With the NBA regular season nearing an end, the Five-Man Weave crew give their picks for the Coach, Rookie, Defensive Player and Sixth Man of the Year Awards as well as the MVP.
Who is the Coach of the Year?
Duane Watson: George Karl. Save last year's lockout season, he's had five consecutive 50+ win seasons, but what he's done this season with no discernible star player is impressive. He has managed all the parts at his disposal and led his team to the second best winning streak of the season and has the Nuggets primed to upset someone in the Western Conference playoffs.
Josh Lewenberg: Gregg Popovich. In the 50-year history of this award no coach has ever received the honour in back-to-back seasons. I've stopped trying to make sense of an award that Jerry Sloan has never won. In any case, now's the time to break this ridiculous trend. All Coach Pop has done is lead his team to a 14th consecutive 50-win season while navigating around a multitude of injuries (as usual) and keeping us thoroughly entertained with his antics (as usual). Never mind. That makes too much sense, give it to someone else. Honourable mentions: Frank Vogel, George Karl.
Tim Chisholm: Erik Spoelstra. What he's done in Miami this year has been nothing short of transformative. His "position-less" system has perfectly utilized the personnel he has on hand and a 27-game winning streak proved how devastating that style can be. Sometimes people think its easy coaching a bevy of great players, but Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni can offer compelling arguments as to why the exact opposite is true.
Mitch Ward: George Karl. The Denver Nuggets currently sit third in a very tough Western Conference with 52 wins and they don't even have a real star. The way Karl has gotten the most out of the talent on his roster has been nothing short of amazing.
Will Strickland: LeBron Raymone James (READ: Lionel Hollins)
Who is the Sixth Man of the Year?
Watson: J.R. Smith has finally blossomed into the player that many had hoped for, at least for one season. Averaging 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds off the bench for the Knicks this season, he's also been one of the team's clutch performers knocking down game-winning baskets. But why he gets the edge over Jamal Crawford, is that he's scoring more, rebounding and plays better defence, while his second unit is nowhere near as talented. Now salsa!
Lewenberg: J.R. Smith. It's been a two-horse race between J.R. and Jamal Crawford for most of the season but Smith's monster second half gives him a slight edge. More like a sixth starter, J.R. has been huge in keeping the Knicks afloat as injuries have engulfed the team over the last couple months. Since the All-Star break he's averaging over 20 points per contest, shooting an improved percentage and contributing across the board, more so than the aforementioned Clipper reserve. Honourable mention: Crawford, Jarrett Jack
Chisholm: Jamal Crawford. He's a killer spark plug and the kind of lights-out scorer that the Clippers need and he's having his best season in four years - which was the last time he won this award. With James Harden starting in Houston and Manu Ginobili on the mend in San Antonio, the decks are clear for Crawford to snag this award.
Ward: Tough call on this one. J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford have been terrific for the Knicks and Clippers while Jarrett Jack has put together an excellent under-the-radar season in Golden State. I have to give the edge to Smith though. His huge second half has helped keep a Knicks team riddled with injuries near the top of the Eastern Conference. Since the All-Star break, Smith is averaging 20.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. Give the man his due.
Strickland: LeBron Raymone James (READ: Earl Smith, Jr.)
Who is the Rookie of the Year?
Watson: Andrew Wiggins... sorry too soon? Unquestionably Damian Lillard has been head and shoulders above the competition with a cool poise, that should make collegians almost think twice about leaving school early. Sorry LaMarcus Aldrige, but Lillard is the Trail Blazer's MVP.
Lewenberg: Damian Lillard had me at hello. The Weber State product and sixth overall pick dropped 23 points and 11 assists on opening night; he hasn't looked back since. Lillard has already broken the rookie record for three-pointers made and is holding onto a comfortable lead in points and assists amongst first-year players. The future is bright for Anthony Davis – who has quietly put together a highly productive season in NOLA – but for now, Lillard is in a class of his own.
Chisholm: Damian Lillard. The Blazers put the ball in his hands and he rewarded them with 19.0 ppg, 6.5 apg and 37.1% shooting from downtown. His only chance of being upset for this award was if some other dazzling rookie took his team to the Playoffs, but that didn't happen. His combination of position and skills was tailor made for a stats-based award like this one, and his added experience (he's 22) helped to seal the deal.
Ward: Damian Lillard. 19 points, 6.5 assists 3.2 rebounds and a rookie record for three-pointers. This has been a one-horse race all season.
Strickland: LeBron Raymone James (READ: Damian Lillard)
Who is the Defensive Player of the Year?
Watson: Joakim Noah anchors the second best defensive team in the league in the Chicago Bulls. He's top ten in blocked shots with 2.2 per game and averaging 1.2 steals and 11.4 rebounds. Noah often has to play more help defence and clean up the mess from teammates like Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli, but never seems to mind as he has a passion for doing the dirty work.
Lewenberg: Roy Hibbert. Despite a significant drop-off offensively – he's shooting just 44 per cent, down from 49 per cent a year ago – the Pacers' centre has anchored the NBA's top ranked defence and has become the league's toughest interior defender. Opponents are hitting 49.4 per cent of their attempts from inside five feet against Hibbert, the lowest mark in the association. Get this; the Pacers are +434 with Hibbert on the floor this season, -44 when he's on the bench. Honourable mention: Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol.
Chisholm: Tony Allen. For Pete's sake the Grizzlies are a defensive terror and that personality stems entirely from Allen and his ferocious style of play. He is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA and it's time the league rewarded him for that fact.
Ward: Joakim Noah. The Bulls are one of the NBA's best defensive units despite having players like Carlos Boozer, Marco Belinelli and Kirk Hinrich logging heavy minutes. That's due in large part to Noah's versatility and ferocious help-defence mitigating the inadequacies of those around him. Without Noah, Tom Thibodeau's system doesn't work nearly as well.
Strickland: LeBron Raymone James (READ: Larry Sanders)
Who is the MVP?
Watson: LeBron James, there is no one else, he continues to improve year after year. James could lead the league in scoring, rebounds or assists, if he chose to, but all he does is win. This year he has erased all doubt, hang-ups or misgivings about his game, the man is on a level unto himself and still in his prime.
Lewenberg: LeBron James. At this point arguing against LeBon would be criminal. I did just that when I lobbied for Kevin Durant back in January but naturally I've surrendered to the King. Even in his 10th NBA season he continues to take his game to another, seemingly unstoppable level. 56 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from three-point range… I mean, really? If there was ever any question, his otherworldly stretch in February and the 27-game winning streak should have sealed the deal. LeBron's fourth MVP is in the bag.
Chisholm: Um...seriously? For a few weeks it looked like Kevin Durant might make a challenge for this award, but then LeBron James went supernova in a way we haven't seen in a generation and killed the MVP conversation dead. It's hard in this era to be a runaway MVP, but James isn't measured against players from this era anymore, which is why he'll be accepting his fourth MVP during his Playoff march this spring
Ward: LeBron James. You have to feel for Kevin Durant though. He's on the verge of joining the 50-40-90 club AND leading the league in scoring - no one has ever done that - yet he won't even going to be close in MVP voting. That's how good LeBron is.
Strickland: Carmelo Anthony (READ: You MUST KNOW I'm Playin'! aka LeBron Raymone James), who also says you all should look out for #1On1WithWillAndDuane's Post-Season Awards, The UNOs, coming live and direct to you soon!
The Five-Man Weave is made up of TSN.ca Raptors blogger Tim Chisholm ( @timpchisholm), TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050), Duane Watson (@sweetswatson) and Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) from TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, and TSN.ca NBA Editor Mitch Ward (@jmitchw).