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Does Stephen Curry still have a chokehold on MVP honors? Has Karl-Anthony Towns met anyone who can challenge him for a Rookie of the Year nod? Has the chase for Sixth Man of the Year swag yielded a definitive favorite?
With the Association's 2015-16 regular season drawing to a close, the time to answer these questions is now. Statistics and year-long efforts will shape the field, and odds will be doled out based on the subjective likelihood a candidate will take home the hardware for his respective bracket.
Coach of the Year
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics: 10-1
Like usual, there is more than one justifiable pick for Coach of the Year.
San Antonio Spurs head honcho Gregg Popovich is guiding the Golden State Warriors' lone legitimate rival. Steve Clifford, chief operating clipboard-holder of the Charlotte Hornets, has reinvented his team as one of the most balanced squads in the NBA. Terry Stotts, the Portland Trail Blazers' foremost sideline authority, has helped turn a should-be tanker into a will-be playoff unit.
But Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens will not go down without an award-winning fight.
Despite not having a universally recognized superstar (avert your eyes, Isaiah Thomas), the Celtics are one of the league's most complete teams. Boston maintains a top-five defense without first-rate rim protection, and Stevens is finding use for players who didn't fit elsewhere, from Evan Turner to Tyler Zeller to the injured, should-have-been-an-All-Star Jae Crowder.
Golden State is the only group that fires on as many cylinders. Aside from the Warriors and the Celtics, no other teams rank inside the top 10 of defensive efficiency, offensive efficiency and pace.
Few squads, including the Warriors, rival the Celtics' reliance on the sum of their parts. Four teams are posting positive net ratings when any single one of their players sit: the Atlanta Hawks, Hornets, Spurs and Celtics.
No one person, of course, is responsible for Boston's rise through the Eastern Conference ranks. And that's the point. Stevens' rotations regularly stretch 11 or 12 players deep, and handing him the Coach of the Year award is the closest it gets to recognizing every one of the Celtics' many key contributors.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers: 12-1
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs: 12-1
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets: 15-1
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks: 25-1
Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: 4-1
Draymond Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, ceding the hardware to Kawhi Leonard. That shouldn't happen this time around.
According to the Total Points Added metric (TPA) developed by Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal, Golden State's Swiss army knife has saved more points on defense than any other player:
Adam Fromal @fromal09
If you're not voting for Draymond Green as DPOY, you're doing it wrong. https://t.co/Up4lNjuRww3/28/2016, 5:59:02 PM
Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Leonard, Paul Millsap and Hassan Whiteside have each racked up more defensive win shares than Green while logging fewer total minutes. But Green's role for the Warriors is different from anyone else's in this field.
Golden State has him switching onto point guards, centers and every position in between. He is equal parts tin protector and ball-swarmer; opponents shoot just 46.5 percent against him at the rim and under 30 percent when he's on their case behind the three-point line.
Not even Leonard is used that way. The Spurs throw him on just about everyone, and his ball denial is the stuff of ancient-alien folklore. But his function on defense isn't as vast, in part because it doesn't have to be, and it's Green who forces more overall adjustments on shot attempts from all over the hardwood:
When weighing the combination of effectiveness and versatility, Green simply has no peer. And this year's Defensive Player of the Year voting should reflect as much.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: 9-2
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 16-1
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers: 20-1
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks: 35-1
Most Improved Player
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: 9-5
Perception is everything when it comes to Most Improved Player honors. And for pretty much the entire season, the general consensus has been that this is C.J. McCollum's award to lose.
Unless you've boarded the "Superstars like Stephen Curry and Kyle Lowry should be permitted to earn Most Improved Player dap" bandwagon, it's tough to find a true challenger for McCollum. His numbers haven't just jumped between last season and now; they've absolutely, positively, almost unfathomably exploded:
|C.J. McCollum: Then vs. Now|
"Some players aren't ready for the drastic change," McCollum told ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. "I was ready. The opportunity increased, and my game rose with the increase. I knew what I was capable of. I just needed the opportunity to play."
Preparing for this opportunity is a huge part of McCollum's case. Player efficiency often dips as exposure rises. But McCollum's true shooting percentage—combination of two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy—has remained steady and his per-36-minute splits have spiked right along with his playing time and usage rate basically doubling.
We're talking about someone, who barely cracked the Portland Trail Blazers' rotation last year, emerging as one of the most indispensable players on a postseason-bound contingent. He has Portland's second-best offensive box plus-minus (OBPM)—which shows how much better the average offensive team is per 100 possessions with a given player in the game—and joins Curry as the only two players averaging at least 20 points and four assists per game while shooting 40 percent or better from distance.
This leap may have been inevitable. But that doesn't negate the improvement behind McCollum successfully making it.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets: 10-1
Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics: 14-1
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: 20-1
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: 30-1
Most Valuable Player
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: 1-5
Years from now, when basketball is being played on the rings of Saturn by beings that bear a striking resemblance to Autobots, the NBA's Most Valuable Player award winner will no longer receive the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
Instead, he (it?) will get some sort of Stephen Curry keepsake.
There is no other way to properly portray the irreversible inevitability driving Curry's 2015-16 campaign. Basketball-Reference's MVP tracker gives Curry a roughly 70 percent chance of repeating as the league's MVP. And that feels a bit generous—for the rest of the field.
Those who deem his mastery a manifestation of the Warriors' collective dominance couldn't be more wrong. He is no less pivotal to his team's performance than any of his MVP challengers:
Indeed, the Warriors do suffer more when Green is off the floor, but Curry's entire body of work catapults him to the top of this pecking order.
He is just the second player to capture 30 points, six assists and two steals per game on 50 percent shooting. His company is Michael Jordan. He paces the Association in win shares, and his player efficiency rating (31.8) ties him with Wilt Chamberlain for the highest mark in league history.
No player, meanwhile, has come remotely close to recording Curry's OBPM before. His three-point-heavy arsenal and handles, when mixed with his efficiency, are unprecedented. He is a player unlike any other the NBA has seen, and this league, much like it once was for LeBron James, has become his personal playground as a result.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: 30-1
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 30-1
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 50-1
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: 60-1
Rookie of the Year
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: 2-1
At no point this season has Karl-Anthony Towns not been the favorite to grab Rookie of the Year distinction. He had this baby wrapped up once the 2015-16 crusade began.
There was this from ESPN.com's David Thorpe before:
david b. thorpe @coachthorpe
i know it's just been 3 games against non-playoff teams, but I have seen enough to suggest that Karl Anthony Towns has more upside than AD.11/3/2015, 10:36:58 PM
And then there's this from ESPN Stats & Info now:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Karl-Anthony Towns now has 4 career 30-pt, 10-reb games. In last 30 seasons, only Shaq, LeBron and Durant had more before 21st birthday3/19/2016, 4:00:37 AM
Rookies shouldn't be this good, this soon. Towns leads all neophytes in PER, win shares, points and rebounds. He is also just the seventh beginner to clear 18 points and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the floor. The other six are all-time greats: Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.
Not one of Towns' statistical siblings, mind you, ever drilled more than one three-pointer during his rookie crusade. KAT has already buried 23 and will only drain more as time goes on. He is, overall, everything the NBA wants from its incoming bigs—that defensive anchor who can switch onto guards and space the floor with sweet shooting.
How could anyone vote against a newbie who plays and produces like he's contending for MVP awards, not Rookie of the Year shoulder pats? For that matter, how could anyone vote against a 7-footer who does this?
Tommy Beer @TommyBeer
Karl-Anthony Towns is a freakish 7-footer. Terrific 1-on-1 defense on Bradley Beal. Then clutch, contested 3-pointer https://t.co/IX0NnK5CcL3/26/2016, 12:48:53 PM
They can't. And they won't.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: 5-1
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: 25-1
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: 40-1
D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers: 75-1
Sixth Man of the Year
Evan Turner, Boston Celtics: 12-1
The race for Sixth Man of the Year is everything its end-of-season counterparts are not: utter chaos.
Will Barton, Jamal Crawford, Andre Iguodala, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Lin and Dennis Schroder all have their own cases. Kanter in particular seems like a lock at times. He ranks 10th among all players in PER and is averaging 12.5 points and 7.9 rebounds on 57.2 percent shooting.
But sample size has historically mattered to voters. Just four players have ever taken home the honor without averaging at least 25 ticks per game, and Bill Walton is the only who did so while getting fewer minutes than Kanter.
Evan Turner, who is starting in place of Crowder right now, satisfies most of the typical, albeit unofficial, credentials. He plays starter's minutes for a playoff team and justifies his role with starry stat lines.
Turner is the only full-time reserve averaging at least 10 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and one steal, and his defensive versatility stacks up against any high-profile perimeter defender. Opponents barely shoot 30 percent against him from three-point range, and the Celtics routinely shift his defensive assignments to include point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards.
Sure, his appeal gets bogged down by the absence of a three-point shot and an overcrowded Sixth Man of the Year ladder. But good luck finding another candidate who offers the same positional malleability and statistical punch.
After all, there are just two players in the entire league who have logged as many minutes and are matching or surpassing Turner's rebound (9.5), assist (24.2), steal (1.7) and block (1.0) rates.
Their names? LeBron James and Draymond Green.
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder: 15-1
Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets: 20-1
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks: 22-1
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers: 28-1
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.
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