As the NBA reaches the quarter-season mark, and with the yearly Christmas extravaganza coming up, the Bulls 101 staff takes a look at the NBA award races: MVP, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year.
Avi: Carmelo Anthony
I know the Knicks’ performance this season has been a complete team effort, especially when it comes to making three pointers. However, there’s no denying Carmelo Anthony’s impact. He’s second in the league in scoring, he’s been playing some of the best basketball of his career, and he’s leading the Knicks every big opponent. It’s still early, but if Carmelo can keep this play up, I find it hard to imagine anyone other than the usual Lebron James and Kevin Durant challenging him.
Brian: Kevin Durant
MVP is always the trickiest award to determine, but through a quarter of this season, it's a pretty easy choice, at least to me. Kevin Durant is posting career highs in True Shooting%, Rebound %, Assist %, Block %, Steal %, Offensive and Defensive Rating, Offensive Win Shares and Win Shares/48 (leading the league in the last two), all with his lowest usage rate since 2008. And he's still in the thick of the scoring race. At one point this season, he was leading the NBA in both offensive and defensive win shares, which is nearly unheard of. With LeBron James playing at something less of optimal capacity, Durant is head and shoulders the best player in basketball right now.
Caleb: LeBron James
Yes, he's done a lot of MVP winning in recent years, and the Miami Heat have been slightly disappointing in some respects, but the dude is still incredible and Miami's still 15-6. He's followed up his third MVP in four years and an NBA title with another ridiculous season. He's shooting a career high from the field and from three — 54.1 percent and 42.4 percent, respectively — and he's upped his rebounding totals as he plays more power forward. He's leading the league in PER yet again, according to Basketball-Reference. LeBron's the best player in the league and it's not close. The only reason I can think of for not voting for him is that he's won as much as he has, but that reasoning always seemed stupid to me.
Avi: Serge Ibaka
I feel like there isn’t anyone else worth the award. Dwight Howard is struggling as he continues to recover from the surgery. Tyson Chandler is strong as always, however I believe he’s having a down year compared to last year. Ibaka at least leads the league in blocks per game and makes his presence known on defense.
Brian: Tim Duncan
DPOY is a tricky thing, with at least three legitimate candidates: Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert and Tony Allen. Allen is his usual lockdown self, but perhaps not outstanding enough to warrant this award. Hibbert has been great, better than last year, but two of his Pacers' teammates (Paul George and David West) join him in the top 5 for defensive win shares, so it might be systemic more than anything, so that leaves Duncan, whose personal fountain of youth has reformed him from a really good defensive big man to his former title of best defensive bigman in the NBA.
Caleb: Andrei Kirilenko
Signing Kirilenko to a 2 year, $20 million contract this offseason was scoffed at by most fans. Many questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on a player who had spent a year in Russia and was considered on the decline prior to that. And yet, here we are, a month and a half into the season and Kirilenko looks as good as he ever has. The Minnesota Timerwolves currently rank 3rd in the NBA in points allowed per possession, and Kirilenko deserves the lion's share of the credit. He's propped up their defense to allow them to tread water without Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. He may not be the sexy choice, but he is definitely deserving.
Avi: James Harden
Brian: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe has forced Vinny Del Negro to play him more and more as the season has worn on. He's seen a dramatic rise in his shooting numbers this season (.389 last year to .503 this year), and is the NBA's leader in Steal %. Bledsoe looks to be the point guard of the future if Chris Paul leaves, and is my choice for MIP.
Caleb: OJ Mayo
I'm always wary of this award, because it always seems to go to quality players who just happened to finally start getting playing time. (See: Love, Kevin) But although Mayo has transitioned from a bench role in Memphis to a starting one in Dallas, He's also made some major improvements thus far. He's shooting better than he ever has before, at over 48 percent from the field and 51 percent from three. He's rebounding well and his assist numbers are solid. He's managing a career high in PER, at 18.3, which is the first time he's ever made it above average. He's been one of a few bright spots for a Dallas team that's struggled at times this year.
Avi: Jamal Crawford
After seeing him last year in Portland, I thought Crawford was on a major decline in his production. I would have still loved to see him in Chicago for $5 million since the rest of the Bench Mob was disassembled, but I wasn't expecting much to happen. Then he started playing for the Clippers. His production off the bench for the Clippers has made them one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. To date, he's averaging 16.6 points per game on 43% shooting, numbers good enough for him to be a starter on some teams. Given his production and level of play thus far it amazes me that he isn't starting over Willie Green, but I guess that's why he qualifies for Sixth Man of the Year.
Brian: Carl Landry
Landry parlayed his new role with Golden State into a titanic 120 offensive rating, a .628 true shooting % and one of the highest WS/48 in the NBA. He and David Lee are the best offensive power forward combination in the league.
Caleb: Kevin Martin
Turns out that playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is a pretty good situation to be in. After James Harden took home the award last year, Martin has done pretty well for himself this year. He's not the all-around player Harden is/was, but he's a great shooter and he gets some great looks in OKC's system. He's shooting 46 percent from the field and from three, plus 93 percent from the line, and after an initial adjustment period the Thunder have regained their top form, leading the league in offensive efficiency.
Avi: Damian Lillard
His play this season has been amazing and he looks like he’s going to make a future push to become the best point guard in the league at some point. This award isn’t close mainly because of Anthony Davis’s injury up until recently and since no other rookie has had as big of an impact as Lillard.
Brian: Damian Lillard
Lillard's a fairly easy choice so far. Anthony Davis can't seem to stay healthy, and Bradley Beal can't seem to shoot. Lillard's defensive numbers leave a little to be desired, but so did Derrick Rose and John Wall and Kyrie Irving in their rookies seasons, and Lillard's having as good a year as any of them did.
Caleb: Damian Lillard
Look, you walk in the door as a rookie and average 19 points and 6 assists per game and play 38 minutes a night, you are pretty well assured a spot in the rookie of the year debate. Also, there's not a heck of a lot of competition. Anthony Davis has been hurt, Dion Waiters has struggled and is now hurt, Thomas Robinson has struggled to find playing time for the freaking Sacramento Kings, and everyone else has underwhelmed. Lillard's been solid and his competition really hasn't been, so he gets it.
Avi: Lionel Hollins
It's Hollins without a doubt. The Grizzlies are absolute monsters this season and are emerging as a potential title contender under his coaching. They play excellent team defense and distribute the ball well. I considered Thibodeau since he’s kept Chicago in play even with the Derrick Rose being out and the BenchSobs playing. I also considered Greg Popovich, but that’s the boring choice now.
Brian: Tom Thibodeau
I finally get to be a homer and select with both my heart and my head. Tom Thibodeau is 4 games over .500 with a Nate Robinson/Marco Belinelli backcourt. He's on pace for 50 wins in a season his front office obviously gave up on in July. With the exception of Belinelli, the team's new acquisitions have been woefully underwhelming, and he's having to play his two best players exorbitant minutes just to stay afloat.
And he shows no signs of stopping.
Caleb: Mark Jackson
I'm very, very tempted to give this to Tom Thibodeau for his work in keeping the Bulls in contention without Derrick Rose, but the Golden State Warriors have accomplished something similar. They've exceeded expectations even as Andrew Bogut has missed time. Their defense has been surprisingly solid, if not spectacular, and the offense has made up for its shortcomings, more or less.
It was easy to laugh at his hiring two years ago, but it's starting to seem like the Warriors made a hell of a choice. Jackson has gotten David Lee playing at a high level again, and his three rookies, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green have made major contributions thus far, which has helped ease the pain of Bogut's absence. And that doesn't even mention Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, who have come from New Orleans and really turned things around. Monty Williams is a great coach in his own right, but Jackson's going a great job.
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