The results are still trickling in, but the final appraisal is already complete.
As the 2012-13 regular season comes to an end, it's time to announce a winner for every major NBA award.
The races for a pair of individual honors wrapped up soon after the All-Star break, but others' awards came down to this final week, including some new names that have emerged into final leading position.
As the league continues positioning for the postseason, the major NBA awards odds are set.
Winner: George Karl (40 percent chance)
There is no coach this season that has revealed more character and ability to steer talent than Karl.
Karl has guided the Denver Nuggets to a No. 3 finish in the Western Conference despite the absence of a clear superstar.
Karl has an eclectic collection of talent in Denver, but when teams reveal such strength in depth, it's often a credit to the coach's ability to flow bench players into his game strategy.
Despite recent injuries to Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets continue to win.
When a guy who hasn't played much, like Denver's Evan Fournier, is able to come in and succeed, it's a sharp sign that the coaching staff has done a good job readying guys through practice.
Since being one game under .500 (11-12) through the first quarter of the season, the Nuggets have gone 43-12.
All this is a credit to Karl.
Runners-up: Erik Spoelstra (15 percent), Gregg Popovich (15 percent), Mike Woodson (15 percent)
An argument can be made for both Spoelstra and Popovich to earn Coach of the Year honors.
Say what you will about the overloaded talent, but Spoelstra has done a magnificent job leading the Miami Heat. There are plenty of examples of superteam talent—the Los Angeles Lakers being one—that haven't found a formula to win.
The Heat's winning blueprint didn't produce right away. But they have clearly become a dominant team over the past two seasons, and credit must be given to the guy leading from the sideline.
Miami has the best record in the league as defending champions, in a season highlighted by a 27-game winning streak that ranks second of all time. That's a testament to Coach Spo's placement here.
Popovich is another credit to winning. Last year's Coach of the Year is continuing to run a similarly successful campaign this season, despite injuries to key talent throughout the season.
The Spurs may not finish with the Western Conference's best record, but it's based more on a resting and readying heading into the playoffs than it is coaching. Because of that preparation, San Antonio could make another run deep into the postseason and add to Popovich's ring collection.
Woodson, meanwhile, has been an interesting case with the Knicks. He's been knocked this season as much as he's been celebrated.
New York's strong finish puts him in the discussion. The Knicks started the season 18-5, only to play below .500 (20-21) from Dec. 17 to March 17. From there, they won 13 consecutive games.
The surprise: Mark Jackson (10 percent)
The Golden State Warriors recently earned just their second postseason entry in 19 seasons under Jackson's leadership.
Jackson has initiated an emboldened culture shift in Golden State.
The former star guard (third all-time in assists) is also a preacher. The Warriors—still a young team that, for most of the season, started two rookies, a second-year player and the fourth-year Stephen Curry—respond to their well-liked coach.
Jackson, to the point of cliche, speaks of his squad as a "no-excuses basketball team," a refreshing voice in what has been known as the land of excuses. Rather than letting injuries or other letdowns become a voice for losing, Jackson's hyperbolic statements have actually spurred change toward winning goals.
The Warriors have won 45 games with three left to play. No one expected that.
The field: Scott Brooks, Frank Vogel, Tom Thibodeau, Lionel Hollins, P.J. Carlesimo (5 percent)
Three names stand out for this year's Sixth Man of the Year honors: Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack and J.R. Smith.
It's a tough call; they each represent different styles.
Crawford is a pure, efficient scorer, whereas Smith is less so but adds value as a rebounder. Jack is more of an all-around guard who contributes both in scoring and as a passer.
Here's the guide we'll use—some key numbers, according to the Hollinger advanced stats, that lay it out:
|Player||Points||True Shooting %||Assists Ratio||Rebound Rate||Player Efficiency Rating|
|Jamal Crawford||16.7||55.8||12.7 ||4.3 ||16.83
|Jarrett Jack||13.0||54.3||28.1||5.6 ||15.87|
|J.R. Smith||17.8||51.9 ||12.7 ||9.1 ||17.21
A quick breakdown of these Hollinger stats (full glossary here):
- True shooting percentage: Calculates free throws and three-pointers in addition to two-point field goals.
- Assists ratio: "Percentage of player's possessions that end in an assist."
- Rebound rate: "Percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds."
- Player efficiency rating: Hollinger's per-minute statistical analysis of a player's performance. The league average is 15.00.
With a quick digestion of those figures, here's the breakdown of the award, working backward:
Second runner-up: Jack (30 percent chance)
Jack doesn't have the scoring totals of Crawford or Smith, but his 5.5 assists per game represent what he brings as a floor leader off the bench for the Warriors.
He's a locker room leader and a veteran presence. All of that might sound cliche, but he's been an incredible value in the growth of Stephen Curry. When the ball is in his hands, it also allows Curry to move freely in perhaps a more natural off-guard role.
Jack has had plenty of fourth-quarter moments, and he is able to defend bigger guards, which allows Curry to stick in front of opposing point guards. This works well for the Warriors late in games.
First runner-up: Crawford (34 percent)
The Los Angeles Clippers won the Pacific Division title and will settle into the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference because Crawford was a consistent spark of scoring from the bench.
Crawford has played in 72 games off the bench, and he's shooting 44 percent—47.1 percent since the All-Star break—as the Clippers' third leading scorer. Crawford (16.7 points per game) just trails Blake Griffin (18.2) and Chris Paul (17.0).
What Crawford lacks and what keeps him from this year's honor is that his game has been mostly one-dimensional.
His role is what it is: to be a scorer for the team during stretches of offensive lulls. But he is not going to provide much defensively, and he's a final destination on the offense, not a method of moving the ball.
The winner: J.R. Smith (36 percent)
While it's by a slim margin, Smith deserves the award this season.
The New York Knicks' recent surge was unforeseen, and Smith's bench performance during the recent 13-game winning streak was just as much of a surprise.
While Carmelo Anthony has lived in the spotlight of 33 points per game during the streak, the other virtue of the past 13 games has been Smith's 23.2 points per game off the bench at 49 percent shooting. He's also added 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists during that time.
Smith is a volume shooter, and his numbers have been erratic, but he has become an attacker more than a settler, and it's helping his shot selection of late. While Smith, like Crawford, is a weak defender, the Knicks' sixth man does contribute as an underrated rebounder.
The winner: James Harden (35 percent chance)
Harden has made the greatest jump of any player this season: from last season's Sixth Man of the Year to this season's newest superstar.
The Houston Rockets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, thanks to the highly developed scoring of Harden.
Simply "becoming" a superstar is more than delivering a new set of keys. Increased roles in minutes, shot attempts and defensive scheming brings pressure, but Harden has made it look easy.
The numbers are staggering:
Harden's true shooting percentage dropped from 66.0 last season to 60.6 this season, a reflection of increased shot attempts and pressure to take less-open looks. His turnovers are also up from 2.2 per game last season to 3.7 this season, an effect of handling the ball more now than at any point in his career.
Ultimately, though, Harden has moved from bench player to superstar, and the 24-year-old is handling the transition beautifully enough to earn Most Improved Player honors.
The surprise: Stephen Curry (25 percent)
Both Curry and Jrue Holiday have become the most valuable pieces to their respective teams.
Curry has grown into a superstar as the game's best three-point shooter. The Warriors are now a playoff team for the first time in his young career and just the second time in 19 years.
The 25-year-old fourth-year guard has becoming the league's No. 7 leading scorer. He's underrated as a passer too, and he averages 6.9 assists per game.
As a defender, Curry still struggles, though he does a better job within team defense and is active in effort.
The surprise: Jrue Holiday (20 percent)
Unlike Curry, Holiday was named an All-Star for the first time this season. Check out his improvement:
|2011-12||33.8||13.5 ||4.5 ||3.3 ||1.6
|2012-13||38.1||17.9 ||8.3 ||4.3 ||1.6|
While Holiday performed tremendously prior to the All-Star break, averaging 19 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 8.9 assists, his numbers have dropped in the 27 games after the break; he's down to 39 percent shooting for 16.1 points and 7.1 assists per game.
I think (among healthy guys) Jrue Holiday wins the "First-Half All-Star Who Wouldn't Be A Full-Season All-Star" award.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 10, 2013
Still, Holiday's numbers for the season have given the Philadelphia 76ers something to be positive about in a mostly lost season.
The field (20 percent): Paul George, Greivis Vasquez, Nikola Vucevic, Omer Asik
Winner: Andre Iguodala (25 percent)
There's no telling how many NBA fans are aware of this, but teams send out little tokens, or reminders, to voting writers as a form of propaganda to gain votes for their guys.
According to a story from the discerning Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post, the Milwaukee Bucks are working for Larry Sanders votes:
See, the Bucks made wooden children's blocks that spell out LARRY SANDERS on one side and DEFENSIVE POY on another. Adorable.
NBA teams like to send out these cutesy things to get award voters to consider their candidates. Nice gesture, but I believe the Nuggets' Andre Iguodala is the league's defensive player of the year — based on statistics, advanced statistics and the old-fashioned eye test.
Give credit to Hochman for steering clear of the trap. He also introduces the favorite, Iguodala. Just as the league's MVP isn't about points, defense isn't all about steals and blocks.
Andre Iguodala's defense, man. Andre Iguodala's defense.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 7, 2013
Another great read on Iguodala's defense comes from Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
The Nuggets are successful for a reason, though nothing jumps off the headlines like it does for other superstar-led squads. As a perimeter defender, Iguodala is long and has an awareness that rewards the Nuggets' team defense.
Andre Iguodala is so much fun to watch on defense. Dude covers so much ground and knows where to be— SBNation NBA (@SBNationNBA) March 20, 2013
Runners-up: Joakim Noah (20 percent), Paul George (10 percent), Roy Hibbert (10 percent), Tim Duncan (10 percent)
The admiration for Joakim Noah as an elite defender will continue despite the injury that's kept him out. Noah is a feisty defender who is quick and talented enough to protect the entire lane and baselines while still getting out toward the perimeter.
Noah makes everyone look good, including Carlos Boozer and his poor post defense.
Like the Most Valuable Player award, the best defender is likely found on the best defensive team. For that, both Hibbert and George deserve credit.
.@pacers' defense has been especially stingy since Feb.1, boasting a 93.7 DefRtg - league-best by a healthy margin (OKC, 97.6)— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 30, 2013
The highest-rated defensive team is the Indiana Pacers with a 96.1 defensive efficiency, and both George and Hibbert are part of that formula.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan has anchored the interior of the San Antonio Spurs' resurgent defense, which ranks third in the league. The 36-year-old is posting some of the best per-minute defensive numbers in his career, which is saying something for a career that's stifled so many shots.
His ability to make a defensive impact while remaining under control is impressive. Duncan averaged just 2.7 personal fouls per 48 minutes, a ridiculous figure for a big man looking to disrupt shots. By contrast, elite shot-blockers like Hibbert and Larry Sanders average 5.8 and 5.9 fouls per 48 minutes.
The surprise: Larry Sanders (15 percent)
Though Hochman won't be voting for Sanders, that creative wooden block of him is going out for a reason.
Sanders is second in the league with 2.83 blocks per game, trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka (3.09). While it's come to be expected from Ibaka, it's Sanders who has now put himself in the mix of the league's great interior defenders.
The field: Avery Bradley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka (10 percent)
Winner: Damian Lillard (95 percent)
Damian Lillard's career trajectory has begun at a peak.
The 22-year-old guard continues to express his talent in the NBA.
It's hilarious when people say that Lillard was overlooked by the NBA. He wasn't. He was the No. 6 pick in the draft and the second guard taken behind No. 2 pick Bradley Beal.
Of course, this is more than what people expected out of the 6'3" guard who averaged 24.5 points on 46.7 percent shooting for the Big Sky Conference's Weber State Wildcats in his senior season. He's also proof that it's possible to be a success and stay in school for four years.
He has taken over Portland, as he has no problem taking the shot. Lillard went bucket for bucket with Kobe Bryant on Wednesday to finish with 38 points on 12-of-25 shooting.
Lillard's overall numbers have been impressive: 19.1 points and 6.5 assists per game as a rookie. But what's more impressive is his finish. Since the All-Star break, when the notion is that a rookie may begin to fade, Lillard has come on stronger.
In 25 games after the break, Lillard is shooting 45.1 percent and 41.4 percent from three-point range to score 20.8 points per game while adding 6.6 assists. He's carrying a heavy load of minutes and has played in every Trail Blazers game.
Here are Lillard's overall numbers compared to those of past Rookie of the Year guards (* indicates shortened season):
|Damian Lillard (2012-13)||78||38.6 ||19.1 ||42.9 ||6.5 ||3.1
|Kyrie Irving (2011-12)|| 51* ||30.5||18.5 ||46.9 ||5.4 ||3.7
|Tyreke Evans (2009-10)||72||37.2 ||20.1 ||45.8 ||5.8 ||5.3
|Derrick Rose (2008-09)||81||37.0 ||16.8 ||47.5 ||6.3 ||3.9
Runner-up: Anthony Davis (three percent)
The learning curve for Anthony Davis is much more difficult than it is for Lillard. Davis is trying to navigate the post game while still growing into his frame, a much more difficult task than learning the guard position at 22 years old.
It could very well end up a Reggie Bush versus Mario Williams situation.
Davis will miss the remainder of the regular season with an MCL sprain.
Anthony Davis has a sprained MCL and bone bruise in left knee. Exams revealed no further structural damage, but he will miss rest of season— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) April 11, 2013
The news could have been worse, as any type of significant tear or structural damage would have ruined the hopes of offseason development and perhaps even kept him out into deep next season.
Still, Davis had a successful rookie season, as he averaged 13.5 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting along with 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals.
Not-so-much surprises: Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal (two percent)
After missing 10 games with a knee injury, Dion Waiters returned Wednesday off the bench for 15 minutes and 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Waiters found a role early through the injuries of Kyrie Irving and averaged 14.7 points and 3.0 assists per game. He shot 31.3 percent from three-point range on the year.
As for Beal, who was drafted as a deep shooter, he started slow, and at three-point range, he shot just 32 percent in November and 18 percent in December.
But he found a rhythm later in the season with a 45.5 three-point percentage after the All-Star break before his season ended due to a stress injury in his right fibula.
Randy Wittman said Bradley Beal had a "solid" rookie year: "He’s got achance to really become a formidable player in this league” #wizards— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 4, 2013
Winner: LeBron James (98 percent)
We already know the crown fits as this league's suddenly default Most Valuable Player, but as James wins the award for the fourth time, it's time to ask a new question:
Where is James on the list of all-time greats? We can save that debate for later, but his season, courtesy of some Hollinger stats, speaks for itself:
- He's the best player on the best team. As defending champion, he led his team to the best record in the NBA.
- He led his team to a 27-game win streak, the second-longest streak in the game's history.
- James is averaging 26.9 points, 7.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game.
- His true shooting percentage, a calculation of his field-goal percentage from two- and three-point range, was 63.8 percent, the highest of his career.
- His assist ratio, the percentage of his possessions that end with an assist, was 23.1, the second-highest of his career.
- He even rebounded better than he has his entire career. His rebound rate of 13.1, the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds, was higher than it's been in his entire career.
- James's player efficiency rating of 31.69 was the highest in the league.
Any questions? James is concluding one of the most dominating seasons of the contemporary era. This postseason should be a representation of that.
Runners-up: Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (1.5 percent)
Durant, still just 24 years old, continues to perform under the glare of James' brilliance. It's still not even close.
Durant is a scorer, and he may never offer the versatility of game-changing play that James does.
But, Durant still accomplished a monster season. Durant is actually putting up a higher true shooting percentage, at 64.4, than James. What James has been in the Eastern Conference, Durant is mirroring it in the West and could end up with his Oklahoma City Thunder in the No. 1 spot.
But Durant, even at 28.3 points per game, may no longer be considered the league's best scorer—at least for this season.
Anthony is currently the league's top scorer, threatening Durant's scoring title with an average of 28.7 points per game. Of course, he is doing so at a much less efficient true shooting percentage of 56.3.
Still, Anthony's dominance as a scorer has propelled the Knicks back into relevance, at least in the East, and it's setting up a potential postseason showdown between the Knicks and Heat.
The surprise: Kobe Bryant (0.4 percent)
The Los Angeles Lakers are barely clinging to the postseason, but it's all thanks to the efforts of Bryant. At 34 years, Bryant is scoring 27.3 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 57.0.
His devastating mid-range game continues, but he still attacks the lane, and he's hitting 46.3 percent from three-point range. He's also averaging 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 38.5 minutes per game.
The field: Chris Paul, James Harden (0.1 percent)