Monday, October 29, 2012

MAMBINO Predictions for the NBA's MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year

MVP: LeBron James

The King: After winning back-to-back MVPs in the 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 seasons, Michael Jordan was the heavy favorite to win the award for a third consecutive time and fourth overall going into the 1992-1993 season. Despite averaging a monstrous 32.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 5.5 APG Jordan lost the MVP to Sir Charles.

LeBron James, who has won three of the last four MVPs, finds himself in similar position with 67% of NBA general managers predicting that he will once again take home the MVP.  Does Kevin Durant or any other player have a legitimate chance of dethroning the King? Sorry LeBron haters, it’s not going to happen. Here’s why:  

1) He’s the best player in the league: Obviously the number one factor in any individual player award is the performance of the player. What else is there to say? It's not even close.

2) Team Performance: A huge reason why Jordan lost the MVP was the drop off in performance for the Bulls between the 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons.  In the '91-'92 season, the Bulls dominated the league with a 67-15 record, good enough to win the Eastern Conference by 16 games! The next year they went 57-25, finishing second in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA – five games behind Barkley’s Suns. Team performance matters. Do you see anyway the Heat fail to dominate the Eastern Conference? Me neither.

3) Good Storyline/Big Improvement: If your team improves significantly from the prior year and your addition/growth/career year helps drive the team’s success, you are guaranteed a MVP. The best example of this is Barkley, who helped lead the Suns to the best record in the NBA after finishing 4th in the Western Conference the year before his arrival. Steve Nash (first MVP), Derrick  Rose and even Karl Malone (first MVP) are other great examples.

Where’s this year great story coming from? The Lakers could improve significantly, but it’s hard to see any of the Lakers winning an MVP for the same reason none of the Celtics came close in the 2007-2008 season. I don’t believe the Thunder will increase their winning percentage much more than the Heat, given their already stellar performance last year, their comparatively tough schedule this year and of course departure of James Harden. If Brooklyn or New York challenges for the number one seed in the East, Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony would garner considerable MVP support, but I just don’t think either team is good enough to challenge the Heat. While it’s true that you don’t see most of the good stories coming - that’s why they're good stories- unless there is a major surprise, I don’t see the storyline factor coming into play as it has in prior seasons.

4) Statistics: General basketball fans and MVP voters are far more familiar with quantitative measures of players’ value than they were even five years ago. For that reason, it’s going to be more difficult for someone to win the MVP when all the advanced statistics indicate that another player is clearly the league’s best, as is likely to be the case with LeBron this year (and was the case with Michael back in 1993).

5) Hate for LeBron/Loser’s Stigma: Two things that worked against James in 2010-2011 were a) he wasn’t considered a “winner” because he hasn’t won a championship and b) people were outraged over “The Decision”. Well, now he’s an NBA champion and with the passage of time, anger over The Decision has dissipated.

The NBA has a lot of young stars right now, so James is certainly no lock for the MVP. With that said, if I had to bet on him or the field for this year’s MVP, without hesitation I’m choosing LeBron.

Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis  
KOBEsh: Is there a question? There's little doubt that Anthony Davis is most likely the most talented player coming out of the 2011-2012 draft. However, the newly minted gold medalist and NCAA Tournament MOP could see his prospective ROY trophy taken away from him by the only other vote-getter in the MAMBINO forum was Damian Lillard. 
By all preseason indications--16 points per game on 45% shooting, 36% 3P and 95% (!) on FT--Portland's new starting point guard will be an instant impact player with the Blazers. Lightly regarded coming out of the Weber State University and the Big Sky Conference, many were concerned that Lillard's lack of college competition might have been a variable in his impressive statistics. However, after an impressive October showing, anyone that watched the 6'3" point guard could easily see that his performance will be a threat to Davis's already engraved ROY trophy. 

The biggest factor to consider has to be the fact that in year one, The Brow's offense game is unrefined, to say the least. To get a picture of what his nightly line could be, look no further than the NCAA Title Game in April: 6 points (on 1 for 10 shooting), 16 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, 6 blocks. Davis was obviously the defensive fulcrum in that game, helping hold the vaunted Jayhawk offense that averaged 47% on shots to a measly 35% that game. However, The Brow's offensive showing was less than impressive. As the game wore on, he relied more and more on the weapons around him, such as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, to do the scoring. 

I fear that Davis's NBA career will start the same way his college career ended, with him standing in as a defensive stalwart, while his offense slowly adjusts to the professional level. I can see him deferring to more established scorers like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, as they'll use the space provided by Davis's ample presence downlow to drop in between 15 and 20 per night. 

I can see the former Wildcat serving up a nightly line to the tune of 12/13/3 with 2 or 3 blocks, and while impressive, voters are generally attracted to high scoring totals for ROY nominations. Looking back on the past 20 years of the award, it's only gone to 3 players that scored less than 15 points a game, including Mike Miller (11.9), Amar'e Stoudemire (13.5) and Jason Kidd (11.7). However, Miller came from arguably the worst rookie class of all-time, Stoudemire was second in rookie scoring next to Caron Butler (15.3) and Kidd averaged nearly 8 assists a game. Lillard should rack up somewhere between 15 and 20 points a night, which in addition to starting on a squad that should be a playoff contender, will really take a lot of steam out of Davis's ROY plight. 

In the end, Anthony Davis should be the rookie of the year. Rebounding isn't the sexiest stat, but his highlight reel blocks and monster put-backs should distract from what should be a high-scoring year from Lillard. It'll be a close one, though. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

KOBEsh: Before the 2011-2012 season new coaching hire Mike Brown promised that over and above everything, the Lakers would be a super defensive team. He stressed how important D was to his very successful Cleveland Cavaliers teams that won over 60 games twice due to their ability to lock oppositions down. 

This promise fell well short of coming to fruition, with the Lakers settling outside the following category's top 10: FG% allowed, FGA allowed, 3P% allowed, ppg allowed, defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions allowed), blocks per game and coming in dead last in turnovers forced. Pretty far away from being the dominant defensive team Brown swore by. 

Dwight Howard should change all of this. The three-time DPOY helped his Orlando Magic teams rank within the top 3 of defensive efficiency three of the last four seasons simply by his transformative presence in the paint. In his two preseason games with the Lakers, it's been easy to see how active he is on the glass and on shooters anywhere close to the lane. A healthy Howard should be able to wreak havoc everywhere on the defensive end, but his DPOY trophy will be built on the same foundations that Knicks center Tyson Chandler jokingly not-jokingly announced in his acceptance speech last year:  "I would like to thank my teammates because without their poor defense and letting people fly by them I wouldn’t get credit for stepping up."

Howard's teammates--the 30 and up club of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison--should routinely find themselves looking at the heels of opposing scorers, giving Dwight more opportunity to pad his stats and look more the part of the team's defensive savior than he already is. 

Coach of the Year: Avery Johnson

KOBEsh: I've said this before and I'll say it again--The Coach of the Year award is usually a complete farce.

Unlike the MVP, ROY or Defensive Player of the Year awards, there's no real metric that goes into the COY trophy, except for team record. After all, how do you really measure "coaching"? Is John Hollinger in every locker room quantifying the number of camaraderie-laden high fives and translating it into enthusiasm efficiency rankings? Is ESPN Stats and Info taking record of failed play calling in the fourth quarter? Is Kirk Goldberry looking at every play run down the court, seeing how many defensive assignments are missed and then designating blame percentage over replacement coach? 

No. None of that is happening. What is happening is that voters take a look at the end of the year records, remember what the consensus prediction was for that team at the beginning of the season and then give the award to that guy. It doesn't matter if the coach himself was most responsible for the change rather than perhaps a transformative player, assistant coach or lackluster divisional competition. Unless any of those fake metrics I just described actually come to pass, the only way to draw any conclusions for Coach of the Year is to look on the floor, see if the team is playing well and then assume it's the work of the coach that's the biggest influence. Who can say that Mike Brown's 2008-2009 coaching job was 75% him and 25% LeBron's play? Or Byron Scott's 2007-2008 performance was 80%/20% tilted away from Chris Paul's virtuoso season? Or Sam Mitchell's 2006-2007 trophy was mostly him, or mostly the terrible division in which no other team won more than .500 of their games besides the Raptors? Or Avery Johnson's 2005-2006 award belonged more to him, Mark Cuban or Dirk Nowitzki? 

All of those coaches were fired within two seasons of winning the award. Mike D'Antoni lasted a stunning three seasons after his 2004-2005 trophy and Rick Carlisle lasted only 12 more months in Detroit before getting canned.  Doc Rivers once won the Coach of Year award not for his 2008 title with Boston, but rather for guiding a crappy Orlando team to a .500 record. That's it. 

In defense of the bogus COY award, the truth is that coaching hires in the NBA don't last particularly long. There's a very high turnover rate amongst these professionals who have the undesirable job of getting multi-million dollar assets with attitude and egos to play together and win. Long-tenured coaches like Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and George Karl are the exception rather than the rule. I suppose the award is for a year's performance instead of a measure of how good of a coach someone actually is, but it's glaringly apparent to me that there has to be so much more to attribute a team defying expectations than just the guy in the suit on the sidelines. 

The Coach of the Year Award is a complete joke. Avery Johnson will win this award because the Nets should improve vastly from last year, but I guess that couldn't be due to the new All-Star shooting guard, a healthy Deron Williams and Brook Lopez and an entire team motivated  by a move into an arena that cares, could it? 


Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks

Charlotte Bobcats

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