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NBA AM: Controversial MVP Votes

Ty Lawson once received an MVP vote as a member of the Denver Nuggets, but there have been even crazier votes than that.

Joel Brigham

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This season is going to be absolutely bananas when it comes to voting on an MVP. In Dennis Chambers’ most recent MVP Watch article, released last week, neither Kevin Durant nor LeBron James is even mentioned. Neither is James Harden or obviously the injured Kawhi Leonard, and last year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook, is ranked fourth.

There have been so many outstanding individual performances this young season that there’s a case to be made for four or five different players to be named the MVP. Of course, in a year like this, there are almost sure to be a few outliers that end up with MVP votes when the whole thing is said and done.

It happens almost every year where a completely shocking player ends up earning a single vote on the MVP ballot, and while these seemingly symbolic votes never have shifted the ultimate result of the award, it certainly has put some interesting players into the annals of history as having MVP votes tied to their names. Here are ten of the most confounding of them:

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets (2012-13) – There is a 100 percent chance that Lawson got his lone career MVP vote because Denver won a franchise-record 57 games that season, but 16.7 points and 6.9 assists per game are not MVP numbers by any stretch of the imagination. This was a LeBron James MVP year, but that Lawson vote couldn’t have gone to one of the many other huge stars that clearly had better individual years?

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (2011-2012) – The only guy on this list to earn more than just a solitary symbolic vote, Rose somehow earned five total points the year following his actual MVP campaign. While his averages were perfectly respectable (21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game), he only played in 39 of the 66 total games during that lockout-shortened season. In a year where LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and even Kobe Bryant all were playing at high levels, it’s amazing five individuals could think to put Rose on their ballot despite playing in fewer than 60 percent of his team’s games.

Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats (2009-2010) – Imagine, if you will, a scenario where a member of the Charlotte Bobcats is in the MVP conversation, even if minimally. To be fair, this was the prime of Jackson’s career, smack-dab in the middle of a two-year stretch in which he averaged 20+ points per game. But that wasn’t more points per game than LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony or Dirk Nowitzki or Amar’e Stoudemire or Chris Bosh. How Jackson earned an MVP vote over some of those guys is truly dumbfounding.

Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2008-2009) – This was Yao’s last healthy season, so perhaps the vote was a send-off for one of the most beloved international players of all time. His numbers were respectable, scoring 19.7 points per game on .549 shooting and 9.9 rebounds per game, but that was his worst scoring year and his fewest minutes during that four-year stretch. The list of guys ahead of him is prodigious, which is why he probably shouldn’t have gotten even the lone vote.

P.J. Brown, New Orleans Hornets (2004-2005) – Arguably the most egregious, unbelievable MVP vote of all time, this one for the delightful P.J. Brown came courtesy of the Times Picayune’s Jimmy Smith, who said he cast this vote because of how much Brown meant to the Hornets that season. He voted for Steve Nash to win and gave Shaquille O’Neal the second place vote, a one-two that most voters agreed on that year. To this day, though, nobody quite gets why a vote got cast for a 35-year-old who averaged 10.8 points and 9 rebounds per game.

Mike Bibby, Sacramento Kings (2001-2002) – Bibby never even got voted to an All-Star Game, so to get an MVP vote is more than a little surprising. While his stats aren’t staggering (13.7 points and 5.0 assists per game), this was Bibby’s first season with the Kings, and they did win 61 games. Of course, Chris Webber finished 7th in MVP voting for those that wanted to give a Sacramento player a token vote, but who’s counting?

Anthony Mason, Miami HEAT (2000-2001) – Unlike Bibby, Mason actually did have an All-Star season, and this was the one. Having played over 40 minutes per game in Miami that season and averaging 16.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, he probably was one of the league’s top 20 players that year. Being the 16th or 17th best player in the league, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the guy should have gotten a fifth-place MVP vote.

Darrell Armstrong, Orlando Magic (1999-2000) – There were a couple years there around the turn of the century where Armstrong was one of the league’s best stories. He came out of nowhere in the late ‘90s after a handful of mediocre seasons with the Magic, playing his best ball this year, with his 16.2 points per game. Those Magic teams were good, but was Armstrong MVP-caliber, even in his best season? Probably not.

Mark Jackson, Indiana Pacers (1998-1999) – A whopping 21 players received MVP votes in 1999, which may have occurred due to the shortened season on the heels of that year’s big lockout. Armstrong got a couple of fifth-place votes this year, too, and in a six-way tie for 16th place, Penny Hardaway, Vince Carter, Glenn Robinson, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace and of course Mark Jackson all ended up on the tally sheet. Jackson was easily the most controversial of the batch, averaging only 7.6 points and 7.9 assists per game for the Indiana Pacers.

Rik Smits, Indiana Pacers (1997-1998) – Somehow Smits and his Pacers teammate Reggie Miller both ended up with 2 total points in MVP voting this season, though neither one really deserved the honor. Smits averaged just 16.7 points and 6.9 rebounds that year, fine numbers, and enough for an All-Star nod that year, but certainly not MVP-worthy.

It’s been a few years since anybody did anything ridiculous with their MVP vote, but that may change in a year where so much is going on with the race. For now, all we can do is enjoy the ride and hope that the race for MVP stays as close as it has for the season’s first few weeks.

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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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