Making case for who deserves NBA honors
It's that time again to release the Portland Tribune's annual NBA individual awards.
You have your choices; we have ours.
So here we go …
Finalists: Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City; Greg Monroe, Milwaukee; Eric Gordon, Houston; Andre Iguodala, Golden State; Zach Randolph, Memphis
The winner: Randolph
You could argue for any of the five candidates. We'll go with Randolph, 35 and in his 16th NBA campaign, a reserve for the first time since his second season with Portland in 2002-03.
The 6-9 power forward is averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in 24.7 minutes, shooting .451 from the field and .729 from the free-throw line.
Without Randolph — the third-best player behind Marc Gasol and Michael Conley — the Grizzlies are a lottery team.
Most Improved Player
Finalists: Nikola Jokic, Denver; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee; Otto Porter, Washington; Rudy Gobert, Utah; Myles Turner, Indiana
The winner: Gobert
All five of the finalists showed significant statistical improvement from the previous season. Antetokounmpo and Jokic, in particular, could have been the pick here. But Gobert improved from 9.1 points to 14.0 per game, 11.0 rebounds to 12.9, 2.2 blocked shots to a league-best 2.7, .559 shooting to a superb .663 and .569 foul shooting to a more respectable .652. He's as big a reason as any that the Jazz are one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season.
Finalists: Rudy Gobert, Utah; Draymond Green, Golden State; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio; Hassan Whiteside, Miami; Tony Allen, Memphis
The winner: Green
He leads the league with 2.05 steals per game and averages 1.39 blocks, but it's his versatility on the defensive end that separates him.
With Golden State missing the injured Kevin Durant, Green took on a larger role as the Warriors earned the league's lowest defensive rating over that span. He defends shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards with effectiveness and is the unsung hero on the league's best team, featuring Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Finalists: Dario Saric, Philadelphia; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia; Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee; Buddy Hield, Sacramento; Willy Hernangomez, New York
The winner: Saric
It's a truly lousy group of candidates — the worst in recent memory.
Embiid would have been a landslide winner had he not been limited to 31 games due to injury.
Behind him, teammate Saric leads rookies in scoring (12.9) and is third in rebounds (6.3). Not great, but the best of the rest.
Finalists: Brad Stevens, Boston; Mike D'Antoni, Houston; Erik Spoelstra, Miami; Quin Snyder, Utah; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio
The winner: D'Antoni
After unsuccessful stints with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, the one-time Trail Blazers assistant was dismissed as a no-D type of coach, and it seemed as if his NBA head coaching days were over.
He got another chance with a Houston team that was .500 and lost in the first round of the playoffs a year ago. D'Antoni connected with superstar James Harden, got the Rockets' offense rolling and made them a team that must be reckoned with in the postseason.
Most Valuable Player
Candidates: James Harden, Houston; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; LeBron James, Cleveland; Kahwi Leonard, San Antonio; Isaiah Thomas, Boston
The winner: James
The inclination is to vote for either Harden or Westbrook, both enjoying a spectacular — and, in the case of Westbrook, historic — season.
But James is both the best player and the glue guy on a Cleveland team with three stars (James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) and a bunch of role players. James averages 26.3 points, 8.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds while shooting .545 from the field and .362 from 3-point range (though only .674 from the line). He is also an all-Defensive Team-worthy player on the team that should finish with the best record in the East.
James won't get it, but he deserves his fifth MVP Award, and first since 2012-13.
First team: LeBron James, Cleveland; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio, front line. James Harden, Houston; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, backcourt.
Second team: Draymond Green, Golden State; Kevin Durant, Golden State; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, front line. Isaiah Thomas, Boston; Stephen Curry, Golden State, backcourt.
Third team: Paul George, Indiana; Rudy Gobert, Utah; Hassan Whiteside, Miami, front line. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto; Klay Thompson, Golden State, backcourt.
Daryl Morey, Houston
The Rockets' general manager hired D'Antoni as coach, extended the contract of Harden, and acquired Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene and Lou Williams, who have helped make Houston the surprise team of the NBA this season.
MVP for a guy not playing
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland
The "Bosnian Beast" energized a mediocre team into an aggregate that went 14-6 and climbed back into the playoff picture. After Nurkic went down with a knee injury, his value shone through more than ever.
Best player on a lousy team
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn
He's still one of the league's best big men and a 20-point scorer, but largely unnoticed. After nine seasons and only two playoff series with the Nets, he is deserving of a new team and a better fate.
Vince Carter, Memphis
Seemed as if the once high-flying All-Star was done about three years ago. But after 19 seasons, "Vinsanity" still reigns. He had a decent season, too, averaging 8.0 points in 24.7 minutes off the bench for a playoff team. At 40, Carter is "Half Man/Fully Amazing."
DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans
The NBA's most-talented center has perhaps the game's shortest fuse, with a league-high 18 technical fouls. That's not in Rasheed Wallace territory, but it's a lot in this day and age.
Mr. Stealing Money
Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Lakers
It's been four full years since the former Ron Artest had NBA skills, but at 37, he is still pulling a paycheck from a team that is supposedly building for the future.
Fan Appreciation Award
Minnesota has missed the playoffs 13 years in a row, but somehow an average of nearly 14,500 fans show up every night at Target Center to watch the Timberwolves. That's (misguided) loyalty.