The trade deadline is gone and the All-Star Game is a cold, distant memory. As the NBA season heads down the home stretch, it's time to focus on what's really important: individual accolades! Flanns & Zillz make their late-season predictions.
ZILLER: There are but few mysteries left to solve this regular season. The most important: who will win hardware? Trophies over everything.
Let's start from the no-brainer and work our way out: Andrew Wiggins is clearly the Rookie of the Year. I'm not sure anyone else belongs on the ballot.
FLANNERY: Wiggins is going to win going away and he deserves it, although it's a shame that Jabari Parker got hurt because that would have a been a great race. This draft class will take years to develop due to all the injuries, but for argument's sake we can mention Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart and Nerlens Noel. It's a shame because this is two years in a row where the rookie class has been underwhelming.
ZILLER: I can't wait to watch the Central Division rivalry between Wiggins and Parker devel -- oh wait, nevermind.
Let's talk about that most nebulous of awards, the Most Improved Player. Since words no longer have meaning, all variations of the award are eligible. I think Klay Thompson has a real shot. DeMarcus Cousins will be in the mix. Kyle Korver, perhaps. Maybe even a superstar like James Harden or Russell Westbrook. I find it hard to handicap this one because it's primarily a narrative award.
I think Draymond Green will get a lot of narrative push if Klay isn't mentioned a lot. Brandon Knight could too, depending on how Phoenix and Milwaukee finish. Right now, I'm predicting Klay but putting money on the field.
Most Improved ?
Draymond Green and the rise of 'situational stars'
The Golden State forward will get paid big money in free agency thanks to his combination of talents, but it's really his fit with the Warriors that makes him valuable.
Most Improved ?
FLANNERY: Why isn't Anthony Davis getting any notice for this? We've been marveling at his development all year. There have been several pieces written specifically about how his game has evolved. I'm going with the Ant Man, but Draymond Green will probably win.
ZILLER: I'm a fool. Of course Ant Man is a favorite. Then we (using the pronoun loosely) can reward Davis without giving a guy outside the playoffs the MVP. Win-win for a certain set of voters.
While we're talking about Davis, is he a favorite for Defensive Player of the Year?
FLANNERY: No, I don't think so. The Pels' defense has improved, but it still rates in the lower third overall. At this point in his career, AD is a disruptor. Those guys used to get DPOY notice, but now we've (rightly) expanded the definition to include the players who are the focal point of their respective schemes. That would be your Marc Gasols and Joakim Noahs.
The other category of player we like are the perimeter stoppers who can guard multiple positions. That's Draymond Green and I think he'll be rewarded for the Warriors' overall dominance. Who do you like?
ZILLER: Dray is a good bet here, especially with Golden State having the No. 1 defense and Andrew Bogut missing some time. Serge Ibaka, Al Horford and John Wall belong in the conversation. Who gets credit for Portland's great defense? LaMarcus Aldridge is pretty underrated on that end.
But I think you're right: Draymond is the smart bet. And in a contract year!
The Coach of the Year is almost assuredly going to be Steve Kerr. Agree?
FLANNERY: So, Coach of the Year is one of the two most interesting awards for me this season. (The other is MVP but we'll get to that.) The two leading candidates right now are Kerr and Mike Budenholzer. On a strategic level I think Bud is the pick, but on a macro coaching level, it's Kerr.
Bud got everyone to buy into a system. Kerr got everyone to buy into a change of atmosphere. Bud has more or less the same team as last year, but with better health. Kerr has the same team, but playing different roles. I lean toward Kerr and I think he will win, but you can make a great case for either one. Wild card: Jason Kidd. Didn't see that coming.
ZILLER: Kidd has looked like a gem since Brooklyn's turnaround last season. He'd be a favorite if not for Kerr and Bud.
I think the fact that Kerr took over a successful team amid some controversy and pushed it up a tier will get him the nod. Bud deserves tons of credit, but he's also had twice as long to implement his system. That just shows how impressive Kerr's work has been.
Dave Joerger deserves huge credit after his crazy offseason.
FLANNERY: There's another guy coaching basically the same team in his second year with a, shall we say, interesting offseason. How much of that is him? I honestly couldn't tell you and this seems like a good opportunity to touch on something that's been on my mind the last few weeks. You and I both watch an unhealthy amount of basketball. We study the numbers, read the beat folks as much as we can and generally obsess about the league during our waking hours. (I'd say in our dreamy unconscious as well, but I'm not sure you sleep.)
That said, how qualified are we really to say Steve Kerr (or Bud or Kidd or Joerger or anyone else) has done the best coaching job this year? KD brought up having players vote for MVP and I'd be on board with that. Who better to judge than your peers?
ZILLER: This is one if the key issues, period: we have a really limited understanding of the measurable impact of coaching. My feeling is that in the absence of data, we can lump together the ones we think have added the most and choose one. It's a lot like (SEGUE ALERT) picking the MVP. We don't know everything we need to in order to make an infallible pick this year, so we judge the top contenders on some criteria.
The MVP race
Harden is still No. 1, but here comes Westbrook
The Houston Rockets stays at No. 1, but his former Oklahoma City Thunder running mate is charging up the list.
The MVP race
I think Stephen Curry is going to win. I think I'd vote for LeBron if I had a ballot.
FLANNERY: I don't have a ballot either, and to finish the thought, I would abstain from voting if given the chance. These things are fun to debate, but I think it runs counter to the job description.
So yes, the MVP narrative. A month ago, it seemed like Curry had the edge. Then, people started focusing on AD. Now, it's James Harden. I'm going to stay with my preseason wildcard pick of Russell Westbrook. He's destroying people, the Thunder are rolling and if KD continues to miss time, it will be his show. My only hesitation in making this call is if enough media members hold his antagonistic relationship with them against his candidacy.
Hey, we forgot about Sixth Man! I don't know, Jamal Crawford?
ZILLER: Ha ha ha, you said "IF enough media members hold his antagonistic relationship with them against him." I would love nothing more than for Westbrook to win, but that's so not happening. Not this season.
Sixth Man? Let's give it to Lou Williams. Marreese Speights might actually have enough of a case to set up a potential Golden State sweep! But I don't think enough folks can vote for Marreese Speights with a straight face to make it happen. He is still Marreese Speights.
It just struck me that we forgot Jimmy Butler for MIP. I hate that award.
SB Nation presents: Gordon Hayward's journey to the NBA