, I actually thought he was a better version of Damian Lillard coming out of college. Although that statement turned out to be a big “whoops”, the point is that I saw his talent: his ability to create separation and get his shot off, his pace, his high basketball IQ. Then, of course, he suffered through some injuries and got buried on some good Portland playoff teams.
But against down the stretch of last season and during the playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies after Wesley Matthews tore his ACL, you could see everything coming together for him. Hence, why him averaging 20 a game this season wasn’t really a surprise to me.
That said, unless he goes into a deep funk, he’s going to win the MIP award anyway.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard
If I’m a coach and I need a stop, there’s no one else in the NBA who I would trust more than Leonard. Period. The only other person even worth debating is Draymond Green, but I think his defense is more predicated on intensity, and I don’t think he has the versatility of Leonard. I can’t wait for the inevitable Spurs/Warriors series where, depending upon the situation, Gregg Popovich will throw Leonard at Stephen Curry, Klay Thomspon, Harrison Barnes, and Green. That said, I still think the Dubs win the series because he can’t use Leonard on all of them at the same time. He’s amazing, but he can only do so much.
Most Underappreciated Defender: Stephen Curry
It’s time to face facts: most advanced stats (defensive +/-, defensive win shares, etc.) point to Curry being a plus defender, so stop saying he can’t defend. Is he the greatest defender in the NBA? No. Does it help that he has a very good defensive guard on his team in Klay Thompson that can shift to opposing point guards during the course of the game? Of course. But he’s worked extremely hard not to be a liability. If you actually watch an NBA game, yes, he gets beat from time to time, but he competes. He fights through ball screens. He talks on defense. He moves his feet a million times better than when he first got to the NBA. Not to mention that he’s improved in all of those areas and is an absolute menace in passing lanes (currently fourth in the League in steals at 2.2 per).
I challenge any NBA fan to name five starting point guards (not to mention superstar point guards) who defend better than he does.
Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns
The media wants to give it to Kristaps Porzingis citing overall impact, but Towns is way better right now, and in 15 years, I still think Towns will be the better player even though Porzingis’ ceiling may be higher.
He’s putting up absurd numbers for a rookie… hell, for anybody. 17-10-2 is nice, but do you realize that he’s also a 50-40-85 guy? As a rookie?
He has to be a little more assertive in demanding touches, because in order for the Minnesota Timberwolves to take the next step, that has to be his team. Andrew Wiggins is a nice player, but he’s more of a sidekick than a main attraction.
The “Shhhh, Justin, Don’t Blow This Because We’re Waiting For Them to Give Up on Him” Award: Joe Young
I was going to give this award to OKC’s Cameron Payne, but it seems as though the Thunder have figured it out with him. The Indiana Pacers, meanwhile, are just starting to figure out that Young could be a real steal.
I mean, you guys saw the same NCAA Tournament that I saw last year, right? You know, the one where Young was more or less unstoppable against Oklahoma St. and Wisconsin?
You’re talking about a guard who can score in bunches and isn’t scared of the moment. Plus, he’s learning how to read NBA defenses and is already a solid pick and roll threat. If you haven’t seen him play on the reg yet, don’t worry: he’ll have at least one big moment in this upcoming postseason where he’ll steal minutes from Monta Ellis for the simple fact that he’ll be so effective they won’t be able to take him off the floor.
Heard it here first.
Most Valuable Player: Rajon Rondo
I’m kidding. But seriously, never under-estimate the value of a contract year. He’s still an enigmatic jerk with an obsession for pumping up his assist numbers. And I’ll never forgive him.
Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry
I don’t know what’s most amazing about my favorite player. Let’s see…
- He takes some of the most ridiculous shots you’ll ever see… and he shoots 51% from the field.
- He takes and makes more threes than anybody in the NBA by a mile. Teams know this. They gameplan for him to do so. And he still hits just under 46%.
- He “only” averages 6.5 assists per game, but he sets the tone for an amazingly unselfish team by always making the right pass. Green leads the Warriors in assists at 7.4 a game, but at least three of those assists each game come because the opposition runs two defenders at Curry, creating a two-on-one opportunity for Green.
- Already talked about his improved defense.
- He just makes you want to watch basketball.
- He makes me want to write.
I think that last one is the most important.