This season has given us much to cheer for and much to talk about. In this historic season, Legend Grows honors the best of the best with its regular season awards.
You simply cannot NOT give this one to Kerr. I thought he should have won it last year when he led the Warriors to 67 wins as a rookie head coach, but he missed out to Budenholzer. To follow up that 67-win-championship campaign with a record-setting 73 wins is too much to ignore, even if he did miss the first couple of months of the season. Luke Walton deserves credit for what he did in Kerr’s absence from the bench, but these Warriors are historically great and Kerr’s culture and leadership are a big factor in that.
Runner-Up: Terry Stotts, Portland Trailblazers
After losing four starters from last year’s team and having most experts picking them at or near the bottom of the Western Conference, Stotts has led the Blazers to the playoffs again. Despite losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez, and Nic Batum, the Blazers dropped only from the 4th seed to the 5th seed in the West. Exceeding expectations always tends to score well with the voters for post-season awards and Stotts will get lots of votes as a result. I give Stotts the slight edge over Brad Stevens who should also get his fair share of votes.
Most Improved Player: Steph Curry, Golden State
Some people like CJ McCollum here and that’s fine, but McCollum in my opinion hasn’t gotten a lot better this year, he just had more of an opportunity. The Most Improved Player Award should go to the player that improves the most and should go much deeper than just how many more points per game you scored year over year. While Curry’s scoring average increased 6.3 points, the most of any previous MVP, he did so with every defense in the league designed to stop him. Curry won the MVP last year and worked so hard in the off-season he completely dominated the league by turning himself into a scoring champion, while improving his shooting percentages, shattering his own record for three-pointers in a season, leading the league in steals, and a 31.5 PER mark which ranks as the highest PER by any point guard in history. I don’t remember any single-season record in any statistical category in any sport that was obliterated so completely as was Curry’s record 286 threes set last year. Curry hitting 402 of the NBA version of “the longball” this season, is the equivalent of Barry Bonds after his MVP season in which he hit 73 homeruns going out the following season and hitting more than 100. Bonds hit 46 the following season and won another MVP anyway, Curry’s record shattering improvement should be rewarded with the Most Improved Player Award.
Runner-Up: CJ McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
McCollum improved his scoring average by 14.0 PPG while also improving his shooting percentages, assists, rebounding, steals, and blocks. Some may pick him as their Most Improved, but I give Steph the edge because McCollum’s leap was largely due to playing time and opportunity as opposed to actual improvement. That said, McCollum has taken advantage of his opportunity and become a stellar young backcourt mate to Damian Lillard.
6th Man Award: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
While having a strong bench in the NBA is essential, it has always puzzled me why one of the major year end awards recognizes a player not good enough to start on his team. My pre-season 6th Man Award was Isaiah Thomas, but Thomas ended up having a breakout All-Star season as the Celtics starter. Hassan Whiteside has been the best bench player since he started coming off the bench, but does not qualify for the award since he started more games than he has come off the bench. So, the award goes to one of the greatest 6th men of all-time, Jamal Crawford. Crawford has averaged 14.2 PPG for a Clippers team that has stayed on the top side of the West, despite losing Blake Griffin for extended time. Coming off the bench as both a ball handler and a shooter has been a great luxury for Doc Rivers this year. Should Crawford win this award again this season, he would become the first 3-time 6th Man Award winner.
Runner-Up: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics
Turner’s transition to the Celtics bench has been as good for him as it has for his team. Turner has averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists, and 1.0 steals per game and been a stabilizing veteran influence off the young-Celtic bench for a Celtics team that was challenging for a Top 4 seed in the East for most of the season. He’s playing more minutes this year than he did as a starter last year and his size allows him to play point or off-the-ball, giving the Celtics much needed pop off the bench. He edges out Enes Kanter who only plays one side of the ball, but plays that side very well off the bench for the Thunder.
Of all of the Awards perhaps only the MVP was as easy as this one. Towns has quietly had one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in the last 20 years. His averages of 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, on 54.3% shooting put him in an elite group. Rookies who have reached 18 points, 10 boards, and 1.5 blocks are Duncan, Mourning, Shaq, Robinson, Hakeem, and Sampson. All perennial All-Stars (other than Sampson whose prime was ended early due to injury). It is clear that Towns has a very bright future in this league for a very long time.
Runner-up: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Porzingis showed the world what he could do by showing flashes of a superstar in the making. He finished an up-and-down rookie season with averages of 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and an impressive shooting touch for a 7’3″ forward. Seeing a guy that tall making more than one three pointer per game brought back memories of Manute Bol, only Porzingis makes it look a whole lot better than Manute’s old cock and fire.
Back-to-back Defensive POY Awards would put Leonard in some pretty elite company. The only non-Centers to accomplish this feat are Sidney Moncrief and Dennis Rodman. Kawhi is the best defensive player on the NBA’s best defense. The Spurs’ ability to shut people down is largely due to Kawhi’s ability to guard almost anyone on the floor. His length, effort, athletic ability, and defensive technique makes him the best perimeter defender of the last 20 years. Night in, night out, he is guarding the opposing team’s best player and doing it almost exclusively one-on-one and without help. It’s very difficult to score when your primary offensive weapon cannot draw a double team or draw help defense. That is what makes Leonard so special.
Runner-up: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Whiteside leads the NBA in blocks (3.7 BPG) by a large margin even though he plays only 29.1 minutes per game. He adds 8.6 Defensive Rebounds per game and an interior presence for a Miami defense that leads the league in blocks, 6th in defensive rebounding, and 7th in defensive rating. DeAndre Jordan could also be put in this discussion.
Curry has more Win Shares than any player in the league with 17.87. Only three players in the last 35 years have had as big a margin over the next closest player as Steph’s 3.4 Win Shares edge over Kevin Durant this year–Garnett, Duncan, and Jordan. Each of those three won the MVP that season. See the Most Improved Player argument above to understand why Steph might be the first unanimous MVP in league history. Curry is only 3rd player ever to lead the league in scoring and steals in the same season (joining Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson). Never before have we seen a player come even close to averaging 20 field goal attempts and 10 three-point attempts per game, but to do it while still shooting better than 50% from the floor is simply ridiculous. He had more games with 10 or more three pointers this season than the rest of the players in league history have had ever! Just think about that. He also became the second member of the 50-45-90 Club, joining Steve Nash as the only players to ever shoot 50 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free throw line for an entire season. Curry did it making more threes (402) than Nash shot that season (381) and he took 1271 more shots than Nash. Curry has changed the game and carried his team to a record setting season and this back-to-back MVP season is one of the greatest single season performances in NBA history.
Runner-Up: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder
I know, I know, it’s Westbrook that has the 18 Triple-Doubles and most experts are putting Westbrook as the #2 MVP candidate behind Curry, but I cannot give this to Westbrook without also mentioning Durant. Westbrook has his Triple Doubles and Durant’s 64 straight 20-point games (the longest since Michael Jordan in 90-91) isn’t shabby either, but trying to decide which player is more valuable to the Thunder is like asking me who was better between Stockton and Malone. They are both amazing and so different in what they do. Westbrook’s energy and shear competitiveness sets the tone for the Thunder as he racks up ridiculous numbers even though his shooting numbers are not great (though improved). Durant on the other hand has been more much more efficient. Durant’s shooting percentages of 50.5/38.8/89.8 almost made him the third player with multiple 50-40-90 seasons, but he just missed it. His 28.2 scoring average is actually higher than two of his scoring-title-winning seasons and his 8.2 rebounds per game is a career high to go along with his 5 assists, a steal, and a block per game. That makes this another outstanding season for KD. The runner-up to the MVP has to go to this dynamic duo.