It is playoff time in the NBA. The time where 16 times compete for an NBA title. This is also the time of the season where players are in the running to receive some serious individual awards. The chance to be recognized for their amazing hard work that allowed them to have an amazing season and in some cases a historic one. Three of those awards have already been handed out and there are few more on the verge of being announced. Here are my candidates for some of these prestigious awards for the 2015-16 NBA regular season campaign.
Defensive Player of the Year
The 2016 NBA Defensive Player of the Year presented by KIA was handed out early last week to first time All-Star forward of the San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard, who won the award for the second consecutive season.
He became the first non-center or power forward to win this award since Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1990 and 1991 and former Milwaukee Buck guard Sidney Moncrief, who won the award in its inaugural season of 1983 and again in 1984.
Leonard, who has taken his game to even greater heights on both ends of the court this season, continues to show that he can guard the likes of Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.
His work at the defensive end is a major reason why the Spurs, who won a franchise record 67 games this season finished No. 1 in points allowed at 92.9 per contest and in opponent’s three-point percentage at 33.1; No. 4 in opponent’s field goal percentage at 43.6 and No. 11 in steals per game at 8.3.
To put that into perspective, this was the 19th straight season the Spurs allowed less than 100 points to their opposition.
In addition to averaging 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds on 50.6 percent from the floor and ranking fourth in the NBA in three-point percentage at 44.3 percent, Leonard finished 12th in the league in steals per game at 1.8.
In the Spurs Game 3 victory on Friday night at the Memphis Grizzlies 96-87 to take a 3-0 series lead, Leonard was remarkable on both ends leading all scorers 32 points on 11 for 22 shooting, including 6 for 9 from three-point range with seven boards, four steals and five blocks.
The Spurs held the Grizzlies to 41.5 percent from the field, had 10 steals and 12 block shots.
There were other noteworthy candidates for this award like Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who averaged 14.0 points, 9.5 boards, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest. Jordan finished second in the league in boards and blocks.
Then there is Hassan Whiteside, who averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 boards, which ranked third in the league and he led the NBA in blocks at 3.7 per game. Whiteside ability to defend the paint was a big reason the Heat led the league in blocks per contest during the regular season.
Sixth Man of the Year
Most teams in the NBA if they are fortunate enough have a starting quintet that can consistently put the ball in the basket and a sixth man who can also put the ball in the basket at a high rate. That instant offensive can have a serious impact on the game that can shift the momentum into their respective team’s favor. This year’s winner embodies that quality completely and made history in the process of winning this award.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford captured his third Sixth Man of the Year award earlier this week, making him the first three-time recipient of this honor.
Crawford previous won this honor in his second season with the Clippers back in 2014, when he averaged 18.6 points per game and he won this award for the first time in 2010, with a 18.0 scoring average in his first season with the Atlanta Hawks. He also shot 44.9 percent from the field, the second highest for a season of his career and shot 38.2 percent from three-point range, which was the third highest for a season of his career.
While his numbers in comparison to his career were a little low with a 14.2 scoring output per contest this regular season, his scoring off the pine along with the likes of Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson and Jeff Green, who the team acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies at the trade deadline back in February are a big reason why the Clippers won 53 games and got home court advantage as the No. 4 Seed in the opening round without All-Star forward Blake Griffin on the shelf for nearly three months because of injury and suspension.
To bring this point home, the Clippers reserves since Christmas Day 2015 have averaged 41.5 points per game.
Other worthy candidates that made names for themselves off the bench this season include Enes Kanter of the Northwest Division champion Oklahoma City Thunder, who averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds on 57.6 percent from the floor. Kanter garnered 19 double-doubles during the regular season.
Another stand out performer off the bench for his team during the regular season was Evan Turner of the Boston Celtics. The former No. 2 overall pick back in the 2010 draft out of Ohio State averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 boards and 4.4 assists on 45.6 percent shooting off the pine for the C’s in the regular season.
He really picked up his game after the All-Star break with averages of 12.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 47.7 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from three-point range. In the month of April, Turner averaged 14.0 points, 5.0 boards and 4.7 assists on 50.0 percent shooting.
In a very disappointing season for the New Orleans Pelicans (30-52) that saw them miss out on the playoffs after making it a season ago for the first time in four seasons, one bright spot for them was the play off the bench of sharp shooting forward Ryan Anderson who averaged 17.0 points and six rebounds on 36.6 percent from three-point range.
In a season of trying to build for better days ahead, the Denver Nuggets (33-49) did find a serious diamond in the rough in swingman Will Barton, who had a breakout season with career-highs of 14.4 points and 5.8 boards on 34.5 three-point percentage.
On 20 occasions this past regular season, the former 2012 second round pick scored 20 points for more, including a career-high of 32 points to go along with 10 rebounds and six assists going 12 for 25 from the floor, including 7 for 11 from three-point territory in a 130-125 loss versus the Pelicans on Dec. 20, 2015. Barton also had a 31 points performance on 12 for 22 shooting, including 4 for 6 from long range in a 110-103 loss at the Portland Trail Blazers.
Coach of the Year
This season unlike any other, there have been a number of solid coaching jobs done. Two coaches led their teams to historic seasons for not just their respective franchises by in league history. There were also a few coaches who led their teams either back to the playoffs or led them to an unexpected appearance in the postseason.
The leading candidates for this award are Steve Kerr of the defending champion Warriors and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season recovering from complications from off-season back surgery. In his absence, assistant coach Luke Walton steady the ship greatly as the Warriors got off to an NBA record 16-0 start to the season, which grew to 24-0.
When Kerr returned, the Warriors train kept on rolling to a new NBA record 73-9, surpassing the 1995-96 World Champion Chicago Bulls and setting a new franchise record. That 73-9 record included a new NBA record 34 wins on the road, while going 39-2 at Oracle Arena for the second straight season, which tied the third best mark in NBA history. The Warriors had won dating back to last season 54 straight wins at home, a new NBA record.
For much of the season, the Spurs kept on their heels until the finals games of the season. They still won as mentioned earlier a franchise record 67 wins this season, which included 40-1 at AT&T Center, which tied the NBA record with the 1985-86 World Champion Boston Celtics. They also had a major hot streak at home dating back to last season winning 48 straight, the second best stretch in NBA history to the Warriors 54 straight.
Four other worthy candidates include Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics; Terry Stotts of the Trail Blazers; Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets and Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors.
After a surprising playoff appearance a season ago, which ended in a four-game sweep to the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics proved that they were not a one-year wonder with a 48-34 record in 2015-16.
In just two seasons, former Butler University head coach Stevens has made the Celtics from a young team hoping to be good into a tough minded, defensive oriented move the basketball, focused play well together bunch.
When the 2015-16 NBA campaign began, the Trail Blazers lost 80 percent of their starting five in the off-season. All that remained was All-Star and former Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.
The team started off the season 11-20 and seemed to be on the verge of being in the lottery not just this May but the next couple. The team went 33-18 the remainder of the season and vaulted from outside the playoff picture to the No. 5 Spot in the Western Conference.
“I think we had a lot of guys looking forward to the opportunity of solidifying themselves not only on our team, but in the NBA. When the predicted us to win 27, 28 games, we felt like that was disrespectful and more of an individual challenge,” Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum said to Rachel Nichols, host of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN this past Friday about himself and teammates like Mason Plumlee, Alan Crabbe, Gerald Henderson, Ed Davis and Al-Faroug Aminu.
“We felt like they were saying some of us weren’t good enough or consistent to be good enough to help our team win and we took that as a challenge. We felt like if we put the work in over the course of the summer. Make sure we hit the weights hard and continue to get shots up and gain some cohesiveness and chemistry, we felt like there was no reason why we couldn’t make the playoffs.”
North of the Border in Toronto, head coach Dwane Casey has taken the Raptors from the Eastern Conference basement to a serious contender and this year, they made some major history.
They set a new franchise mark for wins in a season with 56 and became the last NBA team to garner 50 wins or more in a season. They won the Atlantic Division for a third consecutive season and finished with their highest seed at the No. 2 spot in the East in 2015-16.
The Final candidate is head coach Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, who went 48-34 on the season, finishing in a four-way tie in the middle of the East.
He led the Hornets back to the playoffs after a one-year absence and the team changed on the fly from a defensive team that played inside and out to a team that embraced to new age NBA offensive philosophy of spreading the floor and shooting a bunch of three-pointer, where they finished tied for seventh in percentage at 36.2 percent; fourth in attempts at 29.4 and in makes at 10.6 per contest.
Most Improved Player
When it comes to the winner of this particular award, sometimes it has a lot to do with getting more minutes, which equals a chance to get a better opportunity to perform on the court. This award at times is also given to the player who has really worked on his game and has improved to the point where he becomes a bigger reason why that teams wins more. That is description of the 2016 winner this season.
The 2016 Most Improved Player was C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers, which he received this past Friday and was officially presented with the award before the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 contest versus the Los Angeles Clippers. He received 101 first place votes and 559 total.
He had 27 points, going 11 for 22 from the field with five boards as the Trail Blazers won Game 3 96-88 to cut the Clippers series lead 2-1.
The No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh increased his scoring from 6.8 a season ago off the bench to 20.8, the best of his young career and he became the team’s starting shooting guard right next to All-Star and his best friend on the team Damian Lillard.
He also established career-highs in shooting from the floor at 44.8; from three-point range at 41.7 and from the free throw line at 82.7 percent. On 23 occasions, McCollum scored 25 points or more and on nine occasions scored 30 points or more.
He scored a career-high of 37 points on 14 for 22 from the field, including 6 for 9 from long range in helping the Trail Blazers to a 112-94 win versus the Pelicans on Oct. 28, 2015. He had a near triple-double of then a career-high of 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, along with four steals in Portland’s 98-94 win at the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 27, 2015.
McCollum’s great season is a great example of a guy who showed that a person who played collegiately for four years can improve and has the work ethic to do so.
“I think being a four-year guy, a lot of teams look at you as a finished product,” McCollum said to Nichols on Friday. “They feel like you’re older in the sense that the one-and-done kids that are 17, 18 years old and they think that their ceilings are higher, but when you go to school for four years, I think you get a more polished guy whose ready to come in and contribute right away. Mentally and physically. They don’t need as much development and you don’t have to worry as much about off the court decisions.”
Finishing in second place was Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who averaged a career-high of 20.9 points per contest. Shot a career-highs of 37.1 percent from three-point range and 84.7 percent from the charity stripe. He also hit a career-high 182 three-pointer in the regular season.
Milwaukee Bucks (33-49) forward Giannis Antetokounmpo finished third in the voting with a stellar season, where improved his game even more from a season ago with averages of 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest on 50.6 percent from the field. He garnered 15 double-doubles in the regular season and had five triple-doubles as well.
Finishing fourth was Stephen Curry of the Warriors. The reigning MVP of the league increased his scoring by 6.3 points per contest a season ago and became the most electric offensive player in the league and had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, which I will detail more in a moment.
Rookie of the Year
Coming into the league regardless of whether you played on year of collegiate basketball or four, each player that is drafted or undrafted has a learning curve. Some can pick up things at the drop of a hat. Others may take some time. For that do get it become a major part of turning their team into a playoff perennial and hopefully a title contender and then a champion. They also in that first season have a chance to get some serious recognition and this season that player who has proven himself of that recognition is the No. 1 overall pick from last June’s draft that plays in Minneapolis.
The soon to be Rookie of the Year for the 2015-16 NBA campaign is the No. 1 overall pick from this past June’s draft Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53).
By the numbers, he has been at the top of this rookie class leading them in scoring at 18.3, rebounds at 10.5 and in block shots per contest at 1.7.
Not only did he lead all rookies in double-doubles, he finished third in the league overall with 51 double-doubles right behind Westbrook with 54 and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons with 66.
More than anything else, Towns established himself as a valuable component of the future of the Timberwolves alongside Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad.
Having a veterans and former NBA champions in Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince to learn from both on and off the court is nice to have as well.
Their future just got a little brighter with the signing of new head coach Tom Thibodeau, who will also serve as President of Basketball operations for the organization. They also hired Scott Layden to be their new general manager.
A couple of other rookies that showed promised, but had their seasons cut short because of injury are Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks who averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 boards and 1.9 blocks per game and Jahlil Okafor who averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting from the field.
Most Valuable Player
It is very rare for a season that one player is head and shoulders above everyone else. The only players that I can think of that would be in this stratosphere include Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird and future Hall of Famer LeBron James. A player who played at such a high level all season long that anyone having a great season was just a punch line. A new player emerged as that headliner.
A season ago, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors captured the basketball world and led by the eventual 2015 MVP, they won an aforementioned 67 games and the NBA title.
This season, Stephen Curry is on the verge of becoming the ninth player in NBA history to win the MVP Award in back-to-back seasons and right from the start of the 2015-16 NBA campaign it was no contest.
To put how good Curry has been this into perspective, he became the first Warrior to lead the NBA in scoring at 30.1 points per contest since Hall of Famer Rick Barry did it back in the 1966-67 season. His 6.3 point per contest increase is the most by a player to win MVP the season before since Bird had a 4.5 increase from his MVP season of 1983-84 at 24.2 points to 28.7 on the back end of his back-to-back MVP seasons. He scored 40 points or more on 13 occasions in the regular season; made a new NBA record 402 three-pointers and became the 1st player since Michael Jordan in 1991-92 to score 30 points on average, while shooting 50 percent from the field and he became the seventh player to win the so-called triple crown of shooting with a mark of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line. Curry shot career-highs of 50.4 percent from the floor and 45.4 percent from three-point land, while also hitting 90.8 percent from the, the third highest of his career.
He has put up 10 quarters of 20 points or more on his own and has not played in 19 fourth quarters on the season. Curry led the league in scoring 30 points or more during the regular with 40.
Back on Feb. 27 at the Oklahoma City Thunder, Curry tied the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a game hitting 12 for 16. The 12 connection ended up being the game winner as Curry finished with 46 points going 14 for 24 from the field with six assists and two steals as the Warriors won at the Thunder 121-118 in overtime.
Besides his individual greatness this season, Curry was huge reason why the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games in the regular season, with a new NBA record 34 of those wins on the road, while also going 39-2 at home. They won dating back to last season an NBA record 54 straight games at Oracle Arena, including 46 straight home wins against Western Conference opponents. To put a cherry on this Sundae, the Warriors became the first team in NBA history to never sustain a two-game losing streak during the regular season. They hope that continues as they try to avoid losing two in succession when the play against the Rockets in Game 4 of their opening round series on Sunday on ABC.
The only other player who can make a case for MVP this season is Russell Westbrook of the Thunder, who finished eighth in scoring per game at 23.5 during the regular season and established career-highs in rebounds and assists per contest at 7.8 and 10.4 respectably. His 10.4 assists per contest average as second in the NBA behind Rajon Rondo of the Sacramento Kings. Westbrook also finished fifth in the league in steals per contest at two per game.
His 18 triple-doubles on the season on the season tied him with “Magic” Johnson for the third highest total for a season in NBA history. The late Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlin at 22 triple-doubles in the 1966-67 season and he had a mouth dropping 31 the next season. On those 18 occasions that Westbrook had a triple-double, the Thunder won all 18 times.
All of three of the award winners announced were my picks as well. Of the remaining awards to be handed out, my Coach of the Year for 2015-16 season is Steve Kerr of the Warriors. Stephen Curry is my MVP and Towns is my Rookie of the Year.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of www.espn.go.com/nba/stats/standings/teams; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_Valuable_Player_Award#Winners; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Bird#NBA_career_statistics; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_Sixth_Man_of_the_Year_Award; 4/7/16 10:30 p.m. contest San Antonio Spurs versus Golden State Warriors on TNT with Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Lewis Johnson; 4/15/16 8 p.m. NBATV’s “The Starters: Awards Show,” with Tas Melas, J.E. Skeets, Leigh Ellis and Trey Kerby; 4/22/16 3:30 p.m. NBA: The Jump on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Stephen Jackson and Amin Elhassan; Sporting News “Official 2006-07 NBA Guide.”