The Most Surprising NBA Award Candidates
The NBA is a star-driven league, which is why fans value individual awards so highly. The Association’s most prominent figures consistently earn recognition, but the 2012-13 season has seen unexpected candidates emerge in each category.
With the year officially in the home stretch, we have a solid idea of who will contend for each honor. The surprise candidates aren’t necessarily the front-runners, but they all have a legitimate chance of winning an award.
Nothing is a lock when it comes to the NBA, but if a player can finish strong and stay consistent, he’ll improve his chances of taking home some hardware when the year comes to a close.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau
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The race toward the Coach of the Year award might be the deepest of all NBA honors.
Of the top contenders, nobody has been as unexpected as Tom Thibodeau. The Chicago Bulls were written off when Derrick Rose tore his ACL, but the third-year coach has gotten the most out of his depth and kept them in the playoffs without their star.
When it comes to the Bulls, there’s only one word you need to know, and that's defense. Their offense has been awful during the 2012-13 season, but they’ve still found success behind their incredible defensive efforts.
Chicago has exceeded every expectation without Rose in the lineup, and Thibodeau deserves serious recognition for leading the charge.
Most Improved Player: Paul George
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If you’ve followed Paul George’s career, you’ve seen this coming. It’s not a major surprise that he’s a candidate for this award, but it is beyond impressive how quickly he’s become a star in this league.
The absence of Danny Granger has opened up the opportunity for George to succeed. The Miami Heat have seemingly locked up the No. 1 spot out East, but the Indiana Pacers are right there with the New York Knicks when it comes to the second seed.
As an All-Star for the first time, George is more than just an up-and-coming prospect. He may only be in his third season, but he’s established himself as the new go-to option on his team, and his improving defense is fitting in nicely with one of the best defensive squads in the league.
George is averaging career highs in virtually every major statistic, and it’s no secret that the Pacers are where they are today largely because of his performance.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Duncan
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There have been a number of surprising candidates emerge in 2013 for the Defensive Player of the Year. Larry Sanders has become a shot-blocking machine, Roy Hibbert is anchoring one of the league’s best defenses and the same can be said about Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.
But among the league’s best defenders is someone we thought was on a declining path toward retirement. Tim Duncan has shown he has plenty left in the tank, and within the San Antonio Spurs’ system, he is having one of his best seasons in recent memory.
Duncan has lost a step as he’s gotten older, but in his 16th year, he’s benefiting from having never been the most athletic player on the court. The big man has always played with great timing and a high IQ, and that’s how he’s boosted his blocks-per-game average to its highest mark since the 2003-04 season.
Whether or not Duncan is the favorite for the award is up for debate, but there’s no denying he’s proven the doubters wrong when it comes to his production.
Sixth Man: Jarrett Jack
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Jarrett Jack has always been a good player. He’s struggled with consistency at times throughout his career, but he’s always been capable of running an offense.
Now, on a young Golden State Warriors roster, the 29-year-old has emerged as a leader, and he’s making a serious run at the Sixth Man of the Year award.
The Warriors have been one of the surprises of the NBA season. They’ve slowed down after a 30-17 start, but they’ve shown that they’re a playoff-caliber group, and that they can make noise in a tough Western Conference.
It’s fitting that as Jack has improved, so has the team. You can’t credit him with everything they’ve done, but his leadership as a reserve has helped a group of prospects succeed throughout the season.
Jack might not be the favorite behind players such as Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith, but he’s been a source of inspiration, as his confidence and closing abilities are welcomed assets off Golden State’s bench.
Rookie of the Year: Andre Drummond
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Entering the 2012-13 season, the general consensus was that Andre Drummond was a work in progress, and that it could be years before he had any true impact at the NBA level.
Needless to say, Drummond has begun to prove his worth with the Detroit Pistons, and he’s a legitimate candidate for the 2013 Rookie of the Year award.
The reason Drummond won’t win the award is because of his minutes. The Pistons are using him sparingly so he can continue to mature, but the time he’s seen has given fans reason to be optimistic about the future.
We all knew coming in that the 19-year-old had the athleticism to succeed, but the question was how quickly he’d learn his role and stay disciplined on the offensive end. Throughout his first season, he’s been willing to stay on the block, and he’s avoided the mid-range jumper that plagued him in college.
MVP: Carmelo Anthony
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Carmelo Anthony’s talent has never been in question. He’s one of the best small forwards in the NBA, and he has the ability to score as well as anybody in the Association.
What has been in question, though, was his effort on both ends of the floor, and that’s something he’s addressed in his 10th year.
Despite playing the 3-spot his entire career, Anthony has made a move to the post and has thrived against smaller competition. His efficiency has improved all over the floor, and he’s near the top of the league when it comes to points per game.
Defensively, Anthony began the season looking like a new player. He was showing an effort that had been lacking in years past, and his ability to make others better was a new feature that was well received in New York City.
Will Anthony win the MVP award? Not likely with LeBron James and the Miami Heat rolling in the Eastern Conference. But if you thought that Anthony would have a career year on one of the best teams out East, you were in the minority entering the 2012-13 season.