The Utah Jazz season ended with an 86-70 loss in Memphis on Wednesday night. And with the postseason, come postseason awards. Each NBA market has three media representatives vote on Most Valuable Players, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, as well as the All-NBA teams. The Salt Lake Tribune beat writer holds one of those votes.
In the interest of transparency and debate, the ballot I submitted to the NBA this morning follows:
Most Valuable Player
1. LeBron James, Miami
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Notes: James will win his fourth MVP award and it won't even be close. At various points this spring, I've heard cases made for why James should be vote Most Improved, as well as the league's top defender. Few players have the abiltiy to completely change the game, to have the NBA conform to him. Shaquille O'Neal was the last, but not even O'Neal dominated a game in as many ways as James. ... Kobe Bryant was on this list for a moment. What he did in the last month of the season to will the Lakers into the playoffs was simply herculean. But at the end of the day he was the best player on a highly disappointing team that didn't make the playoffs until the final day of the regular season.
Most Improved Player
1. Paul George, Indiana
2. Omer Asik, Houston
3. Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans
Notes: An award without real parameters is tough to vote on, but George became the first All-Star from the class of 2010 and carried the Pacers to the No. 2 seed despite the absence of Danny Granger, considered the Pacers best player before missing most of the season with an injury.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Marc Gasol, Memphis
2. LeBron James, Miami
3. Joakim Noah, Chicago
Notes: Thanks to advancements in statistics and widespread comprehension of them, we can now tangibly judge defense beyond blocks and steals. Gasol was the highest-rated defender on the league's top defensive team. His numbers are pedestrian (his 1.72 blocks per game, for example, were 12th in the league), but he is a mobile center who defends the pick and roll, is a tremendous help defender, plays his man, makes few mistakes. ... So tempted to vote James first here. The MVP is hands down the most versatile defender. Against the Jazz earlier this season, the 6-foot-9 James guarded Utah center Al Jefferson and the Jazz couldn't get him the ball. In conversation yesterday, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said James could guard Muggsy Bogues or Wilt Chamberlain. The natural small forward spent most of the season defending big men to great success.
Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
2. Jarrett Jack, Golden State
3. J.R. Smith, New York
Notes: Two months ago, this may have been unanimous for Crawford. However, Smith's role on the Knicks was huge — he averaged about 19 points per game — and Jack was the most important player for the Warriors not named Curry or Lee. His absence was especially felt prior to the All-Star Break, when Jack was injured and the Warriors went through their roughest stretch of the season. However, Crawford's arrival in Lob City coincided with the legitimization of the Clippers as a Western Conference threat, and not just a novelty collection of freak athletes. The belief here is that those aren't coincidental. ... Gordon Hayward's name was tossed around as a possibility. Not sure he gets any votes, but the Jazz swingman had a nice run off the bench, scoring 14.3 points in 45 games as a reserve.
Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard, Portland
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans
3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland
Notes: The only point of discussion here is over the third-place vote getter, and there's not even an award for that. Next.
Coach of the Year
1. George Karl, Denver
2. Eric Spoelstra, Miami
3. Lionel Hollins, Memphis
Notes: In a superstar era, Karl guided the West's most exciting team with none. Perhaps the best thinker in basketball has seen a complete overhaul in just two years since the departures of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. ... Spoelstra revamped the Heat offense and should be credited for much of the improvement in James, at least for recognizing where he should be on the floor. ... Hollins: The trade of Rudy Gay was tremendous from an analytics standpoint — the geeks all said so — but Hollins still had to integrate several new players into big-time roles in the middle of the season. With signs pointing to a change at the position in the offseason, Hollins deserves kudos for how that team performed.
Forward: LeBron James, Miami
Forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Center: Tim Duncan
Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Guard: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Forward: Carmelo Anthony, New York
Forward: Zach Randolph, Memphis
Center: Marc Gasol, Memphis
Guard: Tony Parker, San Antonio
Guard, James Harden, Houston
Forward: David Lee, Golden State
Forward: Paul George, Indiana
Center: Chris Bosh, Miami
Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State
Notes: Had many conversations over whether Bryant was deserving after the Lakers have so dramatically underachieved. That they achieved at all, though, is a credit to Bryant, who 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6 assists before a ruptured Achilles ended his 17th NBA season. ... Not a great ballot for scorers, I know. Anthony (the league's scoring leader), Harden and Curry all probably deserve to be about one team higher. But I was vexed. Where to put them? ... Any doubts I had over whether Zach Randolph deserved such a high position were eliminated with his 25 points, 19 rebound performance against the Jazz in the regular season finale. He may be the league's best at finishing around the rim, an achievement made more impressive by the fact he plays under it. ... Russell Westbrook, too, is better than typical third teamers. He may be my favorite player in the game. MVP potential. ... Notable painful omissions:
Leave thoughts in the comments. The NBA will roll out their awards in the coming weeks.
— Bill Oram