The Painted Area's 2009-10 NBA Awards
With the 2009-10 NBA regular season now in the books, let's get right to it:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
1. LeBron James, Cleveland
2. Dwight Howard, Orlando
3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
4. Dwyane Wade, Miami
5. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
There has never been a unanimous winner of the NBA MVP award, as some wankers always manage to muck things up (haven't forgotten you, Fred Hickman). LeBron James is certainly having a season which merits a unanimous MVP, but like the handful of players who have earned the honor before him, LBJ will have to settle for merely hoisting the Mo Podoloff Trophy, which he will assuredly do for the second straight year.
I really don't have much to add to the awe-inspiring evidence for LeBron provided by John Krolik on Cavs: The Blog. Suffice it to say that I consider the gap between 1 and 2 on my ballot to be as wide as that between 2 and 5. I'll just say the same thing I did last year: if Cavs top this baby off with a championship, LeBron's season will go down as the greatest ever by a forward, better than Larry Bird in '85-86, and everything else.
With most of the guys on my MVP ballot, I feel like I don't have a lot new to say. When I look back at last year's MVP column, I realize that '08-09 was the revelatory year, when James and Howard and Wade and Paul all raised their games to previous unseen heights. In '09-10, these players largely maintained their exalted standards. It's no mean feat and still a joy to watch, believe me, just not revelatory like last year.
Of course, the season's superstar revelation is the young man sitting at no. 3 on my ballot, Kevin Durant, who has won the scoring title while leading his team to 50 wins at age 21. Durant is the youngest scoring champion ever, and joins LeBron as the only players to score 30 ppg by age 21. Durant had a supremely good year shooting the ball, with an impressive true shooting percentage of .607. Many seem to have KD no. 2 on their MVP ballots, and I can't argue too much. I favor Dwight Howard at 2 because his defense has been so dominant (and he also led the league in FG% at .612, and had a gaudy TS% of .630 in his own right).
A key element of Durant's high TS% has been his foul shooting. In Hubie Brown's typically fascinating recent appearance on ESPN's NBA Today podcast (I could have listened to Hubie all day long, by the way), the coach brought up some interesting numbers to this end.
Namely, Durant not only shot an even .900 from the stripe, but he also attempted the most FTs out of anyone shooting 85%+ this season by far - a remarkable 254 more FTAs than Dirk Nowitzki. KD shoots 10.2 FTs per game; the average 85%+ guy shoots 4.2 per game.
What's more, Basketball Reference shows that Durant shot the best FT% in history for someone with 10+ FTAs per game, surpassing Rick Barry. All this at 6-10. All this at age 21.
All-NBA First Team
C Dwight Howard, Orlando
F LeBron James, Cleveland
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
G Dwyane Wade, Miami
G Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
All-NBA Second Team
C Tim Duncan, San Antonio
F Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
F Carmelo Anthony, Denver
G Deron Williams, Utah
G Steve Nash, Phoenix
All-NBA Third Team
C Amar'e Stoudemire, Phoenix
F Chris Bosh, Toronto
F Carlos Boozer, Utah
G Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
G Rajon Rondo, Boston
The First Team matches my MVP top 5, and was largely a snap to determine in general. The Second and especially the Third Teams were more agonizing for me to determine.
There was somewhat of a bizarre distribution of good players this year. The two best teams - Cleveland and Orlando - had one superstar and a bunch of good players surrounding them, though no one deserving of being an All-Star.
Then there were teams like Phoenix, San Antonio and Utah, who were each led by two primary players between whom it's difficult to determine primacy. For the first half of the season, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash were outstanding, though both players faded a bit, while Manu Ginobili and Amar'e Stoudemire raised their games in the second half of the season. Deron Williams challenged for the First Team, was the best point guard in the league with CP3 banged up, and was generally a joy to watch, but don't underestimate Carlos Boozer's bounce-back year as a factor in Utah's renaissance.
Then there were teams like Atlanta and Portland, who each had four players with PERs over 18. It kills me to omit Brandon Roy and Josh Smith from these teams, but I narrowly decided to give Ginobili, Rondo, and Boozer the edge. If you prefer Roy and Smith, I really can't stand in your way.
Gerald Wallace, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bogut were the other players I considered for spots on the All-NBA teams who were tough final cuts.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Dwight Howard, Orlando
2. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte
3. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee
This one is as much of a shoo-in as the MVP. Howard is the anchor of the no. 2-ranked defense in the league (which fares especially well in defense at the rim), and the league leader in blocks and rebounding, as well.
Wallace seemingly does it all as a perimeter defender for Charlotte, the top-ranked team in the league. Bogut was probably better on D, but I give the slight edge in the rankings to Wallace because he was out there much more: 41 mpg in 75 games, as opposed to 32 mpg in 69 games for the Aussie.
Let me just say that, when Andrew Bogut was drafted, I never thought he was athletic enough to be such an outstanding interior defender, especially as a shot-blocker. The rare player who both blocks shots and takes charges voluminously, Bogut set the tone for the 4th-ranked D in the NBA in Milwaukee, and I think he's the most underrated player in the league, period.
Rookie of the Year
1. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento
2. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
All-Rookie First Team
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee
Stephen Curry, Golden State
Darren Collison, New Orleans
DeJuan Blair, San Antonio
All-Rookie Second Team
Marcus Thornton, New Orleans
Ty Lawson, Denver
Jonas Jerebko, Detroit
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City
James Harden, Oklahoma City
I was expecting that Tyreke Evans' sheer production would make him the overwhelming choice of the objective analysts, so it was unexpected to see some last-minute questioning of his credentials by two reputable sources in Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus and Joe Treutlein of Hoopdata.
Nonetheless, Evans is still my choice for the award, though I'm curious to see how his game translates to winning basketball as his career goes on. One fascinating aspect of the season to me was the James Harden-Tyreke Evans conundrum, in that Evans was easily more productive than Harden, who was drafted two spots ahead of him, yet very few questioned Oklahoma City's pick because of Harden's fit with the emerging Thunder.
I went back and forth and back again on Jennings v. Curry - it's really a 2/2a ranking rather than 2/3. It's so hard for me to gauge by the numbers, given that Curry racked up better stats while playing in the circus at Golden State, while Jennings was involved in meaningful games from start to finish. I give Jennings the slightest of edges based on superior defense.
Sixth Man Award
1. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
2. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland
3. Jamal Crawford, Atlanta
I'm just going by the rules of the award here. Manu Ginobili started 21 of 75 games, and it doesn't really matter to me whether he started the games at the beginning of the year rather than the end. He was a sixth man by the definition - he came off the bench for two-thirds of the season, and played 29 mpg. Manu was by far and away the most productive of the candidates, with a 22.5 PER.
Sideshow Andy takes second with superior defense and improved offense, in a close call over Jamal Crawford, who produced at an 18.5 PER rate at age 30, far surpassing his previous career-best mark of 16.4.
Most Improved Player
I'd like to join in the chorus of Mr. Pelton and others in ignoring this award. Trying to figure out who should and shouldn't be considered makes my brain hurt, and in the end, the award just doesn't really say anything meaningful about the 2009-10 season.
Coach of the Year
1. Scott Skiles, Milwaukee
2. Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City
3. Nate McMillan, Portland
The Coach of the Year award seems to be about which coach exceeded expectations to the highest degree. In looking back at the season win over/under lines set at the beginning of the season, Milwaukee's line of 25.5 was the lowest in the Eastern Conference, surpassed only by Sacramento's 24.5 in the league.
Scott Skiles led the Bucks to 46 wins with an emphasis on defense - Milwaukee has moved from 30th to 3rd in defensive efficiency ranking in the two years since Skiles arrived in town. Not only did he rely on a rookie point guard who led the team in total minutes, but consider this: out of Milwaukee's top four in total minutes this season, one guy played in Italy last year (Jennings), one guy played in Russia (Delfino) and one guy played in Spain (Ilyasova).
[As an aside, my Harvey Pollack note of the day: Did you know that Milwaukee's top five in total minutes included players born in North America (Jennings),
Scott Brooks takes second for improving the Thunder from 23 wins to 50 (their preseason O/U was 35.5) with not only the youngest team in the league in terms of "effective age", but also the third-youngest team in the last three decades. Oklahoma City surpasses last year's Blazers to become the youngest team to ever win 50-plus games, and it's a great credit to Brooks that OKC did it as one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league - young teams just aren't supposed to be able to do that.
The Blazers underachieved compared to their preseason expectations, but Nate McMillan was still a miracle worker to keep everything patched together despite injuries which just kept on coming right from training camp to the end of the season.
One name who I'm surprised has not gotten even a peep in the Coach of the Year discussions: Lionel Hollins of Memphis. Coming off a 24-win season, the Grizzlies were expected to be one of the worst teams in the West again (27.5 O/U), yet Hollins coaxed a 16-win improvement out of his young charges despite integrating Zach Randolph into a team which was already deemed to be too selfish, despite getting off to a 1-8 start thanks in part to the distraction of the Allen Iverson folly, and despite the fact that the team's no. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet was not prepared to offer much.
Executive of the Year
Sam Presti, Oklahoma City
Executive of the Year is increasingly a difficult award to select in the modern era, with GMs having disparate goals around the league - some need to keep payrolls low, some need to clear space for the future. Kevin O'Connor of the Jazz, for example, deserves credit as always for keeping Utah in contention despite the restrictions of a very small market, despite making two moves which look terrible on their face: giving away Ronnie Brewer and Eric Maynor in salary dumps.
That said, our choice is Sam Presti, whose Thunder experienced a 27-win improvement which was the largest in the league. The flexibility which Presti created by stripping his team down is coming to fruition, as he has continually unearthed value at little cost to his team, in acquiring the likes of Thabo Sefolosha, Nenad Krstic and Eric Maynor. Presti has consistently hit on his lottery picks, and Serge Ibaka appears to be a major score as a late first-rounder. The Thunder are poised to be one of the forces of the 2010s.