Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Picking the Coach of the Year

The Red Auerbach trophy is awarded annually to the NBA's best head coach, although the honor has only gone to the leader of the eventual champion just three times in the last 42 years and a total of six times in the 52 years of the award's existence.  Another interesting wrinkle, three of the last six winners aren't even occupying a head coaching gig this year.  Mike Budenholzer took home the award last year, after the Hawks obliterated the Eastern Conference en route to 60 wins.  This one's a bit of a crapshoot, as coaches whose teams outperformed expectations tend to get more consideration than the coach of a team who was expected to be good and delivered.  Here's my take on the top three candidates for this year's Coach of the Year race.

1: Dave Joerger - Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have won 105 games over the past two seasons, yet Joerger has less Coach of the Year votes in that span than titans of the game such as Monty Williams and Dwayne Casey.  Joerger actually has zero votes in that timeframe, which I find ridiculous.  It may take a huge year from the Grizzlies to get Joerger the respect he deserves.  I have the Grizzlies 4th in my soon-to-be-released power rankings, so I think this is his year.

2: Steve Kerr - Golden State Warriors

Kerr finished second last year too, probably because a coach gets less credit for leading his team to the league's best record when he has the MVP and a bunch of other good pieces.  That doesn't mean he isn't a great coach though.  It's no coincidence that the Warriors took off after Kerr replaced Mark Jackson.

-- EDIT -- This was posted before it was announced that Kerr would take a leave of absence for a back injury, leaving Luke Walton to coach the Warriors.  In that case, slide Budenholzer to #2, and add in Gregg Popovich.

3: Mike Budenholzer - Atlanta Hawks

Last year's winner, Budenholzer will have earned his repeat if he can get the Hawks back to the top of the East after losing DeMarre Carroll.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Picking the Most Improved Player

Generally reserved for a young player who burst onto the scene during the year, the Most Improved Player award goes to the league's most pleasant surprise.  In the award's 29 years of existence, only eight players over the age of 25 have been crowned.  Darrell Armstrong (1999) is the only player to win the award at the age of 30.  This is going to be one of the hardest ones to handicap, because you can't really recycle the previous year's crop.  Even if you wanted to do that, 31 players, including the well-established, well-respected Marc Gasol, received votes for MIP last season.  This is a largely subjective award, and often times goes to a player who had a good year and has a good story to tell about some kind of triumph in their career.  Here are my wild guesses at the top five candidates for this year's Most Improved Player award.

1: Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks

Antetokounmpo made solid improvements across his game last season, adding 5.9 PPG and 2.3 RPG to his averages from his rookie season.  He won't make that kind of leap again this year, but I think he can put up a 15 PPG/7.5 RPG/3.5 APG/1.5 SPG/1.5 BPG season with good efficiency numbers.  If he does that and the Bucks are a force come playoff time, he seems like as good of a candidate as any.

2: Andre Drummond - C - Detroit Pistons

*flips switch on homer siren* With Greg Monroe off to Milwaukee, Drummond is Stan Van Gundy's only option in the post.  He wasn't good on the block last year, but there were flashes that suggested he can be an adequate offensive option.  The extra usage, plus a projected increase in reliability suggests that Drummond can tick somewhere between 16 and 18 PPG.  If he hits that range efficiently and looks good doing it, he's right in the thick of this race.

3: Dennis Schroder - PG - Atlanta Hawks

Schroder finished 9th in voting last season, thanks to improved efficiency.  He should make further improvements this year, and his large role as the anchor of Atlanta's bench unit could lend itself to the large raw numbers that voters like.

4: Nikola Mirotic - F - Chicago Bulls

Mirotic averaged 16 PPG after the All Star break last year, and if he does anything similar, he's going to be in the running for Most Improved.  With Jimmy Butler as the reigning MIP, Mirotic could make it two in a row for Chicago.

5: TJ Warren - F - Phoenix Suns

Warren showed signs of coming on late last season, including two 17-point performances and an 18-point game near the end of the year.  His role in the Suns offense should be bigger this year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him steal the starting SF gig a few months into the season.  I could be a year early here, but I think Warren is in position for a breakout year.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Picking the Sixth Man of the Year

The Sixth Man of the Year has predominantly been a small man's award.  A player listed solely as a center hasn't won the award since the 1985-86 season, when Bill Walton took home the honor in its fourth year of existence.  Lamar Odom's the only player in the last nine years to win the trophy without being listed as a guard.  Lou Williams was last year's Sixth Man of the Year, which he won on the back of a 15.5 PPG season.  He finished ahead of Isaiah Thomas (16.4 PPG) and two-time award winner Jamal Crawford (15.8 PPG).  There's also always room for a newcomer in this race, as Jamal Crawford is the only player to have won the trophy twice ('10, '14) since Detlef Schrempf secured his second Sixth Man award following the 1991-92 season.  Here's my take on this year's Sixth Man of the Year race, and the top five candidates:

1: Isaiah Thomas - PG - Boston Celtics

My vote would have gone to Thomas last year, based on his superior raw numbers and efficiency.  There weren't any major areas, aside from turnovers, where Williams had better numbers than Thomas.  Don't expect that to change either, as Thomas has established a pattern of efficiency in his four years in the league.  There isn't a player who comes off the bench in the whole NBA I would want over Thomas.  His energy and scoring is exactly what you want from a reserve, size be damned.

2: Dennis Schroder - PG - Atlanta Hawks

Schroder took a big leap from his rookie season, improving his overall play and efficiency.  His role as the leader of the Hawks' second unit is cemented, so he'll get plenty of possessions to improve upon last year's 10.0 PPG and 4.1 APG.  He's a better passer and defender than the other lead guards on this list.

3: Nikola Mirotic - F - Chicago Bulls

The first-team All Rookie from a year ago will continue to come off the bench in a deep Bulls frontcourt.  If he can come anywhere near his post-All Star break numbers from 2014-15 (16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG on a 56.0 TS%), he just might win the award.

4: Andre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors

The 2015 Finals MVP came off the bench in all 77 of the regular season games that he appeared in last season, and that probably won't change this year.  He's the best two-way player on this list, but probably won't generate the raw offensive numbers to win.

5: Mo Williams - G - Cleveland Cavaliers

Williams, who averaged 14.2 PPG and 6.2 APG last season with Minnesota and Charlotte, probably would have received more votes had he played for two teams relevant to the playoff picture.  He'll get that opportunity this year.