Posted December 12, 2013

LeBron James leads tight MVP race, more awards at quarter mark of season

Ben Golliver, Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James, Michael Beasley, Michael Carter-Williams, Roy Hibbert, Terry Stotts

Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts

Terry Stotts (right) has guided Damian Lillard and the Blazers to an 18-4 start. (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Coach of the Year

1. Terry Stotts, Blazers
2. Frank Vogel, Pacers
3. Jeff Hornacek, Suns

This is always one of the trickiest awards to get a handle on early in the season, as 20-24 games usually aren’t enough to establish true tiers. The conference disparity this season just makes it that much more difficult. Ten teams in the West are separated by only four games (ranging from 15-8 to 10-11), and 12 teams in the East are separated by just 4½ games (from 11-11 to 6-15). Who are the sleepers? Who are the true disappointments? Where are the turnaround teams? Who knows.

Stotts and Vogel won their conference Coach of the Month awards thanks to their teams’ strong starts. They are both worthy candidates, and the chief reason for selecting Stotts over Vogel might be considered fairly touchy-feely (“No one saw it coming!”). Still, Portland leads the NBA in points per possession by a good margin after finishing 15th last season, relying on three-pointers, an intelligent understanding of their players strengths and weaknesses, and lots of unselfish play. This has been one of the league’s most entertaining teams, just as Stotts’ strongest advocates (his former boss in Dallas, Rick Carlisle, and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki) predicted when he was in the running for the Blazers’ job in 2012. To see a vision realized in such a manner is worthy of (early) recognition.

Much of the same can be said for Vogel, and there’s a feeling here that his candidacy is more likely than Stotts’ to last the entire season. Indiana’s top-ranked defense has been historically good, and there’s no reason to expect an unraveling: The Pacers topped the league in defense last season, and now they have the benefit of playing against the hapless East as Tanking Season ramps up. Vogel’s bunch seems fully motivated to earn home-court advantage in a hypothetical grudge match against the Heat in the conference finals. A lofty win total and top defense would be a powerful one-two punch for Vogel when it comes time for final voting.

At 12-9, a gutted Suns team is in the running for “biggest overachievers.” Full credit to Hornacek, who set the tone by developing relationships with some of his younger players while coaching the franchise’s entry at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Suns are an annoying, relentless opponent because of their high-pressure defense and an ability to score in transition. The best is yet to come, given general manager Ryan McDonough’s accumulation of draft picks, but the current results aren’t too shabby.


Roy Hibbert

Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (right) has been a force around the basket for the NBA’s stingiest defense. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Roy Hibbert, Pacers
2. Paul George, Pacers
3. Tim Duncan, Spurs

Who says two guys from the same team shouldn’t rank 1-2 on an awards ballot?

It would take an unexpected turnaround for James, who finished second to Grizzlies center Marc Gasol last season and then griped about it, to worm his way into this discussion. Indiana has just been too dominant, and its defensive linchpins — Hibbert and George — have all the necessary components. Both play for a top-ranked defense, both are All-Stars, both have established defensive reputations, both are capable of highlight plays, both get the benefit of lots of attention during high-profile matchups against top teams and scorers, and both grade out amazingly in on/off numbers. Hibbert’s defensive rating is 90 and George’s is 91.3. Those are ungodly, and they represent major net differences compared to when either of them leaves the court. To underscore their collective dominance: George ranks No. 1 in defensive win shares and Hibbert ranks No. 2; Hibbert ranks No. 1 in defensive rating and George ranks No. 4.

MAHONEY: How the NBA’s best defense got even better

We’ve seen players chase scoring titles over the years with late-season ball-hogging. I’m imagining a world in which Hibbert and George realize in March that they are clearly the top two candidates for this award and then they decide to chase it full on, smothering weak competitors, pummeling shots back in people’s faces, ripping guards before they get across half court, etc. This must happen!

If it does come down to these two, it seems a safe bet that this award’s big-man bias will carry Hibbert past George. (Metta World Peace and Gary Payton are the only perimeter players to win since 1989.) Should that happen, I don’t think we’re likely to hear many complaints.

Settling on a third name is a toss-up, what with the Grizzlies’ Gasol injured, the Bulls thrown into injury hell, the Spurs’ refusal to play anyone more than 31 minutes a game, the Heat off to a loose (by their standards) start and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders blocking more club punches than shots. Duncan gets the slot as a sign of appreciation for San Antonio’s No. 2 ranking in points allowed per possession and his individual defensive rating, which is among the league leaders. James, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, Chicago’s Joakim Noah, Golden State’s Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, Houston’s Dwight Howard and the Clippers’ Paul should figure into the trailing pack as this one unfolds.


Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley (left) has been a valuable contributor in Miami. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Most Improved Player

1. Michael Beasley, Heat
2. Anthony Davis, Pelicans
3. Eric Bledsoe, Suns

I guess I’m a sucker for a good “turn your life around” story. Last season, my first-quarter Most Improved Player was Nets big man Andray Blatche, who transformed from an amnesty victim with five years’ worth of red flags into a PER darling in a matter of months. Now, Beasley is making a similar leap from down-and-out to super efficient.

In case you ignored the 2012-13 Suns — and no one could blame you if you did — Beasley registered more shots than points and posted minus-1.5 win shares, the worst rating in the league. That performance, coupled with off-the-court problems, prompted a contract buyout. Phoenix sent him packing with a sternly worded press release about character standards.

Reborn in a reserve role in Miami, Beasley ranks 15th with a 22.2 PER (more than double his 2012-13 mark) and his offensive rating has soared from 87 to 109. It’s hard to be more improved than that. He’s kept his nose clean with the Heat, too, which is probably more important than the on-court stuff when you take into account his track record of substance-abuse issues.

JOHNSON: Beasley piecing career back together with Heat

Davis and Bledsoe have dealt with injuries, but let’s give them some due for keeping their respective teams in the mix in the loaded West. Even if Davis’ improvement was anticipated, you can’t argue with the eye-popping results mentioned above. Bledsoe, a logical preseason pick after a summer trade from the Clippers to the Suns promised an expanded role, has delivered by more than doubling his scoring and doubling his assists. His 21 PER is easily a career high and sixth among point guards. Bledsoe’s teammate Morris has made big strides this season, too.

Sacramento’s Thomas, my Sixth Man Award pick, is another strong option here, as is his teammate Cousins. Two established guards — Portland’s Wesley Matthews and Orlando’s Arron Afflalo — have enjoyed monster starts that warrant mention, but both are subject to a high likelihood of regression, a la O.J. Mayo last season, because their early shooting numbers far outpace their career standard. The same can be said for Celtics guard Jordan Crawford, whose numbers make him look like a new man. Let’s not forget about the Pistons’ Drummond or 76ers center Spencer Hawes, either. Drummond’s draft class includes other second-year players who have drawn attention such as Celtics big man Jared Sullinger, Sixers guard Tony Wroten, Rockets forward Terrence Jones, Bucks power forward John Henson and Suns center Miles Plumlee. In short, there are lots of intriguing candidates to monitor.


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42 comments
dny
dny

In my opinion they should definitely consider the players from my team for whatever awards some of the players on my team of which they fit the description.


All of the obvious homers need to stop commenting. It only makes sports fans-beyond-one-team/city lose faith in sports fanaticism, one comment at a time.


At this point, a month later, some of the award races have shifted a bit.

MVP: Durant. Doesn't need an explanation. Carrying the weight of the 11+ oft-injured others on his team through the West.

DPOY: This hasn't shifted much. George and Davis are the frontrunners in my opinion, but it's a toss-up.


ROY: Obviously MCW, and it's not very close.


COY: Stotts still pretty much leads it, Hornacek's Suns are keeping up in the West though, and that's no easy task at all.


MIPOY: Isiah Thomas probably, but Stephenson could close in. Davis if he wasn't expected to improve and his team didn't just snap an eight-game losing streak. Bledsoe if he wasn't expected, but his team is keeping pace. Thomas/Stephenson/Bledsoe toss-up by year's end probably.


Feel like I'm strangely forgetting one, but I'm not, so I guess that's it.

Troy14
Troy14

Paul George should be first. 

ReneJFerranJr
ReneJFerranJr

Two Blazers to tout ... Mo Williams for Sixth Man of the Year, and Joel Freeland for Most Improved.

RRamirez
RRamirez

This article is to take up space....wait until after the All Star break at least.

AleksandarSpasevski
AleksandarSpasevski

so far in the season LeBron shouldn't be placed at the top, his team is not number one and he's not playing at his best. he had lots of bad moments in games. I'm not saying that he is playing bad, but when you talk about the regular season till now he's not dominating. My top pick would probably be LaMarcus Aldridge because he is the leader of that squad, is making everybody around him better and he is present on both ends of the floor (if you try to make Love comments, just watch how does Love play transition defense ....) There are also other important factors that made Portland that good this early in the season http://wp.me/p49gAF-4o but I think that they wouldn't done it without Aldridge in this form

Tito1
Tito1

Lebron for MVP??? Beasley for most improved??? This guy must be only watching Heat games... I wonder what's next Bosh as Defensive Player of the Year, Oden as 6th Man.  I can't stand how these writers keep ignoring good players just because the Heat

Olafminesaw
Olafminesaw

I hate the NBA mainly because one player like Lebron can make a team good. I prefer team sports.

YupIamhere
YupIamhere

The MVP is easily Lebron. Watch as the season continues.

crdurrett018
crdurrett018

Boris Diaw or Marco Belineli both deserve consideration for 6th man of the year.

MikeHuser1
MikeHuser1

One intriguing candidate for Most Improved that you left out? Born Ready. Lance Stephenson. Dude hasn't even peaked yet, and he's getting triple doubles and damn-near-trip-dubs on the regular. Larry knew the kid had chops. Credit the sagacious, and underrated, David West for taking the wild boy under his wing. He's can still be wreckless, but the guy can't even rent a car yet. He's going to learn and become a Rajon Rondo type of player with a better jump shot. Mark my words.

kablyryan
kablyryan

Kevin Love should be in here too.

MikeShaw2
MikeShaw2

Ben, by the way, of all people, you should know better

dfo8131
dfo8131

How in the world is LBJ leading the MVP race? I can name at lease 3 players ahead of him.  Paul Gorge, KD, and LaMarcus Aldridge

Elan
Elan

Mo Williams should be considered for 6th man as well.

JustinMcElhaney
JustinMcElhaney

Are u kidding...so muck Lebron bias....according to everyone else KD is leading the race.....

dny
dny

Oh, SMOY, was of course the one I was forgetting. Eh, it's a toss-up between quite a few players. This is one that Beasley actually could compete for, but probably not. Ginobili we can be pretty sure is not going to do anything erratic to drop out of his pace, so I guess him. Not sure, though. This is definitely the hardest to predict this year.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@Tito1 lebron is so efficient its insane.  Hes shooting almost 60% from the field, 43% from 3, and almost 80% from the line.  All while being a super-high usage player.  If he was playing 40 minutes per game, and not coasting in alot of big wins, his per-game numbers would be through the roof.


Beasley for most improved  - whats your problem?  Guy was a disaster last year, and now his a productive member of a championship caliber team.  What more do you want dude? 

You accuse the writer of loving on the Heat, but you're just the inverse of that -  and just as bad

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@Olafminesaw your comment is why I prefer informed and knowledgeable posts and not garbage like you just wrote

MikeHuser1
MikeHuser1

@Olafminesawuhhh... dude? Have ya watched the Pacers? Do you even watch basketball for that matter?

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

@dfo8131

and then you woke up...

this is not the flavor of the month this is the best of the best...

if you are the back to back NBA champion finals MVP  and regular season MVP a few month of ok basketball should not dethron the Mvp from Lebron.. for a player to win it they must be clearly better than Lebron period.


lebron is shooting almost 60 % from the field thats all i need to know... not to mention all the others thing Lebron does on the floor night in and night out that NO OTHER PLAYER IN THE NBA DOES AT lebrons level....


Now do you get it or do you need me to explain it further ????

taxiarchangel
taxiarchangel

@JustinMcElhaney Durant is CLEARLY the MVP so far. Durant beats lebrons in nearly every statistical category so far. His team has a better record than the Heat AND he play's in a conference that is about 5 times as competitive as the (L)East!  It's pretty easy to be efficient when you play against bottom dwellers every other night. Check Lebron's numbers the last time the Heat played the Pacers: 37.5 %FG with  17pts.  

Tito1
Tito1

@AaronDunckel @Tito1 First of all, I'm not form Cleveland. Second I respect Lebron's skills as a player, but not how these SI writers try to shove it down everyone throats he's the only MVP caliber player every year.  Yeah he's the best in the league, but not the MVP this year: KD, Paul George, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Steph Curry, all those guys are having amazing years and if you remove them from their respective teams, those teams become lottery teams and that's not the case with Lebron.  Beasley is far from most improved player, Stephenson from Indiana, Thomas from Sacramento, Turner from Philly, Thompson from Golden State, are just a few examples of players creating a better impact by their improvement than Beasley.  I hope you're always been a Heat fan or a Lebron fan, and not just recently...

JonathanD
JonathanD

@taxiarchangel @YupIamhere Perhaps assists, rebounds, FG%, 3pt%, and PER are more significant numbers than the stats you listed?  Plus, Westbrook as a second fiddle is much better than anyone on the Heat this year, and no one seriously believes that Durant is defending better than Lebron.

dny
dny

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler@dfo8131 Agreed dude, LeBron should obviously be MVP, and probably Defensive Player of the Year too. And honestly, considering his improvements, probably Most Improved Player as well. And he's a coach out on the court, so in my opinion they should definitely give him Coach of the Year too. And because he's so awesome and makes up the worth of six players, we should give him Sixth Man of the Year too. And for kicks and because LeBron and the Heat are the best ever, we should just give him Rookie of the Year award too. Go LeBron! The King! Go Heat!!


That's what people that aren't Miami bandwagon-riders think you sound like. And no, he already stated he wasn't a Cleveland fan, he's just not a Heat fan you closeminded ignoramus. FYI: I'm a Sixers fan.

taxiarchangel
taxiarchangel

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler @dfo8131  


http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/4244/gamelog/


http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/3704/gamelog/


The Thunder play IN THE WEST and are 19 - 4 (tied for 2nd in the West). The Heat are 17-6 and play  IN THE (L) EAST! 


Durant leads Lebron in ppg, blks, stls, FT%, win shares, AND defensive rating! 


 http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2014_leaders.html


Now if you want to say Lebron should get MVP because he has a much higher FG% than Durant, while you ignore all the other areas where Durant leads lebron;  then Deandre Jordan, Andre Drummond and Amir Johnson should all get considered for MVPahead of Lebron. They all have higher FG% than him!


Thanks for playing though.

dfo8131
dfo8131

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler @dfo8131  

Since when is the MVP based on previous year's performance? What is being discussed here is if the award is given out today for the 2013-2014 season. It is based on many things including the team's record. There have been many times in the past when a player is clearly the best player in the league but because his team’s record is mediocre he does not get the award. Since the start of the 2013-2014 season there are clearly a few players playing better than LeBron. You are one of those people that think LeBron should get the award just because he’s LeBron


FYI: Durant had more points per game and better scoring percentage and the award was given to LeBron 

travmil
travmil

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler @dfo8131 So you're contention is that LeBron deserves the 2013-14 NBA MVP award based on stats and accomplishments from seasons other than 2013-14? And you're claiming to help explain it to us? Good luck with that...

KevinB2014
KevinB2014

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler @dfo8131  Never a good sign that you're being successful in your arguments when you resort to "everyone else is being stupid". I suggest you walk into your bathroom, look in the mirror, pat yourself on the back, and call the meeting of your fan club to order.

JonathanD
JonathanD

@Tito1 @AaronDunckel Indiana is a lottery team without Paul George?  Kevin Love and Steph Curry are better MVPs than Lebron?  Serious?


Lebron is the best player in the NBA, and he makes more of a difference on both ends than anyone else who steps on the floor.  Take away Lebron from this year's Heat, and you have....an underperforming Bosh who plays 30 minutes/game, a Wade who misses half the games, and...who exactly?

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@dfo8131@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

lebron is so efficient its insane.  Hes shooting almost 60% from the field, 43% from 3, and almost 80% from the line.  All while being a super-high usage player.  If he was playing 40 minutes per game, and not coasting in alot of big wins, his per-game numbers would be through the roof.

If you dominate other teams so thoroughly that you play less minutes per game, then you still are up there for MVP - per game numbers are trash

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

@dfo8131

Dummy listen point per game does not mean a thing in my book...  those idiots in the media was all over curry's 43pts... who cares... how much does he gives up on the defensive end i bet a lot more... 

how many boards does he pull down, block shots? assist.... when a person is your best player in EVERY category THAT is the TRUE definition of MVP....

last time i checked Durant wasnt OKC best passer, rebounder, shot blocker, defender, post player.... shall i go on.. you can continue getting fooled by points per game... the media uses that to keep the simple minded fans enterained...

Stats can be made to look how you want example LAST YEAR per 48 minutes of basketball / full game.... Lebron averaged 34.0 points Durant 35.1 .... lebron 57% from the field to Durants 51% from 3pt range Lebron 41% to Durants 42% ignore all the other things lebron does better than Durant... and you see why Lebron was the MVP.. last year one idiot voted for Melo.. you see how stupid some people can be when they dont have a smart mind such as myself guiding them...

JonathanD
JonathanD

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler @AaronDunckel Agreed - PER numbers don't play favorites, and Lebron is dominating the league.  Plus is defense, which PER doesn't really take into account, as still been better than every other serious candidate except Paul George.