Bernucca: Which Warriors Get Our Season-Ending Awards?

bernuccaheWarriorsThe Golden State Warriors are about to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

The Warriors are going to win 73 games, one more than the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a reserve on that Bulls squad and one of the great winners in league annals, is blown away by his team’s accomplishment.

“I never imagined when I was with the Bulls anyone would ever come close,” he said. “We’re close.”

But Golden State’s season is more than 73 wins, which they will reach Wednesday night against Memphis. The Warriors did not lose consecutive games this season, which any sane NBA player or executive will tell you is virtually impossible considering the difficulties of travel and back-to-backs. No team – not the 1966-67 Sixers, not the 1971-72 Lakers, not even the 1995-96 Bulls – has ever gone an entire season without losing at least two in a row.

Sunday’s triumph in San Antonio was Golden State’s 34th road win, also an NBA record. The Warriors have as many wins on the road as any other team does at home except the Spurs, whose lone home loss is to … the Warriors.

Jordan-PippenAnd Golden State’s march toward history has come in a season a dozen years removed from the last expansion. While Chicago’s 72 wins are remarkable, they did come a year after the league welcomed two new teams, somewhat diluting the talent pool.

So how much individual hardware do the Warriors deserve? In Chicago’s historic season, members of the Bulls took home four of the NBA’s individual awards and finished second in balloting for a fifth. The Warriors could claim four individual awards; they also could end up with just one, depending how the voters see it.

Below is how I see it. I don’t have a vote. But my boss does. And we talk a lot.

Neil_OlsheyEXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: The media doesn’t vote on this one; it’s a ballot of league GMs, who like any other group may have a sacred cow or an ax to grind. But there really aren’t a ton of viable candidates.

Charlotte’s Rich Cho did nicely adding do-it-all Nic Batum, rookie stretch-five Frank Kaminsky and veteran guards Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee to create a playoff team. Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy has built a playoff-level starting lineup with the additions of Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris. And Miami’s Pat Riley shouldn’t be overlooked for his second-round steal of deadeye Josh Richardson and landing Joe Johnson after the trade deadline.

San Antonio’s R.C. Buford landed LaMarcus Aldridge and is somehow going to improve a 55-win team by double digits. But the Spurs were supposed to be good. Neil Olshey’s Portland Trail Blazers, however, were supposed to be terrible. Like 55 losses terrible. But he maxed out his lone remaining star and surrounded him with a bunch of hungry youngsters on rookie scale deals and cheap second contracts.

Last season, the Blazers were fifth in the West. After losing four starters from that team, they are fifth in the West.

MIDSEASON PICK: Buford. He didn’t lose it. Olshey won it.

ACCOMPANYING JOKE: Sam Hinkie’s resignation manifesto had more pages than the 76ers had wins.

Walton-KerrCOACH OF THE YEAR: There’s been some legitimate sentiment regarding Golden State’s tag team of Luke Walton and Steve Kerr. After all, Bill Sharman was Coach of the Year in 1972 and Phil Jackson won in 1996, the last two times the wins record was broken. And it would seem a bit unfair if the Warriors won 140 games over two seasons and Kerr didn’t win the award either year.

But the fact that the Warriors got off to a record 24-0 start and went 39-4 without their head coach reveals they weren’t exactly operating with a bare cupboard. If voters want to acknowledge an historic season by rewarding Walton, Kerr or both, that’s fine.

Among teams with one coach, Terry Stotts has done a masterful job in Portland, especially when you consider that the Blazers were probably expecting a bit more from Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh. Steve Clifford has Charlotte making more threes than every team except Golden State and Cleveland while maintaining a top-10 defense. And Gregg Popovich reinvented San Antonio as a post-and-defend team – again – while setting a franchise record for wins.

But Stotts truly did the most with the least.

MIDSEASON PICK: Popovich.

ACCOMPANYING JOKE: Markieff Morris might have a hand in both Jeff Hornacek and Randy Wittman getting fired.

Whiteside DunkDEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Can a sub win this award? Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has come off the bench since the All-Star break, although his minutes are slightly higher than when he was a starter. He leads the NBA with a 94.6 defensive rating – if you like that sort of stat – and his 3.71 blocks per game are the most in 15 years. His 11.9 rebounds aren’t too shabby, either, and he backstops a top-10 defense.

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan casts quite a defensive shadow. Warriors forward Draymond Green truly can defend all five positions. Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is the game’s best perimeter defender. And Hawks forward Paul Millsap (first in defensive win shares, third in rating, 11th in blocks and steals) is too easily overlooked.

Whiteside should win it. But even if he doesn’t, he’s gonna get really rich this summer, going from making less than $1 million to somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.

MIDSEASON PICK: Whiteside, as a starter.

ACCOMPANYING JOKE: Do Omer Asik and Kendrick Perkins play 1-on-1 after Pelicans practices? And if they do, does anyone ever score?

draymondgreenMOST IMPROVED PLAYER: This award has two tiers. The lower tier is previously lesser known players who established themselves as starters or even borderline stars. This season, that list includes Utah’s Rodney Hood, Indiana’s Ian Mahinmi, Orlando’s Evan Fournier, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore, Denver’s Will Barton, Boston’s Jae Crowder, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, Philadelphia’s Ish Smith and Portland’s C.J. McCollum, whom we think is the lower tier leader.

The upper tier is already established players who lifted their level of play to good or even great, without any dramatic increase in playing time. That shorter list includes Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, whose shooting and scoring are up dramatically for a playoff team; Golden State’s Stephen Curry, whose improvement has been rigorously documented; Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who wasn’t even a starter last season and was an All-Star this season; San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, who is just shy of a 50-40-90 campaign and has a greater percentage increase in his scoring than Curry; and Golden State’s Draymond Green, who scores more than Monta Ellis, shoots threes better than Bradley Beal and is 13th in rebounding, seventh in assists, 26th in steals and 22nd in blocks.

Green should win, but McCollum will.

MIDSEASON PICK: Green.

ACCOMPANYING JOKE: Nik Stauskas is positioned well for next year’s award.

crawfordSIXTH MAN AWARD: Automatically dismissed are guys from losing teams such as Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi, Will Barton, Mirza Teletovic and Nikola Mirotic. Sorry, but you have to win to win this award.

Can I make a pitch here for two-time winner and friend of the program Jamal Crawford? He got off to an awful start this season and looked like he might be done. But since Blake Griffin’s injury on Christmas, he has averaged 15.7 points while shooting 42 percent from the field, helping the Clippers actually be better without Griffin than with him.

Charlotte’s Jeremy Lin and Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder deserve some recognition, and Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has startling per-36 numbers (17.7 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 spg). But not as startling as those of Thunder forward Enes Kanter, who averages 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes overall – and 22 points and nearly 14 boards every 36 minutes.

As Billy Beane once supposedly said, “His defense does not matter.”

MIDSEASON PICK: Casspi, whose Sacramento Kings were in the playoff hunt in January but have assumed their annual spot in the lottery.

ACCOMPANYING JOKE: Who wins 28th Man Award for the Grizzlies?

Karl-Anthony-TownsROOKIE OF THE YEAR: This really looked like a two-man race at the midway point, and Knicks unicorn Kristaps Porzingis looked like he might have the inside track on Minnesota monster Karl-Anthony Towns with the natural boost from the New York media.

Then Porzingis hit the rookie wall – he went 15 games without a double-double, then got hurt – while Towns broke through the wall. The Big KAT is third in the NBA with 53 double-doubles – more than DeMarcus Cousins – and his thresholds of 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks are surpassed only by Anthony Davis.

MIDSEASON PICK: Porzingis.

ACCOMPANYING OBSERVATION: If Kings forward Duje Dukan sits out Monday and Wednesday – as he has the first 80 games – is he still a rookie next season?

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: The All-NBA Third Team should Paul George, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. Davis bumps LaMarcus Aldridge because his numbers are too good to ignore; he should get his extra $25 million on his contract extension. DeRozan bumps backcourt mate Kyle Lowry and Golden State’s Klay Thompson. Towns is really close, but playing for Minnesota doesn’t help.

Kawhi LeonardThe All-NBA Second Team should be Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Andre Drummond, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard. If enough of the writers feel the way we do about Lillard – snubbed as an All-Star – he also will be pocketing an extra $25 million or so on his contract extension.

The All-NBA First Team should be LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry, which leads to the MVP vote.

There have been some anticlimactic MVP announcements in recent years – Kevin Durant in 2014, LeBron James in 2013 and 2012 – but none moreso than this season, when the only drama is whether the spectacular Curry will be the first unanimous choice. He should be. But will he be?

Curry7Consider this: In the 1995-96 season, Michael Jordan topped the NBA in scoring and win shares with a stratospheric PER while leading his team to the best record in league history. Does that sound like someone you know? Well, Jordan received “only” 109 of 113 first-place votes, with two going to Penny Hardaway and one apiece to Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone.

MIDSEASON PICK: Curry. He actually had this wrapped up before Kerr returned as coach.

ACCOMPANYING: Can’t wait for the explanation from the media member who doesn’t vote for Curry.

TRIVIA: If San Antonio reaches 66 wins, it will have the most wins of any team without having the best overall record. Which team currently has that distinction? Answer below

THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Former NBA player Cliff Robinson will be at an investor gathering in Portland in May looking for seven-figure contributions to his “Sports Cannabis” company which sells medical marijuana and related products geared toward athletes and active lifestyle types. His shop is called “Uncle Spliffy.”

hinkieQUOTE OF THE WEEK: League blocks leader Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat, to Palm Beach Post writer Jason Leiser:

“You gotta go to Legoland to see this many blocks.”

TANKS A LOT!: Two days after the Philadelphia 76ers won their 10th game to avoid matching the worst full-season record in NBA history, mad scientist Sam Hinkie stepped down after just under three years as GM. Under his watch, the Sixers are 47-197 with two games remaining, barely surpassing the 46-200 mark of the Dallas Mavericks from 1991-94 as the worst three-year stretch of all time.

LINE OF THE WEEK: James Harden, Houston vs. LA Lakers, April 10: 41 minutes, 14-31 FGs, 6-14 3-pointers, 6-8 FTs, four rebounds, 13 assists, four steals, four turnovers, 40 points in a 130-110 win. With his team on the verge of elimination from the playoff race, Harden scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and posted his fifth 40-10 game, matching Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson for the most in any season since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger.

LINE OF THE WEAK: Marcus Morris, Detroit at Miami, April 5: 28 minutes, 0-7 FGs, 0-3 3-pointers, 1-2 FTs, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, six turnovers, one point in a 107-89 loss. Did Morris spend the previous night on South Beach? Virtually every time he touched the ball resulted in an empty possession.

KJ McDanielsTRILLION WATCH: We would expect nothing less but a finish with a flourish from the heroes of zeros. There were 2 trillions from Houston’s Andrew Goudelock on Wednesday, Charlotte’s Jorge Gutierrez and LA’s Branden Dawson on Friday and Houston’s K.J. McDaniels on Sunday; 3 trillions from Toronto’s Jason Thompson on Thursday, Boston’s Terry Rozier on Saturday and Charlotte’s Tyler Hansbrough on Sunday; and a 4 trillion from Phoenix’s Chase Budinger last Sunday vs. Utah.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Dallas at Utah, April 11. It’s another playoff game in the regular season. If the Mavericks win, they are in the postseason. If they lose, they have to beat nemesis San Antonio in Wednesday’s season finale to get in or hope Houston loses at Minnesota or at home to Sacramento. If the Jazz win, they take the season series and the tiebreaker over the Mavs. “I don’t have to talk a whole lot about it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It speaks for itself.” So of course, NBA TV’s doubleheader has Atlanta at Cleveland and …

GAME OF THE WEAK: Sacramento at Phoenix, April 11. Why can’t NBA TV pick up Dallas-Utah in progress instead of airing the entirety of this abominable Kentucky Wildcats reunion?

Andre DrummondTWO MINUTES: When the Pistons clinched their first playoff berth in seven years with Friday’s win over Washington, not everyone was jumping for joy. All-Star center Andre Drummond was pulled for the final 8:55 by coach Stan Van Gundy to prevent the Wizards from intentionally fouling him and spent that time sulking on the bench. He refused to join team huddles and remained seated while teammates celebrated as the Pistons closed out the win with the help of Drummond’s replacement, Aron Baynes, who went 8-of-8 from the line down the stretch. Van Gundy actually had to physically drag Drummond into the team’s postgame celebration. This is an acute case of what Pat Riley famously labeled, “the disease of me.” Grow up, kid. … When Wolves rookie guard Tyus Jones made a 3-pointer in Thursday’s win at Sacramento, he ended a streak of 22 straight misses from deep dating to March 11. He was actually 13-of-28 from the arc this season before the slump. … Celtics TV announcer Mike Gorman had effusive praise Saturday for Hawks forward Paul Millsap, who had a season-high 31 points, 16 boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals in a 118-107 win. “It’s like there’s two of him out there,” Gorman noted. … Every summer, this site puts together a list of the players who get the biggest pay raises and pay cuts. A prime candidate for the latter this summer will be Lakers center Roy Hibbert, who made $15.5 million this season while amassing three double-doubles – the same total as Mavs rookie Salah Mejri – and none since Dec. 15. Hibbert becomes a free agent, and it is hard to imagine him getting more than a mid-level exception from any team. … This should have been mentioned Quin Snyderlast week, but big props to Knicks wing Cleanthony Early for returning this season after a suffering gunshot wound in December. That’s not the sort of injury associated with playing basketball. … Jazz coach Quin Snyder guided the Spurs’ D-League team from 2007-10, establishing himself as an NBA commodity after leaving Missouri amid a slew of recruiting violations. When San Antonio visited Utah last week, Gregg Popovich was asked about Snyder’s time with the franchise. “He’s smarter than the rest of us,” Popovich said. “That boy is like a bubble machine. He’s like the cartoon with little bubbles coming off his head all the time with ideas about lots of different stuff. Some of it I understood and some of it I didn’t. … Intelligent, but isn’t full of himself and enjoys people. He was wonderful when he was with us.” … Before Friday’s Knicks-Sixers game, recent Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson met the media at the Wells Fargo Center. Iverson began by joking, “I’m baaaaack,” then was asked if the media room recalled any memories. “Yeah, what you want me to say? Practice?” …

Trivia Answer: The 2008-09 LA Lakers won 65 games to Cleveland’s league-best 66. … Happy 61st Birthday, Micheal Ray Richardson. … If Thabo Sefolosha wins his $50 million lawsuit against the NYPD, can it still really be said that nothing good ever happens after midnight?

Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.

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