With the regular season over, the NBA’s award winners have slowly begun to unfold, with Mike Brown, Derrick Rose, and Jason Terry the recipients of the Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Sixth Man of the Year Awards, respectively.
But who did the Bleacher Report community decide should be the winners of the NBA’s regular season awards?
For that, I’ve asked BR heavy hitters Andrew Ungvari, Robert Kleeman, and Brandon Ribak for their opinions on which players are most deserving of the most prestigious regular season awards. Andrew decided to include his preseason award picks for context, while Robert decided to give the corporate types some love by selecting an Executive of the Year.
Without further ado, here are the awards.
Defensive Player Of The Year
Erick: Shane Battier—Houston Rockets
There’s no better defensive player in the league. Battier’s quickness, strength, timing, footwork, discipline, and ability to execute an individual defensive gameplan have neutralized opposing wings for years.
He’s always in perfect defensive position, and prevents players from getting to the basket. The number of free throw attempts in a game by players Battier is guarding are miniscule, with stars like LeBron James, Brandon Roy, and Kobe Bryant being forced well below their season averages for free throws attempted. Battier is the main reason why the Rockets are second in the Western Conference in opposing field goal percentage.
Andrew: Dwight Howard—Orlando Magic
As impressive as Howard's rebounding (13.8) and shot-blocking (2.9) numbers are, they don't begin to tell the story of the type of impact he has on affecting his opponent's game.
Howard's dominance of the paint on the defensive end forces his opponents into becoming perimeter teams. Guards no longer penetrate because they can sense Howard's shadow. Of the shots he doesn't block, most he manages to alter. He turns gimmes into blown lay-ups.
Howard takes pride in his defense and embraces being one of the league's handful of true dominant centers in the game.
Dan Patrick asked Phil Jackson on his radio show which player he would choose first to build his franchise around, and he picked Howard over LeBron. Some in the media felt this was Jackson trying to get into LeBron's head, while others thought he was trying to get into Kobe's head.
Neither is true.
Jackson picked Howard because of how he played in the Magic's season sweep of the Lakers this season. Howard scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the first meeting, but he did so on only six shots and in only 31 minutes because of foul trouble. The Lakers led by nine at halftime, and it was Howard's defense, especially in the second half, that keyed the comeback.
In the second meeting, Howard had 25 and 20 in leading the Magic back from an eight-point halftime deficit.
LeBron also deserves to be mentioned as a candidate for the DPOY, but I put him third behind Howard and Dwyane Wade. Flash was always considered an average defender, but he showed people this year why he was once voted Conference USA's DPOY when he was at Marquette. How many shooting guards can you name that average close to a block-and-a-half per game?
Wade not only finished 16th in the league in blocks this year but he's the only guard to crack the top-40.
As good as Wade was, I still have to give it to Howard.
Preseason prediction: N/A
Robert: Dwight Howard—Orlando Magic
It is no coincidence that Howard’s defense improved as his shot blocking numbers dipped. Protecting the basket against scores involves far more than just hacking at the ball. In years past, Howard allowed his infatuation with ball swats to get him into early foul trouble. He would also lose focus and be out of position, thus allowing dunks and lay-ups.
Now, Howard better understands the footwork, intelligence, and concentration required to play adequate defense. Ask yourself this: Which kind of rim defender would most deter you from attacking the basket? The guy who relies on his athleticism to block shots from the weak side, or the complete banger who also has the discipline to force players out of their comfort zones?
Great defenders read situations and always ignore their individual statistics (Birdman, I’m looking in your direction). Since no player has ever blocked 80 shots in game, at some point you have to learn how to do the other stuff. A crafty shove that results in an altered shot is just as valuable as a block. Do altered looks, screens, picks, or strong shoves that force players to shoot with their off-hands show up in the raw box score? I didn’t think so.
Howard snags clutch rebounds and uses his large frame and sheer strength to congest the lane. For these tremendous improvements, he gets the nod over LeBron James.
Brandon: Dwight Howard—Orlando Magic
Superman is a total beast, possibly one of the most intimidating players on the court in the entire NBA. Howard leads the league in BPG (2.92) and RPG (13.86), and although altering shots per game does not count as a stat, No. 12 probably leads the league in that as well. Dwight is definitely the best shot blocker and rebounder in the NBA today, and rightfully deserves the Defensive Player of the Year award.Sixth Man Of The Year
Erick: Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
Strictly a conscienceless scorer and defensive gambler, Terry’s ability to sizzle quickly has given Dallas’ offense the edge it’s needed. No other bench player has provided the same impact Terry’s had.
Andrew: Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
Terry is cold-blooded. He's the kind of player that makes fans of his opponents close their eyes when he shoots because he's so scary. A lot of people forget that the Mavs started out 2-7. Had it not been for the shooting of Terry down the stretch of so many close games, the Mavs would have missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
At 31 years old, Terry averaged just .1 points fewer than his career-best scoring average of 19.7 points during his sophomore season in Atlanta. If the Mavs are going to knock off the Spurs in their first-round playoff matchup, it will be because of Terry.
It didn't hurt Terry's chances that Manu Ginobili was hurt for much of the season and Lamar Odom was forced into the Lakers starting lineup when Bynum got hurt. That shouldn't take anything away from the season that Terry had.
Nate Robinson and Travis Outlaw both deserve recognition for the sparks they provided for their respective teams, but neither should be mentioned in the same breath with Terry.
Preseason prediction—Lamar Odom
Robert: Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
Allen Iverson should abandon his egomaniacal, crybaby, and loser attitude about being a reserve and see the role as Jason Terry does. Coming off the bench is not an insult or some cruel punishment, especially when you still finish the game.
Like Manu Ginobili, Terry gives the Mavericks’ second unit a spicy, creative, and lethal scoring kick. He can shoot lights out, drive, and get to the charity stripe. If Terry gets his 20 points per game average and the rest of the reserve brigade combines for 10-15 points, that means Dallas can count on 30-35 bench points. Any team with reserves good for at least 30 a night is equipped to win the bench matchup in 70-90 percent of its games.
Unlike Iverson, Terry embraces his role and often prefers it. Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard establish their scoring, and then Terry enters the game mid-to-late first quarter with his own license to shoot.
The best player on a bench can jack up as many shots as he wants without worrying about the offensive rhythm of the other stars. Why can’t Iverson see that his reserve role allowed him to be a ball hog when his starting role did not?
Terry is a model for how star-caliber players should handle moves to the bench. The Manu-less Spurs will be hard pressed to win the bench battle over the Mavs in their first-round series, and Terry is the reason.
Brandon: Jason Terry—Dallas Mavericks
Terry is averaging the most PPG (19.47) since his sophomore season eight years ago, when he put up 19.74 PPG. He has played outstanding for the Mavericks throughout the entire season and definitely leads the rankings for the Sixth Man Award this year.
Executive of The Year
Robert: Daryl Morey—Houston Rockets
This category was not included in the awards criteria, so I added it.
If you want to reward a basketball executive for several years of fine work (and there is no rule against it), Morey should win the trophy in a landslide. While some of the other award candidates cut costs and lucked out, Morey farmed real talent.
Name another general manager who could nab Luis Scola, Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, and Brent Barry without surrendering a major rotation cog. The best player shipped out in any of those deals was Bobby Jackson. Donta Greene is still a defenseless child on a paltry Sacramento Kings team, and who knows what those late first-round draft picks will yield? How about the stellar NBA career revival Vassilis Spanoulis has enjoyed in San Antonio?
Oh right, he returned to Greece right after the Scola deal.
I also give Morey props for the Rafer Alston-Kyle Lowry swap that served as a promotion move for Brooks. At first, I detested the idea of Alston’s departure. Even when he shoots 3-for-14 from the field, Alston can still run an offensive efficiently without turning over the ball. I wondered why Morey would give away a grizzled veteran in the thick of a tight playoff race.
Mr. Morey, I get the point now.
Lowry and Brooks are far from elite, but they have proven to be enormous upgrades for the Rockets.
You must also understand that Morey was nowhere near Houston when management decided to pair Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. His job then was to improve the supporting cast around those supposed stars. Can anyone argue he has not done that?
Denver’s Mark Warkenstein did acquire Chauncey Billups, but he also donated Marcus Camby to the LA Clippers, overrated as he is.
Portland’s Kevin Pritchard, Cleveland’s Danny Ferry, and Orlando’s Otis Smith each added spectacular players to their rotations, so they merit mention.
That said, if Morey does not win this award, they should stop handing it out.Rookie Of The Year
Erick: Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
Rose will someday be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul and Deron Williams. His athleticism has been off the charts with a near-perfect combination of speed, strength, hops, and explosion.
Plus, he has a mastery of how to run a pro-level offense. His defense is too passive, but that will improve with age. He’s already tough enough at drawing charges and has the strength to handle most power-guards. Vinny Del Negro is the coach and Ben Gordon is the high-profile scorer, but Rose is the dictator behind Chicago’s playoff-bound Bulls.
Andrew: Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
The rookie class of 2008-09 has not received nearly as much attention as they deserve and Rose is at the top of the list. What appeared to be a four-man race back in March became one of the easier awards to hand out by the time the season ended.
Rose was the reason why Brad Miller and John Salmons made such a quick adjustment after their trade to Chicago. He was also the reason why the Bulls have a puncher's chance of knocking off the KG-less Celtics in round one. Rose averaged around 18 points and close to seven assists per game in March and April, leading the Bulls to a 12-4 record down the stretch that vaulted them into the playoffs.
O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Brandon Rush, Jason Thompson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, D.J. Augustin, Marreese Speights, Courtney Lee, Nicholas Batum, Mario Chalmers, and Greg Oden all deserve various degrees of recognition for the rookie seasons they had.
Preseason prediction: O.J. Mayo
Robert: Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick might sweep the first place vote. I have yet to read any NBA insider who said he planned to give another rookie the award. There is a reason for that.
No first-year player in this year’s postseason compares in value to Rose. Rudy Fernandez, Courtney Lee, Greg Oden, Marrese Speights, Michael Beasley, George Hill, and Darnell Jackson are all role players. Rose is already the best, most popular player on a Bulls team that morphed from miserable lottery underachiever to a respectable, dangerous seventh seed.
The Bulls have no chance against the defending champion Celtics, even with Kevin Garnett shelved for the playoffs. Still, Chicago fans finally have a franchise player who can be a Paul Pierce-type building block. Rose possesses a deadly first step, an elegant touch at the rim, explosiveness, and the length and quickness necessary to become an elite defender.
Give this kid a few years, and he will join, if not surpass, the Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and Deron Williams stratosphere.
Brandon: Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
I was fortunate enough to have Rose on both of my fantasy teams this season. This guy is really something else. He has the talent to become a superstar in his future with his extreme potential, and he will evolve into a top three point guard within a matter of time.
Rose is clearly the Rookie of the Year because of his numbers (16.4 PPG [second among all rookies] and 6.2 APG [first among all rookies]). He is also the only top rookie that is bringing his team to the playoffs this season, excluding Michael Beasley. Most Improved Player
Erick: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
The strides he’s made defensively in the last season and a half have taken his game to another level. Now, James dominates games on each end of the court. He’s better at positioning himself without the ball, and though it’s nowhere close to being perfected, James actually can beat opponents from the perimeter, if only at Quicken Loans Arena.
Offense, defense, rebounding, the ability to score and defend his own man, the ability to distribute and help off the ball—all aspects of the game are starting to fall under the King’s jurisdiction.
Andrew: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
I've been saying all season long that we only consider players that make the jump from either average to good or good to great for this award and never include those who go from great to legendary.
James' biggest area of improvement came on the defensive end, as well as at the free throw line. In his first five seasons, James was a 73 percent shooter from the charity stripe. This season, he improved to 78 percent.
The most impressive of James' statistics is that he averaged six more points on the road this season than at home. It's as if he knew that the only way his team would have home-court advantage and make the leap this season was if they improved upon their pedestrian 18-23 road record from last season. This season's 27-14 road record was the Cavs' record at home last season.
Devin Harris will probably win the award, and Danny Granger definitely deserves some recognition, but my pick is James.
Preseason prediction: Thaddeus Young
Robert: Danny Granger—Indiana Pacers
Many unproven, young players who land the kind of multi-year deal Granger did with the Pacers become colossal disappointments. Granger, however, bucked the trend and showed legitimate star-quality.
Forget his first All-Star berth. The Indiana faithful should rejoice at the mere sight of a Pacers player worthy of a franchise tag. On many nights this season, Granger outplayed his perimeter counterpart, and in doing so, gave the Pacers a puncher’s chance at the playoffs.
From average role player to potential star, Granger embodies my definition of this award.
These performers also merit mention: Devin Harris, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, J.J. Barea, Von Wafer and Mo Williams.
Brandon: Devin Harris—New Jersey Nets
After being sent to New Jersey, Harris really stepped up his game, emerging as one of the best scoring point guards in the NBA, averaging 21.46 PPG.
Harris has averaged career-highs this season in APG (6.94), RPG (3.40), SPG (1.65), and 3-PTM (64). Despite Mark Cuban’s remarks, there is no way he saw this coming this year! Harris should be awarded with the Most Improved Player of the Year Award this season.Coach Of The Year Award
Erick: Rick Adelman—Houston Rockets
Despite having no roster stability over the first half of the season, and no Tracy McGrady over the second half, the Rockets have been the second-best team in the West for much of the second half of the season.
Their defense has been professional-grade since T-Mac expunged himself from the team. Ron Artest has played nice, and the Rockets rarely beat themselves. All this with a second-year runt directing the offense. Adelman deserves major props for guiding Houston through unstable waters.
Andrew: Rick Adelman—Houston Rockets
This has nothing to do with the fact that Adelman and I both graduated from the same University. Nor does it have anything to do with the fact it's probably the only preseason prediction I might get right.
Adelman took a team that lost its best player for most of the season and traded away its starting point guard and led them to within one game of the conference's second-best record. He also found a way for Shane Battier and Ron Artest to coexist and help make players out of Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer.
While Mike Brown, Doc Rivers, and Nate McMillan all did fantastic jobs, only Rivers had anywhere close to the challenges that faced Adelman this year. What could have easily been a lost season and a trip to the draft lottery could result in the Rockets winning their first playoff series in a dozen years.
Preseason prediction: Rick Adelman
Robert: Mike Brown—Cleveland Cavaliers
Here is another award with muddy criteria. If you look at the last eight winners of this honor and where most of them are now, you will discover its meaninglessness.
I could be a homer and choose Rick Adelman, but Mike Brown deserves it more. The former Spurs assistant allowed his assistant coaches to expand the Cavs’ once stale and predictable offensive repertoire, and his non-stop emphasis on defense catapulted Cleveland to the top of most major defensive categories.
There is also that small matter of 39 home wins, second-best road record in the league, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
At the beginning of the season, I picked Brown as a potential candidate.
Scott Skiles was my dark horse. I figured the Bucks’ players would react in black-and-white fashion to Skiles’ near abusive, tough love. They would either deplore it and tune it out or listen and heed his demands. The players did a bit of both.
Though Rick Adelman, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Nate McMillen, and Gregg Popovich deserve kudos for incredible coaching jobs, I would give a second-place vote to Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks.
P.J. Carlesimo’s disastrous regime offered little hope the Thunder would ever be any good. Then, Brooks took the team’s reigns, slotted Durant at the small forward position, (where he belongs) and handed out more playing time to the youngsters.
The Carlesimo-coached squad looked like it had no idea what the hell it was doing. Brooks installed confidence, promise, and a workable game plan for the 23-win Thunder. Sam Presti made the obvious move and deleted the "interim" tag from Brooks’ coaching title. Now, let’s see what this former player can do with a full season and training camp.
Brandon: Rick Adelman—Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are currently the fifth seed in the West and have really had an excellent season this year, especially with the absence of Tracy McGrady. Adelman is a phenomenal coach and has really made this team better since joining them during the '07 season. Adelman deserves this award among all other coaches this season.MVP
Erick: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
This isn’t necessarily a declaration that James is the best player in the league, but he’s the reason why his team had the best record in the NBA. His all-around playmaking ability is unsurpassed, and his raw strength and ferocity leave him as the king of the rim. What’s more, his defense, a liability only 15 months ago, has turned into an asset.
The Miami Heat aren’t good enough for Dwyane Wade to win any tiebreakers for my MVP vote, and Kobe’s often allowed his teammates to carry the bulk of the load in Los Angeles’ prime-time games.
For Cleveland, despite an ordinary collection of teammates, LeBron’s been able to elevate the Cavs to the best team in the league with the best record in the league—an MVP-worthy achievement.
Andrew: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
This one isn't even close. LeBron James is the easy choice for MVP of the season. The most impressive thing about the what the Cavs accomplished this season is their road record over the second half of the season. The Cavs' road record at the All-Star Break was 14-10. Over the second half of the season, they were a very respectable 13-4. It's the reason why the Cavs clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. By comparison, the Lakers went 11-6.
As great as Kobe Bryant was this season, Pau Gasol was just as important to the success of the Lakers. It was Gasol who carried the load when Andrew Bynum went down in January. There's no doubt that the Lakers have other goals this season than winning another MVP for Kobe Bryant.
Dwyane Wade was phenomenal but, as I've stated before, MVPs don't play for 43-39 teams. No doubt there's at least one MVP in Wade's future.
Preseason prediction: Chris Paul
Robert: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
The criteria for this award is so damn vague. The MVP trophy is an over-hyped, disingenuous joke that has become as meaningless as the color of tie worn by the two head coaches in a playoff contest. Look for my article this week on why the NBA needs to either axe or retool its awards season.
That said, I still give my nod to LeBron James, even though the player I put in second beat him handily in both of their meetings (see, this award sucks). His brilliant, now complete game lifted the Cavaliers to a ridiculous 39-2 home record and the overall top seed.
Like Kobe Bryant, James often asks to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, instead of taking the night off with duty on a spot-up shooter. That initiative alone makes James worthy of this honor.
His desire to get his defense on a similar level with his offensive game shows remarkable leadership (gee, I sound like I also want to give him defensive player and most improved, don’t I?).
The best argument against James is still his spotty jumper. When it goes in, and he also mixes in finishes at the hoop, the Cavs are unstoppable. When his 15 - 25-foot game fails him, and teams can pack the lane, the Cavs are capable of losing by 30-plus points on the road to the Orlando Magic.
So, James lost twice to Kobe Bryant’s team, and would not be favored to beat the Lakers in a Finals match even with home-court advantage, and I’m giving him the award? Yes. As Tears for Fears once sang, “mad world, mad world.”
If the NBA gave me a vote, the rest of my ballot would look like this:
2. Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
3. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
4. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
5. Tony Paker or Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Brandon: LeBron James—Cleveland Cavaliers
His numbers have always been up there since the minute he took his first step onto the court during his rookie year. This season, LeBron not only put up ridiculous averages (28.34 PPG, 7.60 RPG, 7.28 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 1.16 BPG), he also lead his team to clinch the top-seed in the Eastern Conference, and with only two games remaining, it looks more and more like James and the Cavs will end the season with the best record in the NBA. All signs point to James being crowned as the MVP of the league and he rightfully deserves it.