G&G’s Aaron Gillette and Peter Gumas rank their top five MVP candidates, and break down the rest of the NBA regulas season awards. Check back later this week for a podcast previewing the NBA playoffs and for our picks.
Stephen Curry, Golden State– This wasn’t an easy decision, but this team added 15 wins from a season ago, and Curry is the heart and soul of that team. Breaking his own record of 273 3’s made is incredible, and there’s no doubt that Curry is the player who takes this team from good to great.
- James Harden, Houston – James Harden definitely had an MVP caliber season, but unfortunately he did it the same year as 4 other worthy candidates. His numbers speak for themselves, and considering Dwight Howard missed most of the season, he really is the reason Houston has been one of the better teams in a loaded Western Conference.
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans – Somehow in all of the MVP talk, this man gets left out of the mix. Only three other men in NBA history have posted a PER of over 31 for an entire season; Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, and with one game to go Davis sits at 31.06. Add that to him dragging a team, whose second best player is Tyreke Evans, to the playoffs, and he deserves to win this award. Unfortunately, this won’t be his year, but he’s only getting better.
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – While his run of triple doubles was incredible, his season as a whole was not as impressive as those of Curry, Davis or Harden. People give James flack for missing 11 games, but Westbrook missed 15, and that unfortunately works against him here. But this season was truly his emergence,
- LeBron James, Cleveland – If I’m building an NBA roster to win a championship right now, I’m picking LeBron first. But this season hasn’t been his best, with career highs in turnovers, and lower points, rebounds and assists than in recent season. While its not necessarily fair to compare his current numbers to his other MVP years, the story of Cleveland beating up on the eastern conference to get the 2 seed after a slow start and
James Harden, Houston – I’m giving the slight edge to Harden over Curry. Harden goes for 27.5 a night with 5.6 boards, 6.9 dimes and 1.9 steals a game. The bottom line is that in my opinion, this award should go to the player who adds the most value to a team. Where would Houston have been without Harden this year? My guess is not in the playoffs.
- Stephen Curry, Golden State – There is little doubt that this is a close race between Harden and Curry, and while Harden may have the edge in the statistical categories, Curry has the edge in wins. Its tough to not give this award to the best player on the best team, but in the end, he has a much better supporting cast than Harden, which makes it slightly easier for him to put up the numbers he has. Definitely an MVP worthy season, but Harden’s was better.
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – Westbrook has seemingly put the Thunder on his back, but in a tough Western conference, he may still wind up on the outside looking in, depending on how these last two nights of the NBA season play out. He has been a force down the stretch, with a league leading 11 triple doubles. To put that into perspective, the next closest player has 3. Will have a shot at the award if the Thunder make the playoffs, but none if they don’t.
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans – Similarly to Westbrook, Davis put his team on his back and may wind up making the playoffs. He has a daunting stat line of 24 points and 10 boards, but even more impressive is his impact on the defensive end where he averages 2.9 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. I don’t think its his award this year, but he will snag a few before his time in this league is up.
- LeBron James, Cleveland – Funny that we have the best player in the world listed as fifth. For me, the bottom line is the Cavs still have Kyrie and Love, which means they are still a definite Eastern Conference playoff team without Lebron. Had he locked them into the 1 seed, I’d consider him. Now having said all that, he’s still the best player on earth.
Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Davis, New Orlenas – We already discussed why he should be considered an MVP candidate, and a big part of that is his defense protecting the rim. He leads the league in blocks by more than .5 per game, and add in his 1.5 steals per game and this is an easy choice.
- Draymond Green, Golden State – While everyone likes to talk about Golden State’s offense, they also play good defense as one of just 6 teams out west holding opponents under 100 points per game. Green is a big part of that, playing stellar defense and guarding guys at almost every position in doing so.
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – While he missed nearly 20 games this season battling injuries, he has come back strong and been a big part of San Antonio’s winning streak that has vaulted them into 2nd place. Similar to Green, Leonard can guard any position, and do so efficiently. He held LeBron James in check in the finals last year, watch for him to cause fits for his opponents in the playoffs again this year.
Rookie of the Year
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota – As a Sixers fan, I begrudgingly give this award to Wiggins. Pretty simple, points are sexy for this award while defense is not. Wiggins is averaging 16.8 PPG, which is tops among 1st years, and has come on strong after the All-Star break. I say he gets this award because he scores better than any other rook, but truth is, his defense is pretty good also. Watching him guard guys such as James Harden reminds us just how excellent his on-ball defense can be in this league. His feet are so quick its almost impossible to get around him. In the end, it was his award to lose from day 1.
- Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia – The curios case of Nerlens Noel. He had an underwhelming first half of the season, which was to be expected after missing an entire year of basketball. But in the second half of the season, he has proceeded to light it up. Keep this in mind, Nerlens Noel is the only player in the NBA, not only Rookie, the only PLAYER, to be in the top 10 in both steals and blocks. His impact on the defensive end should put him into contention for defensive player of the year as he’s anchored the third worst team in the league to have the 12th best defense. Pretty impressive. Add his late scoring surge into the mix and the fact that he leads rookies in rebounds (8.1) blocks (1.89) and steals (1.77) and he should be a not-to-distant second from Wiggins.
- Nikola Mirotic, Chicago – Similar to Noel, Mirotic hadn’t done much for the first half of the season. However, he’s come on strong as ever as the Bulls have increased his minutes per game. Mirotic averages 10.1 PPG as well as 4.9 RPG, but only gets a mere 20 minutes played per game. Mirotic is in the conversation because he is a true role player on a team that is in contention in the Eastern Conference. In fact, part of the reason why the Bulls are still in contention is because of Mirotic’s rise after Derrick Rose went down with his knee injury.
Just Missed the Rookie Cut: Elfrid Payton, Orlando.
Coach of the Year
Steve Kerr, Golden State – in his first full season under the helm, Golden State improved by 15 wins and ran away with the 1 seed in one of the most loaded conferences in recent memory. Certainly having MVP caliber players like Stephen Curry and a wealth of talent across the roster helps, but Kerr’s impact should not go unnoticed. He should run away with this award.
- Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta – The year after taking his 8th seeded Hawks and pushing a much more talented Indiana Pacers team to 7 games in round one, Budenholzer turned his perennial number 8 team into the #1 seed in the east, adding 22 victories on top of last year’s totals. He also did so without a superstar, and as we’ve discussed on G&G before, teams just don’t win that way. If it wasn’t for Golden State’s incredible year, Budenholzer would come away with this one.
- Brad Stevens, Boston – look at this roster and explain to me how it’s a playoff team. Yes, the eastern conference is weak this year, but even so this team beat out arguably more talented rosters like Charlotte and Miami to clinch the 7 seed in the east. Stevens, as he did in college, knows how to get the best out of his players and win games when it matters. When he gets the opportunity to coach a more talented roster in the future, he certainly has the coaching tools to make a championship run.
Lou Williams, Toronto – The man with perhaps the most amount of swag in the league should take home this trophy. One of the last players in the league to come straight out of high school, Williams has managed to average 15 PPG off the bench for the Raptors, who are in Eastern Conference contention. Add in a couple of boards and assists per game as well as a steal and this award is a no-brainer.
- Isaiah Thomas, Boston – Thomas has been a huge reason for the Celtics second half surge into the playoffs. Thomas is averaging 16 per game and 4 assist per game and has absolutely lit it up in Boston. He only averaged 15 and 3.7 thru his first 46 games with Phoenix and has put up 19 and 5.4 a night in Boston. If he had been there the whole year, he may have this award locked up.
- Golden State Warriors Bench – I’m going to go ahead and give the 3rd place to the team in the league that has the best bench. Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, David Lee, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa lead the charge for the best team in the NBA off the bench. Tough to argue there is a better crew in the NBA coming off the pine. In fact, this may be an Eastern Conference playoff team.