Early Awards for NBA Postseason's Finest Ballers and Coaches

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 9, 2013

Early Awards for NBA Postseason's Finest Ballers and Coaches

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    The 2013 NBA playoffs aren't yet half done, but we've definitely seen enough to hand out a few early postseason awards, haven't we?

    I mean, how many more takeover performances do we need to see from Kevin Durant to know that he's keeping his team alive all by himself? And haven't we watched Tom Thibodeau turn lead into gold often enough to proclaim him the best coach of this postseason?

    There's plenty of room to debate both the timing and the merits of these awards, but one thing's beyond doubt: Players like Stephen Curry, Roy Hibbert and Metta World Peace (I'll explain later) are deserving of some recognition for their playoff work.

    Unlike the real MVP award, there's only one voter involved in this process. So each of these honors will be unanimous, which will be a nice change, don't you think?

     

    *All stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

Most Improved of the Postseason

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    Winner: Klay Thompson

    There might be some bias creeping in here, but Thompson's worthiness for this award (which honors the player who made the biggest leap in performance from the regular season to the playoffs) isn't just about his career-high 34 points against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

    It's also about the way he's transformed himself from a player who'd sulk and forget about the defensive end when his shot wasn't falling to a guy who absolutely brings it on D no matter how he's playing on the other end.

    The Warriors have been throwing Thompson at the opposing team's best perimeter player, whether it's been Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets or Tony Parker of the Spurs, and the second-year guard has met the challenge.

    During the regular season, Golden State's defensive efficiency was 103.5 when Thompson was on the floor. During the playoffs, that figure has improved to 99.3—good enough to have ranked fifth in the league.

    His overall attitude has undergone a marked change as well.

    Where before, Thompson was often content to let Stephen Curry and David Lee shoulder the scoring load, he's now looking for his own shots and playing with an aggression that simply didn't exist even a few weeks ago.

    As defenses continue to focus their energy on Curry, don't be surprised if the suddenly locked-in Thompson goes for a couple more 30-point games.

    Thompson shot 42 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range during the year, but he's upped those rates to 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc.

    Those numbers matter, but the biggest argument in favor of Thompson winning this award has to do with his transformation into a complete player.

     

    Runner-Up: Jeff Green

    Green's Boston Celtics are no longer participating in the 2013 postseason, but their absence has nothing to do with the way he played in the first round.

    After putting up 12.8 points per game and hitting just 38 percent of his three-point attempts, Green bumped his averages up to 20.3 points per game and 45 percent shooting from long distance.

    Sure, his minutes spiked, but his willingness to carry Boston's offense for long stretches when Paul Pierce couldn't get his game going—which was, incidentally, almost the entire series—helped keep the Celtics alive.

    Four more free-throw attempts per game, an extra couple of rebounds and a highlight dunk every couple of quarters was almost enough to earn Green this award, even though his team was eliminated.

    Not bad for a guy many viewed as Boston's fourth or fifth option during the season.

Sixth Man of the Postseason

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    Winner: Nate Robinson

    It's probably not a great sign that we're only on the second award and the detail fudging has already begun.

    See, Robinson has only come off the bench four times during the playoffs, but because he has to be acknowledged somewhere for his incredible scoring outbursts in Game 4 of the Chicago Bulls' first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets (34 points) and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat (27 points), he's getting shoehorned into this spot.

    When Kirk Hinrich eventually recovers enough from his bad calf and rejoins the rotation, Robinson will head back to the bench. So technically, he still qualifies as as sixth man for awards purposes.

    With 17.4 points per game on nearly 49 percent shooting and more late-game heroics than you can shake a stick at, Robinson has been one of biggest reasons that this postseason has been so memorable.

    He'll need to come up with a few more big performances for his Bulls to put up a fight against the Heat, but for now, he's got a firm grip on the award for the best bench player in the 2013 postseason.

     

    Runner-Up: Ray Allen

    Allen has averaged a tidy 16 points per game on 44 percent shooting from long range, and while the Heat hardly needed him in their four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, it appears that they'll definitely need some point production from the aging sniper in Round 2.

    The Bulls are loathe to give up corner threes, so it's somewhat impressive that Allen has been able to continue getting good looks from his favorite spots.

    If Robinson remains a fixture in the Bulls' starting unit even after Hinrich returns, this award could ultimately be belong to Allen.

Rookie of the Postseason

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    Winner: Harrison Barnes

    This one's not even close, folks.

    Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes' postseason per-game averages of 15.1 points, six rebounds and 38.1 minutes have been better than those of every other first-year player this postseason.

    In fact, now that Patrick Beverley's Houston Rockets have been eliminated, the only actual competition for this award going forward will probably come from Barnes' Warriors teammate, Draymond Green.

    Throughout the regular season, Barnes showed terrific poise and a willingness to take big shots. So it shouldn't be all that surprising that his first playoff run has included improvements in his shooting percentages from the field and from beyond the arc.

    Pressure doesn't bother the unflappable Barnes.

    Even better, despite playing nearly 13 minutes per game more than he did during the regular season, Barnes has actually cut his turnover rate down.

    In the short-term, Barnes' size and athleticism give the Warriors a huge advantage whenever the Spurs try to hide Parker on him in an effort to throw a rangier defender at Curry.

    But the No. 7 pick in last year's draft is only scratching the surface of his potential. Over the long haul, there's almost no telling how much the rookie could improve.

     

    Runner-Up: Patrick Beverley

    Even though his team was eliminated by the Thunder, Beverley showed enough to warrant mention here. With postseason averages of 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists, Beverley proved that he probably deserved to have gotten a few more regular-season minutes over normal starter Jeremy Lin.

Coach of the Postseason

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    Winner: Tom Thibodeau

    The fact that the Bulls won a playoff series—albeit one against a predictably unimpressive Nets team—without Derrick Rose is almost enough to earn Tom Thibodeau the distinction of being the best coach of these playoffs.

    But the Bulls aren't just missing Rose; they're also playing with a roster that has been a top-to-bottom medical disaster.

    Joakim Noah seems to have somehow willed himself past his plantar fasciitis, but Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich have both missed significant time with injuries, and a flu bug nearly wiped out half the roster in Round 1.

    Through it all, Thibodeau's regimented defense and "we have enough to win" mantra helped propel the Bulls through seven first-round games that would have killed a less unified team. And then Chicago managed to summon enough energy to steal Game 1 from the Heat.

    The kind of resolve and grit these Bulls have shown all season has to come from somewhere, and it appears that the source is their coach.

    With an airtight defensive strategy that turns opponents' every offensive possession into a war and the ability to motivate a dog-tired squad, Thibodeau is the easy choice for Postseason Coach of the Year.

    And for what it's worth, he probably should have won the award for the regular season, too.

     

    Runner-Up: Vinny Del Negro

    Just kidding! He's totally getting fired. Glad you're still paying attention, though.

    Even though there's really no definitive runner-up here (Mark Jackson, Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel all deserve consideration), I'll give the second-place nod to Gregg Popovich, who has spent a career never getting the credit he deserves.

    He's got his hands full with Golden State, but Pop warrants recognition for the way he used the first-round series against the Lakers to road test a few small lineups and unusual rotations, knowing he didn't need to take Los Angeles seriously.

    Plus, nobody has given drier in-game interviews than he has, and that's got to count for something.

Defensive Player of the Postseason

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    Winner: Roy Hibbert

    Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert has some vulnerabilities on defense. He isn't particularly fleet of foot when forced to cover the pick-and-roll at the top of the key, and he might like contact just a little too much on the inside.

    But when the Pacers funnel everything toward their hulking paint-protector, man...is he fun to watch.

    The New York Knicks learned all about how Hibbert could dominate a contest on defense in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, as the 7'2" center piled up five blocks, changed countless shots and particularly frustrated Carmelo Anthony by turning away drive after drive. It was a truly remarkable defensive performance.

    Hibbert has been doing that (or something close to it) all year, though.

    As the lynchpin to Indiana's precision defensive scheme, he's been charged with erasing shots in the lane whenever the Pacers' perimeter defenders run shooters off the three-point line. Frank Vogel's defense is designed to direct everything toward Hibbert, who, in turn, forces penetrators to opt for tough floaters when they see him looming beneath the rim.

    There are centers with more complete defensive skill sets—like Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah—but no other stopper has dominated the playoffs like Hibbert has.

     

    Runners-Up: Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Paul George

    There are plenty of players who deserve mention here, but these three stand out. Noah and Gasol anchor their respective teams' excellent defenses, and George is rapidly turning into the game's most versatile perimeter defender this side of LeBron James.

Postseason MVP

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    Winner: Kevin Durant

    This was a tough one.

    LeBron James is certainly deserving of the honor, and with his Heat likely to last longer in the postseason than Durant's Thunder, he may eventually secure the MVP nod here. LBJ's 59 percent shooting doesn't hurt, either.

    Plus, Steph Curry has been a revelation and Chris Paul just finished averaging 22.8 points and 6.3 assists on 53 percent shooting. So there are some options here.

    But Durant has had a monstrous amount of responsibility foisted upon him since losing teammate Russell Westbrook to a knee injury.

    See, the Thunder don't really run plays, and Westbrook's presence in the lineup constituted the only thing approximating "offensive diversity" in OKC's attack. Granted, that diversity was limited to either Durant or Westbrook working in isolation or on handoffs to one another, but however you look at it, Oklahoma City's offensive playbook is now essentially a post-it note that reads as follows:

    1. Give ball to KD.

    2. Get out of way.

    3. Hope nobody figures out that all we have are items one and two.

    I like to imagine those steps are written in crayon by Scott Brooks.

    Anyway, KD is basically in charge of everything the Thunder do on offense now, and despite that pressure, he's been averaging 33.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists on 49 percent shooting.

    Oh, and he's done all that while playing a team-high 42.8 minutes per contest during this postseason.

    So far, Durant has been the very best player of these playoffs.

     

    Runners-Up: James, Curry and Paul, in that order.

B/R Exclusive Awards

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    Iron Man: Jimmy Butler

    Butler hasn't averaged the most minutes during the playoffs (that honor goes to Jeff Green, who logged 43 per contest in Round 1), but he put together the longest uninterrupted run of on-court time. Between Game 5 against the Nets and Game 2 against the Heat, Butler didn't rest, accumulating over 160 consecutive minutes on the floor.

    I'm tired just thinking about that.

     

    Baddest Dude Around: Andrew Bogut

    Now that the series is over between the Warriors and Nuggets, even Mark Jackson can admit that Golden State was every bit as dirty as Denver was, right?

    Bogut was the Dubs' chief enforcer in that six-game set, setting bone-jarring picks and even going the slightly less subtle route by shoving Kenneth Faried out of bounds in a decidedly non-basketball play.

    Hey, it's the playoffs; sometimes you've got to do some face shoving.

    Bogut also crammed home a vicious dunk on JaVale McGee, paying the Nuggets center back for an earlier slam and generating one of the postseason's most violent highlights.

    Yeah, Bogut's a pretty tough dude.

     

    Twitter MVP: Metta World Peace, in a landslide.

    Just a few of his gems:

    Curry gets the #Twinhearts co sign I think Steve Curry is Top 10 in the NBA. If he works on his defense , he will be MVP next year.

    — Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) May 9, 2013

    Who's Steve?

    I was at the movie premiere. #Peeples Tyler Perry did it again.Funny , feel goodmovie....

    — Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) May 9, 2013

    Did what, exactly? Set writing back another 50 years?

    DEREK FISHER IS NOT DONE. GO GRAB A SNICKER. HE WILL BE HERE ALL NIGHT

    — Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) May 8, 2013

    I don't understand.

    Honestly, there are probably 50 more tweets that were at least this good over the past few weeks. Never, ever stop tweeting, MWP.

     

    The "Don't Blink" Award: Stephen Curry

    He didn't win any other honors here, and that just felt wrong. So Curry wins the totally fictitious "Don't Blink" Award because of his uniquely explosive game.

    His credentials include a pair of 22-point quarters, the most made three-point shots of the postseason (11 more than his teammate, Thompson, who's in second place) and some of the nastiest off-the-dribble jumpers you'll ever see.

    Curry has been the most exciting player to watch this postseason, so in order to properly take in all of his "Did you see that?" brilliance, it'd probably be a good idea to just tape your eyelids open.

     

    The Friendship Award: Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin

    Based on all of the hugging, piggyback rides and playful wrestling between these two guys in the first-round series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, Griffin and Randolph are clearly great pals.

    They couldn't go more than a few seconds without embracing.

    It's nice to see that amid the hot tempers and frayed nerves of the playoffs, these two managed not to let competition get between their mutual affection.

    That sound you just heard was your sarcasm meter exploding.