Who’s the Real MVP?
The 2014-15 NBA Regular Season comes to a close this week but the race for the NBA’s individual awards has not yet been settled. The hardware is usually handed out sometime in May, but it never hurts to take a guess at who should win.
Most Valuable Player
It has been one of the tightest races in years with plenty of candidates having outstanding seasons. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook all make strong cases. In the end though, knowing how the voters’ minds usually work, I will subscribe to Curry’s case to win the MVP. The old “best player on the best team” thought process rings true here. Though he may not be the best all-around true point guard (CP3), Curry has dazzled this season as a part of the Splash Brothers and has led the Warriors to their best record in franchise history. Curry ranks sixth in both scoring (23.9) and assists (7.7) per game. He has shattered his own NBA record by drilling 284 threes this season. It looks like his early career ankle problems are a thing of the past as he has played in at least 78 games in three straight seasons. He is averaging a career-high two steals per game and has continued to improve as a passer, cutting his turnovers down and maintaining a 2.48 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Why Not The Others?
James Harden was a frontrunner throughout the season and is averaging careers highs across the board (27.5/5.6/6.9), but the Rockets haven’t captured the top seed and Harden is still one of the worst defenders in the league. An MVP must do it on both sides of the floor. Chris Paul has quietly had another outstanding season averaging 19.3 points and a NBA-leading 10.3 assists per game, but he remains overshadowed by Curry’s play which has placed Golden State atop the NBA. LeBron James has had another strong year, but playing on cruise control early in the season and sitting out with an injury for a few weeks puts him out of the running this year. Russell Westbrook has shouldered the load for the Thunder, his trigger-happy ways aren’t enough to name a player on a team battling for the final playoff spot to lift the trophy. Who has the highest Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA? If you guessed Anthony Davis you’d be right. With a PER of 31.06, he is ahead of Westbrook (28.92) and Curry (28.04) for the league’s best. The 22-year-old continues to expand his game and is still a year away from winning an MVP. His line of 24.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks is astounding. By the time his career is over, he should hold multiple MVP awards if he can stay healthy.
Defensive Player of the Year
Statistically speaking, it is a two-horse race between Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan but Jordan has to get the nod due to his rebounding, overall presence and his durability. Jordan has played in over 300 straight games and is the active Ironman leader. DJ has a commanding lead in rebounding at 15 per game; the most since Kevin Love in 2010-11. It will be the second consecutive year he leads the league in rebounding. He also ranks fifth in blocks at 2.23 and fifth among centers in steals averaging one a night. DeAndre’s Wins Above Replacement is 11.84 which leads all centers. Davis has averaged 10.2 boards to go along with 2.9 blocks and 1.5 steals but DeAndre anchors a team that has sights set on making a deep run in the playoffs.
Sixth Man of the Year
The reigning sixth man of the year, Jamal Crawford, has struggled this season with his shot and injuries. Lows of 15.9 points and 39% shooting from the field are the worst during his three year stint with the Clippers. The 35-year-old Washington-native will give way to a 26-year-old from Washington, Isaiah Thomas who should run away with the award. Thomas played well in his first season with Phoenix but was traded away to Boston where he has begun to flourish and has led the Celtics into the postseason. The super sub has averaged 19.5 points and 5.4 assists off the bench in 20 games for Boston. His combined numbers this year slash 16.5/2.3/4.2 which should hands down give the diminutive dynamo the award
Most Improved Player
It looks like Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls will run away with this award. The injuries to Derrick Rose might have been a blessing in disguise as the NBA’s leader in minutes per game has exploded from 13.1 points per game a year ago to 20 this season. The first year all-star has gone from a 2013-14 slash of 13.1/4.9/2.6 to 20/5.8/3.3. His field goal percentage has risen from 39% to 46% and his three-point percent from 28 to 37. Coach Thibodeau’s will eventually need to rest Butler’s legs before he runs him into the ground, but for now, Butler has been magnificent.
Rookie of the Year
The most heralded rookie class since 2003 has flopped due to injuries, but Andrew Wiggins has shined with the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves. Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic have charged hard, but Wiggins being the number one option and ability to log major minutes gives him the nod. Not only has he been a human highlight real with spectacular dunks over 7-footers, Wiggins has also been able to be an all-around contributor. Injuries to Mo Williams and Kevin Martin helped thrust Wiggins into becoming the number one scoring option. He averages 16.8 points and 4.5 rebounds and has held his own in the league. Playing on a team like Minnesota has allowed him to log quality minutes in a low pressure situation to build upon for the future. It is yet to be seen if he can develop a consistent jumper and become a top scorer on a playoff team, but he will a great foundation to build on moving forward.
Coach of the Year
Jason Kidd, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr are all the likely front runners. The Warriors have been sensational this season for first year coach Steve Kerr, but no one could have imagined the Hawks as a 60-win team. Coach Bud has to win the award for the job he has done with Atlanta. A healthy Al Horford and a strong bench has propelled the Hawks into the number one seed and thwarted the Cavaliers of running roughshod through the East. The next step for Atlanta will be to have playoff success. It should be finals or bust for the Hawks, but a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals will be welcomed as well by Atlanta fans.