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NBA AM: Casting Awards Ballots Is Not Easy

As the NBA season ends, here is how Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler voted for the regular season awards.

Steve Kyler

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Casting Award Ballots Not Easy

It’s time for NBA writers around the league to cast their votes for the regular season awards. The balloting is done electronically and is required to be submitted by Friday. Most voters wait until the season ends. However, votes could be cast as early as last week.

I usually do not write in the first person or about myself, however, as a voter, I wanted to share my process, my votes and how I came to my selections. I have also shared those selections on Twitter and as you would expect they were met with unanimous respect and support… Well, maybe not unanimous.

There are a few things I opted to do with my voting, especially my final vote in most of the categories. In those situations, I opted to acknowledge a lesser or more underrated candidate—the contrarian vote, if you will. In other words, I opted to show some love and respect to those that are more than deserving, but maybe not getting talked about enough.

Let’s start with NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

The NBA asks for five nominations. First-place votes count for 10 points in the scoring system. A second-place vote is worth seven; a third-place vote is worth five, a fourth-place vote is worth three and a fifth-place vote is worth one.

I landed with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the first place slot. This was not an easy vote. There has been a lot written about Westbrook and his record-setting triple-double season. His efficiency is down. His team’s offensive efficiency is down. His usage rate is up over 42.6 percent. It was not easy to pick Westbrook over Houston’s James Harden. That said, the records he has broken stood the test of some of the greatest to have ever played the game. How can that be ignored? I couldn’t do it.

The rest of my votes went to Harden, Cleveland’s LeBron James, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and lastly Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, respectively.

In my mind, Harden was as equally deserving as Westbrook. This was a 1A – 1B situation, not some huge gap between the two. As for James, he has been just short of incredible this year. I think we’ve grown too accustomed to how special LeBron is as a player, but not recognizing how good he’s been all season would have been a mistake. The same is true of Leonard. He is truly becoming a special NBA player and more than deserving of the nomination.

Lastly, Thomas in Boston has been so impressive to watch. Pound for Pound, he is maybe the best player in basketball and he is powering an impressive Celtics team that, today, has a one-game hold on the top seed in the East.

As for Rookie of The Year, this was not a great rookie class by any stretch of the imagination. There were a few late-bloomers in this class, but when it came down to it, these were not easy decisions.

The NBA requires three nominations, and my first-place vote landed with Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon. He was the 36th pick. He was one of the older players in the draft, and he’s become a key part of a Bucks teams that’s not only going to make the playoffs, but could be a formidable match-up.

I could have easily gone with Philadelphia’s Dario Saric in the top spot; his season has been great. I opted instead to acknowledge the player on a winning team, mainly because I don’t think the gap is so great between Brogdon and Saric. Both have turned into very promising young players, and you’d get no debate from me on Saric as Rookie of The Year.

My third-place vote went to New York’s Willy Hernangomez. New York’s dreadful season was highlighted by the emergence of Hernangomez, who posted the second-best Player Efficiency rating in the rookie class. While his raw numbers won’t wow you, his play this season has been impressive, especially considering how lackluster the rookie class was this season.

So now on to Defensive Player of The Year.

Twitter isn’t very happy with me today and its brought to light a problem with having people vote for awards. Some have suggested I should just shut up and vote based on stats. Maybe. Some have suggested that my personal view of a player shouldn’t be a factor. Maybe. Some have questioned my sanity, mental acuity, the amount and frequency I may have smoked something and my sexual prowess because I might be more willing to vote on principal rather than just raw performance.

Let’s be clear. Golden State’s Draymond Green is having an incredible season defensively. He has powered the Warriors to the second-best team defensive efficiency in the NBA, he holds the best individual defensive efficiency in the NBA, and he is routinely guarding the best player on the opposing team more nights than not. The resume speaks for itself.

But should he get my vote? Not your vote. Should he get my vote? I struggled with this mainly because Green has a history of what we’ll call “questionable” play defensively. He flails his legs, often making contact with other players. He admitted to trying to punch James Harden in his injured wrist. Should he be rewarded and acknowledged for it?

There are many that have said who am I to judge. I was the one asked to vote. Where do I get off judging Draymond? I was asked to. Apparently, I have some agenda against Draymond. I really don’t, other than I have issues with the “questionable” play, especially when you consider San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert don’t carry the questions.

Green is likely going to win the award because many will overlook his many transgressions and just vote on the stats and the games. That’s what many on Twitter have suggested I should do, but should we reward the questionable actions? I struggle with that.

The Supreme Court issues a dissenting opinion whenever it rules on a subject. The purpose of that opinion is to put out the other side of the argument. To make sure its recorded that there was another side.

Some have suggested my view is about publicity. Trust me, I’d rather not have the things said about me that are being said. However, as a person of principal, I can’t just put that in my pocket because it’s more comfortable or popular.

With that out of the way, here is where my votes landed.

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard got my first-place vote. While his numbers are down from a season ago, the Spurs are the top defensive team in basketball and Leonard is far and away their best defender. His two-way game is impressive, and he may be the best perimeter defender since Michael Jordan.

My second-place vote went to Utah’s Rudy Gobert. He has been incredible this year on a team that’s become very interesting defensively. There is a real case for Gobert as the first-place guy. It was not an easy decision.

My third-place vote went to Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, like Leonard, Whiteside’s numbers are down from a season ago, but he still leads the league in rebounding. He is second in total defensive rebounds grabbed and third in blocks per game and fourth in total blocks on the season.

Sixth Man of The Year was a little easier and less dramatic than Defensive Player, with my first-place vote going to Houston’s Eric Gordon. He has been phenomenal this season. Few can debate him as the sixth man.

My second-place vote went to Golden State’s Andre Iguodala. He may not want the vote, but, he is deserving and as impactful as anyone in the field. Lastly, Memphis’ Zach Randolph. He embraced being moved to the bench like a pro and has been incredibly effective in that role for the Grizzlies. Not every player can transition to the bench as smoothly as Randolph has and he’s been incredibly effective.

Coach of The Year was tough too. There have been some stellar coaching jobs this season, but the job that Brad Stevens has done in Boston stands above the rest, and he landed my first-place vote. The narrative all season was it was a forgone conclusion that Cleveland would win the East, and as of today that’s not true. Boston has done it with young guys and with their defense, and that’s typically a reflection of the coaching staff.

Houston’s Mike D’Antoni got my second-place vote, but he could just as easily have been the first-place vote. What D’Antoni has done in Houston is just short of incredible. The same can be said of Miami’s Eric Spoelstra; there may not have been a better coaching job in basketball than what Spo has done in Miami. Washington’s Scotty Brooks was also under serious consideration for this final spot.

Executive of the year was also tough. There were a number of strong candidates, but Houston’s Daryl Morey won out. Not many teams have all of their moves pan out, but Morey’s free agent acquisitions, trades, and even his coaching hires all across the bench have paid dividends.

The second-place vote went to Boston’s Danny Ainge. Like Morey, he’s come up roses on almost everything he’s touched this year, and his team has played incredibly well. A lot of Boston’s success is about decisions from previous years but landing Al Horford in free agency and drafting Jaylen Brown were huge in getting the Celtics over the hump. Golden State’s Bob Myers got my third-place vote, although he could have easily flipped with Ainge, no one landed the bigger fish than Myers, and the creative way they managed the cap to fill in the roster and convince veterans to go in for a title run was impressive.

So we get to the end of the line with Most Improved.

The Most Improved is a tough award because it’s harder to define than many of the others. Case in point is Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is often talked about as Most Improved, but is he really that improved or is he progressing as the Bucks have expected? Consider that Giannis went from 6.8 points per game as a rookie to 12.7 as a sophomore and to 16.9 last season to 23.1 this season. Is that “Most Improved,” or the steady progression of a promising young star? I think there is a better case for Giannis as an MVP candidate than a Most Improved Player, because the progression was there.

Some have suggested that Washington’s Brad Beal get consideration. Beal averaged 17.4 points last season on 44.9 percent shooting. This year he is at 23.1 points and 48.2 percent shooting. Is he Most Improved, or simply healthy for the first time in four years?

From my perspective, Most Improved is about radical improvement, not steady gains. To that end, my first-place vote went to Denver’s Nikola Jokic. His season has been breathtaking. He showed glimmers of being good, but he emerged as a legit star for the Nuggets and maybe their best player.

My second-place vote went to Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. Last season, many thought that Porter may have been a draft bust, but this year, he might be Washington’s second most important player. The year-over-year transformation has been unbelievable, which got him the second-place vote. My third-place vote went to Dallas’ Harrison Barnes. While you could argue Barnes became the player Dallas hoped he’d be when they gave him the huge contract last summer, compared to who he’d been for four years in Golden State, his emergence as a star in Dallas is impressive.

So, lastly, the All-NBA teams.

Here is how I came down:

All-NBA First Team
Kawhi Leonard
LeBron James
DeAndre Jordan
Russell Westbrook
James Harden

 

All-NBA Second Team
Kevin Durant
Draymond Green
DeMarcus Cousins
Damian Lillard
Stephen Curry

 

All-NBA Third Team
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Anthony Davis
Rudy Gobert
DeMar DeRozan
Chris Paul

While I respect everyone’s right to disagree or to have other opinions, that’s how I saw it and ultimately voted.

This year’s awards will be handled differently than in season’s past, with a single awards show to occur on Monday, June 26 from Basketball City at Pier 36 in New York City. TNT will air the show that will recognize NBA players, teams, coaches and executives for their accomplishments and performances from the 2016-17 NBA season.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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