Bernucca: Handing out NBA midseason awards

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Although there’s a fair amount of analytics on this stuff, I still treat good defense like pornography: I know it when I see it.

And this season, I’ve seen good individual defense from some of the usual suspects such as Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Tony Allen, LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Tyson Chandler, last year’s winner. I’ve also seen it from relative whippersnappers such as Nic Batum, DeAndre Jordan, Larry Sanders and Avery Bradley, whose return gave the entire Celtics’ scheme a tremendous boost.

But the most impactful individual defender thus far has been Chris Paul, who has exhibited an ideal balance of principle and risk as the first line of defense for the Clippers. Yes, he has Jordan behind him. But he is the only starting point guard taking the ball more than he gives it away, and his don’t-give-an-inch disposition has infiltrated the entire team.

PRESEASON PICK: Dwight Howard. You can’t backstop a defense this porous with a bad back.

SNOTTY REMARK: Contrary to popular belief, the Rockets are playing defense. They’re guarding Manti T’eo’s girlfriend.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: The one-and-done college rule ensures that there will never be a shortage of candidates for this award. I’m sure your team has someone whose improvement this season from last has been a pleasant surprise. And I’m sure I will neglect to mention him. So let’s move on.

Using per-36 numbers as a helpful guide, I always lean toward the already good player who finds a way to elevate his game, such as Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday, who is knocking on the door of the Elite Point Guard Club, or Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who is on pace for a rare 50-40-90 shooting season.

However, it will be hard to go that route this season because there have been quantum leaps by some of younger guys. The short list includes Portland’s J.J. Hickson, Toronto’s Ed Davis, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders and New Orleans’ Greivis Vasquez.

It also includes current front-runner Paul George of Indiana, who should get strong All-Star consideration for his considerable two-way skills. In the absence of Danny Granger, he has made Danny Granger trade bait.

PRESEASON PICK: Derrick Favors, who has no chance unless the Jazz trade Al Jefferson.

SNOTTY REMARK: Pau Gasol should win Most Impugned Player.

SON OF SNOTTY REMARK: Jan Vesely is running away with Least Improved Player.

SIXTH MAN AWARD: You have a much better chance of winning this award if you (a) score a lot and (b) are not part of some bench mob. So reserves whose impact is greater on the defensive end such as Taj Gibson and JaVale McGee get overlooked at the expense of guys like Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick.

Golden State’s Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack will somewhat cancel each other out. So will Atlanta’s Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia and Denver’s Andre Miller and Corey Brewer. But former winner Jamal Crawford has somehow stood apart on the best bench in the NBA.

OKC’s Kevin Martin has thrived in his new role with a new team and New York’s J.R. Smith now plays some defenss with his fearless scoring, which includes two game-winners. But the Clippers are a nearly unbeatable 12-1 when their leading scorer is Crawford, who also has a higher PER than Martin or Smith.

PRESEASON PICK: Ray Allen, whose true worth as a bench player may not reveal itself until the postseason.

SNOTTY REMARK: James Harden is utterly thrilled to be ineligible.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: The number of zero-impact lottery picks is somewhat alarming – Thomas Robinson, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, Meyers Leonard, Jeremy Lamb, Kendall Marshall. Even top pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans and No. 3 pick Bradley Beal of Washington have been somewhat disappointing for stretches.

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  1. Obert says

    I feel so bad for Jan Vesely.

    Last April he averaged 9+7 in 28 minutes per game while shooting 64% from the line. I think 13 of his last 17 games had him ending up with double digit points or boards.. He was fouling less than half as often and turning it over way less (most of Jan’s TOs are illegal screens) .. And in general, he was still every bit of a Euro rookie, but that vaunted basketball IQ and motor was on full display. The guy was an absolute pest, all elbows and knees playing great help D and looking solid at denying the ball. Yes, most of his points were on dunks but his defense and good passing skills / court vision really started to mitigate his utter lack of shooting. I was excited for him to eventually become a weird mix of Joakim Noah and (defensively anyway) Jared Jeffries a few years down the road.

    Then ths offseason happened. He rediscovered the J he had in Europe but he looked a step slow and alternately tentative or over compensatory . He looked like the guy who played his first few games here again. It was like all the decent adjustments he made in 60 games were thrown out the window. I still don’t know what happened. I’ve heard the Wizards plan was to spend all year bulking him up and not playing him much as they had a full front court and a desire to turn Vesely into a more traditional big.. And it seems like he just put on weight and got slow.

    Kids confidence is nonexistent. That wasn’t easy to see coming with his hilarious arrogant streak. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that a rough start would send him into a mental tailspin that left him virtually useless as a player, even those who thought he would be useless for other reasons.

    This seems like a typical Wizards move. Draft a guy and them try and turn him into a completely different guy. Why not just draft a player closer to what they wanted? It’s mind boggling. What’s the point of drafting Jan Vesely and then trying to make him traditional? He shot 3s in Europe. Better than Kawhi did in college. The competition isn’t the same but it’s not like they use a square ball over there. I think what they wanted was an Evolutionary Diaw, but it’s hard to even see the glimmers of Diaw in there now outside of some passive offense that looks like nice touch passes.

    IMO he’s salvageable. Elsewhere. Like Blatche and McGee, the Wizards inexplicably ignored their utter inability to develop a raw talent and now just get to sit around and watch his value diminish game by game. You can pop Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singletons name in there too.

    All I know is, they better get an amazing return on Okafor when they trade him, next season or this offseason. and this team better get a top 5 pick for our new GM and coaching staff to play with after we run these bums out of town. The sooner the better. This team is filled with guys who have shown they can do certain things well but never get tasked with doing them because Randy Wittman is so scatterbrained and flip floppy. Got 10 boards in 30 minutes playing against Amare? Other guy got 5 boards in 5 minutes vs Tyson Chandler? You can be damn sure Wittmans looking at that 10 rebound number and getting a chubby. Willie Loman’d.

  2. stepxxxxz says

    most improved…yes, JaRue……hon mention to a host of guys.David Lee for playing defense, and Vucevic deserves at least a mention. Jesus, the guy has been astoundingly good. Defensive player…CP3 is hard to argue with, really, but I think Chandler deserves second at least and Iguodala an hon. mention……..not sure why he always flies under the radar. Also…a n hon mention for larry sanders. MVP……..Durant, hands down.

  3. stepxxxxz says

    Well a couple disagreements. Vogel never comes close to getting my vote. Bad adjustments in games. A great defensive system and just as bad an offensive one. A high school offense in fact. He’s lucky he has paul george. That said, the pacers are playing very well…….so maybe that IS vogel. I dont know. I think Pop wins coach of the year. Mark Jackson second…or vice versa. Rookie is Lillard. (terrence jones WOULD be an impact player if McHale had a clue). Sixth man…well, crawford is the favorite, but I’ll take Jack. And right now Hayward in utah deserves mention. Exec of year is Presti. I personally still dont believe in the Clips………(only charles barkley agrees with me). I think OKC is hands down team to beat……..(and clips bench is overrated….watching today’s game one sees why)…….but these are minority opinions. Give it another month……..I say Memphis and Denver are going to come on strong. People forget its a long season. Pop and Karl always have taken the long view…….trying not to burn guys out, tinkering with rotations, and defensive schemes. Denver actually has shown what they are capable of………when they won that double OT the other night vs the Thunder.

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