Breaking Down the NBA’s 2015 End of Season Awards
Now that the end of the 2014-2015 NBA Season is officially in the books, there’s “nothing” left to look forward to except the playoffs. We put nothing in some pretty hefty sarcasm quotations there because more or less every fan is ready to hurry up and wait for the postseason as soon as the Christmas games pass by, or if you’re a real regular season diehard, the All Star Break. What happens in March stays in March, as it were. The only exceptions to this have to do with playoff seeding, draft order, and the performance of the players in conversation for the various end-of-the-season accolades that get handed out every year, ranging from the ones that get the headlines (Rookie of the Year, MVP, etc.) to the ones that more or less become resume fodder for a player when they reach the end of their careers — we’re thinking of the various All-NBA nods, which don’t mean a lot on their own but tend to stack up over years of high level play. Kobe has 27 of those, divided between All-Rookie, All-Defense, and so on.
As you might expect, there’s a bit of a pecking order involved in the way these awards are handed out, and they’re demarcations of how people estimate the worth of the roles involved: Basically, that the Sixth Man of the Year is more important than an All-NBA second teamer, and the MVP is the most important. Stuff like that. There’s also the Coach of the Year award, which goes to Greg Popovich every year in the hearts and minds of devoted NBA fans but will almost certainly go to Golden State’s Steve Kerr or Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer (who is fresh from Pop’s coaching tree, natch).
Who’s the best bet to land each of the NBA’s major 2014-2015 seasonal awards? We’ll go through the year-long candidates for each and detail why one seems more likely than the others.
Rookie of the Year
This is a two-player race right now between Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, the first overall draft pick, and Philly’s Nerlens Noel, who has transformed the 76ers into a respectable defensive squad (seriously!) more or less on his own. There’s also Chicago’s Nicola Mirotic, but he seems unlikely to garner much momentum because of his tenuous status as a rookie. Let’s be clear: The Chicago wing is new to the NBA, but he’s also been a professional basketball player for the last 10 years, having signed his first deal with Real Madrid in 2005. Fair or not, this probably precludes the Windy City’s newest player from serious consideration.
Between Maple Jordan and Noel, then, the smart money is going toward Wiggins. Why? Well, considering that neither team looked particularly competitive this season, the taste in a voter’s mouth is likely to be cleaner if they avoid awarding anyone on the Philadelphia roster anything that even suggests that they played good basketball this year. It sounds petty, but there’s merit to the notion. Voter fatigue is a real thing — it’s why LeBron James isn’t in the running for the MVP award, even if his play (and his absence from Miami) would seem to suggest that he is, in fact, the most valuable player in the league. Voters get sick of casting the same ballot year after year, and with so much vitriol lobbed at the 76ers this year for actively courting losses, the accomplishments of their rookies are likely to get lost in the shuffle. Watch for Joel Embiid to suffer a similar fate if Philly commits to being this atrocious next season.
Sixth Man of the Year
Lou Williams is one of those players in the Jason Terry/J.R. Smith/Jamal Crawford mode, the crafty ballhandler who comes off the bench to score a lot of points and avoid playing as much defense as he possibly can. This is, for better or worse, the archetype that embodies the SMotY award: You have to be the kind of player Lamar Odom was in 2010-2011 to circumvent that archetype, and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, a popular name in this race, is no Lamar Odom. Much more likely, if Williams doesn’t get the nod, is Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who carried Boston to the playoffs from his spot on the bench.
Defensive Player of the Year
It’s somewhere between Draymond Green, whose credentials lie in advanced metrics and the fact that his team (the Golden State Warriors) have emerged as the best defensive squad in the NBA this season, Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP who has emerged as the best wing defender in the game, and possibly Los Angeles’s DeAndre Jordan, because of blocks. Interestingly enough, every player being seriously considered for the award is playing in the Western Conference — interesting because the last 20 years of DPotY awards have seen just four winners rostered in the West: Dikembe Mutumbo, Gary Payton, Marcus Camby, and Marc Gasol. This may give the impression that the award is tilted toward bigs, and that’s a valid point of contention as well, since the Glove remains the last guard to win the award. We’re guessing it’s Green, simply because the Dubs have been too good to ignore on both ends of the floor this season.
Most Valuable Player
Do you like Steph Curry or James Harden? Those are the two main choices for the award this season, with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook being a dark horse candidate who’s almost certainly not going to win the award: Teams haven’t had back-to-back MVP championship winners since Bill Russell and Bob Cousy pulled it off nearly 60 years ago. So do we go with Curry, the point guard who is a legitimate threat to score from 30 feet out, or Harden, the best shooting guard in the NBA today? Their numbers are similar, their records are similar, and their essential achievements as alpha dogs are largely the same.
For us, it comes down to aesthetics — validated in large part because no one can agree on what most valuable means, and the fact that after 82 games of watching the Houston Rockets there’s nothing most viewers would like more than to throw every advanced statistic into a giant fire and watch players shoot isolation jump shots from two point range over it. Steph Curry should win this award because he’s more fun to watch. Sorry, James.