(Yesterday, Chris Bernucca tried to influence my official NBA ballot with his choices for postseason awards. Today, we get more of the same from Brian Geltzeiler of Hoopscritic.com and SheridanHoopsRadio. I’ll publicize my picks after I cast my ballot in the wee hours of Thursda morning-CS)
The dying days of the NBA regular season are upon us. A few teams that are in the playoffs are still jockeying for seedings, and we won’t know until late Wednesday night whether it is the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz who will qualify for the final spot.
Strangely, the Lakers can finish as high as sixth with the right confluence of events.
Or, they could be packing their bags for the offseason on Thursday morning if they lose to the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz manage to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies.
In the East, all that’s left to be determined is who will face the No. 3 Indiana Pacers and the No. 4 Brooklyn Nets. Chicago holds the tiebreaker edge over Atlanta.
This is also the time of year when I take the opportunity to hand out my own unique docket of awards that I have dubbed The Geltzies. Many of these are my take on traditional awards that the league gives out, and many of these are the polar opposite of that.
Without further ado, I present to you the third annual edition of “The Geltzies”
Most Valuable Player- LeBron James
I got a big laugh this past season when fans would bring up the “MVP conversation.” Knick fans would put Carmelo Anthony in the conversation. Spurs fans want to put Tony Parker in the conversation. Warriors fans were stretching to find reasons to place their messiah, Stephen Curry, in the conversation. The reason I found all this so comical is because this season, there isn’t a conversation.
There’s one MVP of the league who should and will win the award in a landslide, and that is the great LeBron James.
It would almost be shortchanging James to recite his stats, both advanced and traditional, as a basis for making him the MVP. He was the driving force behind the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, putting his team on his back and leading them to wins they were too fatigued to achieve otherwise. He has mastered the art of shot selection by enormously reducing the amount of long 2-pointers he attempts and limiting his 3-pointers while playing much more in the paint. His defense is better than ever.
With all that, the way the Heat have come together as a unit is inspiring and scary to the rest of the league all at the same time.
These guys have legitimately come to love each other, and James’ positive leadership style among his teammates both on and off the court has made an enormous difference. We are getting to witness a historically great player produce historically great seasons. Remember how people used to talk about how great LeBron could be if he ever realized how he had to play the game. Well, he has.
(RELATED: SHERIDAN’S MVP RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 23)
His own studying of advanced stats has made him as efficient as he is athletic, unselfish, and exciting. Watching LeBron, who is well on his way to being one of the greatest of all time is an honor and a privilege. If I had to give a runner up, I would bring up the name Kevin Durant, but as I said earlier, there is no MVP conversation…just our MVP.
Rookie of the Year- Damian Lillard
Lillard is a brilliant young player who established himself as Portland’s point guard of the future. He is incredibly skilled with the ball. He’s a good shooter, a very good ball handler and a decent passer. He entered a wonderful situation getting to play with Portland’s star big man LaMarcus Aldridge. The two of them should make a great pick-and-roll combination for years to come. Yet, there are still plenty of warts in Lillard’s game.
He’s a really bad defensive player, which is par for the course for rookie point guards. He turns the ball over too much and he is an overdribbler with a high usage rate. The good news is that experience should take care of each and every one of these items. He’ll get better defensively as he learns the league. He’ll also learn to take care of the ball better. The high usage rate is a concern because although Portland isn’t a playoff team, it’s not like Lillard is surrounded by stiffs. Sharing the ball will be part of his education as well. The good news is that he’s a great kid who is motivated to be a great player but also really wants to win. He had a great year in what was a down year for rookie production. Lillard wins by a landslide.
There really aren’t any other rookie of the year candidates. Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes each had moments, but they compare to Lillard’s like a bucket of water compares to the ocean. What was touted as a great draft, and still may end up that, came up extremely short on impact rookies.
Coach of the Year- Lionel Hollins
The last two awards were no brainers. This one is much tougher, but what Hollins fought through and the level of success his team achieved is extremely unique. In a season where we saw many superb coaching jobs, none was more impressive than the one that Hollins turned in.
The Grizzlies started the season 90 miles an hour with their hair on fire. Hollins finally had a healthy group. His only significant personnel loss was sixth man O.J. Mayo, and they capably replaced him with Quincy Pondexter, who they acquired in a trade from New Orleans last season. They finished November with a 12-2 record and everything was right with the world.
In December, there was a major sea change within the Grizzlies organization when they hired former ESPN writer and advanced stats guru John Hollinger as their vice president of player personnel with the intention of having the Grizzlies use more analytics in personnel evaluation, which was a goal for new owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien. Hollins is an old school guy who isn’t sold on a quantitative approach and was not shy about expressing it publicly.
Playing in a small market has its financial limitations for the Grizzlies. They were paying big money to Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. If they kept the salary structure as is, they were on their way to having to pay the luxury tax. In January, they saw the opportunity to give Cleveland a 2015 first-round pick for the privilege to pay Marresse Speights this year and next, because Speights would have to be moron not to exercise his player option next year. For a team that fancied itself as a title contender, a salary dump, even one of this insignificant nature, it was disconcerting. However, the Grizzlies were now under the luxury tax and they could all relax and play ball because the Rudy Gay trade rumors would now go away.
The reality was quite different. The Speights trade gave the Grizzlies leverage, and 9 days later they moved Gay to Toronto in a three-way deal that brought Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, and Austin Daye to Memphis. Hollins, among many others inside and outside the organization, was livid. The initial perception was that this was a massive salary dump involving one of their best players, which was true. However, there was a clear basketball purpose behind this deal and as much as Hollins didn’t like it, it didn’t take him long to take advantage of it.
Gay’s high possession usage was keeping Memphis’ Randolph, Gasol, and Conley from making the efficient offensive contributions they’re all capable of. Although Gay is a better player than Prince, Prince needs the ball less. He’s a better passer, better spot up shooter, and a better defender, which was a much better fit for the Grizzlies.
Davis is a nice bench big man with a great future ahead of him and Daye gave them a shooter they needed. After the deal, Hollins had the Grizzlies humming all over again. Yes, the trade was a smart basketball trade, but only a great coach gets his team playing at a higher level even if he didn’t agree with the trade or the approach behind it. Memphis could very well get the #3 seed in the West and Hollins is a big reason.
There were certainly plenty of other candidates who could have gotten this award. Frank Vogel did an awesome job in Indiana in light of the fact that he didn’t have the services of his leading scorer last year in Danny Granger and still led his team to a better record. George Karl has done a great job in Denver in surviving a tough early schedule and having the best home record in the NBA. Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich did the standard outstanding jobs we’ve become accustomed to seeing, but none overcame what Hollins did.