The 2014-15 NBA season has been one of the most exciting in recent years with an influx of emerging talent (Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins), a stacked Western Conference where teams may need 50 wins to get in the playoffs, and surprises like the dominant Atlanta Hawks taking the league by storm. We have also seen the fall of some of the giants of the previous generation as we watched Kobe and Garnett struggle through seasons on bad teams and the Miami Heat struggle in the absence of LeBron.
As we approach the 2015 NBA all-star weekend in New York City and the mid-point of the NBA season, this year's awards races are more interesting than they've been in past years. The MVP race is no longer the LeBron vs. KD debate, with both players suffering from injuries or inconsistencies. As with every year, the question of how much of a factor the teams' record should play in individual awards is being challenged by phenom Anthony Davis, putting up staggering numbers for a team not currently in the playoff standings, but who could be a candidate for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved. Offenses have thrived this season as teams build towards establishing themselves in the Spurs' image with shooting and spacing replacing 10-second post-ups and mid-range jumpers. The emphasis on team basketball and continuity has led to some great starts by non-traditional powers such as the Raptors and Wizards. The NBA, more so than any of the four major sports, is a league where the best teams and players tend to remain the same and parity is rare. This season has challenged that notion with new players ascending and surprising teams emerging. This point is a good place to look back on the first half and pick our awards winners for the first half of the season and hand out some of our own accolades.
8 Executive of the Year - David Griffin
It's hard to not pick the GM that got LeBron to return to Cleveland, even if that is overstating his role in the decision. Despite the Cavs slow start this season, getting the best player in the world to come to your team is usually enough to win this award. Griffin's job is not that of a usual GM; he has an obligation to cater to LeBron more than other teams are required to for their players.
Trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love may have been shortsighted but there's no doubt that Love is the better player right now and gives them the best chance to contend. Griffin has done well this year to turn a team of young talent into a more veteran laden, playoff bound contender, and a team that is starting to surge, winning eight straight. Through a series of in-season trades, Griffin was able to turn locker-room tumor Dion Waiters and a first round pick into Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith, surrounding the Cavs' big 3 with capable role players and not sacrificing many assets in the process.
Runner-Up: Donnie Nelson - should also get consideration here for luring Chandler Parsons to the Mavs, trading some scraps for Rondo and bringing back Tyson Chandler.
Underrated Contender: Masai Ujiri - got Lou Williams for nothing and brought back Lowry on what looks now like a steal of a contract.
7 Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer
The surprising, dominant, Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks are one the best stories of the season and one of the most exciting teams to watch. Coach Budz comes from the San Antonio coaching tree that values shooting and team play and has crafted the sixth ranked offense in points per game and a top five defense. The Hawks are sitting with 38 wins and are on pace for 60 wins this season and could send potentially four players to the all-star game. They've won an astounding 17 games in a row. Budenholzer has structured their offense around the shooting of Kyle Korver and pick and roll game of Jeff Teague into a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, even if its parts are very good. It remains to be seen how deep these Hawks can go in the playoffs, but nobody predicated 60 wins.
Runner-Up: Steve Kerr - some people questioned the firing of Mark Jackson but results speak for themselves. Kerr has the Warriors sitting as the best team in the league in his first year coaching.
Underrated contender: Jason Kidd - the whole trade fiasco with Brooklyn seems like it worked out for the Bucks as Kidd has done wonders with their young roster and turning Brandon Knight into a borderline all-star point guard.
6 Defensive Player of the Year – Tim Duncan
Not sure how this is possible considering he can’t jump anymore, but 38-year-old Tim Duncan is the Defensive Player of the Year so far. With defensive studs Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter missing large portions of the season so far Duncan has been the defensive anchor of one the best defenses in the league. Rim protectors are more valuable as defenders than perimeter players. Their presence affects the other team more consistently. Opponents are shooting only 46.6% at the rim against Duncan (compared to 49.5% for Anthony Davis), despite his perimeter defense including sometimes suspect defenders like Ginboli, Belinelli and Parker. Duncan is averaging 1.1 steals, 2.3 blocks and 8.9 defensive rebounds per game this season and the Spurs defensive rating drops significantly when Duncan sits. Duncan also ranks no.1 in defensive real plus-minus, a fancy new advanced stat that measures overall defensive impact on the game and net point differential. Let's hope he never retires.
Runner-up: Dwight Howard - he's the reason Harden's defensive woes don't hurt the Rockets more. He may have lost a step but he remains one of the intimidating forces as a rebounder and rim protector.
Underrated contender: Tyson Chandler - without Chandler, the Mavs would give up 120 points a game. No player have more of a defensive burden for a playoff team than Chandler.
5 Sixth-Man: Jamaal Crawford
Soon they will need to change this to the Jamaal Crawford award. Crawford has always been underrated as a passer and pick and roll player that can run an offense for spurts. He did it in his time in Portland but it's his ability to get buckets that the Clippers value. The two-time winner of this award remains one the most valuable pieces for L.A. During crunch time minutes, coach Rivers plays Crawford for his ability to score in late game situations while under duress from strong defenses. Crawford is also the most valuable bench player as the Clippers second unit is weak with the likes of Hedo and Big Baby Davis logging significant minutes, without Crawford's contributions they would get outscored consistently by other teams second units.
Runner-up Lou Williams - scoring 15 PPG for a playoff team that relies on him in end of the shot-clock situations and late in games lands him recognition here.
Underrated Contender: Marreese Speights - has played very well, especially in the absence of David Lee for most the season.
4 Teammate of the Year: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge sealed this accolade up this week by opting to pass on surgery to help keep his team afloat in the tough Western Conference. Aldridge tore a ligament in his non-shooting hand this past week and was tabled for surgery with a recovery time of 6-8 weeks. In a historically strong Western Conference, losing your best player for that duration could mean dropping significantly in the standings and possibly out the playoffs.
Aldridge opted to forgo surgery for now to remain with the team and even scored 26 points in his next game. By opting to delay surgery to the offseason Aldridge is increasing his recovery time to 12 weeks. This sends a strong message to his teammates about what this season means to him, and as a free agent, it sends a strong message to the organization and city of his commitment to the Blazers.
Runner-Up: Kyle Lowry - the protoypical tough point guard that every player would want to play with, he lifts his team when they need him.
Underrated Contender: David Lee - Lee is an all-star caliber player who is sacrificing his own numbers and accepting his role off the bench for the betterment of his team.
3 Most Improved: Jimmy Butler
The much-maligned most improved award often goes to a young player that sees a sudden jump in minutes and obviously, a jump in his production. This year Jimmy Butler has managed to become a superstar, something nobody saw coming, despite playing around the same amount of minutes as last season. Butler has stepped up with Rose in and out of the lineup all season and has showed he can be a go-to player in the NBA.
Butler is currently averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BLKs. Despite being considered a weak shooter when he came into the league, he has managed to put up numbers of .459 FG% and .834 FT%. His drastic improvement came at the right time in his contract season as he has become a no-doubt max contract player.
Runner-up: Draymond Green - has improved his outside shooting to become a valuable piece as a defensive stopped and stretch four for the best team in the league.
Underrated contender: Brandon Knight - Knight has worked his point guard magic turning the Pistons cast-off into one of the best point guard in the East.
2 Rookie of the year: Andrew Wiggins
It's still too early to really analyze the Love for Wiggins trade, but early signs for the Timberwolves are pointing to a steal. Love is a great player, but he wanted out and it's typically difficult for a team to get a solid return in that situation, and solid is an understatement. Wiggins did get off to a bumpy start with some inconsistent shooting and displaying the tendency to drift out of game. These tendancies caused some concern going into the draft last year, but he has emerged from it as a clear future star.
While his jump shot has been questionable, he's shooting a solid 39% from downtown and playing outstanding defense. Wiggins has flashed his outstanding athleticism and first step, blowing by defenders. The Wolves should be thrilled that this future star is on their team.
Runner up: nobody close
1 Most Valuable Player - Steph Curry
Steph Curry forms a functional NBA offense by himself. The true value of his shooting ability is difficult to quantify. Defenses focus and lean towards him wherever he is on the court more so than any player in the league. The Golden State offense has struggled this year when he's off the floor (he has the leagues highest real plus-minus), as without the gravitational pull of his shooting defenses can breathe easier. Curry has turned into a superstar this season, if he wasn't one already. He's leading the league in all-star votes, sits eighth in league scoring (22.8 PPG), fifth in assists (8.2 APG), and rarely turns the ball over.
Curry also ranks highly in all of the important advanced metrics (PER, Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus, Net Rating). Curry is very close to the elusive 50-40-90 club, 50% field goal shooting, 40% 3-point shooting and 90% from the free throw line. The last three players to reach this achievement won the MVP (Durant, Nash, Nowitzki).
Curry's evolution into a solid defender also helps his chances. He leads the league in steals with 2.1 per game and has become a solid enough defender that Klay Thompson no longer needs to help cover the opposing point guard as much as he used to. Curry is the most important player for the best team in the league and will be this season's MVP......unless LeBron's recent surge has anything to say about it.
Runner-up: Anthony Davis - on a team in the playoffs, he would be the MVP and may become the youngest ever to have a player efficiency rating over 30. He is ridiculous.
Underrated contender: John Wall - plays well on both sides of the court and is the unquestioned most important player on one the best teams in the league.