It’s that time of year again. Here’s one take on the NBA’s annual postseason awards, but remember that four days remain in the regular season:
Most Valuable Player
Stephen Curry, Golden State
An extra difficult decision this season, but the good news is you really can’t be wrong in the most provocative MVP race in years and years.
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook has single-handedly carried his team to the verge of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spots with nearly nightly triple-double performances. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland was so valuable the New York Times named Cleveland — Cleveland! — 21st on its list of 52 Places to Go in 2015. And Houston’s James Harden did everything a single man can do to keep his Rockets battling Memphis for the West’s second-best record and leads Westbrook in the league scoring race by a neck while doing so.
The Warriors pushed Curry as the best player on clearly the league’s best team, an argument that would make the voting process moot. But this season, it’s the right thing to do for a player so productive and so efficient in so many categories, and his statistics have been diminished by all the fourth quarters during which he sat in blowout victories. He made his case by dropping 45 points on Portland in Thursday’s late TNT game.
Harden is a brute force of nature, Curry is an artist. The MVP goes to the guy with the beret.
Contenders: Harden, James, Westbrook.
Coach of the Year
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta
Golden State’s Steve Kerr has done the difficult, taking a very good, 51-victory team and making it great to the tune of a 64-victory season so far. And he’s done so in a sticky situation as well: He replaced Mark Jackson and in nearly every situation made the right move, starting with imploring the organization not to trade Klay Thompson in a deal for Kevin Love.
But Budenholzer has taken a team nobody expected to win 60 games and led them there — even if it is the East — with a system and style that borrows liberally from mentor Gregg Popovich but which Budenholzer distinctly has made his, and his team’s, own.
Contenders: Kerr, Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd, Memphis’ Dave Joerger, Houston’s Kevin McHale.
Rookie of the Year
Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
Flip Saunders says this one is a no-contest, and he’s right about a rookie who has defended the opposing team’s best perimeter player nightly and averaged nearly 19 points a game since a December breakout game in Cleveland, even though opposing teams gear their defense to stop him. Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel and Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic have made late charges, but Wiggins wins for his body of work in a race he has led ever since Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was lost for the season in December because of a torn ACL.
Contenders: Mirotic, Noel, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton, L.A. Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson.
Most Improved Player
Anthony Davis, New Orleans
This category is the one most left to interpretation and generally former No. 1 overall picks don’t get much consideration because they already arrive with so many expectations. But Davis has expanded his game and made that leap from star to superstar. If you were starting a franchise from scratch tomorrow, this would be the guy to pick. Like Davis, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler also missed about a fourth of the season and gets very strong consideration here for his All-Star season.
Contenders: Butler, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside.
Sixth Man of the Year
Lou Williams, Toronto
The former Atlanta Hawk has revived his career in Toronto and kept the Raptors afloat when DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin injury. His 15 points off the bench have kept his team aimed at home-court advantage in the East.
Contenders: Golden State’s Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights; L.A. Clippers’ Jamal Crawford; Houston’s Corey Brewer; Boston’s Isaiah Thomas; Indiana’s Rodney Stuckey.
Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green, Golden State
Yes, a Warrior wins for defense. These aren’t your granddad’s Warriors, and Green’s versatility has helped make Golden State the league’s best team on defense as well as the highest-scoring. He’s a rugged post defender for his size and excels in the pick-and-roll as well. Utah’s shot-blocking Rudy Gobert might be the winner if he had started for the Jazz from season’s start.
Contenders: Davis, Gobert, L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.
F Anthony Davis, Pelicans
F LeBron James, Cleveland
C Marc Gasol, Memphis
G Stephen Curry, Golden State
G James Harden, Houston
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. New Orleans (no TV)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Okla. City (FSN)
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook, Thunder
The season finale also is a last look at the MVP race and a talent who single-handedly has carried his team to the verge of the playoffs without fellow superstar Kevin Durant healthy beside him.
« If he played like that when he was here, he would have made a lot more money. »
— Wolves veteran Kevin Martin after former teammate Derrick Williams delivered an 18-point, eight-rebound night in a game at Sacramento last week.