Bleacher Report NBA Experts Pick 2013-14 Award Winners
Why wait until the end of May to find out whether LeBron James or Kevin Durant wins the 2013-14 NBA MVP award when you can get a sneak peek at the vote right now?
Admittedly, you'll have to sit tight until the official hardware is handed out over the next few weeks. But 30 writers and editors from Bleacher Report's dialed-in NBA division cast their unofficial ballots for the league's biggest honors in an internal poll, so what follows should serve as an excellent sneak-peek prediction.
We counted up the results and picked winners for Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Each voter could submit only one name for each award, meaning the results reflect nothing but first-place nominations. As you'll see, some awards were especially contentious. For example, no fewer than eight different players earned nods from the voting pool in the Most Improved category.
Patience is overrated, and the votes are in. Will James snatch his fifth MVP trophy? Did Victor Oladipo chase down Michael Carter-Williams to earn top rookie honors?
Here's how B/R's NBA experts answered those tough questions—and plenty more—about this season's top awards.
MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
1. Kevin Durant: 26
2. LeBron James: 3
3. Joakim Noah: 1
LeBron James is still the best basketball player on planet Earth, but nobody had a better, more impactful season in 2013-14 than Kevin Durant. He led the league in scoring by a mile at 31.9 points per game—the most since Kobe Bryant poured in 35.4 a night back in 2005-06.
That includes a January in which he scored 30 or more points in 12 straight games on the way to averaging 35.9 points on 54.9 percent shooting (43.6 percent from three) over the course of the month and a 41-game streak of tallying 25 points or more.
Durant, though, proved to be much more than just a scorer in his sixth season as a pro. He also ripped down 7.4 rebounds and dished a career-best 5.5 assists while leading the NBA in usage rate (e.g., an estimate of the percentage of a team's possessions that end in either a shot, a turnover or a trip to the free-throw line by a given player when he's on the court), according to Basketball-Reference.com.
But being an NBA MVP requires more than just gaudy numbers. In that regard, Durant didn't disappoint.
He carried the Oklahoma City Thunder to within earshot of their second consecutive 60-win season (and more victories against a tougher schedule than James' Miami Heat earned in the East) despite seeing Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha—all regular starters for Scott Brooks—miss 35, 20 and 21 games, respectively, due to injury.
While James overcame his fair share of adversity in Miami, Durant flourished in the face of his. It's no wonder, then, that even James, a four-time MVP in his own right, believes that KD is this season's MVP. As he recently told Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, "I would say he's the most consistent player as far as MVP this year."
Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
1. Michael Carter-Williams: 19
2. Victor Oladipo: 9
3. Mason Plumlee: 2
So much for Carter-Williams running away with NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Garnering 63.3 percent of our panel's votes is no modest accomplishment, but it wasn't the landslide victory Carter-Williams appeared headed for a few months ago.
Credit Oladipo with making a competition out of this one, even if only barely. After a tumultuous start to the season, he came on in time to snag 30 percent of the votes here.
Further distinction is owed to Plumlee too, who unexpectedly crept into the conversation. The 22nd overall pick in last summer's draft wasn't supposed to figure into the Brooklyn Nets rotation, but he finishes the season as a lineup staple and one of this year's biggest rookie surprises.
But the honor still wound up going to Carter-Williams, who has played stellar basketball for the tanking Philadelphia 76ers, registering per-game averages of 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals.
The temptation to downplay his performance is there. The Sixers are so bad that, in theory, Carter-Williams has been free to chase gaudy, oft-inefficient stat lines, diminishing the value of his otherwise remarkable numbers.
Guilty of stat-chasing or not, though, Carter-Williams' production remains impressive and—more importantly—historically significant.
Magic Johnson is the only other rookie in NBA history to average at least 16 points, six rebounds, six assists and 1.5 steals for his entire rookie season, according to Basketball-Reference.com. That's some pretty convincing company.
Adjust your counterarguments accordingly.
—Dan Favale, NBA Featured Columnist
Sixth Man of the Year: Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
1. Taj Gibson: 16
2. Jamal Crawford: 8
3. Manu Ginobili: 3
Also receiving votes: Markieff Morris (2), Chris Andersen (1)
Joakim Noah did the lion's share of the work required to keep the Chicago Bulls afloat without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng, but he couldn't have secured the team's place among the East's top four without the extraordinary support of Taj Gibson.
The fifth-year forward returned the favors paid to him by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau (i.e., career highs in minutes and shot attempts) by posting personal bests in points (13.1) and assists (1.1) to go along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
As nice as those numbers are, they don't paint quite as pristine a picture of Gibson's candidacy as do those pertaining to his teamwide impact. According to NBA.com, the Bulls outscored the opposition by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when Gibson played but were outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions when he sat.
Comparing Gibson's effect on the Bulls to that of Carlos Boozer, the player whom he most often replaces in the lineup, lends even greater clarity to the former's case.
According to NBAwowy.com, Chicago was 6.2 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition when Gibson played and Boozer sat, but was just 0.2 points per 100 possessions better when that script was flipped—roughly equivalent to the difference between the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards.
That's what sets the best sixth men apart from the rest; they don't just hold the fort when starters rest but actively make their teams better when they're in the lineup. Gibson certainly fit that description this season and may find himself starting in Boozer's place come 2014-15 as a result.
—Josh Martin, NBA Lead Writer
Most Improved Player: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
1. Anthony Davis: 11
2. Gerald Green: 6
3. Goran Dragic: 5
Also receiving votes: Blake Griffin (2), DeAndre Jordan (2), Lance Stephenson (2), Miles Plumlee (1), Jodie Meeks (1)
Most Improved Player honors were predictably messy.
Plenty of players improved across the board, turning many a head, staking their claim for this particular distinction. In the end, it was Davis, the one-eyebrowed phenomenon, who towered above everyone else, securing 36.7 percent of the vote.
There's a school of thought saying Davis shouldn't even qualify for this award because, as a No. 1 overall pick with obvious talent, he was expected to improve. But let's get serious: Plenty of top selections never pan out.
And while Davis is as promising a prospect as we've seen enter the league in a while, his leap from "very good" to "flat-out elite" simply can't be ignored.
Davis' year-over-year counting numbers spiked across the board, with his scoring average jumping more than seven points per game and his rebounding going up by nearly two full boards per contest—not only that, but his rate stats surged as well.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Davis finished fourth in the league in player efficiency rating, led the NBA in block percentage and finished seventh in win shares per 48 minutes, despite playing for a losing team.
Those are absurd numbers for a second-year player.
Anytime netting basically a third of all ballots culminates in victory, you know the competition was close. The Phoenix Suns made things especially interesting, throwing three players—most notably Dragic and Green—into the mix.
But a crowded field couldn't split enough votes to keep Davis from taking home the award.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
1. Gregg Popovich: 16
2. Jeff Hornacek: 7
3. Steve Clifford: 3, Terry Stotts: 3 (tie)
Also receiving votes: Tom Thibodeau (1)
Despite leading the San Antonio Spurs to 16 50-win seasons during his time at the helm, Popovich has earned just a pair of Coach of the Year awards, following the 2002-03 and 2011-12 campaigns.
In truth, he should probably have won a half-dozen more. Clearly, B/R's voting pool sought to correct that injustice.
There was competition aplenty this year, with Hornacek masterfully leading the overachieving Suns to one of the most pleasantly surprising seasons in recent memory and Clifford making the Charlotte Bobcats relevant again. Using Al Jefferson's post game and a remarkably stout defense to shake off the shackles of historical ineptitude, Clifford's Kitties secured an unlikely playoff spot.
And Tom Thibodeau, as usual, defiantly rallied his blue-collar Bulls to a top-four spot in the East—despite Derrick Rose going down and the front office shipping out Luol Deng midway through the season.
Popovich, though, is ahead of the curve. He always has been.
The Spurs made the corner three a weapon before anybody else, and now they're pioneering an ultraconservative approach to playing-time management that could soon sweep the rest of the league. Pop has been instrumental in San Antonio's many innovations, is the architect of a brilliant offense and somehow managed to keep his team razor-sharp after a devastating Finals loss last season.
He's the easy pick—even if he'll never take credit for his team's consistent greatness, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
If you can draft David Robinson and follow that up with Tim Duncan, that's a couple of decades of very, very possible success unless you just screw it up," Popovich said. "So it's hard to take credit when circumstances have gone your way so consistently.
Whatever you say, Pop. Whatever you say.
—Grant Hughes, National NBA Featured Columnist
Executive of the Year: Ryan McDonough, Phoenix Suns
1. Ryan McDonough: 17
2. Masai Ujiri: 6
3. R.C. Buford: 3
Also receiving votes: Daryl Morey (2), Neil Olshey (1), Billy King (1)
The Phoenix Suns won just 25 games last season and were expected to claim even fewer in 2013-14 after an offseason fraught with changes to the front office, the coaching staff and the active roster. Instead, the Suns engineered the biggest (and most surprising) turnaround in the NBA this year, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Ryan McDonough.
The 34-year-old's fingerprints were all over nearly every move that ultimately put Phoenix within striking distance of a return to the postseason.
He flipped Jared Dudley, a streaky three-and-D type, and a second-round pick for Eric Bledsoe, now one of the league's rising stars at point guard. He turned the two years and more than $9 million remaining on the 33-year-old Luis Scola's contract into a starting center (Miles Plumlee) and a breakout candidate for Sixth Man and Most Improved Player of the Year (Gerald Green).
And before all of that, he hired former Suns sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek to oversee the on-court operation.
As much as McDonough's moves have already paid off, the brilliance of his first year as an NBA general manager lies in the extent to which he set up the Suns for future success. He netted 2014 first-round picks from the Scola deal and by sending Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards, well before front offices leaguewide started hoarding their own draft considerations.
He failed to ink Bledsoe to an extension before the season began but will have every opportunity to retain the restricted free agent this summer—and, perhaps, to do so at a discount, given the 39 games Bledsoe missed due to injury.
Phoenix fell short of the playoffs this year, but thanks to McDonough's machinations, the Suns will have the flexibility going forward to build a team that can contend for much more in the years to come.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
1. Joakim Noah: 20
2. Serge Ibaka: 4
3. Andrew Bogut: 3
Joakim Noah's defensive credentials are hard to deny. The Bulls have had the NBA's best defense after the All-Star break, per NBA.com, and they've been stingier overall with Noah on the floor all season.
Individually, Noah accumulated more defensive win shares than anybody in 2013-14, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He's a stout presence on the block, is quick enough to be a real problem for guards on the pick-and-roll and generally plays at an intensity level best described as "rabid."
Sure, you could argue Noah benefits from the defensive system engineered by Tom Thibodeau, but that's a lazy way to contextualize his achievements. In truth, Noah basically is that system. He's the versatile force capable of blitzing ball-handlers and recovering to guard the paint. He's the emotional fulcrum, the center point around which the whirring gears of Chicago's strong-side scheme grind.
He's earned this one.
Ibaka has improved his overall defensive game and is now more than a weak-side shot-blocker. But he's not the complete package Noah is. And Bogut is nearly as effective but lacks Noah's durability.
Keep in mind, Hibbert was practically a lock to win this award at the end of January. Noah took care of business from start to finish this season, though. That's why he warranted two-thirds of the vote.
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