R-n-G Picks - Most Valuable Player: Lebron James, Miami Heat
Runner-Ups: Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Chris Paul
Let’s look at Lebron’s basic stats:
27.1 PPG, 53.1% FG*, 36.3% 3PT*, 7.9 RPG*, 6.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG
(* - career highs). Those stats alone are very impressive, but he’s also leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) with an incredible 30.8, which also happens to be one of the best PER ratings in the modern NBA era. He also has a career high in True Shooting Percentage (TS%) with .605. Stats aside, out of all the players in consideration, he has had arguably the most consistent year, and has been able to dominate more with less talent. ”What? Less talent?” Yes, because Dwyane Wade had missed 17 games, most of which the Heat have won because of Lebron.
If you don’t believe that Lebron is having the best season out of every player in the NBA, then you might just not like him very much.
Kevin Durant has had similar basic stats to Lebron James, but he has always had Russell Westbrook and James Harden by his side. Tony Parker has had an MVP like season, leading the Spurs to an NBA high 50 wins with a different type of offensive system. If you haven’t caught Tony Parker playing out of his mind, then you’ve been missing out. As for Chris Paul, he was able to change the entire culture of the Los Angeles Clippers team, and the way he dominates 4th quarters is incredible.
R-n-G Award Picks: Coach of the Year - Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs; Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Yes, I know it’s a cop out choosing two coaches to win, but it’s also happening everywhere else. There are great reasons why either coach should win this award, so why not push for a tie?
Gregg Popovich has done an amazing job giving his San Antonio Spurs 50 wins in a 66 game season. Those 50 wins include three different double-digit win streaks with a lot of new players to the roster like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills, and as well as rejuvenating both Boris Diaw’s and Stephen Jackson’s seasons. Pop still had his main guys Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but Tim was playing a career low 28.2 minutes per game, while also sitting out 8 games (DND - Old) and Manu missed several games with a broken hand.
Most impressively, though, Popovich was able to turn his slow paced, defensive minded Spurs team into an offensive powerhouse that can run the floor. The Spurs ended the season #1 offensive efficiency with 108.5 and #7 in pace at 95.1.
With Tom Thibodeau, you can argue that he had an easier time with very few roster changes. Rose, Noah, Deng, Brewer, Boozer, Korver, Watson, Gibson, and Asik all returned from the prior season, with the biggest change being Keith Bogans getting replaced by Rip Hamilton — a big improvement. So why does Thibodeau get the other half of this award? Some of his best players missed many games due to injury. Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton, C.J. Watson, and Luol Deng all missed a total of 94 games. In that time, some new guys like John Lucas III and Jimmy Butler were able to show that they are able players in the NBA, and Thibodeau was able to lead the Bulls to another 50 win season.
The Bulls are also more in sync with each other this season, which relies both on having the team together for another year, and that the players all listen to Thibodeau and have his back. They are #1 in deffensive efficiency once again with 95.3, and that’s credited to the coach having the players play team defense.
R-n-G Award Picks: Defensive Player of the Year - Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Runners-Up: Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, Lebron James
Dwight Howard can easily take this award again for the 4th straight year, but his terrible PR stunts this past season will definitely stray voters away from giving him a 1st place ballot. Furthermore, Orlando’s Defensive Efficiency dropped from being 3rd in 2010-11 (99.1) to 13th in 2011-12 (101.7).
Now here’s why I think Tyson Chandler should get the award.
In the 2010-2011 season, the New York Knicks had a defensive rating of 106.9, good for 21st in the NBA. In 2011-12, under coach Mike D’Antoni, an offensive genius who’s not known as a defensive coach at all, the Knicks were 10th in defensive efficiency. And this happened in spite of players like Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and whoever they had playing point guard at the time (Toney Douglas, Mike Bibby, eventually Jeremy Lin, whoever), all not known to be great, or even good defenders. The jump can be tracked to Tyson Chandler, the teams new defensive anchor and vocal leader in the middle of the paint. Later, after D’Antoni’s departure and Mike Woodson’s take over, the Knicks leaped even higher to 5th in the league in defensive efficiency with a 98.6.
Stepping away from stats, Chandler’s effect on the court is incredibly visible if you have ever seen a Knicks game this season. He is a great post defender, limiting Dwight Howard to only 8 points TWICE, and Andrew Bynum to only 3 points in their one head to head meeting. Chandler also does a great job of hedging out to the perimeter to contain perimeter players on pick and rolls, and then is also able to get back to his big man in time. Chandler was a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks won the title last season, and he definitely brought those skills to the Knicks.
I already mentioned Dwight Howard, but Serge Ibaka and Kevin Garnett both deserve DPOY considerations. Ibaka has been a defensive beast with his uncanny timing to block shots. I was also correct last December when I said that Serge Ibaka would lead the league in blocks (3.6 blocks per game). Kevin Garnett has actually played half the season as PF and the other half as a Center, and he has been a big reason why the Celtics are still 2nd in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Lebron James will always be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league, but I also want to give credit to those unheralded lock down perimeter defenders: Tony Allen, Avery Bradley, and Iman Shumpert. It’s great seeing them close out passing lanes, getting steals, and containing the best offensive options on the other team.
R-n-G Award Picks: Sixth Man of the Year - James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Runner-Ups: … does it even matter?
I wrote back in my season reviews that I assumed James Harden would start most of the season for the OKC Thunder… but I was definitely wrong. After Thabo Sefolosha went down with injury for a few games, James Harden was implemented into the starting line-up…. and struggled mightily. After two games, Scott Brooks opted to put Dequan Cook as the starting wing, bringing Harden back to his 6th man role.
This past season showed us how Harden is just like one of the other great 6th men in the NBA: Manu Ginobili. He can shoot, he can drive and finish at the rim, he can handle the ball, and he gets starter-like minutes (over 31 minutes a game). Harden’s also an efficient scorer, shooting 49.1% from the field, with a True Shooting Percentage of .660, good for 4th best in the league (right behind, you guessed it, Manu Ginobili).
James Harden is far and away the 6th Man of the Year, and I don’t think a choice has been more obvious since Dwight’s last Defensive Player of the Year awards. As long as the OKC Thunder can afford James Harden (next season is the final year of his rookie contract), expect Harden to continue contending as the top sixth man in the league. And that’s where he is comfortable.
R-n-G Award Picks: Rookie of the Year - Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Runner-Ups: Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Isaiah Thomas
The ROY choice would have been a lot more interesting if Kobe didn’t run into Rubio back in March, so the award undisputedly goes to the #1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving. Among all rookies, Irving leads in points per game (18.8), is 2nd in assists per game (5.5), is 5th in steals per game (1.08), and is 4th in 3 point shooting (39.8%). Stats aside now, if you’ve watched a Cleveland Cavaliers game (which you should have because Irving is so much fun to watch), then you’ve probably seen Irving completely take over several 4th quarters. His breakout moment has got to be his game winning layup against the Boston Celtics on January 29th.
If Irving was healthy the whole season, the Cavaliers would have probably been fighting for a Playoff seed along with the Milwaukee Bucks. Very impressive for a rookie who only played in 11 games his college career.
As much as I love Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio was definitely my favorite rookie all season. If he didn’t injure his knee, I personally would have liked to see a Co-Rookie of the Year happen (the last time two players shared Rookie of the Year was back in 1994 between Grant Hill and Jason Kidd, both of whom are still in the league). Rubio was realistically the only other rookie who gave Irving a run for his money. Though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, Rubio led all rookies in assists per game with 8.2 and steals per game with 2.22. Rubio was very important to the Timberwolves team, because once he went down with injury, their playoff hopes left along with him.
All of the other rookies have shown that this past draft wasn’t nearly as weak as everybody thought it would turn out to be. Iman Shumpert has quickly become one of the best lockdown perimeter defenders in the league. Klay Thompson has shown since the Monta trade that he can be a top shooting guard in upcoming years. Kenneth Faried’s ability to rebound and insane athleticism made Nene expendable to the Nuggets. Isaiah Thomas went from the 60th pick in the draft to starting point guard for the Kings; even getting Rookie of the Month honors.
I can’t wait for these next few seasons because all of these players will be even better, and so much fun to watch.
R-n-G Award Picks: Most Improved Player - Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks
Runner-Ups: Ryan Anderson, Jeremy Lin, and like, 50 other players
The Most Improved Player award is both the most difficult award to determine, as well as the least important award the league gives out. ”Most Improved” can mean be decided with a variety of reasons, and determining which aspect is more important than the others is completely arbitrary. In spite of this reasoning, though, the award exists and a winner must be awarded.
So how does one choose a player that deserves the MIP award? It can go to a player that rarely saw the court the previous season, then eventually found a big role his next year (Jeremy Lin). Or it can also go to a player that is basically doing the exact same thing he did the year before, just with more minutes (Ryan Anderson). Kevin Love won it last year for going from a really good player to a great player (much like Andrew Bynum this year). There’s also the jump from being a rookie to a 2nd year player and making improvements that would inevitably happen (countless sophomore players like Paul George, Ekpe Udoh, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, etc).
My choice of Ersan Ilyasova fits into the “I’m getting more minutes” category. He gets the edge over Ryan Anderson because Ilyasova’s play made Andrew Bogut expendable for the Milwaukee Bucks. His offensive improvement and ability to get rebounds (he went for 29 points and 25 rebounds on February 19th) reassured that the Bucks still had a decent frontline, even without Bogut.
The fact that Ilyasova was in a contract year could also explain some of his improved play.
I was pretty close to choosing Jeremy Lin for succeeding in a role that the Knicks desperately needed, but his recent injury backtracked him from playing enough games to seriously consider Lin as the winner. And Ryan Anderson deserves some consideration for playing well in more minutes in spite of all of the Dwight Howard drama (and he’s also on a contract year).