With a month to go before All-Star break, I have completed a full breakdown of the NBA awards and the players who are worthy of them through the first half of the season
Many will disagree with me, given the fact that the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the league (record wise) that Steph Curry is the current MVP of the league. On the contrary, my definition of a true ‘MVP’ is not that clear, cut and dry. Undoubtedly without Damian Lillard the Trailblazers would not be in the playoff hunt in the tough western conference. Year in, and year out, the Portland ball club struggled even with the likes of Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and everyone else who has came and gone the past several years. It was not until the selection of Damian Lillard, when this franchise was immediately turned around and began to head in the right direction. Damian is the heart, soul, grit, and foundation to a Portland team that is currently number 2 right behind the Warriors. He is the league’s most valuable player, because he makes the largest impact on a top 5 team. I have never been a fan of awarding the MVP to a player who has mind boggling statistics on a non competitive team. The MVP award should always be given to a player who is on a top 5-6 team in the entire league. At 22 ppg, 6.4 assists, and 5 rebounds he still measures up to the elite point guards in the league. Not only does he take on the scoring burden for the Blazers, but he takes on the duty of defending the top point guards of opposing teams in the Western conference. Arguments will be made, but in terms of overall value to team Damian Lillard is the mid season Most Valuable Player.
Rookie of the Year
I predicted in an earlier article (June Archives) that Andrew Wiggins would flourish on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that had about as equal talent to Oak Hill academy in Virginia (High School). He has taken on the label of a “defender” while steadily improving his offensive game. He has shown spurts of the offensive talent, dropping 27 points on Cleveland, and 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds on Sacramento. Every night he takes on the opposing teams best player; whether it be guard or forward. He brings a fierce attitude to the T’Wolves which they have been longing for, something they did not have even with Kevin Love leading the way. In order for Wiggins to maintain atop the rookie rankings he will need to begin to elevate the game of those around him. At 13.9 ppg, 1.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game his rookie statistics stack up against any other rookie this year, and although they may not be as impressive as the rookie campaigns of Kevin Durant, and Lebron James he is a front runner for Rookie of the Year.
6th Man of the Year
The reason the Warriors have found so much success is due to a number of reasons. Coach Kerr’s institution of more ball movement in the offense, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry’s post national team increased improvement, and the lineup change bringing Andre Igoudola off the bench. But one thing that has set them apart in the West is an absolute animal coming off the bench first and his name is Draymond Green. It took a few years for Draymond to really create his niche. Coming out of Tom Izzo’s Michigan state team where he was a focal point, the transition to the NBA was a difficult one. When he arrived in Golden State, former coach Mark Jackson was not sure what position to play him. He is not big enough to play the power forward/4 position, but he isn’t quick enough, nor has the range to play the small forward, 3 position. The only way Draymond Green does not deserve the trophy is the fact that he is playing borderline starters' minutes. At 12.8 points per game, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists he is the favorite for the 6th man award.
Most Improved Player
When the season started, no one would have believed you if you said Derrick Rose would be the sidekick to the Jimmy Butler show. Jimmy has turned it on this year offensively, and kept Coach Tibs’ from seeking out a perennial scorer in free agency or through trade. Last year he averaged around 14 points per game, 5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He has made dramatic improvements in each of those categories, leading the team in scoring with 21.6 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. It is not just the statistical output that makes Jimmy Butler a threat, it is the role he is playing in Chicago’s offense. Derrick Rose has settled in as true point guard and as a result Butler has been the beneficiary. Butler has continued to be a complement piece to Derrick Rose, never really stealing the show, just knocking down open jumpers, finishing on fast break opportunities, and keeping the defense offense by driving and dishing off to his big man. Through the first 4 months of the season, Jimmy Butler has proven to be the most improved player in the NBA.
Do I really need an explanation? Derrick Rose playing less than 30 games over the past two seasons has safely made it through the mid way point healthy (knocking on wood). The Chicago Bulls currently sit 2nd in the Eastern conference standings and he has truly evolved into an all around player. He continues to show spurts of the MVP explosiveness but has instead managed to show true poise down the stretch becoming a distributor and raising the level of play to his off guard counterpart Jimmy Butler. With the addition of Gasol and the strong play of Aaron Brooks, D-Rose has returned to form. He currently is averaging 17 ppg, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds and his a clear cut favorite for Comeback POY.
Defensive Player of the Year
The 2.9 blocks per game (league leading) is not the sole reason Anthony Davis should be Defensive Player of the Year. The way A.D. affects the entire game for a young New Orleans Pelicans team is remarkable. Every drive to the basket whether guard, forward, or center is contested at the rim. In my humble opinion, the defensive player of the year award should go to the most dangerously opposing defensive player in the league, and that would be “the unibrow” hands down. Fortunately for the Pelicans, the 21 year old is not only leading the NBA in blocks but he is also averaging a double double with 23.7 points per game, and 10.5 rebounds per game. Move over Dwight Howard because Anthony Davis is the newest, and youngest BEST defensive player in the league, and he’s not going anywhere for quite sometime.
Coach of the Year
Atlanta Hawks Head Coach
It is no secret that Head Coach Mike Budenholzer was a product of the Gregg Popovich tree, and it is blatant in the style of play from his Atlanta Hawks team. Atlanta has made very few moves in the offseason. The relative core of the team is still in tact with Jeff Teague leading the point guard responsibilities and long time veteran Al Horford and Kyle Korver providing fundamental roles on a team that currently sits #1, that’s right, number one in the Eastern conference. They added Thabo Sefolosha in the offseason from the OKC Thunder who is a pure defensive player, and that has been the story for this roster. Defense has set Atlanta apart in the East from other teams, and their style of play; moving without the basketball, using the duration of the shot clock to find the highest percentage shot has proven successful this far through the season. Many have deemed this Atlanta Hawks team the “Atlanta Spurs” drawing close comparisons to Budenholzer’s former team. And although the Hawks play in a watered down Eastern conference, you cannot argue the legitimacy of their record, getting wins at the Clippers, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Rockets, and beating the Cavaliers twice. He was the Eastern conference coach of the month for December, and this may be just the first of many coach of the month awards to come.
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