(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
Similar to the Most Improved Player award, there are two different methods for how coaches win the award. Either they are the coach of a good team that exceeds a bit and maybe plays its way into a seed or two higher in the playoffs, or they go from having a bad or mediocre team to surprising people and either making the playoffs or ending up in the top four of their conference. Fittingly, there’s a mix of both on the list this year, although the coaches with better teams usually have a better chance of winning. With that said…
1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
For years, Boston has been playing above its head, which most attribute to coach Brad Stevens. Now, Stevens has some real talent. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward was huge obviously, and with the trade completed for Kyrie Irving, the Celtics will be extremely formidable on the offensive side of the ball. They can take a real shot at throwing Cleveland off the throne and establish themselves going forward as the team to worry about in the East.
2. Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
If Houston was coming back with the same team as last year, D’Antoni wouldn’t have made the list. He’s done a great job with the Rockets, but coaches never win the award twice in a row. No seriously, it hasn’t happened. However, if anyone has a chance at it, it might be D’Antoni. The Rockets added Chris Paul for basically nothing this summer, and they could challenge Golden State for the wins record in the regular season. Golden State could rest more this season and not worry about giving up home court to Houston. I think if Houston finishes the regular season with the best record in the NBA, D’Antoni could be the first back to back winner of the award.
3. Brett Brown, Philadelphia Sixers
If the Sixers stay healthy this season, they will probably make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, even with a middling record, Brown will be getting a lot of love from the media for the job he’s done there. Whether you want to give him the credit for having 98 top 3 picks in the last few seasons is debatable, but the Process will finally be paying some dividends for the fans in Philly.
4. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Here is your alternative to the scenario with the Houston Rockets. Golden State could come out on fire, ready to make a run at back-to-back championships, and light everyone up. I’ll keep this short and sweet. If the Warriors set the record (again) for wins in a season, Kerr stands a good chance at winning the award.
5. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks
I might as well have put Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name instead of Jason Kidd’s. Kidd is a fine coach, but the only reason he has a chance at this award is because of the Greek Freak. If the team makes a leap this season, playing it’s way into a 3rd or 4th seed in the East, Kidd could potentially win the award. It’s not likely but stranger things have happened. (Mike Brown and Byron Scott have Coach of the Year awards in the last ten years)
There are a lot of factors when determining the Defensive Player of the Year and not all of them totally make sense. Like rebounding. I’m not saying big men shouldn’t be included in the award, but if all you can do is block shots and rebound, that doesn’t necessarily make you a plus defender (see: Hassan Whiteside). But these things factor in regardless, so it’s not really up to me. If I were in charge of the voting process, I would weigh things like deflections, steals, blocks and versatility over other factors, but here we are. So looking at this seasons DPOY candidates, you’ll see more versatile defenders, as well as a big men.
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Yes, it’s boring to pick the same players for the awards every year. But Draymond is the glue in Golden State and before Kevin Durant got into town, I believe he was was the best player on the Warriors overall. He can guard any position, has active hands in passing lanes and is a great communicator. Green could have won this award six times in a row and I would still be arguing he should win it this season.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi was (obviously) asked to do more on the offensive end for the Spurs last year and that led to a drop in his advanced defensive statistics. His usage rate went up by more than 5 percentage points but he lost almost a full defensive win share, as well as his steal and block percentages lowering. I say all this to say that Kawhi is still an elite level defender, but he may be sacrificing his defensive numbers and awards for MVP’s and championships. Not a bad trade off if you ask me.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Allow me to go stat nerd for a minute. Giannis finished last season seventh in block percentage, sixteenth in defensive rating, ninth in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive box plus/minus. All that while being just outside the top 20 in usage rate. Why does that matter? The only players above him in usage while also being consistently listed in the top 20 of those other categories are Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. That’s it. Thats next level shit. As I said in my MVP preview, Giannis is headed for superstardom, and the DPOY could be his bridge to that.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As noted above, Westbrook is an extremely underrated defender. The production he puts out on the offensive end combined with his defensive metrics lead me to confirm what most people have been saying for awhile. He is a cyborg, sent here to determine how many minutes and how much effort can be exerted by an NBA player before people get truly suspicious. We aren’t there yet though, because as far as I know, they haven’t started testing him for these things.
5. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Ah yes, our resident block and rebound specialist. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gobert. But I can’t unsee Steph Curry putting him into a literal washer and turning the spin cycle on high. I mean Rudy literally looks like he was dancing or on ice skates. Or both. I digress…
That play doesn’t stop Gobert from being the best shot blocker in the league and an amazing rebounder. With Gordon Hayward moving on to Boston, look for Gobert to take the definitive leader role and try to take Utah back to the playoffs.
After Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double last season, this MVP race may seem tame in comparison, but I think we’re in for a changing-of-the-guard season from the superstars in the league. The Lebron-era stars are starting their turn toward the end of the their careers and there is some serious talent coming up from the younger players. I think there will be a lot of familiar faces this season, but we’ll start to see some of the younger players sneaking into the conversation. Also, I think given the controversy, if you want to call it that, surrounding last years vote, and with the addition of Paul George to the team, Russell Westbrook has almost no shot at winning the award this year. He’s not on my list. So without further ado…
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
The runner-up to last seasons award is coming for blood. Or as much blood as someone who scored 10 points, had 7 assists and 6 turnovers in an elimination game in the playoffs can go for. Despite that, Harden is the best player on a team that should at least challenge the Warriors for the best record in the league, and that’s saying something. He got decently close to a triple double average himself last season, and with Chris Paul able to feed him more and Harden trying to run the offense full-time, he should get plenty of opportunities to score in bunches. Harden is my pre-season favorite to win the award next season.
2. Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I get it. He’s 32, going on 33 this season, with a lot of miles on his body that not even an Instagram video can prepare you for. He’s feuding (or not) with Kyrie Irving and his camp, he’s probably already got eyes for Los Angeles, etc.
But the thing to always remember with Lebron is, he is the best player to ever play the game, and when he gets irritated, he can prove any point he wants on the court. He’s already thinking about Los Angeles? I’d argue he’s gunning for one final “fuck you” to Dan Gilbert on his way out. He’s going to be 33 this season? He’s also an alien and a player with the durability and stamina of which we’ve NEVER seen in the NBA.
So keep talking all that shit about Lebron being on the downside of his career. He’ll prove you wrong.
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant showed what he was capable of in the postseason for the Warriors. I don’t care if he doesn’t like the Slim Reaper nickname, it is the most accurate name for him. He went full Reaper to close the Cavaliers out in the finals and he should continue to dominate as he hits the prime of his prime. The MVP award isn’t just about composite numbers necessarily, it’s also about the flair, the swagger you bring to the table and if playoff KD shows up for the regular season, it’s a wrap.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Listen. Kawhi is 26 years old. He’s only played 6 NBA seasons. We haven’t even started peak Kawhi yet. This is ridiculous. Leonard is the glue holding San Antonio together after Tim Duncan retired two years ago, and he will need to make an even further leap (mostly offensively) if he wants to challenge the Warriors. I think Rudy Gay is going to be a difference maker for the Spurs, but if they want to challenge the Warriors out West, not only will LaMarcus Aldridge need to pull his head out of his ass, but Kawhi will have to go to an otherworldly level.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’ve been on the Greek Freak bandwagon almost since he came into the league, so this isn’t a totally unbiased selection, but this offseason, most of the talk around the 22 year old hasn’t been about IF he would win an MVP, but how MANY MVP’s he would win. Giannis is one of the NBA unicorns, and while I don’t think he will win it this season, if he starts hitting his jumper and the Bucks make a surprise run to the top of the Eastern Conference, he could bring home the hardware.
Signed: Omri Casspi, Nick Young
Resigned: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Javale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, David West
Drafted: Jordan Bell
Free Agents: Matt Barnes, Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo
Projected Starting Lineup
- Steph Curry
- Klay Thompson
- Kevin Durant
- Draymond Green
- Zaza Pachulia
AP Photo/Ben Margot
I, regrettably, did not pick the Golden State Warriors to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. I picked them in five, mostly due to Lebron James. I figured he would be able to steal a game somewhere. Unfortunately for Lebron, he can’t do it all himself.
After getting run off the court in Game 1, it’s pretty apparent that, barring injury or Mike Brown becoming….well, Mike Brown, we’re staring down a first championship for Kevin Durant. Side note, I love Mike Brown.
The Cavaliers have a lot to fix, but these are the most important things to a turnaround in the series for the Cavaliers.
1. Guard Kevin Durant
I’m not entirely sure if the “Ignore-Kevin-Durant-on-Defense” gameplan was a smart choice. It felt like Durant ran down the middle of the court, unimpeded, for a dunk about 204728974 times. Part of the problem is that Lebron is just not the same lockdown defender that he was at the peak of his prime. Lebron still has a step on almost everyone on the planet, but Kevin Durant is an alien. Similar to Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and other E.T.’s. Lebron can’t hang with Durant, but unfortunately he is probably the Cavs best option. Getting more length on Durant (Iman Shumpert) or someone to rough him up (Dahantay Jones, James Jones) would be the only option to give Lebron a break.
2. Use Less Bench
All that being said, the Cavs bench was awful. Deron Williams might as well have gone back to Brooklyn and the whole bench combined for 21 points, 5 less rebounds than Kevin Love alone, and 2 assists. This is where I think Lebron’s usage over the regular season and playoffs will bite Cleveland. Lebron and the rest of the starters are going to have two, maybe three guys that they can rely on for decent breaks. Kyle Korver has to step up, Iman Shumpert has to become a plus-wing defender and Richard Jefferson needs to travel back in time. Outside of those guys, I can’t see how you legitimately argue more than a couple minutes for anyone else.
3. Slow the Game Down
Trying to outrun the Warriors is a recipe for disaster, especially if the Cavs shrink their bench down. The Warriors are faster, smaller and younger than the Cavs. Slowing the game down and operating out of the half court will allow Cleveland to try to control the pace and get the starters some rest on the offensive end of the court.
4. Go Small…ish
Shrinking the bench gives Cleveland less options, but Tyronn Lue needs to get creative. Starting the same lineup, and then staggering Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love keeps Lebron at the 4 and closer to the basket. Using Lebron in a Draymond Green role on defense is probably their best bet to put defensive pressure on the Warriors and keep the games lower scoring.
5. Pull Draymond Green Away From the Basket
Conversely, cracking the Warrior code on defense requires removing the most important piece. When Green got in foul trouble early in the first quarter and had to come out of the game, Cleveland was able to take advantage and keep the game close. The biggest advantage Green gives the Warriors is playing close to the basket and sliding with help defense on anyone that comes into the paint. Going small and making Green guard a legit threat on the perimeter pulls him out of that role and opens up the lane. Green is the most important player for the Warriors and limiting his effectiveness is a must for Cleveland.
Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports
In the final award preview post, we’re going to take a look at the the MVP race. I have a somewhat controversial list, as Steph Curry is not on it. After winning it the past two years, unanimously last season, I think there’s 0% chance the voters give it to him again. Adding Durant will pull votes from him anyway, and I just don’t see any way that Steph gets it.
That being said, there are definitely some familiar names on here, all for different reasons. Let’s check it out.
Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
You have to put the best player in the league on the list. Period. Lebron may have been coasting a bit last year, but that may not be the case this season. He was angry that Steph won it last season, and it showed in the Finals. If Lebron feels like making the point definitive, he could play in 72 games, try every night and get the Cavs to the best record in the league, even over the looming Golden State team. Conversely, Lebron could see the big picture and choose to rest his body for another shot at Golden State in the playoffs. Ultimately, I see Lebron as the big picture guy, however keyed in Lebron is bar none the best player in the league.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
And looking at Lebron from the opposite coast is Kevin Durant. While I think there’s no chance Steph wins it, I do think he pulls some votes from Durant. So, there’s only one scenario where Durant has a shot. If he can lead Golden State to another record-breaking season (upper 70’s in wins) and average the numbers he did last season in Oklahoma City (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5 apg) then I can see the voters being compelled to give it to him. Before the preseason, I didn’t know how likely this was. However, after watching the flow and chemistry on the court already for the Warriors, I think it’s definitely on the table.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
An underdog in terms of the betting odds, Harden is an intriguing option. Under the Mike D’Antoni offense, and running the point this season officially, Harden could have a monster year and bring the Rockets right along with him. Make no mistake, the Rockets won’t play any sort of defense, but they also might average 110 points per game. Harden could finish in the 30 ppg, 9 apg range and that would be enough if the Rockets get to a top seed in the West.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is going to play like a man possessed. It’s in his wiring. So let’s look at the differences between last season with Durant and the 2014-15 season without Durant.
- 2015-16: 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.4 apg, PER 27.6
- 2014-15: 28.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, PER 29.1
Now, obviously the points and PER were higher without Durant, and that may be enough to warrant the award. But I think Westbrook will need a better showing both in team record and teammate stats to pull it out. He does have a better supporting cast this season than a couple years ago, but Russell will still need to prove it.
My Pick: Russell Westbrook
TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).
Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside
My Pick: Kawhi Leonard