April 16, 2014

ZAKOUR | NBA Award Season

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By John Zakour

It seems like voting on awards comes down to whether you want to go with the crowd or against the tides. You either accept the narrative or go against it, but it is never a truly democratic process where you can effectively campaign for your candidate. I cannot remember the last time I did not know who was going to win the Most Valuable Player well before the voting. So, I am going to do my best to block out the the narratives and maybe even create one of my own.

MVP will go to LeBron James, who has deserved the last five MVP awards and actually won four of them. James was robbed of his third consecutive award in 2011 during his relocation to Miami and Derrick Rose’s very good — but by no means MVP worthy — season. James had the force of powerful narrative behind him (he was the best scorer on an offensively challenged juggernaut).

So do not take it lightly when I say Kevin Durant deserves to be the MVP of the league, even as LeBron has been roughly the same player he has been the last three years, a ruthlessly efficient scorer capable of rebounding and setting up his teammates at an elite level. The only part of his game that might have dropped off lately was his defense, ever so hard to quantify.

So what has Kevin Durant done this year? He has played with ruthless efficiency for scoring and bares a slightly heavier scoring load than James, who has learned to set up and rebound at an elite level. Durant will win the scoring title, shooting at over 50% from the field with a true shooting percentage (which takes into account free throws and the value of a three) of over 63%. Durant, even if he has not quite surpassed LeBron, has pulled level with him. And that is good enough to earn him his first MVP award. I am still not sure if Durant is the best player in the league, but he played like it and will be rewarded for it.

Defensive Player of the Year will go to Joakim Noah. This .should not be a surprise. What is a surprise, however, is how much Roy Hibbert, the presumptive DPOY midway through the season, fell off. Much like the Pacers as a whole, Hibbert was brilliant in last year’s playoffs and picked up the year how he left off, anchoring the Pacers to the best defense in the league. Hibbert was making use of his new found cache with the referees to gain more calls in his favor and reaping the rewards.

But Hibbert has not been the same lately and the Pacers have followed suit. Joakim Noah, anchoring a somehow still very afloat Bulls team, has closed the gap. Noah is a higher energy defender, a better overall defender than Hibbert, and may even earn a few MVP votes. Hibbert is still the best tower in the league, but you cannot teach height and I prefer Noah at the helm of my defense.

Offensive Player of the Year will go to Kevin Durant. He is simply the best offensive player in the league. Wait a minute, there is no “offensive player of the year” award. Why not? Offense is the most prized aspect of NBA award voting, yet it does not even get its own award. Maybe if we singled out the ‘Offensive Player of the Year,’ the MVP would not become a de facto choice. Just a suggestion.

Rookie of the Year will go to Michael Carter-Williams, who was the best rookie in a down rookie class. His 76ers team only won 18 games, but whatever. He is not exactly getting any MVP votes yet. But Carter-Williams has consistently been the best rookie all year long, starting with a near triple double during his first NBA game, a surprising win over the Heat. As a digression, it is also worth noting the 76ers started out 3-0 and still finished XX, unlike the consistently awful Bucks.

I do not really like how Coach of the Year has devolved into the “coach of the most surprising team” award, and I would not be surprised to see Suns coach Jeff Hornacek come away with the honor. But for my money, Gregg Popovich has been the best coach in the NBA, guiding his team to the top of Western Conference and the best record in the league. After narrowly missing out on a championship and maybe mismanaging a few steps along the way, the Spurs head man has not missed a beat. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, are showing no ill effects of a heart wrenching finals loss, in part thanks to the ever steady Pop. Pop deserves credit for increasing the shelf life of an old core, as he has been ever careful in rationing minutes. But if any team was equipped to deal with last season’s ultimate disappointment, it is Popovich, the ultimate testament to his coaching abilities.