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NBA's best might surprise you

Time for the Portland Tribune's annual NBA post-regular season awards, presented by a number of sponsors who wish to remain anonymous so as not to be publicly identified as endorsing my picks.

To wit:

  • MVP

    I'm listing only two names: Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Both have had MVP-like seasons. James has won four of the past five seasons. Durant has never won. He carried Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook missing nearly half the regular season.

    I'm giving it to Durant, and I'm guessing the majority of the league's voters will, too.

    Coach

    Plenty of good candidates, including San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (they could just retire the award in his name), Toronto Dwane Casey, Indiana's Frank Vogel and the L.A. Clippers' Doc Rivers.

    I narrow it to three: Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek, Portland's Terry Stotts, Charlotte's Steve Clifford. All have done standout jobs with good but not great talent. Any of them would be a good selection.

    I'm taking Hornacek, who in his first season kept the Suns in the playoff picture despite losing his second-best player, Eric Bledsoe, for nearly half the season. Before the season, I picked the Suns to win 21 games and, with the preseason trade of center Martin Gortat, accused them of tanking for the draft. My bad.

    Rookie

    Perhaps the weakest season for first-year players ever. Only three rookies have done anything significant, all guards -- Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando's Victor Oladipo and Utah's Trey Burke. Playing for three of the NBA's lousiest teams, each has had his moments.

    Carter-Williams, who leads rookies in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals, gets the nod here.

    Defensive player

    Always a tough call because so much of NBA defense is about team play. Blocked shots and steals matter, but only so much. The Clippers' Chris Paul leads the league in steals, but I wouldn't consider him a great defender. New Orleans' Anthony Davis leads in blocks, and I think he is becoming one.

    On my short list: Indiana's Paul George and Roy Hibbert, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, Houston's Patrick Beverley and the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan.

    My winner is Chicago's Joakim Noah, who works harder at the defensive end than just about anybody and understands the team concept completely.

    Most improved

    Another difficult award to pick. I try to eliminate second-year players, since the biggest jump in an NBA player's career is so often between his first and second seasons.

    You can make a very solid case for four candidates: point guards Isaiah Thomas of Sacramento and Goran Dragic of Phoenix and centers Robin Lopez of Portland and Al Jefferson of Charlotte.

    Thomas increased his averages from 13.9 points and 4.0 assists a year ago to 20.6 points and 6.3 assists this season.

    Dragic went from 14.7 points and 7.4 assists last season to 20.4 points and 5.9 assists in 2013-14, and dramatically improved his shooting stats -- from .443 from the field and .319 from 3-point range last season to .506 and .415 this season.

    Lopez is actually down in scoring (11.3 with New Orleans last season to 11.0), but has improved his rebounding (8.5 from 5.6) and blocks (1.74 from 1.56). His contributions to Portland's success this season, of course, go beyond numbers.

    I'm going to go with Jefferson, who has gone from 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 2012-13 to 21.9 points and 10.7 rebounds, while increasing his shooting percentage (from .494 to .509) and getting a woebegone franchise to the playoffs.

    Sixth man

    While old hands Ray Allen of Miami and Manu Ginobili of San Antonio and young bucks Reggie Jackson of Oklahoma City and Tyreke Evans of New Orleans have had nice seasons, the nod here goes to old friend Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, still rolling along in his 14th NBA season. He is averaging 18.5 points, shooting well (.418 from the field, .365 from 3-point range, .860 from the line) and helping make the Clippers a bonafide championship contender.

  • All-NBA (each team chosen with three frontcourt and two backcourt players)

    First team: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Kevin Love, Minnesota; LeBron James, Miami; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers.

    Second team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers; Paul George, Indiana; James Harden, Houston; Goran Dragic, Phoenix.

    Third team: Al Jefferson, Charlotte; Carmelo Anthony, New York; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Damian Lillard, Portland; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto.

  • Note to Blazer fans: The decision on the final second-team guard berth comes down to Dragic and Lillard. ESPN's player efficiency (PER) and wins attributable to the player (WAR) ratings argue strongly on Dragic's behalf.

    The WAR top five: Durant 17.36, James 17.27, Curry 14.18, Love 13.51 and Paul 13.22. Among the Blazers: Aldridge is eighth (11.59), Lillard 27th (8.80) and Lopez 30th (8.31) Dragic is 18th (9.53).

    The PER top five: Durant 30.2, James 29.45, Love 27.2, Davis 26.55 and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (26.2). Dragic is 20th (21.5) and Lillard 52nd overall and 12th among guards (18.65). Aldridge, incidentally, is the top Blazer at No. 19 (21.9).

    Dragic's shooting stats are far superior to those of Lillard, who is firing at a .423 clip from the field and .391 from 3-point range while averaging 20.4 points and 5.6 assists.

    I think, too, that voters will resist having a pair of Blazers on the second team and considered two of the top 10 players in the game. Aldridge will make it, but I don't think Lillard will.

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    Twitter: @kerryeggers