Bleacher Report's Official 2015-16 NBA Regular-Season Awards

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2016

April 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Locked in a subterranean bunker* with only game film, player tracking data and Basketball-Reference.com to pass the hours, 29 Bleacher Report writers and editors were denied their liberty until they sorted out, through exhaustive study, the 2015-16 NBA awards ballot.

We lost a lot of good men in that bunker, and the ones who survived may never be the same. These are the results of that harrowing ordeal.

*This is not true. We voted on a Google doc.

Most Valuable Player

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (100%)

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 05:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors stands on the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at ORACLE Arena on April 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When you force every opposing defense to overturn or invert its normal schemes and completely redefine what the next era of optimal NBA offense will look like, you've got a good shot at MVP. And when you do all that while posting one of the greatest offensive seasons in league history, playing on what might be the best regular-season team the NBA has ever seen…well, you get to win the award unanimously.

Curry leads the league in scoring, steals, player efficiency rating (PER), true shooting percentage, win shares, box plus-minus and value over replacement player, per Basketball-Reference.com.

He also obliterated his own record for three-pointers made in a single season. He makes half-court heaves routinely. Fans fill seats to watch him warm up. He is more phenomenon than basketball player.

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There is no alternative case to make here. None.

Even if you're one of those people who think the MVP should really be about value instead of an award for the league's most outstanding player, Curry's got you there, too. The Dubs get outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the bench, per NBA.com. Put another way, the historically dominant Warriors turn into the New Orleans Pelicans without the MVP.

How's that for value?

Curry is the game's best player, a truly transformative force leading the charge for the title favorites. Voting for anyone else here is grounds for ballot stripping and a psychiatric evaluation.

For My Money 

Are you kidding? Of course Curry was the right pick.

Rookie of the Year

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (100%)

Steve Dykes/Associated Press

Towns will finish the season with the most total points, free throws (made and attempted), rebounds and blocks among rookies. His PER of 22.4 will be the highest for a first-year player since Tim Duncan posted a 22.6 nearly two decades ago.

The Duncan comparison is apt, as Towns is a fully formed force on the interior. He's easily the most polished post scorer in his class, the best rebounder and is already exhibiting anticipation skills well beyond what you'd expect from a rookie.

Towns' remarkable agility is a huge reason the Timberwolves defeated the Warriors in Oakland this year; his ability to stay in front of guards after switches on the perimeter is a terrifying weapon.

You wouldn't know it from the Wolves' point-prevention metrics this year, but Towns profiles as a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the future.

We're dealing with uncommon versatility here. Though Kristaps Porzingis is hailed as the evolutionary floor-stretching center, Towns' three-point percentage is a touch higher. And with decisive drives and finishes like this, it's already clear there's no way to guard Towns with a lumbering defender:

For My Money 

That's two straight unanimous selections nailed by the voting panel. Towns is a no-brainer.

Sixth Man of the Year

Mar 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) reacts during the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden.  The Boston Celtics won 107-96.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. Evan Turner, Boston Celtics (37.9%)

2. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors (17.2%)

3. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (13.8%)

Turner took the lion's share of votes here for a handful of good reasons. He missed just one game due to injury this year, which gives him a nice bump over Iguodala and his 17 nights off. In terms of counting stats, Turner has some advantages as well. His scoring, assist and rebound averages were all higher than the runner-up's.

There might also be some comeback appreciation baked into Turner's win. The former No. 2 overall pick emerged as a useful role player for a good Celtics team this year, handling the ball a lot and propping up second units with mid-range scoring. With a career on the brink of total irrelevance, Turner's ascent to even this modest level felt like a quantum leap.

For My Money 

It's hard to get too worked up over Turner earning the win, though if it's counting stats that matter, Kanter and his gaudy scoring and rebounding numbers probably should have been the pick.

And if we're measuring value, Iguodala's advanced-metric superiority and defensive prowess mean he should have won. His real plus-minus is better than Turner's, per ESPN.com, and the Warriors use Iguodala to run the second unit while also handling the best opposing wing in crunch time.

There's a reason he won Finals MVP, and Iguodala has been more efficient on offense this year than last. His 35.8 percent shooting from deep looks great against Turner's 24.1 percent conversion rate.

Most Improved

Apr 29, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum (3) looks toward the Memphis Grizzlies bench in the first half during game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Spor
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

1. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (65.5%)

2. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics (13.8%)

3. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (10.3%)

McCollum's per-game stats exploded as his role expanded, but if that were the whole story, his candidacy might not be as strong as it is. His numbers didn't just spike in accordance with more minutes. He also improved his efficiency in a more demanding role.

That's a big deal, and something that cuts against the idea that he only played better because he played more. McCollum genuinely improved.

Crowder's a solid pick, too, and he's vital to the Celtics' defensive versatility. But with McCollum's statistical breakout, Crowder's more modest improvement didn't motivate voters.

For My Money 

This award should belong to Curry. The leap from great to historically, sport-alteringly transcendent is a heck of a lot bigger than the one from decent to pretty good.

And think about it this way: If you watched McCollum or Crowder in the playoffs last year and imagined their upside in 2015-16, you could have foreseen something like what they ultimately achieved. Never in a million years would you have conceived of Curry, an MVP, getting this much better.

The guy set the three-point record last year and topped it by more than 100 this season. More than 100! He transmogrified from man to god, and that seems like it's worth an award.

Defensive Player of the Year

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (58.6%)

2. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (37.9%)

3. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (3.4%)

Green is the more versatile option. His ability to guard five positions and play center in Golden State's Death Lineup, which allows 95.3 points per 100 possessions, can't be overlooked. Manic energy, innate anticipation and a length-quickness combo few can match make Green a legitimate defensive superstar.

But Leonard made the biggest impact on the league's best defense this year, and that makes him a deserving winner. He's the scariest on-ball suffocation monster in the league. His hands attract basketballs from everywhere. His footwork is perfect.

Green probably should have taken the award last season, and his defensive real plus-minus is actually higher than Leonard's this year.

There's no wrong answer on this one. Either of the top two could win without ruffling feathers.

For My Money 

No qualms with this vote. Give it to Leonard or Green.

Coach of the Year

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Head coach Steve Kerr (R) of the Golden State Warriors looks on from the bench alongside assistant coach Luke Walton during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 10, 2016 in Phoenix, Ar
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

1. Steve Kerr and/or Luke Walton, Golden State Warriors (34.5%)

2. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers (31%)

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (17.2%)

When you win more games than any team in history, coaching probably had something to do with it.

Walton started things out with a 39-4 mark as Kerr recovered from complications following back surgery. Kerr returned to guide the team home, though he was also around to influence the half-season Walton era behind the scenes.

Stotts presided over a surprisingly successful campaign, guiding the Blazers to the postseason when they were supposed to be in the first year of a painful rebuild. His success is a little different, though. In terms of pressure, Stotts may have been under the least in the league. As the Warriors defended their title and pursued the wins record, expectations reached insane levels.

Note: If not for combining Kerr and Walton on the ballot, Stotts would have won.

For My Money 

I voted for Popovich based on the idea that he led the Spurs to a season nearly as impressive as the Warriors', but he did it while instituting a stylistic overhaul and integrating a new star in LaMarcus Aldridge. Systemic changes like those should have produced friction. But Pop's stewardship during the transition away from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili was uncommonly smooth.

Executive of the Year

Eric Gay/Associated Press

1. R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs (48.3%)

2. Other (24.1%)

3. Rich Cho, Charlotte Hornets (17.2%)

Buford added Aldridge, got David West for $1 million, signed Boban Marjanovic (who can seriously play), re-upped with Duncan and Ginobili for next to nothing and managed Leonard's cap-hold timing masterfully to make it all possible.

Perhaps some of the credit going to Buford belongs to San Antonio's attractive culture, but he deserves recognition for helping shape that, too.

Votes were all over the place on this one, with Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy and a cast of write-ins getting some love.

For My Money

We got this one right. High fives, y'all!

Comeback Player

Apr 8, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) during a break in the action against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Indiana 111-98. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

1. Paul George, Indiana Pacers (55.6%)

2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (11.1%); Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (11.1%); Michael Beasley, Houston Rockets (11.1%)

When you go from having your leg at a right angle to consideration for a spot on an All-NBA team, you've bounced back nicely. That's why Paul George got more votes than all other candidates combined.

George posted a career high in scoring and made triples while continuing to play excellent perimeter defense. His Pacers, transitioning from the old days of slow-down size to a more uptempo model, still managed to make the playoffs in a newly competitive Eastern Conference.

Rose's return to respectability was a decent story, but his poor perimeter shooting and the overall disappointment surrounding the fractured Bulls hurt his case. Durant's injury was far less grotesque than George's, though it's impressive the former MVP shook off his Jones fracture to produce at levels right in line with his peak of two years ago.

For My Money 

Michael Beasley got votes? The same Michael Beasley who has a minus-10.6 on-court net rating? The same one without whom Houston posts a net rating of plus-11.5? That one? Yeah, he's shooting over 50 percent from the field for the first time in his career and has technically come back from China. But who cares? He's killing his team. Get out of here with this comeback nonsense.

 

Best Hair

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 17: Jeremy Lin #7 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on during the game against the Toronto Raptors on December 17, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Rocky W. Widner/Getty Images

1. Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets (25%)

2. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic (16.7%); Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (16.7%)

As you can see, we've reached the section reserved for the most important awards.

Jeremy Lin's follicular versatility moved voters, which is ironic because the amount of product required to stabilize his mohawks and disconnected undercuts prevented motion entirely.

Payton's haphazard coif was a nice contrast to Hayward's, which always seemed like it was trying too hard.

For My Money 

It's a crime J.J. Redick got only one vote (mine). His high-precision fade, preference for non-greasy gels (let's be honest, it's got to be a glue or a mousse) and perfect part were real standouts. Thanks mostly to his dialed-in style, Redick shot it better from long range than anyone else in the league. You're fooling yourself if you think that's a coincidence.

Biggest Villain

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

1. Matt Barnes, Memphis Grizzlies (24%)

2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (16%)

3. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets (12%); Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (12%)

Barnes is a fine choice here. He "drove 95 miles to 'beat the s--t'" out of Derek Fisher, per Ian Mohr of the New York Post, earned eight technical fouls and three flagrants, chased John Henson down the tunnel after an in-game staredown and, as always, retained preeminent loose-cannon status. He'll keep the top spot warm for James, who'll occupy it next year if he bolts Cleveland again.

For My Money 

I mean, Blake Griffin punched out a trainer on his own team. Seems pretty villainous to me. Charming commercial acting is a really effective distraction, it seems.

Breakout Viral Star

1. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (22.7%)

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (18.2%)

3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks (9.1%)

The dunk contest made Gordon a household name, and he followed up on his mass introduction at the All-Star break with a much bigger role following Tobias Harris' trade-deadline exit from the Magic. More minutes meant more two-footed dunks from just inside the foul line, which only furthered Gordon's Vine-able game.

For My Money

One-dribble attacks from half court and repeated Eurostep dunks really did it for me, so I wanted this award to go to Antetokounmpo. The guy played point guard at 6'11" for most of the second half, turning in double-take highlights nightly. Then again, Gordon did pogo-stick off the head of the Magic's mascot in the dunk contest.

Reasonable people could disagree on this one, though, so this isn't an injustice on the level of Redick's hair being snubbed.

Best In-Game Dunker

1. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (37.5%)

2. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves (29.2%)

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (20.8%)

This award is a close cousin of the one above, so it's no great surprise Gordon won it. He has the resume—that's for sure.

For My Money 

I like angry dunks, and nobody dunks angrier than Westbrook. It's as though the backboard, rim, arena and air molecules he vaporizes on the way to the bucket have all gravely wronged him and must be punished. Westbrook's jams are vicious, delivered at hyperspeed and punctuated with feral bellowing. He's a rabid pterodactyl shot out of a cannon. But sure, Gordon's cool, too.

Most Underappreciated, Underrated, Unsung

Mar 30, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) defends against Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

1. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics (12.5%); Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz (12.5%)

2. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (8.3%); Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (8.3%)

Thomas propped up a Celtics offense that needed him, and his wide array of in-between flips and floaters went mainly unnoticed by anyone not watching Boston regularly. Favors, by virtue of playing in Utah, didn't get much national airtime, and his excellence is subtler to begin with.

While Thomas does his damage with scoring outbursts, Favors utilizes his strength to win position on the block and his speed to corral guards on switches. You either have to watch the Jazz a lot or scrutinize the little things in the few instances you get to see Favors to really appreciate him. He's the biggest frontcourt star you barely know.

For My Money

This is perfect. Thomas and Favors both deserved the award, and we split the vote to give it to both of them.

League Pass Special

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

1. Golden State Warriors (26.9%)

2. Boston Celtics (19.2%), Minnesota Timberwolves (19.2%)

3. Milwaukee Bucks (11.5%)

Are you interested in this?

How about this?

Maybe this?

OK, great, then the Warriors are the team to watch.

Brad Stevens draws up some real after-timeout doozies, and the Celtics get the absolute most out of their imperfect talent. Plus, they play hard. It's easy to see the appeal with them, and the Towns-Andrew Wiggins combo explains the votes for Minnesota.

But the Warriors are the clear winner, and the visual evidence shows why the vote shouldn't have been this close.

For My Money 

I voted for Golden State but am open to arguments it should be disqualified. The Dubs were on national TV more than anyone, so you didn't even need League Pass to see them.

This article was written by Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes. Follow him on Twitter: @gt_hughes.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted and accurate through games played April 11.