Awww, yeahhhhh, Basketball fans!
The NBA’s “Second Season” is in full swing. The best of the best are locked in like gladiators of old, throwing blow after devastating blow in an attempt to obliterate their foes and move on through the Playoffs for that rarest of extremely rare opportunities to fight in the ultimate contest of mental and physical will to triumph over abject adversity for the right to call themselves… “Champion.” And, this year, with the amazing parity that exists in the NBA, the path to the Finals may be the most wide open road trip for any team to travel in recent decades. For hoopheads everywhere, it’s the ultimate story waiting to be written.
So, of course, I’m gonna write about this season’s annual NBA “…Of The Year” award recipients who have been announced thus far, and speculate about one or two of those yet to be named while completely ignoring the Playoffs (at least for this post during this round).
Look, it’s no secret that I completely bagged on writing the traditional “Playoff Preview” piece that’s expected of every sportswriter worth their salt. So, what kind of d-bag would I be if I wrote one now, what with all of the games already underway and having a better sense about how the first round might play out?
No, instead, I turn my attention to that most riveting of all athletic dramas, the award selections. Well, that and a few other things left wandering around the court during my two-week work-coma.
Without futher…well, you know…
Relaxed With Pop
I fully support Gregg Popovich as Coach of the Year. In fact, I could probably do a separate 3,000 word piece on just the IDEA of writing a draft about a story featuring Coach Pop and the San Antonio Spurs. Could a case have been made for Jeff Hornacek and the Suns’ literally Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of burnt expectations? Certainly. Which is why I find him a most excellent runner-up. But, Popovich? That man has somehow found a way to keep a cluster of aging vets relatively healthy and interested, while incorporating some of the exemplary personnel decisions made by management to roll out a championship-caliber team every year that he’s been in San Antonio. Okay, luck may have played at least a notable cameo role here, but he has definitely earned each of his three COTY Awards for his part of the Spurs’ fifteen straight 50-win seasons.
A Little Defensive About Joakim, Yes Or Noah?
So…Joakim Noah, Defensive Player of the Year. Okay. I’ll take Noah. Sure, there were others like Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka and even DeAndre Jordan who deserved to be recognized for their defensive prowess, but given that the Bulls have had one of the top two defenses throughout the 2013-14 season (there’s that pesky Hibbert and Indiana Pacers team again at #2) and they’ve managed to make it into the post-season without their #1 player in Derrick Rose, I’ll accept that he’s had a lot to do with it (that, and the fact that some of the number crunching stat geeks had already “Moneyballed” him in as the top defensive player, Sabermetrically speaking). Noah is a relentless and passionate defender whose personality tends to be contagious to his fellow teammates on most nights (though they’ve apparently accidentally found the antidote these past two games in their playoff series against the Wizards). So, yeah, Noah.
By the way, in a tip of the cap to Superman enthusiasts everywhere, I would like to propose a Bizarro-World Defensive Player of the Year Award and nominate Carmelo Anthony.
With Dragic Selected As “Most Improved,” Is Davis A Worthy Also-Goran?
As far as Goran Dragic for “Most Improved Player of the Year?” I’m not quite as sold on this one. Don’t get me wrong…I really, really like his game, I’ve long been a fan, and am happy for him for finally been given that starting spot that he’s been fighting for since his entrance into the League in 2008. But, I have a hard time with the selection of folks for “Most Improved” who were always good but lacked the playing time to exhibit it consistently. Not only that, but this particular selection is a couple of years late. The only statistic for Dragic that’s had any kind of significant increase between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons has been in his scoring, which has gone up by five points, which shouldn’t come as any great shocker, given the additional seven minutes per game that he played this year. On the flipside, he’s actually dropped a full assist from last year to this year.
I don’t know about you, I’m not horribly impressed with a five-point increase in a single category and a virtual flat line and even slight regression in other categories. It’s kind of like when Whoopie Goldberg was snubbed by Oscar for her virtuoso performance in The Color Purple, only to get the make-up call from the Academy the following year for her comedic, less-spectacular turn as a crooked medium in Ghost.
Now, if you’d have given Dragic this award at the end of the 2011-12 season, I might be on board. That year, with just under ten extra minutes played per game, Dragic went from a 7.4 scoring average to 11.7ppg, 3.1 assists to 5.3apg, upped his steals per game from 0.8 to 1.3, boosted his field goal percentage from 42% to 46%, and raised his free throw percentage from 60% to 80%. Now THAT, people, is improvement.
So, who would I have favored more for most improved? I actually liked New Orleans Pelican Anthony Davis. He not only took the leap from 13 points per game to 20 ppg with just six more minutes of playing time, but he managed to do it without sacrificing his better-than-50% field goal percentage – in fact, he even raised it slightly from .516 to .519 – that, in spite of adding five more shot attempts per game. But, again, this isn’t just about points. He also added a full block per game, two additional rebounds and just under a full assist per game, even as he improved his free throw percentage and registered barely a blip with respect to increased turnovers, despite the additional minutes and possessions.
I get that NBA types might not want to give a “most improved” award to a second year player who would already be expected to improve from his rookie year, but in my eyes, improvement of that magnitude is still improvement of that magnitude, newbie or not.
Predicting The Awards Of Future Past.
As for the rest of the awards that have yet to be announced, I still have Kevin Durant as the MVP; Michael Carter-Williams as Rookie oftThe Year; and for my Sixth Man of the Year, I’m riding with the Manu Ginobli lobby. The man is averaging 12 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds off the bench and his team outscores opponents by 14 points per game when he plays. I have no idea what that last part of that sentence really means, but, whatever…I’m with Manu for 6th Man of the Year.
Executive of the Year is a little bit trickier. If you search the Innernetz, there really are only three legitimate names being thrown around for this honor (my apologies to Billy King of the Brooklyn Nets and Neil Olshey of the Portland Trail Blazers): Ryan McDonough of the Phoenix Suns, Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets, and Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors. I’m going to go right ahead and eliminate Ujiri for lucking into two things: a team already ready to compete when he arrived, and his team’s addition by subtraction in the case of Rudy Gay. Plus, I have to take a few “savvy executive” points away from Mr. Ujiri for his dumbheaded “F**k Brooklyn” chalkboard special leading into his team’s Game 1 loss.
Next, since there can only be one, I’m calling on the Sandman to give the hook to McDonough and his surprising Suns. When he made the moves to land Eric Bledsoe and sign Hornacek as coach, there is NO WAY that he expected the rest of his motley crew to prove greater than the sum of their parts and pull together to throw up the bird on the so-called experts (ahem…myself included) and play hard every night, making the most of their abilities along the way. It’s obvious that the Moneyball approach has already borne new petals for these desert roses, but I just can’t give the “Executive of the Year Award” to a man who fully intended to “Major League” his way into a high Lottery pick.
So, that leaves Daryl Morey, and not just by process of elimination, either. Truly, I feel that he deserves the award for his tremendous foresight over the past few seasons with strategic trading (James Harden); deft drafting (Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones); astute signings (Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik; purposeful dumping of salary; and his relentless, unabashed, full-frontal wooing of Dwight Howard. Even his refusal to trade Asik in the wake of the Howard signing has proven to be a fortuitous “hold.” Though I don’t actually expect the Rockets to get very far this year – Hell, they may not even make it past the Portland Trailblazers at this point (See? That’s not knowledge and expertise talking on my part, just douchebaggery) – they are most certainly built to be contenders for the long-haul. Kudos, Mr. Morey.
Adelman Retires; Corbin, Woodson Shown The Door; Craig Sager Invited Back In
Before I wrap this one like a Derrick Rose kneecap, I just want to wish a fond farewell to Coach Rick Adelman, who has decided to hang up the blazer after 23 years in the NBA. With a head coaching career that concludes with an all-time .582 winning percentage earned with several teams including the Trailblazers, Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, and his most recent stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Adelman was among the true professionals of the game and acquitted himself admirably.
And, goodbye (at least temporarily) to former New York Knicks Coach Mike Woodson, who battled the complete apathy of his amazingly underachieving squad (37-45) before taking the fall for a wretched season; and to Tyrone Corbin of the Utah Jazz who really had no choice but to suck Easter eggs while coaching his “strictly under construction” collection. Hey, at least New York and Utah will have some great players to select from in this year’s Draft Lottery. Oh, right. Well…look on the bright side, New Yorkers: You’ll finally find out just how much Carmelo actually loves your city.
A special wish of strong and swift recovery to Craig Sager, the legendary Turner Sports broadcaster and legendarily outlandish fashion plate. Sager has begun treatment for what has been described as adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Since his announcement, players, coaches and fans alike have flooded him with letters, emails and texts of support with some even dressing up in their most Sagerific Sartorial Splendor to honor and support him. Among those wishing him well were Coach Popovich, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Ernie Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Kenny Smith and many others. Come back soon, Mr. Sager. Come back soon.