Sheridan: My Season-Ending Awards Ballot

SheridanheI always wait until the final game of the NBA season is in the books before handing in my postseason awards ballot, and the reason is twofold: If the deadline is not until Thursday afternoon, what’s the hurry? (This is how journalists work when it comes to deadlines. Most of us, anyway.) The second is because you always want to wait and see if something happens on the final night of the season to change either your ballot or your expectations.

IKobeGoodbyen this case, the final night brought Steph Curry’s 3-point total for the season to 402, illustrating ever further why I believe he will become the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.

But we also had Kobe Bryant scoring 60 points on a personal-record 50 shots in his farewell game at the Staples Center, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime moment that just may influence some outlier’s ballot.

I already have a steak dinner “at a really good steakhouse” wagered with my friend Sid Blauner that Curry will win the award unanimously, but now I fear that I will be picking up the tab on an $80 porterhouse because someone with a purple and gold screensaver is going to give Kobe his first-place vote as some sort of a legacy tribute. Does Vic the Brick have a vote? I’m seriously worried here.

This 2015-16 season was always about two things and two things only: The Warriors’ chase of the record for most wins in a season, 73, which they accomplished on the final night behind Curry’s 10 3-pointers and 42 points; and Bryant’s farewell tour, which was stirring no matter where and when you had a chance to see him. Safe to say there has never been a farewell tour quite like it in NBA history, and to go out with 60 … damn, I am going to miss the Mamba.

I covered him his rookie season when he made his one and only trip to Madison Square Garden, and back then the media was seated on “press row” – the scorer’s table – with the AP seat at the very end of the table. This was truly the best seat in the house, allowing me to peer into every huddle, listen to the ways each coach communicated with his players, actually hear what was being said between players and referees on the court, and use those up-close observations to spice up my game stories with information you couldn’t get anywhere else.

GS_Warriors_Nosebleed_SeatsThose seats are not press seats anymore; the Knicks and most other teams long ago began giving them away to sponsors while pushing the media further and further away from the action. When I covered the Knicks and Warriors at MSG this season, I could actually see down through the top of the huge scoreboard hanging at center court. Binoculars would not have been sufficient to get a clear sense of what was happening below. Perhaps binoculars with magnifying glasses duct-taped to each lens would have helped, but you get the point.

In many ways, the good old days are behind us, and the media is considered a nuisance rather than a necessity. The best seats in the house go to the national TV broadcasters, the PA announcers, the statisticians and the 1 percenters. Word on the street in Los Angeles was that courtside ducats for Kobe’s final game were going for $25,000 apiece.

Valet parking for your vehicle, be it the newest Tesla or a vintage Bricklin, was not included.

Of course, the season did have its distractions, what with the Gloria Govan and Iggy Azalea episodes, the Kurt Rambis Twitter controversy, the sub-zero conditions at the All-Star Game in Siberia Toronto, the greatest Slam Dunk Contest of all time, the mainstreaming of resting your best players (Tristan Thompson played 4 seconds in the season finale to keep his consecutive games streak alive), the George Karl death watch, the Colangeloization of the Sixers, the requisite Kardashian-related drama, the media’s obsession with analytics (it is easier to find a player’s defensive win shares on NBA.com than it is to find a player’s scoring average on ESPN.com), the battle over the legitimacy of daily fantasy sports as a game of skill, and the cold-hearted firing of an usher in New Orleans for allowing an 8-year-old boy to run onto the court during a timeout to hug Carmelo Anthony.

Curry11If you love this game, as the slogan used to say, you had to sift through a whole bunch of noise to read about it. But at least we always had League Pass and the ‘Dubs and Stephen Curry, who made it all worth it.

So now we move to the playoffs, and let’s just say it’s safe to book our flights and hotel rooms in Cleveland two months in advance. Watching the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs will be as painful as watching Ernie Els trying to knock down a 3-foot putt at Augusta, but we will all get through it just as he did. We will have our champion, we will move on to the draft, the naming of the Team USA squad and then the Rio Slaughterfest, and then we get to come back again in the fall and make wagers on whether Steph can make it to 403 3-pointers.

Don’t put it past him. He is a freak of nature.

Which brings us to the awards – and the lack of drama surrounding them. MVP and ROY are locks, and the best debate surrounds Most Improved Player. As colleague Jan Hubbard wrote earlier this week, the notion of a reigning MVP being considered for MIP was downright preposterous … until now.

My ballot is below (thanks to the NBA media relations staff for granting me the honor to vote again) the video player with a discussion of the toughest picks with CineSport’s Noah Coslov:


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Stephen Currywarriors small logo1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. The next pair of sneakers I will buy, if they are not Converse All-Stars, will be Under Armours. Same goes for my sons. They don’t want to be like Mike … or like LeBron. And they would rather show up 2 hours early for an NBA game just to watch Curry practice his ballhandling than watch an actual game on TV. They laugh at my generation, which actually watches commercials. And they shake their heads when you tell them that you actually pay for League Pass. “Dude, ever hear of the Internet?” Since they are watching NBA games for free, it is no surprise that they want their health care and their college tuition to be free, too.

Russell Westbrookthunder small logo2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder. The league-leader in triple doubles, he got his 18th before halftime in OKC’s 81st game. “He’s probably the most athletic player I’ve ever played against,” Bryant said. Which, you know, is quite a mouthful. Finished tied for eighth in scoring, second in assists, and 31st in rebounding – but first among guards. His 7.8 boards per game gave him a higher average than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford and Serge Ibaka.

Kevin Durantthunder small logo3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. Scored 20 or more points in 64 consecutive games, a streak he will carry into next season. And he reached No. 64 in a great mano-a-mano vs. Kobe, who once accomplished the feat 63 consecutive times. Somehow, this fact did not make it into the AP recap of the game. Back when I worked at the AP, an omission like that would earn you a transfer to Fargo. Or Lubbock. Round 2 vs. the Spurs will be an epic. Can Kawhi Leonard keep him below 20? I predict yes.

Damian Lillard4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. The only holdover from the Trail Blazers’ starting five from a year ago, he averaged 25.1 points to finish sixth in the league. Yes, his .419 shooting percentage was somewhat alarming, but when you are basically a one-man show whose team finished fifth in the West after looking like a lottery lock in the preseason, you give a guy a pass on some stuff. Prediction: If Portland somehow knocks off the LA Clippers in the first round, Lillard will have earned himself a spot on Team USA for the Rio Olympics.

LeBron Jamescavs small logo5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Predictably, he took the first seven-eighths of the season off, got his coach fired, feuded (or not) with teammate Kyrie Irving, became a secondary storyline as his return to Cleveland became oh-so-2014, and made more cryptic comments on Twitter than @netw3rk, who has made a career out of being profound and hilarious in 140 characters or less. They taught us to write tight in J-School, but this fella has set the industry record for dollars earned per keystroke, defeating Bill Simmons. That ain’t easy.


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Karl Anthony Towns headshotwolves small logo1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves. Haven’t seen anyone with the ability to score in the low post come around since Tim Duncan was a rookie, and Towns’ game is already so much more versatile than Timmy’s was when he came out of Wake Forest. I do not have a steak dinner wagered on whether he will win unanimously, mainly because I am a home delivery customer of the New York Post and thus read more about Kristaps Porzingis than I did about Carmelo Anthony.

Devin Booker headshotsuns small logo2. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns. The Bermanator will no doubt call me out on this one, but I like guys who get better as the season progresses more than guys who hit the rookie wall and never recover. He had six 30-point games, five over the final 23 games of the season. How many times did the Latvian Legend reach 30? Hint: it rhymes with “Hero.” Bonus points awarded for appearing to be 14 years old.

Kristaps Porzingis headshotknicks small logo3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks. Remember when Knicks fans booed him on draft night? It’s weird, but New York fans used to be considered the most savvy in the sport. Or maybe that was just something that New Yorkers said to each other. This fella will be a real nice player for a long, long time, but he will never, ever average more points per game than the guy one spot ahead of him on this list.


MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Portland Trail Blazersblazers small logo1. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers. We have had a season-long debate on this site over whether Curry should win this award, too, as his improvement from his MVP campaign of a year ago was beyond astounding. But the official NBA ballot includes this phrase: “This award is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons.” McCollum is an up-and-coming player. Curry is not. Hey, you gotta play by the rules.

Stephen Currywarriors small logo2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. So, yes, we are playing by the rules in “honoring” McCollum with our first-place vote. But when you start quantifying improvement from the previous season, what Curry did with his scoring average, his 3-point shooting, his win shares, his taking over the role as the NBA’s Alpha Dog … the list goes on and on … you cannot ignore how improved he was. More on this from esteemed colleague Jan Hubbard.

Giannis AntetokounmpoBucks60new3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the Bucks were the East’s biggest underachievers aside from the team 90 miles to the south. But I did spend $199 on League Pass for a reason, and flipping over to watch the exploits of the Greek Freak was always worth the while. This young fellas is going to redefine the point guard position in the near future, and a year from now I predict I will be writing him into the No. 1 spot on my ballot and comparing his triple-double total to Westbrook’s.


COACH OF THE YEAR

Stottsblazers small logo1. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers. Fifth place in the West. AYFKM? This is a guy who was atop the Most Likely to be Fired List when the season began (which was only moments after Derek Fisher was mixing it up with Matt Barnes in front of Gloria Govan’s kids in California when he was supposed to be coaching the Knicks at training camp.) A lot of guys have stolen Jim Dolan’s money, but none worse than Fisher. Stotts’ team has a puncher’s chance to get past the Clippers in the first round. Always beware of the team that has nothing to lose whatsoever.

Caseyraptors602. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors. Went into the final week with a chance to finish with the East’s overall No. 1 seed and has improved his win total in every single season since taking over. Oh, and he did it this season pretty much without DeMarre Carroll, the team’s prized offseason acquisition. Something I betcha didn’t know: The Raptors have the East’s stingiest defense, allowing 98.2 points per game. And again, that was without their 3-and D guy.

Popovichspurs small logo3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs. Something to be said for posting the best record in franchise history, and it was unsettling to see his team play second fiddle to Golden State for the entire season despite recreating his team around a new Big Two of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. His Spurs led the league in defense by a lot, allowing 92.9 ppg — three points fewer than the second-place finisher, the lottery-bound Utah Jazz.


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Draymond Greenwarriors small logo1. Draymond Green, Warriors. The toughest choice on any of my ballots, because Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs is pretty much equally deserving. But you gotta pick someone and are not allowed to vote for a tie. Both guys can guard all five positions, both guys are headliners of the all-underrated team, both guys get it done on both ends o the floor. So what does it come down to? Well, 73 wins carries a lot of weight.

Kawhi Leonard2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs. Sort of feel guilty for leaving out of my top five in MVP voting, but that Aldridge fella did come on pretty strong over the second half of the season. The first player this century given a max contract by the Spurs earned every penny of it, and if there is a God, we will see this guy and his monster-sized hands try to slow down Curry in the Western Conference finals when Popovich will finally have to show his cards.

Hassan Whitesideheat small logo3. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat. Well, he has his starting job back as we head into the playoffs, much to he dismay of Amar’e Stoudemire, and you really can’t blame Erik Spoelstra for milking this guy for all he’s worth before the Heat lose him as a free agent. Killed everyone by averaging 3.48 blocks, but the number that is truly astounding is his blocks per 48 minutes — 6.08. He played only 28 minutes per game and was the only player among the top 40 in blocked shots to have more blocks than fouls.


SIXTH MAN AWARD

OKC_HS_Enes_Kanterthunder small logo1. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder. Would be a starter on 29 other teams (OK, maybe not Sacramento), but instead anchors a very tough second unit that would be even better if Sam Presti had made a decent trade at the deadline instead of giving up two players and two picks for Randy Foye. Strange bird, that Presti. Kanter averaged 12.5 points and 8.0 rebounds despite playing only 21 minutes. He will not appear on any Defensive Player of the Year ballots, but hey, we all have our faults.

Jamal CrawfordClippers60new2. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers. Our man Kels Dayton is leading the Will Barton bandwagon, but his boss puts a higher value on winning, and you know, I get to call the shots when it comes to the official ballot. Per David Aldridge of NBA.com (congrats on the HOF induction, compadre), Crawford’s offensive rating in the last five minutes this season is a ridiculous 126.1, best among all bench players with 20 or more appearances in games down the stretch.

Blazers3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets. Could have chosen Barton or Andre Iguodala for third place, but went with the guy who stayed healthier and kept on producing, game after meaningless game, until Game No. 77 rolled around. Look, Jeremy Lin is pretty deserving, too, along with Jrue Holiday and Dennis Schroder and Shaun Livingston. But I am going with Barton as a favor to Kels, who is my favorite young writer (apologies to Zach Lowe).


ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

The balloting rules say you get to pick 10 guys irrespective of their position. Imagine if they did that with the All-Star ballot?

FIRST TEAM:

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota
Devin Booker, Phoenix
Kristaps Korzingis, New York
Josh Richardson, Miami
D’Angelo Russell, LA Lakers

SECOND TEAM:

Justise Winslow, Miami
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver
Myles Turner, Indiana
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte


ALL-DEFENSIVE TEAM

The rules state that voters must pick two guards, two forwards and one center.

FIRST TEAM:

C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami
F: Draymond Green, Golden State
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
G: Chris Paul, LA Clippers
G: Ricky Rubio, Minnesota

SECOND TEAM:

C: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta
F: Tony Allen, Memphis
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City


ALL-NBA TEAM

The rules here also require voters to choose one center, two forwards and two guards. Would have preferred choosing three “frontcourt” players as we do in All-Star balloting.

FIRST TEAM

C: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
F: LeBron James, Cleveland
F: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
G: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
G: Stephen Curry, Golden State

SECOND TEAM:

C: Al Horford, Atlanta
F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
F: Draymond Green, Golden State
G: Klay Thompson, Golden State
G: Damian Lillard, Portland

THIRD TEAM:

C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami
F: Paul Millsap, Atlanta
F: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio
G: Kyle Lowry, Toronto
G: Chris Paul, LA Clippers

Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Sol says

    Pretty ridiculous to put LeBron James at #5 in the MVP voting…..When people ask
    who is going to win the NBA Championship?
    the answer is inevitably the Warriors or the Cavs. Sure GS is the favorite, and OKC is interesting, but the Cavs without LeBron are a 41 win team. They become contenders with him. Cmon Sheridan!

  2. Jason Wilder says

    Props to making your picks public, and there are some good ones (Stotts for coach of the year). But some head-scratchers?

    You overrate both Westbrook and Durant, neither of whom are top 4 players (Curry, LBJ, Leonard, Paul). Westbrook is not a 2nd team all NBA defensive player, and Curry shouldn’t even be in the converstation (try Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler). Whiteside is also not that good a defender, witness Big Al taking him to town.

    You vastly underrate Chris Paul.

    Still, it’s bogus to criticize someone else’s picks and not put down your own:

    MVP: Curry; LBJ; Leonard; Paul; Lillard.
    ROY: spot on
    MIP: McCollum, Curry, Dellavedova
    Coach: Stotts, Pop, Clifford
    DPOY: Leonard, Green, Jordan
    6th Man: Iguadola, Crawford, Turner
    Rookie Teams: agree save for switching Mudiay ad Russell
    All Defense 1st: Paul, Thompson, Leonard, Green, Jordan.
    All Defense 2nd: Rubio, Allen, George, Millsap, Gobert
    All NBA 1st: Curry, Paul, James, Leonard, Horford
    All NBA 2nd: Lillard, Westbrook, Durant, Green, Cousins
    All NBA 3rd: Lowry, Thompson, Millsap, Aldridge, Jordan

    Really tempted to put Aldridge as the first team center, but didn’t know if that was allowed. Paul George the toughest omission.

    Keep up the great work,

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