The NBA is already a quarter of the way done, and in accordance with that, it’s time to hand out the entirely unofficial first-quarter NBA Awards. Because, who doesn’t love talking about NBA awards?
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: STEPHEN CURRY
Stephen Curry is the unequivocal MVP. According to Basektball-Reference.com, he’s setting all-time records for Win Shares per 48 minutes, Player Efficiency Rating and currently has the second-best Box Plus-Minus in history. All that in spite of playing a relatively low 34.4 minutes per game.
In addition, his true shooting percentage of 70.0 percent is 3.5 percentage points higher than anyone who’s ever averaged 20 points. He’s on track to be the first player ever to shoot 90 percent from the stripe, 60 percent from two and 40 percent from three. And he’s clearing those numbers with room to spare.
And he’s on track to the be the first player in NBA history to lead the league in true shooting and scoring in the same season.
So second place? There’s no second place. Sorry Paul George and LeBron James, you have to settle in a tie for third.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: KRISTAPS PORZINGIS AND KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS
Take a look at the per-100 stats of Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns:
And here it is in picture format:
And here are the advanced stats:
The two K’s are running away with the race, but they’re in a dead heat. So why not go with it Grant Hill-Jason Kidd style and make them co-winners?
DEFENSIVE PLAYEROF THE YEAR: DRAYMOND GREEN
A lot of people would argue that he deserved it last year. And I agree 50.1 percent. But I didn’t see the outrage that some did that he didn’t win. It’s not that Kawhi Leonard was undeserving; it’s just that Green was even more deserving. And now he’s taken his game to whole other level.
The Warriors’ net rating is 22.0 when he plays and 1.6 while he sits. That has a lot to do with his defensive versatility and his ability to turn defense into offense.
And then there’s the fact that he can play the 5 in the “Death Ball” lineup, but more on that in the next award.
You can make a great case for Leonard still considering how dominant his San Antonio Spurs have been, but 23-0 is the tiebreaker. And that breaks a lot of ties.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: ANDRE IGUODALA
Typically, this award goes to a volume scorer, but this year’s crop has been pretty sad. The leaders in scoring off the bench are either on horrid teams (Will Barton and the Denver Nuggets), atrocious defenders (Enes Kanter) or both (Ryan Anderson). In short, there’s not really a “sixth man” who’s a volume scorer where you really feel like he’s a big reason that team is winning.
But the reigning Finals MVP is helping to propel his team to wins. He’s a vital cog in the Warriors’ so-called “Death Ball” lineup of Curry-Klay Thompson-Iguodala-Harrison Barnes-Green, which, at last count, had eviscerated opponents to the tune of +91 in just 64 minutes of play per NBA.com. Think about that. They’re not scoring that many points. They’re outscoring opponents by that much.
The one player who’s in that lineup who isn’t a starter is Iguodala, and that’s why he’s your next Sixth Man of the Year.
Furthermore, the duo of Iguodala and Green make up the Warriors’ second-best offensive rating and their best defensive rating among pairings with at least 100 minutes. So yes, they both deserve an award for the insanity that is the Warriors.
COACH OF THE YEAR: STEVE CLIFFORD
I’m going to go a little off-script here and not pick either Steve Kerr or Luke Walton for this as (a.) neither one is fully responsible for the Warriors’ success and (b.) you can’t just give all the awards to the Warriors. Well, I mean you almost could, but where would the fun in that be? How about giving some love to Steve Clifford, who hasn’t gotten enough attention for what he’s done in Charlotte.
Consider that he took over a team that was literally the worst in the history of the league and turned it into a playoff team. Then, after a season botched by injuries and missing the postseason, he had his best wing defender injured in the preseason. Now remember, this is a team that was built on a defensive foundation. As soon as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down, the NBA community wrote off the Hornets of having any prayer of competing.
Instead, what he’s done is make the offense the seventh-most efficient in the NBA with an offensive rating of 103.9 and is currently in the No. 5 seed, a game and a half out of first. And he’s done that with his “best” player, based on win shares, Kemba Walker, placing 32nd in the league. It’s not undefeated good, but he’s done a heck of a lot with a whole lot less.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: LARRY BIRD
Typically this award goes to the executive who made the best free-agent acquisitions, but not this time. Larry Bird saw the league heading in a different direction than his Indiana Pacers were going, so he took a bold step in trading away the strength of his interior defense, Roy Hibbert. That effectively pushed David West, their stalwart power forward, out of the door as well. And then they flip-flopped the entire way they played.
They went from being the 12th-slowest team in the league to the eighth-fastest. They went from depending on bigs to playing Paul George and C.J. Miles at power forward. And they became the best version of small ball this side of the Bay Area. And they did so without really adding major acquisitions. That Bird could envision and spearhead such a revolution without a dynamic personnel turnover earns him this award.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: STEPHEN CURRY
Say what? How do you give the MVP and the MIP to the same guy you ask. Welp. Let me tell you. I do it because he’s the most valuable player and he’s also the most improved. No. Really.
I looked at everyone who played at least 250 minutes this year and 1,000 last year in terms of both change in Win Shares per 48 and PER. Here’s what that looks like:
There’s only one player, Mario Chalmers, who’s had a higher bump in PER and only a dozen who’ve increased the WS/48 more than Curry. But most of those cases, as is the case with Chalmers, the “improvement” is from “sucks really bad” to “sucks kind of bad.” You can’t really equate the “leap” Zach LaVine has made with that which Curry has made.
And this is what’s extraordinary about Curry’s season. He’s an MVP, who’s literally taken his game to another level…as though that were even possible. And it’s only when you appreciate just what that means that you can start really getting why the Curry “hype” is getting so “out of hand.”
Below is what’s called a histogram. It shows every season of a player with 1,000-plus minutes over the last five years or 250 minutes this year. The bars (or bins) represent the number of instances a player season has fallen in that range of WS/48. Every two bars represent about one standard deviation:
So what does this mean? See that little bump two slots to the left of Curry? That’s LeBron James’s 2012-13 season. If I’d gone back further, Michael Jordan’s best season would be in that same bin. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1972 season would be the only one in history immediately to the left of Curry’s — the only one within one standard deviation of Curry’s, but still a full half SD behind.
Comparably, the difference between half a standard deviation from the mean (.103) is minimal. About 500 of the 1,297 qualified seasons in the last five years fall within that tiny spectrum.
In the entire history of the NBA, no one is within half a standard deviation of Curry. Only Jordan, James, Kareem and Wilt Chamberlain have posted seasons, at least three full SDs beyond the mean.
Curry is at 4.7!!!! standard deviations away from the mean. For those who don’t know what that means, in an ordinary bell curve, roughly one in 150,000 occurrences will fall that far away from the mean (using round numbers for easy math). Even if you figure 500 player seasons per year, a season like Curry’s would come along roughly once every 300 years. As in three centuries.
In one group you have almost half the NBA this season. In the other, you have one season — Kareem’s. See why it’s not fair to compare Chalmers’s “improvement” with Curry’s? Or even Kyle Lowry’s or Kawhi Leonard’s? Those two have improved impressively, but by within this year, not all of history standards.
I mean, maybe in the year 2315, there will still be an NBA and the Neptune Jabberwocks will beat the Pluto Pirates in the Finals, and someone will shatter Curry’s record…I don’t know. I just know that Kyle Lowry going from “All-Star to MVP-caliber” is impressive, but it’s not as impressive as Curry possibly going from MVP to not just the greatest season that has ever been played, but that will ever be played.
How do you give him the MIP? How do I not?