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April 24, 2012
Awards Ballot
2011-12 Picks

by Kevin Pelton

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After picking my MVP yesterday, here are the rest of the choices from my imaginary ballot, with the exception of the defensive awards--I'll make those picks tomorrow as part of the seventh annual Every Play Counts All-Defensive Team analysis. Along with my thoughts, for each award I'll provide the combined Wins Above Replacement Player and APM statistics I introduced in the MVP column for top contenders.

One quick note that, while they will be included in the numbers, I won't be considering any Indiana Pacers because of my work with the team as a consultant.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Player               Tm    Win%   WARP   RAPM  RWARP    TOT
-----------------------------------------------------------
Isaiah Thomas       SAC    .547    4.3    0.7    3.1    3.7
Kyrie Irving        CLE    .607    6.0   -0.2    2.0    3.5
Kawhi Leonard       SAS    .572    4.8    0.2    2.4    3.4
Ricky Rubio         MIN    .501    2.4    1.8    3.7    3.0
Chandler Parsons    HOU    .482    2.4    0.7    3.4    2.9
Kenneth Faried      DEN    .668    5.1   -0.7    1.0    2.3
Gustavo Ayon        NOH    .547    2.8    0.5    1.8    2.3
Klay Thompson       GSW    .465    1.5   -1.4    0.9    1.2
Markieff Morris     PHX    .454    0.9   -0.9    1.1    1.0
Derrick Williams    MIN    .433    0.4   -1.4    0.8    0.6
Kemba Walker        CHA    .507    3.2   -3.3   -1.1    0.0
Brandon Knight      DET    .423    0.2   -3.1   -1.1    0.0
Iman Shumpert       NYK    .404   -0.5    0.8    3.3    0.0
MarShon Brooks      NJN    .398   -0.7   -1.6    0.7    0.0

As tempted as I am to follow the numbers literally and pick the Husky for this award, Rookie of the Year has belonged to Kyrie Irving since Ricky Rubio tore his ACL. (Remarkably, Rubio still leads the group in RAPM WARP.) Irving has been one of the most efficient high-scoring rookies in recent memory and, as we found yesterday, was particularly effective in the clutch for a team that overachieved much of the year.

No fancy statistics needed to know that Thomas has had the best rookie season ever by a 60th pick. Over the seven years the draft has gone that long since contracting to two rounds, just three other Mr. Irrelevants have even made the league; the best of the group is Cleveland center Semih Erden. Thomas quickly seized a starting job and has established himself as arguably the Kings' second-best player.

By adding a three-pointer to his game far ahead of schedule, Kawhi Leonard has become a reliable starter for the NBA's best team. He's third in WARP among rookies and a solid defender right off the bat, too. You could easily put him second, but I favor Thomas' greater impact on his team.

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland
2. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio

ALL-ROOKIE TEAMS

(Selected without regard to position.)

First Team
G - Kyrie Irving, Cleveland
F - Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
G - Ricky Rubio, Minnesota
G - Iman Shumpert, New York
G - Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento

Second Team
F - Gustavo Ayon, New Orleans
F - Kenneth Faried, Denver
F - Chandler Parsons, Houston
G - Klay Thompson, Golden State
G - Kemba Walker, Charlotte

Picking the All-Rookie First Team is brutal this year. I see seven legitimate candidates for five spots. To me, Rubio has to be on there because of everything he did before the injury. For the last spot, I went between Kenneth Faried and Iman Shumpert after eliminating the qualified Chandler Parsons. Faried has the best individual stats of anybody in this group on a per-minute basis, but RAPM seems to pick up on the fact that he still needs to develop his defensive instincts. WARP overstates his value, while it doesn't give enough credit for Shumpert's stopper ability and versatility. I give that the slight edge.

Ayon might be my favorite bench player to watch. His combination of constant energy and surprising skills made him a useful pickup for the Hornets. For the last spot, I gave Walker the edge over MarShon Brooks, who has been equally inefficient and has created less offense for his team.

SIXTH MAN AWARD

Player               Tm    Win%   WARP   RAPM  RWARP    TOT  BENCH
------------------------------------------------------------------
James Harden        OKC    .644    9.1    3.1    6.8    7.9    7.6
Louis Williams      PHI    .612    6.7    1.2    3.6    4.9    4.9
Thaddeus Young      PHI    .529    4.0    2.1    4.7    4.3    4.3
Matt Bonner         SAS    .530    3.0    3.8    5.0    3.9    3.8
Taj Gibson          CHI    .521    2.6    4.1    4.9    3.6    3.6
Al Harrington       DEN    .491    2.6    1.9    4.8    3.5    3.5
Kyle Korver         CHI    .532    3.4    1.9    3.8    3.6    3.2
Mike Dunleavy Jr.   MIL    .539    3.4    1.1    3.1    3.2    3.1
Brandon Rush        GSW    .521    3.7   -0.1    2.4    3.0    2.9
Manu Ginobili       SAS    .711    4.7    3.3    2.8    3.6    2.9
Steve Novak         NYK    .589    3.4    1.3    2.3    2.8    2.8
George Hill         IND    .542    3.2    0.9    2.5    2.9    2.4
Jason Terry         DAL    .518    4.0   -1.2    1.4    2.3    2.3
Andre Miller        DEN    .457    1.4    1.6    4.5    2.5    2.3
O.J. Mayo           MEM    .502    3.0   -0.9    1.5    2.1    2.1

Here I've added an extra column to adjust the total score for the percentage of time the player has come off the bench. This year, we don't really have a Lamar Odom-type candidate who split the season between the bench and the starting five. Harden is the obvious winner here, no matter how you slice the data. The other two spots are more interesting. As SI.com's Zach Lowe mused on Twitter while making his award picks Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young are both legitimate candidates, demanding we parse whether the award can go to a "seventh man."

Lowe was considering the case for Young, but I lean slightly toward Williams because I think his ability to create off the dribble was more important for a Philadelphia team desperately in need of offensive creativity. I'm also not sure whether either of the all-in-one metrics can capture Williams' ability to manage end-of-quarter situations. Consider Young a solid fourth on my ballot; in third I'm going with the league's top defensive reserve (with all due respect to Nick Collison), Taj Gibson. The argument against Gibson is that he doesn't play enough, averaging a little better than 20 minutes per game. However, the two value-based stats I'm using both put him among the league's top reserves anyway, and RAPM considers him the most impactful reserve on a per-minute basis.

1. James Harden, Oklahoma City
2. Louis Williams, Philadelphia
3. Taj Gibson, Chicago

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Player               Tm    Win%   WARP   RAPM  RWARP    TOT    IMP
------------------------------------------------------------------
Nikola Pekovic      MIN    .584    4.3   -0.2    1.7    2.7    5.9
Avery Bradley       BOS    .374   -1.2    1.0    2.7    0.0    5.8
DeMarcus Cousins    SAC    .593    6.8   -0.8    1.8    3.6    5.8
Byron Mullens       CHA    .396   -0.6   -1.9    0.3    0.0    5.4
John Lucas III      CHI    .509    1.3    2.3    2.0    1.6    4.9
Ersan Ilyasova      MIL    .632    7.2    0.6    3.1    4.7    4.6
Gordon Hayward      UTA    .500    3.3    0.0    2.9    3.1    4.6
Roy Hibbert         IND    .598    7.2    0.6    3.5    5.0    4.4
Paul George         IND    .575    6.2    1.7    4.8    5.4    3.9
Greivis Vasquez     NOH    .488    2.4    1.0    3.3    2.8    3.8
Greg Monroe         DET    .648    9.7   -1.8    0.6    2.4    3.8
Goran Dragic        HOU    .572    5.5    0.9    3.5    4.4    3.7
James Harden        OKC    .644    9.1    3.1    6.8    7.9    3.5
Daniel Green        SAS    .554    4.2    1.0    3.2    3.6    2.5
Jeremy Lin          NYK    .593    3.4    1.9    2.6    3.0    1.1
Andrew Bynum        LAL    .639    9.8    0.4    3.6    5.9   -0.3
Ryan Anderson       ORL    .691   10.9    3.5    6.9    8.7   -0.4

I'm ending my two-year crusade against the Most Improved award because I think there is an interesting crop of contenders this year. For a summary statistic, here "IMP" refers to the amount by which the player's WARP total has improved over what it would be if they played the same minutes at their 2010-11 win percentage. I've posted the top 13 plus a handful of other candidates.

In this case, only two players likely to receive significant support fall under the traditional category of players doing the same thing with more minutes. Even Bynum and Anderson have made strides in their own right, producing similar numbers with far larger roles and more responsibility. Still, they don't measure up to the top candidates. Pekovic is a totally different player than he was a year ago, producing like the star he was in Europe rather than the tentative, foul-prone backup he was as a rookie.

In Lin's situation, these numbers don't really quantify his improvement. Lin was decent in limited minutes in Golden State, but with an unsustainable style. While his rookie year showed some promise, nobody had any idea Linsanity was coming. The only thing holding Lin's candidacy back is his limited playing time. For my last spot, I'm going with Lucas, a journeyman who has put in tremendous work to develop as a shooter and come up big for the Bulls time and again in the absence of Derrick Rose.

1. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota
2. Jeremy Lin, New York
3. John Lucas III, Chicago

COACH OF THE YEAR

Over the last few seasons, the NBA has become obsessed with the superstar player--not incorrectly, exactly, but the importance of a star player does seem to have gone from underrated at one point to overrated now. That makes it all the more interesting what San Antonio and Chicago have done this season. When Rose is sidelined, neither team has a top-10 player, yet they have controlled their respective conferences. That's a credit to the coaching job done on both sides, and either Gregg Popovich or Tom Thibodeau would be a deserving Coach of the Year. I'm picking Popovich because of the way he's managed his players' minutes and utilized his depth to put the Spurs in terrific position for the playoffs. The Bulls' success has come at the price of heavy minutes for Luol Deng in particular.

As usual, there are way too many candidates for a three-coach ballot. Larry Drew has helped the Hawks to the verge of home-court advantage without Al Horford for nearly the entire season. Doc Rivers guided a veteran Celtics team to an outstanding second half and is as good as anyone in the league at drawing up effective plays. Lionel Hollins dealt with serious injuries in the frontcourt and the challenge of reintegrating Zach Randolph midseason. Minnesota wins most improved coaching, having gone from Kurt Rambis to Rick Adelman. Monty Williams finished first in Neil Paine's statistical effort to rank Coach of the Year candidates and kept the Hornets playing hard long after their season was effectively finished. Mike Woodson guided a second-half turnaround by the New York Knicks and a stout defense. Dwane Casey changed the culture in Toronto and steered the Raptors to a major defensive turnaround.

In the end, my third-place vote goes to Tyrone Corbin, who has gracefully replaced Jerry Sloan and made the Utah Jazz his own team. Corbin was a close second to Williams when it came to getting the most out of his players statistically, which is confirmed by the Jazz exceeding preseason expectations to enter tonight's matchup with Phoenix with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. This Utah team wasn't easy to coach because of its mix of veterans and inconsistent young players, but Corbin has the group playing well down the stretch, in part because of his willingness to experiment using a big lineup with the postseason on the line.

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio
2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago
3. Tyrone Corbin, Utah

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

Executive of the Year is always challenging to pick because decision-makers can really only be judged over a longer period of time. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example. The Thunder's position as contenders with a young roster is testament to the work Sam Presti and his staff put into building the talent base, but that happened during multiple drafts. There was no one single season where the Thunder's moves stood out, so Presti has been a perennial bridesmaid in this category.

The closest thing to a front office that made major changes over the past year as part of a larger successful plan is my pick, R.C. Buford and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs took a major risk by dealing George Hill to Indiana to get Leonard, but it's paid off with the rookie emerging as a starter right away. That allowed San Antonio to improve its cap situation with the trade that sent Richard Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson. During the season, the Spurs improved by adding Boris Diaw and Patty Mills as free agents. The addition of Danny Green actually goes back to last year, but after splitting his time between the NBA and the D-League in 2010-11 Green has developed into a valuable member of the rotation on the cheap.

If you're most concerned with success over the last 12 months, it's easy to make the argument for L.A. Clippers GM Neil Olshey, who made the single most important move in that span by landing Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. The rest of the Clippers' moves don't match that standard, but Olshey did what he could to add depth for a team that was left structurally flawed by the demands of the Paul trade. Lately, the Clippers have clicked, and they rank third in the Western Conference in terms of point differential.

There's also a persuasive case for the work interim GM Glen Grunwald and company have done in New York. Over the last 12 months, the Knicks have added Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to get the most out of what was a perilously thin roster last season.

I would additionally credit Atlanta's Rick Sund for building an effective bench on the cheap and the Denver Nuggets' Masai Ujiri for navigating a tricky free agency.

Note that the media does not actually vote on this award--it is presented by The Sporting News and selected by the league's executives themselves.

ALL-NBA TEAMS

First Team
G - Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
G - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
F - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
F - LeBron James, Miami
C - Kevin Love, Minnesota

My MVP ballot, reconfigured., Love did play more at power forward than center, but I was actually surprised how close the percentages were.

Second Team
G - Dwyane Wade, Miami
G - Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
F - Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
F - Josh Smith, Atlanta
C - Dwight Howard, Orlando

I think the forwards are most interesting here. Putting Love as a center means stretching a bit for the second team at forward. Despite knocking Griffin's candidacy for the end of the MVP ballot yesterday, I tend to agree with a point M. Haubs of The Painted Area raised to me recently: Griffin is actually underrated now. Last year we were caught up in all the amazing things Griffin could do, in addition to dunking: His skill as a passer, how well he created offense in the post for a young player. For a post-hype Griffin, the focus is on what he can't do: play elite defense, stretch the floor, make opponents pay at the free throw line. Griffin's numbers, both individually and RAPM, remain outstanding.

As for Smith, he's certainly frustrating to watch (or coach). To the extent his poor decisions and shot selection are hurting the Hawks, however, RAPM doesn't seem to pick it up. Atlanta plays much better with Smith on the floor.

Third Team
G - Tony Parker, San Antonio
G - James Harden, Oklahoma City
F - Paul Pierce, Boston
F - Ryan Anderson, Orlando
C - Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers

The forward spots in particular were difficult to choose here, with deserving candidates like Pau Gasol, Andre Iguodala, Paul Millsap and Dirk Nowitzki omitted. Admittedly, Gasol and Nowitzki suffer by comparison to their own elite performance in the past. Pierce ranks ahead of all of them by WARP, and as the best player for a team that's still competitive. Anderson is a more interesting case. Surely, this is the only All-NBA Teams you'll see that feature him. It's difficult to make a statistical argument against Anderson, however. Not only does he rate as elite individually, the Magic has been far better with him on the floor--even using a method in RAPM that should account for how much his backup Glen Davis has struggled. Like Love last year, Anderson may not yet fit our vision of an elite player, but that's the way he has produced.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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