A cluster of basketball bloggers decided to hand out awards honoring the best and brightest of the 2014-2015 NBA season. We voted on all the traditional categories, and threw in some fun ones as well. Here are the results—coupled with dazzling media.
Most Valuable Player — Stephen Curry (Warriors)
Every new MVP comes with his own hagiography because after a season of debate over who should be named the MVP, the media rewards the player with the most fitting narrative. In many years, the player with the most fitting narrative also happens to be the best player, the best player on a title contender, the player with the greatest analytical case, and/or the best player with weakest teammates that he “has to carry.” This year the media members with votes will undoubtedly name Stephen Curry the 2015 MVP, and I will agree with them. But this has been an incredible NBA season with five or six players deserving enough for MVP.
Yet Curry’s youthful appearance, memorable college career, fast release, family pedigree, and place on an exciting team that plays at a fast pace means there’s not much to add his narrative. He’s already considered one of, if not the best, shooter of all-time, and you couldn’t conceive of a basketball player more suited for a child to hero-worship. I don’t know how much else there is to say about the guy, but since there is copy to be filed, we’re going to read a lot about Curry in the next few weeks that has nothing to do with his dominating play on the court. We’re going to find out who Curry, the man, is. We’re going to find out tidbits like in this article from ESPN Women, where Steph Curry is lauded for his ability to quote movies and deliver impressions from movies such as Major Payne, The Mask, and The Master of Disguise.
Please don’t ruin Curry for me, sports media. Lionization like this is just as likely to have the opposite of the effect it intends because in my experience, the people who walk around quoting movies, especially terrible ones like Master of Disguise, are the least funny people in the room. What does that even show? That he is smart enough to remember lines from movies? I assume that any basketball player up for an MVP is at least smart to remember quotes to movies. I don’t need great athletes to possess attributes other than being great athletes. It’s fun when they do, but you don’t need anything but his on-court play to appreciate Curry. Tell me about his unreal shooting splits (.487, .443, .914), his league-leading win shares per 48 Minutes, his improved defense, his 286 3-pointers (over 40 more than second-place and teammate Klay Thompson), the way he sucks in defenders, his shooting off the bounce, etc.
Or maybe just shut up and play the hits. —Jonathan Ridewood
Rookie of the Year — Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)
Choosing rookie of the year this season was like asking Will Ferrell who will win in an Oregon vs. USC football game.
But seriously was there ever any doubt? There were still questions after Julius Randle broke his leg early in the season for the Lakers. There were questions even when Aaron Gordon and Doug McDermott both underwent major surgeries and when Noah Vonleh could not make it off the bench in Charlotte. But the questions finally ended when Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, went down with a torn ACL.
Look it isn’t Andrew Wiggins‘ fault that he survived the plague of injuries that struck down the rookie class of 2014. But the fact is, as the last man standing, he still excelled on the court as the season progressed. He certainly proved his worth as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, averaging 16.9 PPG and showing flashes of brilliance on defense against some of the best in the game, including James Harden.
You can a case for Elfrid Payton, who came on strong in Orlando and is developing into a fantastic young talent at point guard. You could also argue Nikola Mirotic, who as a 36-year-old-looking rookie carried the Bulls in stretches while a majority of their roster nursed injuries.
But in the end, you know the inevitable, boring, correct choice is Wiggins.—Varoon Bose
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer (Hawks)
For much of Mike “Coach Bud” Budenholzer’s stint as a Spurs assistant coach, he was anonymous. If anything he was noticeable for how much it didn’t look like he belonged on an NBA bench. He never played professionally in the U.S. and started out as San Antonio’s video coordinator before becoming Gregg Popovich’s top assistant. At some point I started listening to the Spurs’ postgame radio show where Coach Bud would come on to talk about the team’s performance that night. Of course, this is something Pop would never agree to do, so presumably Coach Bud stepped in to increase his profile. What I found listening is that this guy was a compelling speaker who really knew his Xs and Os. After that he became the hot coaching candidate du jour and eventually joined his former Spurs colleague, Danny Ferry, to form Spurs East.
But being compelling on a radio show is way different than finding success as an NBA coach. You have to earn the respect of the players, management, and fans. You have to be a leader of men. You have to build schemes on both sides of the ball that take advantage of the talent given to you. And despite taking a job with the Atlanta Hawks, a team with no franchise star or history of success, Coach Bud has done all of that and more. He has built an offense around pick and rolls, ball movement, and a starting lineup of shooters as well as a top-ten defense anchored by DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford. Somehow Jeff Teague even turned into an All-Star, and for that alone, Coach Bud deserves some recognition. —VB
Defensive Player of the Year – Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
While I understand Draymond Green being the trendy pick, and he certainly did a lot more this season to earn the award than say a DeAndre Jordan, this has to be the year that Kawhi Leonard wins it. Despite missing 18 games, Leonard finished tied for fifth in the league in steals (led the league per game), eighth in defensive box plus-minus, and sixth in defensive win shares, while posting the leagues best defensive rating.
As good as the Spurs were defensively as a whole this season, their defensive rating was better than Golden State’s league-best 101.4 when Leonard was on the court, which when paired with Leonard’s ability to guard every position from point guards up to power forwards, makes me feel like there wasn’t a more valuable defender in the league than the reigning Finals MVP.
That’s Ka-whi (sorry) Leonard is our pick for the award. —Jared Mintz
Sixth Man of the Year — Lou Williams (Raptors)
Lou Williams will actually win this award. Two reasons: First, pretty much since Bobby Jackson won the award in 2003, Sixth Man of the Year has almost always gone to a scoring guard on one of the best teams, and there are no obvious players to fit that mold in any of the 10 best teams this year. Second, because of a Drake song.
The leading bench scorer this season was actually Isaiah Thomas of the Suns and Celtics. But his former team missed the playoffs and his current team shouldn’t be in the playoffs, so he has little chance of winning. Jamal Crawford, two-time award winner, actually scored slightly more points per game than Williams, but missed significant time, and I also get the feeling almost everyone is sick of giving shit to the Clippers. There are a couple deserving candidates on good teams (Tristan Thompson, notably), but none of them are traditional, Vinny Johnson microwave types.
Williams is a career 42 percent shooter. From the field. Williams shot worse than that this year, especially as the Toronto Raptors took their February nosedive. He only just brought his shooting percentage up above 40 in the last few weeks of the season. But he’s a scorer, the Raptors were good for a little bit, and he shoots a lot despite not being good at shooting from anywhere on the floor. He won a player of the week award.
But most importantly, Drake wrote a song about him.
Drake is Toronto’s mascot and he takes his job seriously. When voters look at their ballot, they barely glance at points per game, so best believe that chorus of “Six man like Lou Will…” will be more prominent than his shooting percentage or Williams’ horrific late-game execution. I also wouldn’t put it past the media or the players to vote for Lou Will just because he dated two girls at the same damn time for a minute. Loouuuuuu… —Clyde Lovellette
Most Improved Player of the Year – Jimmy Butler (Bulls)
As great of a story as Hassan Whiteside was this season, and as inclined as I feel to give Draymond Green just about every award he’s eligible for, no player took a greater leap during the 2014-15 season than Chicago’s Jimmy Butler.
After being tasked to take on more of a role on offense, Butler responded by increasing his scoring average from 13.1 to 20 points per game, improved his field goal percentage from .397 to .462, and took a huge leap from beyond the arc, improving from a terrible .283 to an amazing .378. Even though he missed 17 games this season, Butler still managed to lead the third-seeded Bulls in scoring, offensive rating, win shares, real box plus-minus, and value above replacement.
With Derrick Rose in-and-out of the lineup, and a hobbled Joakim Noah, the Bulls had their best offensive season since 2011 (the last one before Rose’s injuries), and find themselves in a great position heading into the playoffs thanks to Butler, who should at worst find himself making Third Team All-NBA. —JM
Interview of the Year — Paul Pierce (Wizards) & Kobe Bryant (Lakers)
In this recent Jackie MacMullan piece, Paul Pierce delivers the truth about his depressing and moribund year with the Brooklyn Nets. Humor me because these are my two obsessions in life right now, but it’s fitting that the week Don Draper has no response to his former wife calling him as an “aging, sloppy, selfish liar,” Paul Pierce so perfectly describes his former teammates that they shrug their shoulders and take it. Joe Johnson’s response after the article dropped was “he’s probably right… He’s right about me.” I love the end of an athlete’s career when they can throw everyone on the bus and drop some truth bombs.
For years Kobe Bryant was my favorite team’s biggest rival and my least favorite athlete in sports. He was a selfish gunner and a phony who tried to be both street and blandly marketable but came off as neither.
But now, after suffering three season-ending injuries in a row, I love Kobe Bean Bryant. He’ll throw everyone under the bus. No one will be spared in his season-long PR campaign to define his legacy on his own terms. Showtime released a documentary on his life that Bryant narrated and had a hands-on role in making. Then he sat down with GQ for an amazing interview that came off as both candid, calculating, and insane—which is exactly who Bryant is. He shed the pose of his early career and revealed the asshole that he truly is.
I remember reading the interview on the train one night coming home from work, and being so enthralled that I couldn’t wait to stop being underground so I could get service and load the next page. Bryant admits that he is unable to have true friends because of his isolating upbringing. He details his mindset and turn to Catholicism during his rape trial. He responded to the entirely accurate criticism that he shoots too much by saying that, “Going back to Mozart, he responded to critics by saying there were neither too many notes or too few. There were as many as necessary.” He even tells the origin story of that weird, mean scowl he would pull out after big shots. —JR
Quote of the Year — ‘Cool story, Glenn’ – Draymond Green (Warriors)
The current Warriors-Clippers rivalry started with a 3-point shot. Not one by the Splash Brothers, mind you, but one by Blake Griffin–and a miss at that. In January 2013, the Clips were becoming one of the more hated teams in the league, with Griffin gaining a reputation as a flopper and a Hollywood endorsement machine. The Dubs, on the other hand, were finding their first taste of success since the “We Believe” team in 2007. So much success, in fact, that Golden State had its own bench mob, led by undrafted rookie Kent Bazemore.
So when Griffin had to launch a 3 to avoid a shot-clock violation, and he ended up hitting the side of the backboard, the whole Warriors bench (and seemingly all of Oracle Arena) did the equivalent of laughing Griffin off the stage. The next season, Blake got ejected from a Warriors game on some questionable technicals, and goon extraordinaire Draymond Green was also ejected on a categorically clear call. The Warriors continued their rise, while also becoming one of the most likable teams in the league; a clear contrast was made between these two Pacific Division teams. It culminated in last year’s first-round matchup, with the Warriors dragging the higher-seeded Clippers to seven games despite being badly injured.
So, this season–with the Warriors no longer fighting for homecourt advantage and Dray no longer just a goon on the bench–when the Dubs and Clips faced off for an ABC Sunday game, the tables were turned. This fact was never more obvious than when, after the game, Green was being interviewed on national television and the 12th man on the Clippers roster purposely bumped into the interview subject to try to get a rise out of the new star player.
Dray wasn’t having it, and called out the bit Clippers player. Word got around to Clips coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers and he attempted to troll Green’s reputation as a tough guy. Once again, Dray wasn’t having it. In what might be the most devastating three-word ethering in NBA history, Green responded on Bay Area radio to Rivers’s quoted desperation with, “Cool story, Glenn.” It was so ruinous, Dray was even selling shirts with the phrase.
If Glenn Rivers isn’t coaching the Clippers next year, you now know why. —CL
Vine of the year — Russell Westbrook (Thunder) & Steve Ballmer (Clippers)
If 2014 was the year of the vine, then 2015 certainly perfected its use, especially in the NBA. There were several candidates this year that brought us six seconds of looped, endless happiness. Whether it was Dion Waiters calling for the ball like an cracked out 8-year-old eating his fifth bowl of Trix, or Russell Westbrook laying waste to rims across America, the choices were all up to par.
But two stood out most.
He is a one-man fastbreak! He takes on an entire team of professional players! No one else even touches the ball but not in a pounding-the-ball, ignoring-teammates kind of way. LeBron has freakish explosions like the one above, and a young Charles Barkley could match Russell Westbrook’s ferocity, speed, and physicality, but there’s not a ton of precedence for Westbrook’s one-man fastbreaks. My favorite part of the NBA season was the moment after Westbrook grabs a defensive rebound and turns up floor. It’s in that moment where you’re anticipating something unknown, something that you’ve never seen before, like if someone texted that “you’ll never believe this Russell Westbrook fastbreak,” there would be no use conjuring up what might have happened as your phone pulled up the link. Worlds could be destroyed, entire teams dunked on, dents could be put in people’s heads, and that’s why Westbrook was so electric to watch this year.
Yes, that’s Clippers owner Steve Ballmer flailing his arms in jubilation as he watches Fergie perform during an intermission at Staples Center. Sure, we can all enjoy the fact that even money can’t break the “white people can’t dance” stereotype. But you know what a billion dollars can buy you? Unlimited amounts of “don’t give a fuck.” Forget Vine, that’s why Ballmer gets our vote for man of the year. —VB
This article originally appeared on Bro Jackson.
Photo via Rus Kersey/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)