NBA Awards Odds 2013-14: Is Kevin Durant a Slam Dunk for MVP?
Kevin Durant or LeBron James for MVP?
That's been one of the leading questions throughout the 2013-14 NBA season, but the answer is becoming increasingly obvious as teams draw ever closer to their final games of the regular season. I won't provide you with the answer quite yet, though it shouldn't be too hard to guess.
That said, this article will cover far more than the intriguing MVP race. It's not like any of the other awards have clear answers.
Rookie of the Year is still up for grabs, though a certain point guard is beginning to run away with the top spot. Most Improved Player is an award that requires mentions of many players. It's such a subjective honor—it even has subjective criteria—that it's hard to come to a consensus before the end of the year.
Then there's Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, none of which have clear-cut favorites at this stage of the season. They're emerging, but it's not like the engravers are gearing up for work on the trophies just yet.
Let the arguments begin.
Rookie of the Year
Win: Michael Carter-Williams (1-2)
Place: Victor Oladipo (8-1)
Show: Tim Hardaway Jr. (9-1)
First off, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Trey Burke, who looks like a pretty competent point guard for a struggling Utah Jazz team. But with that out of the way, let's move on to the first of the trio who actually deserves to stand on our imaginary ROY podium.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been one of the biggest surprises from this lackluster class of first-year players. He just refuses to go away, and it's become increasingly difficult for Mike Woodson to keep his rook buried on the bench.
The swingman out of Michigan keeps lighting up the scoreboard, and he's in the midst of a three-game stretch that has seen him average 23.3 points per contest while shooting over 60 percent from the field in each outing.
Hardaway is attacking the basket with reckless abandon and connecting on his jumper with remarkable frequency, all while showing off heretofore unseen skills with the ball in his hand. It's too late for him to move all the way up to the top spot in the ROY race, but Victor Oladipo is now in danger.
The Orlando Magic combo guard has seen his spot in the rotation diminish in recent weeks, and he's been ineffective coming off the bench, as he's done during each of his past four outings. Over that stretch, Oladipo has averaged 13 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and his field-goal percentage of 48.8 percent is aided by a 5-of-6 performance against the Milwaukee Bucks.
There's still plenty of potential for the future of his athletic frame, but it hasn't manifested itself quite as often as it has in Michael Carter-Williams' lanky body.
Although the losses continue flowing in with remarkable frequency for the Philadelphia 76ers, it's hard to overlook MCW's numbers. Sure, he's been chasing some stats (most notably steals) at the expense of winning basketball games, but he's still outpaced every other first-year player in the Association.
I had Carter-Williams as the Rookie of the Year favorite in my last set of odds, and since then he's been even better. Bolstered by a triple-double against the New York Knicks, the Syracuse product has averaged 15 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and his field-goal percentage has finally crept above 40 percent.
The distance between him and the rest of the pack just keeps growing.
Most Improved Player
Win: Anthony Davis (4-1)
Place: Goran Dragic (5-1)
Show: Trevor Ariza (8-1)
Perhaps we've been portraying extraterrestrials in a poor light all these years. Instead of being short and green, maybe they just have unibrows and long arms.
After all, Anthony Davis' play has just been out of this world throughout the 2013-14 season.
During an overtime victory against the Boston Celtics, "The Brow" might have sealed his Most Improved Player award, even if there's a laundry list of other candidates that includes the featured players, Robin Lopez, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green and so many more.
Including a game-winning jumper that showcased his improved mid-range game and Monty Williams' confidence in him, Davis recorded 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists, a steal and three blocks.
Oh, and he needed only 22 shots to set that career-high mark.
"I think he can do this 10 to 15 times a year just because he is so gifted and does things for the right reason," Williams told the Associated Press via ESPN after his star player became the first in the NBA to post a 40/20 game this season. "Obviously, he has great athletic ability but some of that stuff is just him. We try to put him in a position where he can be a dominant player."
Davis has nearly doubled his offensive win shares total from his rookie season, and his player efficiency rating and win shares per 48 minutes have both skyrocketed, per Basketball-Reference.com:
Trevor Ariza and Goran Dragic have both gotten significantly better during the 2013-14 campaign, but neither can touch Davis' level of improvement.
Here's one more chart, this time showing the improvement in those two metrics from last season to this one:
|Player||PER difference||WS/48 difference|
Davis and Dragic are clearly ahead of the field, but let's not overlook the incredible season Ariza has enjoyed for the Washington Wizards. He's a huge reason the Wiz have become a bona fide playoff contender, and his defense can't easily be quantified.
But still, the focus remains on Davis here.
He's been that good.
Sixth Man of the Year
Win: Jamal Crawford (5-1)
Place: Reggie Jackson (7-1)
Show: Manu Ginobili (15-2)
During its winter forecast of the NBA awards, ESPN.com had Jamal Crawford at No. 3 in the Sixth Man of the Year race, trailing only Manu Ginobili and Reggie Jackson. Well, those are still the top three candidates, but the order has been switched up.
Since that forecast was published on Jan. 22, Crawford has excelled.
Even including his three-point outing against the Atlanta Hawks and 2-of-10 brick-fest against the Houston Rockets, Crawford is averaging 22.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game during that stretch. And he's shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 39.7 percent beyond the arc and 91.2 percent at the charity stripe.
Not too shabby, huh?
Crawford has kept doing what he's done throughout the season—scoring at a high level and keeping the Los Angeles Clippers offense afloat when some of the stars are going through mini slumps. That said, a calf injury has kept him out for a handful of games, and he needs to return to the lineup quickly if he hopes to hold down the top spot.
Even though Taj Gibson and Markieff Morris are making strong cases to stand on the Sixth Man of the Year podium, the remaining places still belong to Jackson and Ginobili.
The former benefited from his time in the starting lineup while Russell Westbrook was recovering from arthroscopic surgery, but he's still been excellent coming off the bench. Especially on defense, as Basketball-Reference shows that the Oklahoma City Thunder allow 4.5 fewer points per 100 possessions when Jackson is on the court.
With Ginobili, the case revolves around efficiency. The 36-year-old has been an incredible offensive producer this season, proving once and for all that the his postseason meltdown last year was largely overblown.
Defensive Player of the Year
Win: Joakim Noah (2-1)
Place: Roy Hibbert (7-1)
Show: Serge Ibaka (10-1)
The coaches are starting to speak.
"He's played very well," Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said about Joakim Noah before a March 13 meeting, via ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers. "He should be Defensive Player of the Year. He's done a great job with these guys. They've been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates."
Yes, you read that correctly.
McHale is voting for Noah, not Dwight Howard, who should be considered a candidate for the award as well. When you're earning that type of respect—especially from a coach who has worked with multiple DPOY winners—you're probably in good shape.
Noah has been absolutely fantastic recently, sparking a surging Chicago Bulls squad that is absolutely dominating on the defensive end. But he's also benefiting from Roy Hibbert's struggles.
I detailed them here, but the gist is as follows: Hibbert is being exposed now that his teammates aren't functioning at an elite level. He's a terrific rim-protecting big, but he takes a significant step backward if he's asked to stray more than an arm's length from the tin.
During his last 15 outings, Hibbert's defensive rating has been 105, which isn't exactly the type of number he's become used to producing. It's nothing even close to his 97 rating on the season, according to Basketball-Reference, which is worse still than the 95 he posted heading into the 15-game stretch of futility.
As Zak Keefer wrote for IndyStar.com, "His scoring has dipped, his rebounding has dipped and, perhaps most damaging, his incalculable impact on the game has waned. In simpler terms: He has not been the shot-blocking, paint-dominating, game-turning Roy Hibbert of old. That's the guy the Pacers want back."
I'll go further than that.
That's the guy the Pacers need back.
Speaking of needs, the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't be in such impressive position without the defensive contributions of Serge Ibaka. He's continued his transformation from a shot-blocking specialist to a quality all-around defender, all the while serving as a centerpiece of a top-tier point-preventing unit.
That said, Ibaka is still a distant third in the DPOY battle.
Coach of the Year
Win: Gregg Popovich (5-1)
Place: Tom Thibodeau (6-1)
Show: Terry Stotts (7-1)
This is by far the toughest award to pick.
In addition to the three leading candidates you can see above, here's the complete list—in alphabetical order—of the coaches who also deserve mentions:
- Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
- Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats
- Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
- Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets
- Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
- Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers
But let's shift the focus back to the front-runners.
As the Cinderella stories draw close to midnight, a set of established coaches jump to the top of the rankings. Terry Stotts and the Portland Trail Blazers have sunk toward the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, as the lack of a bench has come back to bite Rip City, and Jeff Hornacek's Phoenix Suns are now on the outside of the playoff picture.
Without the feel-good squads so high up in the standings, Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich are once more the cream of the crop.
The former has done a fantastic job motivating his troops, refusing to give up on a squad that lost Derrick Rose to injury and Luol Deng to a midseason trade. "Tanking" was never a part of his vocabulary, and he's instead created arguably his finest defensive unit yet.
Chicago is allowing more points per possession than only the Indiana Pacers, and that's nothing to be embarrassed by.
Pop, meanwhile, continues asserting himself as the best coach in basketball. He's the unquestioned master at milking maximum talent out of mediocre players, implementing his incredible system and finding a way to overcome injuries.
The Spurs have been forced into using 24 different starting lineups during the 2013-14 season, and they're still pacing the ridiculously tough Western Conference. In fact, take a gander at how many starting fives the other coaches of elite teams in the West have had to deploy:
|Team||Starting Lineups Used||Win %|
|San Antonio Spurs||24||75.8|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||9||73.1|
|Los Angeles Clippers||10||69.6|
|Portland Trail Blazers||2||64.7|
That's all the evidence I need.
Most Valuable Player
Win: Kevin Durant (1-1)
Place: LeBron James (2-1)
Show: Blake Griffin (10-1)
As J.A. Adande wrote for ESPN on March 10, Blake Griffin is right in the thick of the MVP conversation:
Save a spot at the Most Valuable Player table for Blake Griffin. Right now he's still sitting with the rest of the audience, not up on the dais with Kevin Durant and LeBron James, but that changes if Griffin somehow gets the Los Angeles Clippers to the best record in the NBA. Then he would deserve to be the one making an acceptance speech.
Since then, Griffin has steered the Los Angeles Clippers to three more wins and a single loss, which came against the Denver Nuggets. During those four games, he's averaged 24.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per contest, though a 7-of-25 outing versus Denver is depressing his shooting percentage.
Just as has been the case throughout the season, Griffin has excelled, and he's forced Doc Rivers into running the LAC offense through him—not Chris Paul.
But the MVP conversation includes Griffin, who is just barely holding off Joakim Noah for the No. 3 spot. The MVP race really doesn't, as you can probably tell from the odds up above.
Hell, even Blake himself admits that.
"Naw, I think the MVP race is a two-man race," Griffin told the assembled media after the loss on the road against the Nuggets, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Hmm....who could he have been referring to?
LeBron James and Kevin Durant continue to pace this race, but Durant quite clearly holds the edge at this stage of the season.
Even though 1-1 and 2-1 odds don't seem very different, there's a large gap between the two. The former—even odds—gives Durant a 50 percent chance of winning; the latter means LeBron's chances are now down to 33.3 percent.
K.D. just won't slow down.
Over his last five games, the Durantula has averaged 32.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest while shooting 47.5 percent from the field, 50 percent beyond the arc and 83.6 percent at the stripe.
Meanwhile, LeBron has been relatively unmotivated, and his lackluster play while re-adjusting to a dominant Dwyane Wade's presence in the lineup hasn't allowed him to spur the Miami Heat into the No. 1 spot in their conference.
It's not too late for LeBron to make a charge, but he's running out of time.