At the end of each regular season, the NBA doles out various awards. This season most fans have been captivated with the race for the MVP award between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. James is a four time MVP and is aiming to win his third straight award while Durant has never won the award. While the MVP is the biggest individual award, the NBA gives out five other major awards that will be decided in the last 10-15 games. These are the Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year awards. There are many deserving candidates for all of these awards and there is still time remaining in the season for some twists and turns. This article lists which six individuals should win each of the NBA’s major awards. The selections are subjective, but they take into account the performances throughout the season and whether early season expectations were met. All statistics and records are valid as of April 2nd, 2014.
6. Michael Carter-Williams – Rookie of the Year (ROY)
Michael Carter-Williams has been the lone bright spot in a dismal season for the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have a 16-58 record and at one point tied an NBA record by losing 26 games in a row. Despite playing alongside teammates who belong in the D-League, Carter-Williams has posted impressive statistics. In 61 games this season he is averaging 16.5 points, 6.3 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals. Even though Carter-Williams’ statistics have not translated into wins, he is head and shoulders above all other rookies. Carter-Williams leads all rookies in points, rebounds, steals and assists this season.
Although Carter-Williams plays on one of the worst teams in recent history, all the other top rookies play on bad teams as well. Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke have probably been his closest challengers this season but they play on teams with 21 and 23 wins respectively and their statistics are significantly inferior to those of Carter-Williams. Its safe to say it would be a shock if Carter-Williams did not win the ROY award
5. Gerald Green – Most Improved Player (MIP)
The Phoenix Suns have been the surprise team of this regular season. The Suns were almost unanimously picked to finish dead last in the Western Conference. At the writing of this column, they sit in eighth place in the Western Conference and are on the verge of making the playoffs. The Suns have been surprising collectively and on an individual basis as well. Their most surprising player has been Gerald Green. Green was traded to the Suns from the Indiana Pacers this off-season. In 60 games with the Pacers last season, Green averaged just 7.0 PPG and barely played during the 2013 Playoffs. This season, Green is averaging 15.5 PPG and has played in 74 games this season. He is averaging a career high 28.7 minutes per game and if the Suns do qualify for the post season, he will undoubtedly play a big role.
4. Jamal Crawford – Sixth Man of the Year (SMOY)
This season’s SMOY award is the hardest award to handicap. There are many worthy contenders and no matter who wins the award, somebody will feel snubbed. The front runners include Manu Ginobili, Taj Gibson, Markieff Morris and Jamal Crawford. While Ginobili has the highest efficiency rating, he has only played in 58 games this season for the San Antonio Spurs. Gibson is the best defender and rebounder of the group and is having a career year for the Chicago Bulls. The same can be said for Morris who is second in player efficiency of the group and has been a pleasant surprise for the Phoenix Suns. Despite most of the advanced statistics pointing to his rivals, the person who should win the award is Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers. Crawford is the most explosive scorer and is averaging 18.6 PPG in 66 games which is over 4 PPG more than all the other main contenders. Traditionally, SMOY award winners have averaged a lot of points with six of the last seven averaging over 16.8 PPG. The reasoning is simple: when teams put in their sixth man, they are looking for a player who can carry the offense while the starters rest. Nobody fulfills this role better than Crawford and that is why he should win the award this season.
3. Joakim Noah – Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
Early in the season it appeared Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert would comfortably win the DPOY award. The Pacers have been the best defensive team throughout the season and Hibbert has been the anchor of that defense. He is fourth in the league in defensive rating and fourth in terms of defensive win shares this season. However, since the All-Star break, the Pacers have stumbled and have not looked like the same team. Their defense, although still ranked number one, is not playing with the same intensity. Hibbert’s personal statistics are not that impressive. He is averaging 2.3 blocks but only 6.9 rebounds a game. The team with the second best defense all season has been the Chicago Bulls and their anchor, center Joakim Noah, ranks first in defensive rating and second in defensive win shares this season. While he averages only 1.5 blocks per game he does average 11.1 RPG, which is significantly more than Hibbert. What puts Noah over the top, is that Hibbert plays on a team where three other starters rank in the top six in terms of defensive win shares and Noah does not.
2. Jeff Hornacek – Coach of the Year (COY)
As mentioned earlier, many observers expected the Phoenix Suns to finish dead last in the Western Conference. While the players deserve great credit for the Suns record this season, the major reason they are in playoff contention is rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek. The Suns have the tenth best record in the NBA and have zero all-stars. Hornacek has implemented a system that has allowed the young Suns to flourish. Gerald Green is no longer an underachiever. Goran Dragic has turned into one of the best guards in the NBA. The play of Eric Bledsoe has the Los Angeles Clippers wondering why they traded him for Jared Dudley. In total, eight Suns players are posting career highs in points this season. Hornacek’s closest challenger for the COY award is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich whose Spurs have the best record in the NBA and have won 17 straight games. While Popovich is a deserving candidate, one can not underestimate how little people expected from the Suns this year. They won 25 games last season and were pegged to win around 20 this year. They have won 44 so far and the internal improvement of their players should result in Hornacek being this season’s COY.
1. Kevin Durant – MVP
There are several players who have had great individual seasons. Joakim Noah has led the Bulls on a surge towards the playoffs without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng. Dirk Nowitzki has carried a Mavericks team that plays no defense to a possible playoff berth. Blake Griffin has developed into the best power forward in the NBA and has the Clippers in third place in the West. These players and several more are worthy of praise, but the MVP has been a two horse race between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. One can make a statistical case for either candidate, but Durant is ahead in two significant ones. He is number one in the NBA in player efficiency and win shares while James is second in both. Team success is a significant component of the MVP award and Durant comes up on top again. The Miami Heat have a 51-22 record in the weaker Eastern Conference while the Oklahoma City Thunder have a 54-19 record in the more competitive Western Conference. While James is correctly acknowledged as the best player in the NBA, Durant has had a better and more consistent season and deserves the 2013/2014 MVP award.