With All-Star weekend in the books, it’s a time for reflection upon the 2014-2015 season. Right now, contenders are gearing up for deep playoff runs, while the bottom feeders jockey for prime lottery positioning.
In a year of many highs and lows, a few select players and teams have stood out significantly, for better or worse. Here, at Delay of Game, we hand out the hardware to the most deserving candidates in each special category.
MVP (Most Valuable Player):
James Harden (HOU)
Fear. The. Beard. It’s been the motto all year long for superstar guard James Harden, who is the clear frontrunner for this year’s MVP trophy. Not only does he lead the NBA in win shares and scoring, his improved defensive ability is a key reason why Houston is a championship contender. Averaging just over 27 ppg, Harden has kept the Rox afloat despite Dwight Howard missing half the season with various injuries.
Though Steph Curry, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are coming on strong, Harden should lock up the trophy if Houston captures a top 4 seed in the difficult Western Conference.
In the Running: Stephen Curry (GSW), LeBron James (CLE), Anthony Davis (NOP)
LVP (Least Valuable Player):
Lance Stephenson (CHA)
Let’s be real, Stephenson’s brief tenure in Charlotte has been nothing short of a disaster. But we won’t bash MJ’s decision-making here…many believed Lance would have a breakout season after securing a 3 year deal in the offseason. Injuries and uninspiring play (avg. 9 ppg, 4.9 assists, 5.6 rebs, 37% shooting) has given coach Steve Clifford no choice but to overlook the mercurial guard down the stretch of close games.
With the recent acquisitions of Maurice Williams and Troy Daniels, along with Gerald Henderson’s steady play, Stephenson may be on the move before tomorrow’s trade deadline.
Runner-Ups: Deron Williams (BKN), Larry Sanders (MIL), Trey Burke (UTA)
Coach of the Year:
Mike Budenholzer (ATL)
Coach Bud and the Atlanta Hawks have been flying high all year long. We foolishly predicted the Hawks would finish 7th in the Eastern Conference, so it’s time to give credit where it’s due! Although Steve Kerr and the Dubs are playing tremendous basketball and Jason Kidd’s Bucks have flourished without Jabari Parker, Atlanta’s dominance versus both conferences (43-11), doesn’t lie.
This is a race that will surely go down to the wire but Budenholzer’s success in turning ATL from perennially mediocre to a contender should give him the edge.
In the Running: Steve Kerr (GSW), Jason Kidd (MIL), Dave Joerger (MEM)
Rookie of the Year:
Andrew Wiggins (MIN)
After Jabari Parker went down with a torn ACL, Andrew Wiggins all but locked up this award. The MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge leads all rookies in scoring (15.2) and has shown the makings of a potential franchise cornerstone. With Ricky Rubio’s return and Minnesota likely to deal veterans at the trade deadline, Wiggins will see stat increases in almost every category by the end of April.
In the Running: Nikola Mirotic (CHI), Nerlens Noel (PHI), Elfrid Payton (ORL)
Defensive Player of the Year:
Draymond Green (GSW)
Draymond Green’s value to the Golden State Warriors cannot be understated. Though he does not boast the gaudy defensive numbers (blocks, rebounds) seen from most DPOY winners, his versatility gives Coach Kerr a very unique element to throw at teams. His ability to guard multiple positions (1st in defensive rating and defensive win shares) has helped the Dubs to a the West’s top spot.
In the Running: DeAndre Jordan (LAC), Anthony Davis (NOP), Tim Duncan (SAS)
Most Improved Player:
Jimmy Butler (CHI)
Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and, most recently, Hassan Whiteside (went from “also-ran” to a potential franchise center) have all made tremendous strides in their games this season. But none of them figure to supplant Jimmy Butler by the end of the season. The 4th-year guard, from Marquette, has developed into a bonafide two-way star after years as a defensive specialist. Averaging a career-best 20.4 ppg, Butler has made a name for himself in a contract year.
If he keeps up his stellar play, Chicago will advance far in the postseason.
In the Running: Draymond Green (GSW), Hassan Whiteside (MIA), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Sixth Man of the Year:
Lou Williams (TOR)
Move over Jamal Crawford, there’s another explosive combo guard ready to take your crown! Toronto’s Lou Williams (15.2 ppg) is as dynamic a bench player around and could win the award in his first season with the Raps. At the moment, his biggest challenger is Warriors center, Marreese Speights, a talented two-way big who’s been clutch (avg. 12 ppg on 50% shooting) both as a starter and reserve.
In the Running: Marreese Speights (GSW), Isaiah Thomas (PHX), Jamal Crawford (LAC)
Atlanta Hawks (43-11)
Like we mentioned earlier, not many people anticipated the Hawks being this good. Heck, you can count All-Star Paul Millsap as a former skeptic himself! But at 43-11 and four All-Stars (Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver) later, Atlanta could capture home court advantage THROUGHOUT the postseason. That’s remarkable, especially considering they “struck out” on big names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this summer.
Runner-Ups: Golden State Warriors (42-9), Milwaukee Bucks (30-23)
Most Disappointing Team:
New York Knicks (10-43)
The Knicks stink..but it’s funny, a few people (including us!) predicted they would at least be competitive this season in a not-so-talented division. Injuries have played a factor but the dysfunction in New York is not something that will be fixed anytime this season. That may be okay for Knick fans, however. Since Carmelo Anthony is being shut down for the year with lingering knee issues, they will have a chance at a top flight rookie (ahem, Jahlil Okafor) in this year’s NBA Draft.
Runner-Ups: Los Angeles Lakers (13-40), Denver Nuggets (20-33)
D.O.G. MVP (Our Favorite Player to Watch!):
Derrick Rose (CHI)
In the midst of all the All-Star weekend festivities, an important story seems to have flown slightly under the radar: Derrick Rose is back! The former MVP was impressive (has scored 20 pts or more in last 6 contests) leading the Bulls to victories over Cleveland, Sacramento, New Orleans and Orlando over the past week and is growing more and more confident driving to the basket.
Before the injuries, Rose was a force to reckoned with as a fearless competitor and leader. Now, it appears as he’s finally turned the corner on his long road back to MVP status.
In the Running: Russell Westbrook (OKC), Rudy Gobert (UTA)