LeBron James is the clear favorite for MVP, but who else will take home some NBA hardware?
The 2012-13 NBA regular season is in the books, but before moving forward and trying to figure out who stands the best chance of dethroning LeBron James and the Miami Heat, let's take a look at the past, then appreciate it and try to figure out who performed at the highest level.
There are six major NBA awards—we don't include Executive of the Year here, although that's certainly an important one—and this article will reveal Bleacher Report's official pick for each one, as determined by the 48 NBA writers and editors you can see listed below.
We'll look at MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player.
You can see our votes here, but whose name would you submit for each award on your ballot?
Voters: Haddon Anderson, Ross Bentley, Simon Cherin-Gordon, Ryan Clutter, Jamal Collier, Kenny DeJohn, John Dorn, Stephen Fenech, Tom Firme, Ricky Frech, Oren Friedman, Adam Fromal, Jeff Glauser, Ciaran Gowan, Justin Hussong, Garrett Jochnau, Nick Juskewycz, Ehran Khan, Andrew Kipp, Ben Leibowitz, Dave Leonardis, Andy Liu, Josh Martin, Andres Montero, Jonathan Munshaw, Alec Nathan, Ethan Norof, Daniel O'Brien, Maxwell Ogden, James Pearson, Michael Pina, Sloan Piva, J.M. Poulard, Sam Richmond, Grant Rindner, Jordan Rodewald, Jakub Rudnik, Kelly Scaletta, Matthew Schmidt, Tom Schreier, Ernest Shepard, Jimmy Spencer, Greg Swartz, Bryan Toporek, Chris Trenchard, Mike Walsh, Jonathan Wasserman, Marshall Zweig
As stated on the previous slide, six awards will be handed out in this article: MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player.
Of those six, five are voted for in the same manner, with the MVP serving as the lone exception.
For those five, voters submit ballots with three names on them. A first-place vote receives five votes, a second-place vote gets three and a third-place vote earns just one. Once all the ballots are filled out, the points are totaled, and the player (or coach) with the highest total wins the award.
With 48 voters, 240 points is a score that indicates unanimity. Anything less means that there was a bit of disagreement among those voting.
On the MVP ballot, each voter picks his or her top five candidates, ranked from No. 1 to No. 5. They earn 10, seven, five, three and one points, respectively. Again, the points are summed up to determine the overall winner.
Since there are still 48 voters but a first-place vote is now worth 10 points, a perfect score would be 480.
Most Improved Player is always a difficult award to hand out. Should you give it to the player who made the biggest per-minute improvement? What if a player maintained his level of play while spending significantly more time on the court?
No one knows the best answer, which makes it quite tough to pick a winner.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that MIP was the most closely contested award, with Jrue Holiday coming out on top by only four points. And it wasn't just one player he narrowly beat out, but rather two who tied for the No. 2 spot.
The Philadelphia 76ers point guard managed to play more and play at a higher level, although he already started at a pretty high one. Take a look at these per-36-minute numbers, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:
Trading Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets allowed Holiday to serve as more of a primary ball-handler, and it was a role he certainly relished. With a much heavier burden resting on his shoulders, Holiday performed admirably, although he wore down at the end of the season when his shot abandoned him.
Once the Sixers can provide more protection for Holiday in the lineup, he'll be able to play at an All-Star level for the entire 82-game stretch, not just the first half of the season.
Still, it's already quite clear that the Philly point guard elevated his level of play enough to be considered a player on the brink of elite status.
No. 2 (tie): Nikola Vucevic (76 points)
Nikola Vucevic is another player with ties to the Philadelphia 76ers, who traded him from the City of Brotherly Love to the Orlando Magic in the same deal that moved Andre Iguodala to the Mile High City.
He's thrived in the Magic's starting lineup, where he's quickly become one of the league's best rebounders. In fact, Vucevic trailed only Dwight Howard in rebounds per game and finished at No. 4 in total rebounding percentage, behind Reggie Evans, Omer Asik and J.J. Hickson.
Look out for this seven-footer as his offensive repertoire continues to expand.
No. 2 (tie): Paul George (76)
Before the start of the 2012-13 season, many people expected Paul George to break out for the Indiana Pacers. He certainly didn't let them down, making his first All-Star team and earning a Third-Team All-NBA nod in B/R's official voting.
According to NBA.com's stats, opponents outscored the Pacers by 2.1 points per 100 possessions without George during the regular season. With the dynamic swingman in the lineup, though, Indiana did the outscoring, this time by 7.2 points per 100 possessions.
Others Receiving Votes: James Harden (56), Larry Sanders (48), Greivis Vasquez (47), Stephen Curry (10), Omer Asik (10), Jimmy Butler (7), Chandler Parsons (5), John Wall (5), J.J. Hickson (4), Nate Robinson (3), J.J. Redick (2), Earl Clark (1), Tristan Thompson (1)
Below you can find the full voting results for Most Improved Player. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Player||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Total Points|
Joakim Noah is basically energy personified, bundled up and given a ponytail as a disguise.
The Chicago Bulls big man never stops moving, which allows him to cover ground on the perimeter and rotate properly down in the post. Whether protecting the rim for Tom Thibodeau's squad or attempting to corral a smaller player out near the three-point arc, Noah always makes a positive defensive impact.
Also particularly impressive is his ability to turn defense into offense. Noah does this in two primary ways.
First, he's good enough with the ball and possesses enough passing skill that he can grab a defensive rebound or steal the ball from the opposition and then lead the charge himself. Second, Noah is particularly adept at blocking shots into the hands of one of his teammates.
A blocked shot that leads to a change in possession is far more valuable than one that ends up in either the stands or the hands of the offensive team, and few players are better at what ESPN's Tom Haberstroh calls "block-steal percentage."
During the 2012-13 season, Noah helped the Bulls allow five fewer points per 100 possessions when he played, according to NBA.com's stats. That's not exactly a meager difference, especially since Thibodeau always has this team acting like a defensive machine.
No. 2: Marc Gasol (111 points)
Marc Gasol may not have the energy or exuberance of Joakim Noah—no one does—but if you're looking for how to play textbook big-man defense, just go watch some film of the Memphis Grizzlies center.
No NBA center rotates better than Gasol, who never seems to be out of position on the interior of the unit. His game may not be glamorous, but it's rock-solid from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
The seven-footer also shows little hesitation leaving his man to help out someone else in the Grizzlies' suffocating defense, but he still recovers in time to do top-notch man-to-man work. 82games.com attests to that by showing that centers only put up a 13.5 PER against him.
No. 3: Andre Iguodala (56)
While perimeter defenders don't have as much of an impact as interior ones, Andre Iguodala played such good defense out by the three-point arc that he earned quite a few votes.
Iggy held opposing shooting guards and small forwards to 12.7 and 12.1 PERs, respectively, according to 82games.com. That's not a bad mark regardless of matchup, and it's even more impressive when this swingman lines up against the other team's best wing player.
Others Receiving Votes: Tim Duncan (39), Roy Hibbert (19), Larry Sanders (17), Paul George (14), Omer Asik (9), Serge Ibaka (8), LeBron James (6), Kevin Garnett (5), Tony Allen (3), Mike Conley (1), Luol Deng (1), Anthony Davis (1)
Below you can find the full voting results for Defensive Player of the Year. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Player||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Total Points|
J.R. Smith can be a mercurial and frustrating player, but he's an ultimately productive one.
The shooting guard has been a solid scorer, although his efficiency leaves something to be desired, and he's taken massive strides on the defensive end of the court.
When the sixth man sits, the New York Knicks allow 105.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stats. However, when No. 8 plays, the number drops to 102.4.
Smith has also had a positive impact on the Knicks' rebounding abilities, particularly because of his knack for attacking the offensive glass.
There have been plenty of solid Sixth Man of the Year candidates during the 2012-13 season, but Smith's multifaceted contributions have pushed him ahead of the pack. Between his defense and 18.1 points per game, he's been quite valuable to the Knicks' cause.
No. 2: Jarrett Jack (120 points)
Although Jarrett Jack has declined as the season has progressed, he's still been a solid contributor off the bench for the Golden State Warriors.
After averaging 13.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 47.2 percent shooting before the All-Star break, Jack put up 12.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists per contest on 42.2 percent shooting. Even during that less impressive second half, his value was quite clear.
Mark Jackson took full advantage of having a solid veteran come off the bench and used him quite a bit in crunch-time situations.
No. 3: Jamal Crawford (85)
Jamal Crawford may have lost a tiny bit of his explosiveness, but his handles still allow him to absolutely dominate on offense whenever he has the ball in his hands. Between the threat of his jumper and his ability to get to the rim, Crawford is undoubtedly a great offensive player.
The Los Angeles Clippers have used Crawford to create a potent bench mob, one capable of keeping up with the starters' offensive production.
Perhaps the biggest reason that he only came in at No. 3 is the fact that Vinny Del Negro almost always needs to hide him defensively.
Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Anderson (9), Jeff Green (4), Nate Robinson (4), Kevin Martin (3), Taj Gibson (1)
Below you can find the full voting results for Sixth Man of the Year. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Player||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Points|
Is there any doubt about this one?
Damian Lillard has been the Rookie of the Year favorite ever since he showed the world just how potent his offense was during the opening month of the season. He hasn't declined much as the season has progressed, but rather shown off some even more impressive skills.
The Weber State product doesn't play much defense—he's entirely too uncomfortable navigating pick-and-rolls—but his offense is just ridiculously advanced for a first-year point guard.
Lillard has shown off some nerves of steel throughout the 2012-13 season, going toe-to-toe with legends like Kobe Bryant and drilling more than his fair share of jumpers down the stretch.
On a per-minute basis, you could make an argument that Lillard hasn't been quite as impressive as Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond, simply because his defense detracts from his offensive value. However, he isn't that far behind, if at all.
The big difference is that the Portland Trail Blazers floor general has played a lot more than either of the other two aforementioned rookies, and there's something to be said for staying on the court.
Davis and Drummond combined for 3,089 minutes during their rookie years. By himself, Lillard logged a league-leading 3,166 minutes.
No. 2: Anthony Davis (130 points)
When he's been able to stay on the court, Anthony Davis has been fantastic for the New Orleans Hornets.
Although the Unibrow has struggled to adapt to the steep learning curve associated with defending NBA-caliber big men, he's improved throughout his first season for the soon-to-be Pelicans. According to 82games.com, Davis held power forwards to a 19.7 PER, and that's a mark he'll almost certainly top as a sophomore.
Meanwhile, Davis' offense was well ahead of its expected level. He showed off a nice arsenal of moves and continued to improve on that end of the court as well.
No. 3: Andre Drummond (30)
Remember when analysts thought of Andre Drummond as a raw prospect who was more of a project player than a guy capable of contributing right away?
Free-throw shooting aside, the Detroit Pistons big man more than held his own before a back injury knocked him out for a significant stretch of his rookie season. He was a terrific rim-protector, a good finisher around the basket and a great rebounder.
The future looks promising for Drummond, and it all started with a rookie season that drastically exceeded expectations.
Others Receiving Votes: Bradley Beal (19), Dion Waiters (9), Harrison Barnes (4)
Below you can find the full voting results for Rookie of the Year. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Player||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Total Points|
George Karl was dealt a hand that didn't include a single superstar, and he still managed to coach the Denver Nuggets to the No. 3 seed in the brutally tough Western Conference.
It's not like the Nuggets were a weak third seed either; Denver finished the regular season three games shy of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the race for the conference's best record.
The holder of the clipboard managed to utilize Andre Miller effectively off the bench, control JaVale McGee—as much as Pierre can be controlled—throughout the year and create a contender out of this Nuggets lineup. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari are all fantastic players deserving of All-Star consideration, but you'd be hard-pressed to pick a true go-to superstar out of that bunch.
Karl has done it by emphasizing shots around the basket. Denver isn't a jump-shooting team, but it's the league's best squad at attacking the rim.
The Nuggets took 3,407 shots at the rim, converting them at a 61.3 percent clip (per NBA.com). While the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs all made a higher percentage right around the tin, none of them attempted nearly as many shots at such a close proximity.
In fact, the Detroit Pistons took the second-most shots at the basket, and they still fell 519 shots shy of Karl's squad. To put that in perspective, there's a 528-shot gap between the Pistons and the Orlando Magic, who came in at No. 15 on the league leaderboard.
The NBA's schedule-makers also made it easier for Karl to be recognized as B/R's Coach of the Year selection.
Denver sat at just 17-15 after starting the year with 10 home games and 22 contests away from the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center. Karl didn't let that deter him, but rather kept faith that his team would slowly climb back up into the ranks of the elites.
Thanks to a league-best 38-3 record at home, that's exactly what the Nuggets did.
No. 2: Gregg Popovich (74 points)
In terms of sheer strategic excellence, Gregg Popovich is in a league of his own. You could argue that Tom Thibodeau is in the same category, but Pop still stands out.
While he's done a fantastic job coaching up the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich is also blessed with a lot of talent on the roster, and the 2012-13 season is basically an extension of his entire career. He didn't take a major step forward as a coach, and that could have created a bit of voter fatigue.
If this were a Best Coach in the NBA award, Pop would have my vote. The same could be said if we handed out a Most Likely to Terrify a Sideline Reporter distinction.
Alas, neither of those is what we're voting for here.
No. 3: Mike Woodson (61)
Mike Woodson has created an offensive machine in Madison Square Garden by placing an emphasis on turnovers.
No team is more turnover-averse than the New York Knicks, who pace the league by coughing it up on only 11.7 percent of their possessions. On the other end of the court, they force turnovers 14.8 percent of the time, leaving them trailing only three squads in the category.
Between that impressive combination, the three-point shooting monster he's built in the Big Apple, his seemingly painted-on goatee and the fact that he's turned J.R. Smith from an über-talented enigma into a productive player, Woodson deserves some love here.
Others Receiving Votes: Erik Spoelstra (60), Mark Jackson (55), Tom Thibodeau (27), Kevin McHale (21), Frank Vogel (7), Lionel Hollins (5), Scott Brooks (2), Larry Drew (1), Doc Rivers (1)
Below you can find the full voting results for Coach of the Year. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Coach||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Total Points|
Quite frankly, I'm surprised that LeBron James wasn't a unanimous selection as the NBA's MVP. He earned 46 first-place votes but came in at No. 2 on two ballots.
No matter how you define the award, James deserves to win it.
Some people view the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as a piece of hardware that should be handed out to the best player on the best team. If that's your definition, I don't think you'll have many qualms with LeBron appearing here.
Stellar as Dwyane Wade may be for the Miami Heat, who finished the regular season six games ahead of the other 29 teams in the Association, he clearly falls short of LeBron's greatness. That's not a knock on Wade, but rather a major compliment thrown in LeBron's direction.
The other definition is a more literal one: The MVP should be given to the player who provides the most value to his team. Usually that inspires the following argument:
"Player X should be the MVP because Team Y would be awful if he didn't play."
LeBron is no longer the runaway, unquestioned favorite by this definition, but let me pose a few questions for you.
Would the Miami Heat have won 66 games and finished six games ahead of the field without LeBron? Would they have even earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference?
Could the Heat have won 27 games in a row if James hadn't been in the lineup? After all, that was one of the most compelling storylines of the 2012-13 season, and undoubtedly among the most impressive.
The answers to all of those questions are negative.
According to NBA.com's stats, the Heat allowed 103.7 points and scored 102.1 per 100 possessions when LeBron sat out. Yes, the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed was actually outscored on a per-possession basis when LeBron wasn't in the lineup.
With him, Miami outscored opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions by scoring 113.4 and allowing 99.3.
How's that for valuable?
No. 2: Kevin Durant (314 points)
Although Kevin Durant didn't earn a single first-place vote, he still ran away with the No. 2 spot in the final standings.
Durant had a sensational season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, sparking the Western Conference's top regular-season team. He may not have led the NBA in scoring, but he played with remarkable efficiency, joining the exclusive 50/40/90 club and putting together a shooting campaign that only Larry Bird can truly touch.
The small forward also made noticeable strides in the other areas of his game, particularly his on-ball defense and facilitating.
No. 3: Carmelo Anthony (207)
Take Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks, and you'll be left with a pretty mediocre squad. While Mike Woodson's team played slightly better defense without Melo on the court, his offense was more than enough to make up the difference.
Anthony also spent a significant amount of time at power forward for the Knicks, banging up against bigger players in an effort to let more talent find its way onto the court in the form of wing players and guards.
Although he comes in at No. 3 in the MVP voting, Melo was the only player to steal first-place votes away from LeBron James. He snatched away two of them, but overall he tended to fall in either this spot or the one below on most ballots.
No. 4: Chris Paul (140)
Chris Paul was as high as No. 2 in the voting—finishing there on just a single ballot—but finds himself trailing LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
If you look to build the perfect point guard, CP3 would be an awfully good starting point. There aren't many areas of the game that give him trouble, and he's the league's best example of a floor general. We often refer to point guards as such, and you don't need to look further than Paul for an example of why.
The Los Angeles Clippers have a lot of talent, but it's Paul that brings it all together into a winning package.
No. 5: Kobe Bryant (48)
Usually it's hard to justify voting for a player whose team waited until the final day of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth. But since when has the word "usually" applied to Kobe Bryant?
Fighting through multiple injuries—both to himself and the talented teammates surrounding him in purple and gold jerseys—as well as a few role changes in the middle of the season, Kobe was terrific on offense throughout his campaign.
His defense wasn't exactly great, particularly when he didn't guard the man with the ball, but the offensive output still managed to trump the inefficiencies.
Others Receiving Votes: James Harden (28), Tim Duncan (22), Stephen Curry (9), Tony Parker (6)
Below you can find the full voting results for MVP. My personal votes are indicated by the bold numbers.
|Player||First Place||Second Place||Third Place||Fourth Place||Fifth Place||Total Points|