In a break with tradition, I am casting my NBA awards ballot after the 81st game, not the 82nd. It’s a rarity, but this season I will not hem and haw and sleep on it until the afternoon after the final day of the season. You’re welcome.
I have been an official NBA postseason awards voter for nearly a decade, and it would have been longer if not for a rule at the Associated Press, where I worked from 1987-2005, forbidding beat from voting for postseason awards (It is OK for them to declare the national champion in college football, but it is not OK for them to vote in other sports. Does that make sense?).
It is a privilege that I do not take lightly.
And this season, my fellow voters who do take this process lightly will be exposed. Under an agreement between the Pro Basketball Writers Association, of which I am a longstanding member, and the NBA Communications Department, all postseason award votes will be made public. Too bad that didn’t happen last season, when Jordan Crawford got a first-place vote for the Sixth Man Award, and another voter cast a ballot for Luke Babbitt.
This season, the big question in my mind is how many MVP voters will cast their first-place ballot for LeBron James. I am of the opinion that Kevin Durant has a very good chance to win unanimously, as I stated in my final MVP rankings — only to have senior SheridanHoops columnist Jan Hubbard declare that he would put James at the top of his ballot if he had an official vote. Hubb cannot be the only one holding that opinion, can he?
You may remember that last season, there were 121 voters and 120 selected James. The exception was Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, who came out a day later and explained why he had chosen Carmelo Anthony.
Nearly a decade and a half ago, Fred Hickman of CNN came out and acknowledged he was the lone voter who did not cast a first-place vote for Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000 MVP race, choosing Allen Iverson instead.
But when Chris Paul finished one vote shy of unanimously winning Rookie of the Year in 2006, the identity of the voter who case a first-place vote for Deron Williams was never revealed.
Thankfully, that will never happen again. Transparency is a good thing.
If you have a beef with my picks, you are welcome to post a comment.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
1. KEVIN DURANT, Oklahoma City Thunder
2. BLAKE GRIFFIN, Los Angeles Clippers
3. LeBRON JAMES, Miami Heat
4. JOAKIM NOAH, Chicago Bulls
5. AL JEFFERSON, Charlotte Bobcats
I have gone back and forth on whether Griffin deserves this second-place vote ahead of James, and it comes down to this: Griffin has been the most consistent contributor to a Clippers team that has set a franchise record for wins, whereas LBJ has done nothing above and beyond his usual extraordinary work to merit being placed second. In fact, an argument can be made that Noah is more deserving of the No. 3 spot on my ballot ahead of James, given how he has been such a dominant presence on both the offensive and defensive ends for the Bulls. But LBJ gets the No. 3 vote because he has carried the Heat considerably more than usual with Dwyane Wade missing so many games this season.
COACH OF THE YEAR
1. TOM THIBODEAU, Chicago Bulls
2. JEFF HORNACEK, Phoenix Suns
3. DWANE CASEY, Toronto Raptors
This one was a tough decision, probably the toughest of all the award votes I cast. And though I think Hornacek will wind up winning this award for guiding the Suns to 47 wins and a ninth-place finish in the Western Conference when they were expected to be Tankapalooza participants, IMHO the job that Thibodeau did following the season-ending injury to Derrick Rose and the midseason trade of Luol Deng is positively extraordinary. Rose and Deng were probably the first- and third-best players on the Bulls, who go into the final night of the season 15 games above .500 with the NBA’s top defense. Again, extraordinary. My third-place vote could just have easily been given to Steve Clifford of the Bobcats, who has made everyone forget about Mike Dunlap.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS, Philadelphia 76ers
2. VICTOR OLADIPO, Orlando Magic
3. MASON PLUMLEE, Brooklyn Nets
Carter-Williams came out of the gate strong, going for 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds in Philadelphia’s improbable season-opening win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Yes, he was part of a team that lost 26 in a row, but it is a rebuilding team that makes no bones about its status as a rebuilding team. You cannot hold that against Carter-Williams, whose production has been unceasing – except for the nine-steal performance he never replicated. (Bonus link: The 10 Worst Rookies.). Plumlee edges out Pero Antic of the Hawks, as I like to give some props to rookies who helped their teams make the playoffs.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
1. GORAN DRAGIC, Phoenix Suns
2. KYLE LOWRY, Toronto Raptors
3. ISAIAH THOMAS, Sacramento Kings
This is the part of the column where I disagree with one of my staff writers, Kels Dayton (a.k.a @RoundballDaily) and go with a guy in the No. 2 slot who did not even make his top five (Kels had Lance Stephenson second.) To me, for Lowry to go from a fringe NBA player who never found his niche in Memphis or Houston to an All-Star caliber talent is quite remarkable. And in hindsight, it turns out that not all of Bryan Colangelo’s moves were nutty. As for Dragic, his season was just sick. He is one of only three guards to shoot 50 percent or better. And Thomas? He will make quite a bit of money this offseason (as will Lowry, who also is a free agent).
SIXTH MAN AWARD
1. JAMAL CRAWFORD, Los Angeles Clippers
2. MARKIEFF MORRIS, Phoenix Suns
3. TAJ GIBSON, Chicago Bulls
Folks are discounting Crawford’s candidacy because he started 23 games and padded his numbers during that time. To which I say: Are you kidding? A sixth man not only contributes by coming off the bench, but also by stepping into the starting lineup when needed. THAT’S PART OF THE JOB DESCRIPTION. @JCrossover is one of the key components for a Clippers team that set a franchise record for victories. Question regarding Gibson: What will the Bulls do with him if ‘Melo comes aboard? Play him at the 4 and ‘Melo at the 3? Or keep bringing him off the bench?
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. DeANDRE JORDAN, Los Angeles Clippers
2. JOAKIM NOAH, Chicago Bulls
3. ANTHONY DAVIS, New Orleans Pelicans
To quote the aforementioned Kels Dayton, who discussed the merits of Jordan among the Most Improved candidates: ” Jordan went from unremarkable to a modern-day Wilt Chamberlain (you know, without the 50 ppg), dominating the league’s rebounding and field-goal percentage categories. He went from averaging just 7 rips to pulling down 13.7 per, and
dunked shot an unheard-of 67.5 percent from the field.” Kels failed to mention Jordan’s 2.51 blocks, good for third in the Association behind Davis and Serge Ibaka. Honorable mention to LeBron James and P.J. Tucker for being two of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA.
ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM:
C-Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
F-Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F-Kevin Durant, Oklahom City Thunder
G-James Harden, Houston Rockets
G-Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM
C-Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats
F-LeBron James, Miami Heat
F-LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
G-Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G-Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM
C-DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
F-Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F-Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
G-Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
G-DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
It is difficult to leave the San Antonio Spurs off the All-NBA teams, but Dragic, Lowry, Paul and DeRozan were all more responsible for their teams’ success than Tony Parker was to the Spurs. Same goes for the forward spots, with George and Nowitzki meaning more to the Pacers and Mavs than Tim Duncan did to the Spurs. Also hard to keep John Wall off the team, but DeRozan and Lowry both had better seasons. All-NBA is probably the toughest to select on a year-to-year basis. And this will probably be the last year in which Anthony Davis doesn’t make it.
C-DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
F-Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
F-LeBron James, Miami Heat,
G-Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G-P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns
C-Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
F-Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F-Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
G-Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
G-Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder
FIRST TEAM (IRREGARDLESS OF POSITION)
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
Pero Antic, Atlanta Hawks
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Matthew Dellevadova, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Ryan Kelly, Los Angeles Lakers
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Chris Sheridan is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.