Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 NBA Awards and Voting Philosophy

This covers the "miscellaneous" awards. I'll cover the defensive awards in another article and the all-NBA/MVP in another.

NBA awards are inherently meaningless. Arguing over them is like starting a fist-fight with a ghost: no one will see it, and you look crazy. But we still invest a lot into awards because they signify something official -- Defensive Player of the Year winners are etched in stone, some players are known first for their awards, and there's a decent amount of media attention for even the less important awards. If we're going to keep running out these things, we need to be smarter about it.

First of all, as John Hollinger said, you cannot make up your own rules to vote. People have added the "must be on a winning team, preferably a contender" criterion to Most Valuable Player, and because people have been doing that for a while the momentum is strong enough to keep this mindset going. It doesn't matter to people that it's an incorrect voting method -- because that's how things were done in the past, that's how they'll vote in the future. You can point out even legends like Kareem and Garnett missed multiple playoffs in their prime, but it doesn't matter. How good your teammates are has an effect on your MVP chances. You should not create your own rules.

If anyone reading this has a vote (slim chance), please consider that we're voting for individual awards and don't be fooled by basic points per game stats. Even real plus/minus has some glaring errors, as advanced plus/minus has continually underrated Noah's defense, for example, and we should always take a step back and consider the context. With that said, most of the awards in reality have different meanings -- and I do hope we start to move away from these invented definitions.

Most Improved Player Award
(aka player with the biggest increase in points, rebounds, and/or minutes)

The Phoenix Suns.

Outside of giving the award to an entire team, there are a number of good candidates here, and it's hard to narrow it down. I hope it doesn't go to Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan, who are simply playing more minutes. Cousins, Anthony Davis, Lillard, Dragic, Griffin, and Paul George have all taken a giant step forward, and they weren't non-entities before. There are a few other role players worth mentioning, like Kendall Marshall, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, and Lance Stephenson, but the most impressive improvements, in my opinion, have been from Anthony Davis and Dragic. People saying Davis shouldn't win the award because we expected big things from a number one pick are voting for a fictional award they created.

Also, people saying Drummond should win because guys have a harder time keeping up their numbers as their minutes increase need to take a close look at the Millsap doctrine. Starting more often and playing more seems to help a player's per minute rates, as possibly because they're more comfortable and have more time to get into a rhythm.

Real votes: Anthony Davis. Followed by: Dragic and Isaiah Thomas.

Anthony Davis has improved his ballhandling and scoring ability:

Coach of the Year
(aka most surprising team)

Gregg Popovich.

He's the best coach in the league, and I think he's doing the best job of coaching right now. It's that simple. Their defensive system is among the best, and so is their offensive system -- it's rare for a coach to juggle both. They're past 60 wins with homecourt advantage guaranteed now, and they've done that without anyone over 30 minutes. That's absurd. It's like Popovich made a weird bet with someone that he could get away with no one over 30 minutes.

Since the award is usually reserved for most surprising team, as apparently there's no possible way the credit for a team doing better than expected should go to the players, Hornacek may actually win this. I can't imagine anyone admitting he's a better coach, but, again, people make up their own rules.

Honorable mentions: Tom Thibodeau and Rick Carlisle.

The motion of Popovich's offense is beautiful:

Rookie of the Year
(aka rookie with the highest PPG+RPG+APG)

Nerlens Noel.

Simply by not participating in the worst rookie class since 2000, at least so far, Nerlens Noel is the default winner. Though for serious candidates, Oladipo and Carter-Williams are the typical stat-stuffing but inefficient scorers, but Trey Burke has helped Utah's offense from falling into a bottomless pit, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been one of New York's few bright spots and replaced some of JR Smith's shooting, Pero Antic is a poor man's Okur, Dieng is late to the party but is now threatening Pekovic's starting position, and Steven Adams has emerged as an alternative to Kendrick Perkins.

But there's one guy with a slightly better case than everyone: Mason Plumlee. When Brook Lopez went down as Brooklyn was already struggling, everyone wrote off the team, but they've been a very good team since the start of the new year and Plumlee, with Garnett playing low minutes, is part of the reason why. He's a great finisher near the rim, and he also protects it at the other end of the court. His brother blocked a huge dunk attempt from Anthony Davis in the all-star game, and Mason recently made a game winning block on LeBron James. He's rookie of the year for 2014 -- not the most inspiring class, but it might be a deep one.

Real votes: Mason Plumlee. Followed by: Deing and Trey Burke.

Plumlee wins the game with a block on LeBron:

Sixth Man of the Year
(aka the leading bench scorer)

The San Antonio Spurs.

Actually, there's nope now. Taj Gibson has become the leader for this award, despite most of his value coming from the defensive end. Last year I argued he deserved consideration, which was laughable to most people. With an improved post game, people are finally paying attention.

However, the Spurs have blitzed people with their bench mob lead by Manu Ginobili, who in limited minutes has been almost his old self. He shouldn't be ignored, but Taj edges him out due to a higher number of minutes -- he's first in the league among bench players in "pure" RAPM wins. Belinelli and Markieff Morris deserve honorable mention too. Then there's the Birdman rarely missing from the floor and leading some good defensive units for Miami.

Real votes: Taj Gibson. Followed by: Ginobili and Chris Andersen.

Manu's passing is electric:

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