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.

2015-16 Season Preview: Picking the Defensive Player of the Year

Since Dwight Howard took home three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards between 2009 and 2011, a different player has won the award each season.  Kawhi Leonard took home the honor last season, winning a tight race over Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan.  Those three should be in the thick of things again this year, with Anthony Davis, the reigning two-time league leader in BPG also factoring in heavily.  This is one of the more subjective races in the league, as some choose to go with the guys who put up the best stats (BPG, SPG, DRPG) and others place a larger importance on things you can only see in live action.  The last few years have leaned towards the latter, which is something I agree with.  Here are my picks for the top five finishers in 2015-16 DPOY voting:

1: Kawhi Leonard - SF - San Antonio Spurs

The Claw led the league in SPG last season, but his overall defensive value runs much deeper than traditional stats can take us.  His length makes him a pest in both on-ball and off-ball situations, and he's got the athleticism and strength to defend any of the league's best wing players.  He's still only 24 years old, which means he's probably not falling off anytime soon.  I'm not willing to bet against him.

2: Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

Davis has led the league in BPG the past two years, his second and third seasons as a pro.  The Pelicans list his wingspan at over 7'7, which is 2" greater than what he measured at the draft combine in 2012.  Whether that's true or not doesn't matter, his long arms are his greatest defensive asset.  Also of value, he's athletic enough to switch on pick-and-rolls and guard effectively away from the basket.  He's only 22, so again, not going away for a while.

3: Draymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors

Green doesn't put up the biggest BPG or SPG numbers, but he's got great defensive value thanks to his hustle and ability to guard multiple positions.  The Warriors had the league's best defense last season, and that had a lot to do with Green.  I'm fine with calling any of these top three the best defensive player in the league.  I picked this order based on how I think the voting will break down at the end of the year.

4: Rudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz

Gobert's emergence coincided with the Jazz turning into an elite defensive group as the season went on.  The Jazz only gave up 94.8 PPP after trading Enes Kanter, a number for which Gobert deserves a large share of credit.  Plus, you don't get great nicknames like "The French Rejection" or "The Stifle Tower" without being the real deal.

5: Marc Gasol - C - Memphis Grizzlies

The anchor of one of the league's best defensive units, Gasol belongs in this discussion every year.  He doesn't put up the raw numbers to impress the voters, but he's fundamentally sound, and he means a lot to the Memphis defense.  I'd also be fine with listing any of DeAndre Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Bogut or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this spot.

2015-16 Season Preview: Picking the MVP

The NBA has crowned an MVP since the 1955-56 season when Bob Pettit took home the honor for averaging 23.8 PPG and 15.0 RPG.  The game has changed quite a bit in the 60 years since Pettit won the first MVP, but one thing has been a constant: Every Hall of Fame-eligible player who has ever been crowned MVP has also been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Last year's award went to Steph Curry after he had an excellent, efficient season for the best team in the league.  While Curry took home 92.2% of the total voting points, there were plenty of strong candidates last season.  James Harden put up better raw numbers than Curry while carrying the Rockets.  Anthony Davis was the best two-way player in the league.  Russell Westbrook dragged a dinged up Thunder roster to the brink of the playoffs, laying 11 triple doubles in his wake.  Oh, and LeBron James had a down season by his standards that still was good enough to place third in MVP voting.  The same cast of characters, plus a healthy Kevin Durant, should be in the race again this year.  Here are the ten players, in order, that I think have the best chances to hoist the Maurice Podloff trophy.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

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

From Don Meineke in the 1952-53 season to Andrew Wiggins last year, the NBA has crowned a top first-year player as Rookie of the Year.  A total of 24 Hall of Famers have taken home the award, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Lew Alcindor, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain.  Some of the game's greatest started asserting their dominance from year one, and it's always fun to watch which young players look like they could be the next greats.  Two years off of a watered down rookie class that produced Michael Carter-Williams as one of the weakest ROY winners of all-time, the 2015 draft class should give us an intriguing race for the Eddie Gottlieb trophy.  Any of the 2015 draft's top three picks seem like they'll take aim at winning the award, and several other top ten picks, namely Stanley Johnson and Emmanuel Mudiay, should get a chance too.  Of course, it's also possible that someone from outside the top ten takes home the honor, but that's proven to be a very rare occasion.  Since Mark Jackson (18th pick) won Rookie of the Year in 1987-88 for the Knicks, only one player (Carter-Williams, 11th pick) chosen outside the top ten has been recognized as the league's best rookie.  Here's my take on the ten rookies most likely to get their hands on the Gottlieb trophy: