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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Who Should Win the 2013 NBA Awards?

Media members vote for every individual regular season NBA award except for the All-Defensive Team (chosen by the NBA head coaches) and the Executive of the Year (selected by NBA executives). Some media members seem to be swayed by certain narratives--either narratives that they created and thus do not want to contradict or else emerging narratives that they would like to promote--while other media members have been seduced by "advanced basketball statistics." Two years ago, I explained my philosophy about selecting NBA award winners:

I prefer to select award winners based on a logical analysis of all relevant factors, including statistics, observation of games (a heretical act according to at least some "stat gurus") and historical context; using logical analysis does not mean that I am always right or that I have successfully removed any traces of unconscious bias but it does mean that I value being right over being popular and that I have done my best to render unbiased judgments.

Here is my take on the 2012-2013 NBA regular season awards:

MVP

1) LeBron James
2) Kevin Durant
3) Kobe Bryant
4) Russell Westbrook
5) Chris Paul

This race may be the biggest landslide since Ronald Reagan obliterated Walter Mondale in 1984. LeBron James is by far the best player in the NBA; other players had MVP caliber seasons but no one matched James' productivity, versatility and efficiency. James has already won three regular season MVPs, so it is remarkable that he has continued to elevate his game. His skill set improvements--most notably, better shot selection, the development of a consistent outside shot and the refinement of his post up game--are significant but James' most impressive transformation is the way that he changed his mindset; James is much more focused and much calmer.

Kevin Durant is another great player who is improving; his shooting percentages and assist average went up, his rebounding remained steady and his turnovers declined slightly. Durant joined the exclusive 50/40/90 club, shooting .510 from the field, .416 from three point range and a league-best .905 from the free throw line. He failed to become just the third player in NBA history to win at least four straight scoring titles but he is still the most potent and versatile offensive threat in the league; Durant is a more efficient scorer than 2013 scoring champion Carmelo Anthony.

Due to the L.A. Lakers' disappointing season, Kobe Bryant may not finish in the top five in the official balloting but instead of penalizing Bryant for his teammates' shortcomings the voters should acknowledge that, despite his advanced age and his 50,000-plus career minutes played, Bryant had one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career. Bryant battled a host of injuries even prior to suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon tear but he still had one of his most efficient shooting seasons, he tied his career-high with a 6.0 apg average and he is still an excellent rebounder (5.6 rpg, ranking first among guards and topping most of the league's small forwards as well). Even though Bryant's defense is not as consistently great as it was during his prime, he showed that he can stay in front of younger, quicker point guards and that he can still play the passing lanes very well (1.4 spg). In a "normal" season--i.e., a season without James' superhuman performance and a season in which the Lakers posted their typical 50-plus wins--Bryant would be battling Durant for MVP honors.

Russell Westbrook may be the most underrated player in the NBA--and he is almost certainly the most underrated great player. Westbrook is a deadly scorer (he ranked sixth in the league in scoring with a 23.2 ppg average), an excellent passer (he ranked eighth in the league in assists with a 7.4 apg average), the best point guard rebounder (5.2 rpg) and an outstanding defensive player. He is fast and quick (there is a difference--the former refers to straight line speed, while the latter refers to the ability to deftly maneuver in short bursts in small spaces) and he is strong. Tim Grover thinks that Westbrook's best attribute is that he is "100% fearless." Westbrook is poised to inherit Bryant's unenviable role as the great player most likely to be senselessly criticized by the media; it will be very surprising if the voters are smart enough to place Westbrook in the top five in the MVP race.

Chris Paul might finish as high as second in the MVP voting and he is an absolute lock for a top five slot. The narrative of Paul as a "culture changer" is irresistible for most media members--and the fact that Paul is a normal-sized person going head to head against giants probably also adds to his popularity. There is no doubt that Paul is a great player who had a great season but it is baffling that so many people rank him higher than great players who are significantly bigger. Size--Specifically, Height--Matters in the NBA and is not coincidental that Isiah Thomas is the only "small" player who led a team to an NBA championship. Paul is in many ways the 21st century Isiah Thomas but it remains to be seen if he can be the best player on a championship team. If Paul were swapped straight up for the four players listed above none of those teams would be better, while the Clippers would be at least as good--if not better--in such a hypothetical scenario. James and Durant are so much bigger and better than Paul that the comparison does not even make sense. Many people may assume that the Lakers would benefit from Paul's passing but even when Bryant went into full Steve Nash mode as a passer the Lakers still struggled because so many of their players missed wide open shots. Media evaluations of passing ability and unselfishness are laughably subjective; Paul is praised when Blake Griffin plays well but Paul is not criticized when Griffin has bad stretches, while Bryant and Westbrook are not praised when their teammates play well but they are criticized when their teammates play poorly. If Paul is largely responsible for Griffin's good performances then, logically, isn't Paul also largely responsible for Griffin's bad performances? NBA halftime shows are hilarious: if Pau Gasol goes 1-5 from the field in the first half then you can expect to hear a dissertation about Bryant's selfish gunning but if Blake Griffin goes 1-5 from the field in the first half then you can expect to hear that Griffin must be more aggressive and assertive.

Paul has better shot selection than Westbrook but Westbrook is bigger, more explosive and much more durable. I will be surprised if Paul wins more NBA championships than Westbrook--at least during the time frame when both players are performing at an All-NBA caliber level (there is no way to predict how many rings a player might win in the latter stages of his career if he accepts a reduced role).

Rookie of the Year

1) Damian Lillard
2) Anthony Davis
3) Bradley Beal

All of the Draft Day hype focused on Anthony Davis but once the season started it quickly became apparent that Damian Lillard is by far the league's best rookie. Lillard performed at an All-Star caliber level (19.0 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.1 rpg) but it is very difficult for a guard to make the Western Conference All-Star team--particularly a first year guard on a non-playoff team. Lillard looks like a player who will become a perennial All-Star as his game matures and his team improves. The only other rookies who averaged at least 19 ppg and at least six apg are Oscar Robertson, Damon Stoudamire and Allen Iverson.

Davis is already a solid big man and perhaps he will develop into a dominant player but right now his statistics and impact resemble Dikembe Mutombo, not Bill Russell; it is not an insult to be compared with Mutombo, who had a long and distinguished career, but many commentators pumped up Davis as a multifaceted franchise player.

Bradley Beal improved throughout his rookie campaign and his numbers will continue to increase if he and backcourt mate John Wall both stay healthy next season.

Defensive Player of the Year

1) Roy Hibbert
2) LeBron James
3) Serge Ibaka

The first time that I saw Roy Hibbert play in person, I wrote, "Hibbert's game is eccentric: he has a big body and a soft shooting touch near the hoop but his moves are so mechanical and stilted that his lumbering gait reminds me of Anakin Skywalker taking his first halting steps after being entombed in the Darth Vader suit." Hibbert's offensive game is still awkward-looking but this season he emerged as a defensive force, ranking fourth in the NBA in blocked shots (2.61 bpg) and helping his Indiana Pacers lead the league in defensive field goal percentage (.420).

LeBron James is nominally a power forward but at this point his game defies conventional positional designations; my comments about LeBron James in last year's awards article are still valid: "LeBron James is the only player in the NBA who can defend all five positions. He excels as both a one on one defender and as a help defender. He has made huge strides since his early days as a subpar defensive player."

Serge Ibaka led the NBA in blocked shots (3.03 bpg) for the second year in a row and he led the league in total blocked shots (242) for the third year in a row. His paint presence is a major reason that the Oklahoma City Thunder ranked second in defensive field goal percentage (.425).

Sixth Man of the Year

1) Kevin Martin
2) J.R. Smith
3) Jamal Crawford

After James Harden won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season he emerged as an All-Star--and likely an All-NBA selection--this season in Houston. Kevin Martin faced a lot of pressure stepping into Harden's shoes but neither he nor the Oklahoma City Thunder missed a beat; Martin more than capably filled Harden's role as a big-time scorer and the Thunder posted the best record in the Western Conference after finishing second in the West in 2011-12. J.R. Smith (18.1 ppg) and Jamal Crawford (16.5 ppg) scored more points than Martin (14.0 ppg) but Martin is a key contributor on a team that seems poised to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. Martin is a very efficient scorer: Martin ranked 10th in the league in three point field goal percentage (.426), he ranked fourth in free throw percentage (.890) and he had a better overall field goal percentage (.450) than Smith (.422) and Crawford (.438). Martin has averaged at least 20 ppg in six different seasons--although several of them were injury-shortened campaigns--so the difference between his scoring average and the scoring averages posted by Smith and Crawford does not really prove that Smith and Crawford are better scorers.

Smith will almost certainly be given this award by the media and a very good case can be made in his favor; he set career-highs in scoring and rebounding (5.3 rpg) and he played a major role in New York's rise in the Eastern Conference standings.

Crawford is the third leading scorer for the Pacific Division champion L.A. Clippers. He does not provide much playmaking or defense but he is very difficult to guard because he is equally adept at driving to the hoop and at firing away from long distance.

Jarrett Jack should receive some consideration; he is Golden State's fourth leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and second leading playmaker (5.5 apg).

Most Improved Player

1) Paul George
2) Jrue Holiday
3) Greivis Vasquez

Paul George elevated himself from solid starter to All-Star, emerging as the best player on a very good Indiana team. The same can be said of Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday but George gets the nod because he is a better two-way player while Holiday's impact is primarily felt on offense. Greivis Vasquez only started 27 games in his first two seasons but he started all 78 games that he played in 2012-13, ranking third in the league in assists (9.0 apg).

Coach of the Year

1) Tom Thibodeau
2) Gregg Popovich
3) Erik Spoelstra

The Chicago Bulls suffered a parade of injuries--2011 MVP Derrick Rose sat out the entire season, while Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich missed significant playing time--and yet they still boasted a top 10 defense (ranking third in points allowed and 10th in defensive field goal percentage) and they still easily qualified for the playoffs. The injuries and the failure to re-sign key bench players like Omer Asik eliminated the team's depth but Tom Thibodeau's excellent coaching kept the Bulls in the mix and made them a dangerous team on any given night.

Gregg Popovich's record speaks for itself; he has won four championships and his Spurs always win at least 50 regular season games (even in the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign).

The Miami Heat are talented and deep but Erik Spoelstra has brought out the best in his players both individually and collectively. It is obvious that his players respect him because they consistently play hard and defend well.

New York's Mike Woodson, Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks and Denver's George Karl also deserve mention.

Executive of the Year

1) Pat Riley
2) Masai Ujiri
3) Billy King

First Pat Riley assembled the "Big Three" and then he surrounded those stars with a well-blended array of three point shooters and defensive specialists. He also hired a great young coach and then stuck with that coach even after media critics urged/predicted that Riley fire Erik Spoelstra and take the reins himself.

Many NBA fans have probably never even heard of Denver's Masai Ujiri but he parlayed the disgruntled Carmelo Anthony into several very good players who have formed the nucleus for the squad that posted the best record (57-25) in the Nuggets' NBA history (the 1974-75 Nuggets went 65-19 in the ABA).

Brooklyn's Billy King re-signed Deron Williams and Brook Lopez and then added Joe Johnson to the mix, resulting in an improvement from 22-44 (.333) to 49-33 (.598), the franchise's best record since the 2005-06 team went 49-33.

Houston's Daryl Morey will receive a lot of votes and maybe he will even win the award. His Rockets went 34-32 in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, which is equivalent to a 42-40 record in an 82 game season. In 2012-13, after the much celebrated signing of James Harden plus the acquisitions of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Rockets went 45-37. The Rockets are sporadic at best defensively and, because of the way the roster is constructed, they have to play an uptempo style that is unlikely to be effective in the playoffs. Morey's Rockets missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons but they squeaked in this season not so much because they have dramatically improved but rather because the Western Conference is not quite as strong as it has been recently; the Rockets' 2012-13 winning percentage would not have been good enough to qualify for the 2010 or 2011 playoffs and would have resulted in a dead heat for the eighth seed in 2012.

All-NBA First Team
G Kobe Bryant
G Russell Westbrook
C Brook Lopez
F LeBron James
F Kevin Durant

All-NBA Second Team
G Chris Paul
G Dwyane Wade
C Dwight Howard
F Tim Duncan
F Carmelo Anthony

All-NBA Third Team
G Tony Parker
G Stephen Curry
C Chris Bosh
F Blake Griffin
F David Lee

The NBA eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot but, as far as I know, the All-NBA squad will still contain three centers. Brook Lopez is not a great rebounder but he is an excellent scorer and he has become a very strong defensive presence. Dwight Howard seemed to be operating at about 80% of his normal capacity for most of the season but he still finished first in rebounding (12.4 rpg), second in field goal percentage (.578) and fifth in blocked shots (2.45 bpg) while also averaging 17.1 ppg. It is tempting to place him on the First Team because there are no other dominant centers in the league but even though Howard's overall numbers are very good he had some clunker games and his lack of energy--ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy said that Howard and his teammate Pau Gasol played with a "deplorable" lack of effort early in the season--contributed to the Lakers' disappointing record. Chris Bosh's versatility at both ends of the court enables the Heat to employ the small lineup that causes fits for so many NBA teams. Marc Gasol had a solid season for a very good Memphis team but he simply is just not quite as productive as the three centers that I selected ahead of him. Here are the key numbers for the NBA's top four centers:

Brook Lopez: 19.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, .521 FG%, 2.08 bpg

Dwight Howard: 17.1 ppg, 12.4 rpg, .578 FG%, 2.45 bpg

Chris Bosh: 16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, .535 FG%, 1.36 bpg

Marc Gasol: 14.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, .494 FG%, 1.74 bpg

James Harden had a very good season and he is going to be selected by the voters, probably to the Second Team--but even though the media is intrigued by his story and even though the "stat gurus" love Harden, his skill set is clearly not better than the skill sets possessed by Bryant, Westbrook, Paul and Wade. Add Tony Parker--a key player on the West's second best team--to the mix and there is only one guard spot left on my squad; I gave serious consideration to Harden--who I ranked ahead of Curry on my All-Star ballot--but Curry performed much better than Harden down the stretch so that became my tiebreaker in a close race.

All-Defensive First Team

G Tony Allen
G Thabo Sefolosha
C Roy Hibbert
F LeBron James
F Serge Ibaka

All-Defensive Second Team

G Chris Paul
G Russell Westbrook
C Larry Sanders
F Tim Duncan
F Paul George

This is the only award that is selected by the league's head coaches. "Stat gurus" and media members often criticize the coaches' choices but it is reasonable to assume that the coaches know which players wreak the most havoc defensively (and the coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players).

My selections tend to foreshadow the coaches' picks; in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 I chose eight of the 10 players selected by the coaches, while in 2011 I "only" matched six of the coaches' 10 honorees.

Positional designations are supposed to apply but many players play multiple positions.

Avery Bradley is widely touted as a lock for the All-Defensive Team but he only played in 50 games this season and I hesitate to select anyone for a postseason award if he participated in fewer than 65 games. It will be interesting to see how the coaches handle this situation.

Marc Gasol is a very good defensive player who has been mentioned as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate but he is not quite the shotblocking presence in the paint that Hibbert and Sanders are, so Gasol just misses the cut here, much like he narrowly missed the cut for my All-NBA squad.

All-Rookie First Team (selected without regard to position)

Damian Lillard
Anthony Davis
Bradley Beal
Dion Waiters
Harrison Barnes

All-Rookie Second Team

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Andre Drummond
Jonas Valanciunas
Tyler Zeller
Kyle Singler

"Early entry" has hurt both the college game and the NBA game; the University of Kentucky could have become a great dynasty but instead the Wildcats won just one championship before sending several players to the NBA; those players excelled in college but, until they mature physically and become fully accustomed to the NBA, they are not yet impact performers at the pro level. 

Damian Lillard, who stayed in college for four seasons (he was a red shirt junior in 2011-12 after playing just 10 games in 2010-11), was the only exceptional rookie in 2012-13. Anthony Davis showed flashes of his potential but he is not yet a dominant player; it would have been much more fun to watch him lead a great Kentucky team than to watch him toil for a non-playoff team in New Orleans.

**********

Previous NBA Award Articles

Selecting the 2012 Award Winners (2012)

Selecting NBA Award Winners: The Battle of Stats Versus Storylines Versus Logical Analysis (2011)

NBA Awards Season is Almost Here (2010)

An Objective Analysis of this Season's MVP Race (2009)

Handing Out the Hardware for the 2008-09 Season (2009)

Choosing This Season's NBA Awards Winners (2008)

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:49 AM

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I expect you'll get a lot of disagreements with your selections - J.R. Smith is a shoo-in for sixth man while Defensive Player of the Year will probably go to Marc Gasol. I expect Karl to win Coach of the Year. Ujiri will probably get executive of the year and it will be well deserved.

As for your future projections:

Paul probably will not win more titles than Westbrook but that's because he's on an inferior team - if he played with Lebron he would probably win more titles than Westbrook. I believe he will (and deserves to) be in the top 5 in the MVP voting.

Damian Lillard deserves rookie of the year, but his career trajectory will most likely resemble that of Damon Stoudamire - someone who will put up big numbers for bad teams, and be able to contribute (but at a significantly lesser level) for better teams. As for Davis, he won't have a Russell-like career, but if he produces at a Mutombo like level he will have lived up to his hype and be the best player of his draft class.

Shocked that Harden isn't getting more consideration for most improved player. The jump from being a good player to one of the top 10 players in the league is the hardest one to make and he's the only one who made that leap this season.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:23:00 AM, Anonymous aw said...

Lopez will more than likely be first team nba at center spot, because od Dwight not having that good of a season.

Lopez is not a first team calibur player to me.

If they decide to not put a center on first team, I felt they should go with three forwards in LeBron, Durant, and Carmelo.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 1:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcel

I dont agree at all kevin martin had a average season and no where near as good as James harden who had a great year and led his team to fourty five wins playoff berth. Sixth man should prob be jr smith martin aint in convo. Steph curry no james harden either steph had a great year he may make all nba team harden should make second team at least be right there he top twelve player in league. Mvp it should be lebron durant kobe melo paul top five. Westbrook had a good year but at times still out of,control and shoot more than kd which is inexcusable. Howard over lopez as well to me. I understand its ur opion . I have to disagree in particular wit those. Hibbard dpoy no marc gasol or lebron hibbard had a off year all around. But the rest look ok

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 1:55:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

How does a non AS deserve 1st team all nba? I'm glad you finally recognize Lopez, and also Curry, for how that great they were this year. Your friend JVG has been screaming the same thing since the AS teams were finalized. And your critique of Curry about his shooting pct. was off base, and his shooting pct. haven't really improved since the AS break. The guy is shooting/playing amazingly.

Actually Parker needs to go. He's missed 16 games, and Curry/Harden have both been more effective. I know you know how special 25/5/5 guys are, only 2 this year: kobe and james. Harden just missed with 4.9rpg. Wade missed 9 more games than Harden. Houston doesn't make the playoffs if you swap Harden for Wade, whereas Miami is still a juggernaut if you swap Wade for Harden, and probably better.

Anthony Davis was 3 years younger as a rookie than Russell was. Also, taking into account how much better defense overall is today than 50 years ago, along with much fewer points/rebounds to be had, Davis compares very favorably than Russell, if not better. He already shoots a much better pct. from the field and FT line. Also, Davis has to play with a 6-10 and 7-0 in the starting lineup, whereas Russell was the tallest guy on his team. There's no way Russell even comes close to his rebounding totals and titles if he played today, and it would be very hard for him to even come close to being the best players on a title team with an offensive game lacking as much as his did. Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman are the closest thing to Russell, and neither one of them were ever superstars or 1st or even 2nd or 3rd options. Russell never averaged 20ppg even once, even while playing in the best offensive scoring era in history of the league.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I don't really care if people disagree; I have provided logical reasons for my selections.

Westbrook joined a Lottery team and he has played a major role in that team's emergence as a contender. I don't believe that Paul is dominant enough--or will stay healthy enough--to be the best player on a championship team.

Lillard is already a much better all-around player than Stoudamire and he seems to be a much more mature person.

Davis was hyped to be a lot better than Mutombo.

Harden has not really improved; he just gets to handle the ball--and shoot--a lot more than he previously did. I expected Harden to score a lot of points for a team that did not make the playoffs and what happened is that he scored a little more than I expected and the Rockets sneaked into the playoffs due to the West's overall decline compared to recent seasons.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Aw:

As far as I know, the All-NBA Team still uses the positional designations guard, forward, center--unlike the All-Star team, which switched to guard, frontcourt player this season. I agree with you that Lopez is not a First Team player under the All-Star format.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

As I explained in the article, Martin had a much better than "average" season and he filled Harden's role without missing a beat.

Durant attempted almost 200 more free throws than Westbrook, so it is not "inexcusable" that Westbrook averaged 18.7 FGA/game compared to Durant's 17.7 FGA/game. Both players are All-NBA caliber and both players should be expected to attempt 17-20 shots a game.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The All-NBA Team is based on the whole season, while the All-Star Team is selected prior to the halfway point of the season.

JVG is not my "friend" but he usually makes a lot of sense.

Curry averaged 19.4 ppg on .430 field goal shooting in 14 November games; he averaged 24.9 ppg on .455 field goal shooting in 16 March games and he averaged 25.4 ppg on .465 field goal shooting in eight April games. You are entitled to your own opinion (however misinformed) but you are not entitled to your own facts--and the facts show that Curry performed much better in the second half of the season, which is one reason why I selected him over Harden for my All-NBA squad.

The rules and style of play are so different today compared to 50 years ago that direct statistical comparisons are meaningless but Russell was the dominant defensive force in the league throughout his career and he led his team to 11 championships in 13 seasons. There is no reason to believe that Davis will come close to matching that kind of individual dominance or that he will be the best player on a team that wins multiple titles.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 6:37:00 PM, Anonymous aw said...

Not knocking Bill Russell. I understand the era he played in was different. But how could he do without acstacked team around him. Could he forfill the role that Olajuwon, Shaq and Duncan had on their title teams? I don't think so.

Yes, the league will most likely use the center, forward, guard format for the all NBA teams. As I stated Dwight probably won't get the first team because of his not so great year. So they have no choice but to give it to Lopez. A player thats not even in the top 15-20 best players in the league.

As for Chris Paul, I believe you David mentioned sometime before that you don't consider him a franchise player. And you gave your explanation. But I don't believe a player has to lead a team to a title or multiple titles as the best player on a team to get the franchise plsyer label. It's not about how good or bad his team is, whether he will lead his team to titles as the best player or not, but if he has the capability of being the best player on a title team. I agree Paul does.
Westbrook is the number two guy on his team. What if he never leads a team to a title as the best player? That's doesn't change how you currently view him. Whether you consider him a franchise guy or not.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Aw:

The teams that Russell's Celtics competed against were also "stacked" with future Hall of Famers; keep in mind that the NBA only had eight teams during most of Russell's career, so the talent was very concentrated. Also, the Celtics had been a very good team with multiple Hall of Famers prior to Russell's arrival without winning a championship. Russell was not a dominant low post scorer like Olajuwon, O'Neal and Duncan but his defense/rebounding ignited Boston's powerful fastbreak attack.

I am not convinced that Paul can be the best player on a championship team. Can I prove that? No, but I have a well-founded, well-informed opinion based on my familiarity with NBA history and my understanding of the strategies of the sport; I believe that Paul's size and his propensity for being injured will preclude him from leading a team to a championship. I believe that Westbrook could be the best player on a championship team because he is bigger, more dynamic and more durable than Paul.

 
At Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of MVP and LeBron...

I have been thinking of how LeBron stacks up against some of the greatest MVP's of the last 20 or so years, and wondering who was the overall best player/had the most complete skillset between them.

So how would you rank these MVP's?

2008 Kobe Bryant
2000 Shaq
2003 Duncan
2013 LeBron
1992 Jordan

I know that Kobe and this year's LeBron didn't(or haven't) finished the season with a title, but i am just thinking of the players themselves, not the season result.

Thanks in advance.

 
At Friday, April 19, 2013 1:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

That is a really difficult question to answer.

Even though the MVP is a regular season award--and even though we assume that James will easily win the MVP--it is hard to place James' 2013 season into context until we see what happens in the postseason.

I am not sure that the 2008 and 2003 seasons are even the best seasons for Bryant and Duncan respectively, let alone the best seasons on your list.

Shaq is the most physically dominating player on your short list.

The 1992 version of Jordan was not a great three point shooter but he had no other skill set weaknesses and his team won 67 regular season games before winning the title.

I am not sure that there is an objective way to choose but if I had to pick one of the seasons that you listed I would probably take 1992 Jordan, with the idea that Jordan could beat 2000 Shaq with a decent big man/solid supporting cast but that 2000 Shaq would not be able to beat Jordan with just a solid perimeter player as a sidekick.

I don't think that there is a wrong answer to your question because all of the listed seasons are tremendous.

 
At Friday, April 19, 2013 6:32:00 AM, Anonymous aw said...

I in away agree that 2003 may not have been Duncan's best season.His 2001-2002 season was probably his best even though the Spurs didn't win the title. Duncan's supporting cast in 2002 was not that good at all and he lead them To 58 wins I believe. I don't think his 2003 cast was that great. Even though they won the title. Duncan didn't have a teammate that was at least an all star. He led them to the best record in the league. They in a way took advantage of other teams having major injuries in the postseason.

 
At Friday, April 19, 2013 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Even though there were only 8 teams for a few years during Russell's playing days, the talent level back then was still very diluted compared today. Most of those players wouldn't even come close to making the nba today. Russell had a huge athletic advantage back then which he wouldn't have today. Someone like Ben Wallace wasn't a great man to man defender, but he was a great help defender, similar to Russell, though the lack of big, athletic centers compared to Russell in his day probably allowed him to do well at least decent against most of his opponents that he guarded. Also, wallace couldn't guard Shaq without a lot of help, much like Russell against Wilt. Wilt just shredded Russell. Sure, within his respective era, Russell was a great player.

Davis is already at least very comparable to Russell offensively, and probably better, even at a much younger age. Davis will probably never be that great offensively, but 13ppg in 29mpg while shooting a high pct. as a 19yo rookie is very good. And defense is Davis' calling card? The question is can Davis become a great defensive player. While you mention we shouldn't compare eras, well, that's basically what you're doing when you talk about how a lot of people hyped of Davis, and you're comparing him to Mutombo. Of course his rebounding stats will never come close to Russell's. Nobody's will. Rodman is probably the best or 2nd best rebounder(behind Wilt) all time, and he averaged 10 less rpb than Wilt.

Players are much bigger and stronger today than 50-60 years ago, and nobody has come close to dominating defensively like Russell did. So, I think it's fair to say Russell would also come nowhere close to dominating defensively today like he did. The difference in talent level 50 years ago was much bigger than it is today. Players are just much more athletic and skilled today. I also think it's fair to say that someone like Davis or Mutombo would dominate if they played 50 years ago. Neither one of them will ever come close to getting the same recognition because they'll probably combine for 0 titles.

I'm confused why you mention how 65 games is your breakoff for all-nba teams. Tony Allen only played 58 games last year and only at 26ppg. I know he's a great defender, but that's missing a lot of games and playing low mpg.

Also, I think many of these celtic HOFers shouldn't really be HOFers. They were just the best collective group of players put together. It's similar to Pau. Take away Pau's FIBA play, he won't deserve the HOF, except he joined up with Kobe to win 2 titles. If that doesn't happen, he wouldn't make it. He barely makes it as it is even with FIBA play. Sharman and Cousy aren't going to lead the c's to a title, much like Russell and Cousy alone. They needed more than that. Ramsey and Heinsohn came in, in 1957 as well.

And the celtics beat the 34-38 Hawks in the finals. And the c's only had to play 2 rounds. Best of 5 in the semis as well, and they only won 4-3 in the finals. Wow, I didn't realize that. The 2nd best team in the league that year was 38-34. Look how much easier it was back then. It's kind of like back in the day when the prior year's wimbledon winner only had to play in the finals. It would be like the Thunder beating the Jazz in the first round, and then playing the Bucks in the finals, just to name one similar example.

 
At Friday, April 19, 2013 3:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Friday, April 19, 2013 3:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

We have discussed this before. One could argue that the talent 50 years ago was less than today because the league was not fully integrated but one could also argue that the talent 50 years ago was more concentrated because there were only eight teams in the league.

There is no way to prove how players from 50 years ago would do today with the benefit of modern training, diet, etc., nor is there any way to prove how today's players would fare 50 years ago when the game was rougher, the travel conditions were more difficult and the salaries were much lower.

This is what I said about comparing eras: "The rules and style of play are so different today compared to 50 years ago that direct statistical comparisons are meaningless but Russell was the dominant defensive force in the league throughout his career and he led his team to 11 championships in 13 seasons." You try to make direct comparisons between the stats of players from different eras but the larger point is that Russell dominated--in terms of individual defense and in terms of winning championships--in a way that no one else dominated before or since. Right now, Davis' impact has not even reached Mutombo's level--in terms of individual defense or championships won--let alone Russell's level. Yes, Davis is young and he may improve--but Russell dominated immediately and for the duration of his career. So far, Davis has not met the hype.

First you get Curry's stats wrong and then you apparently forget that last season only lasted 66 games; Allen played 58 out of 66 games last season. I tend not to select players for postseason awards if they miss substantial playing time and my informal (not absolute) cut off for that is 65 games in an 82 game season, though I reserve the right to make exceptions in special cases.

Most of the rest of your comments do not pertain to this year's awards, so this is not the forum to discuss those topics--or to pursue even the above subjects much further.

 
At Tuesday, April 23, 2013 3:01:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

What kind of criteria do people use to determine the Most Improved Player award? I would've voted for Harden and Curry 1-2 and was surprised to see them so far down the list in the voting. I felt they were the only to players to make the jump into the elite/near-elite status.

It's nice to go from being a role/bench player to an above-average starter but it's much more difficult to go from even a second option (or even a first option!) to a player who is expected to carry the team on his back. Harden was definitely expected to take on that role and you can make that argument for Curry. But not so much for the other guys.

It's not just a matter of playing heavy minutes, putting up a lot of shots, and handling the ball. It's the pressure of having to bear the extra burden from media and the fans, deal with game plans designed specifically to limit you, and often being stuck with the role of having to create something while the other four guys stand still like statues.

At the end of the day NBA is a star-driven sport and it is my opinion that you should emerge as an elite player to win this award. Different opinions (and explanations) are welcomed...

 
At Tuesday, April 23, 2013 4:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

In general, the NBA does not provide criteria for these awards (other than a few requirements such as the Sixth Man Award candidates must have started less than half of the time) so the voters make subjective choices.

You make some valid points but did Harden really improve? What new skill set did he demonstrate? He did the same things that he did last season, but he just did them more often and less efficiently because he had the ball more frequently. His new team's winning percentage barely increased and his old team easily replaced him.

Similarly, did Stephen Curry really improve that much or did he just finally enjoy a healthy season?

I am not saying that Harden and Curry did not improve at all but I don't think that either player is even close to being the "most" improved player in the NBA.

Harden and Curry both had played major roles before, while George, Vasquez and Sanders showed skill set improvement while also playing increased roles for their respective teams.

George went from being the fourth option on the Pacers to clearly being the best player on his team, so he actually fits your definition for most improved.

 

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