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April 28, 2012
Prospectus Roundtable
2011-12 Awards and Playoff Picks

by Kevin Pelton

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On the morning of the first day of the NBA Playoffs, Basketball Prospectus' team of NBA analysts wraps up the regular season by handing out awards and makes its picks for the playoffs.

Bradford Doolittle Dan Feldman Kevin Pelton Neil Paine
Who is your MVP? LeBron James
KP spelled it out pretty clearly the other day. LeBron James is on a different plateau this season and that's without even considering the fact that we can't fully quantify his defensive impact. On a more ephemeral level, I really appreciate the fact that he's by and large kept his mouth shut. The cloud from the Decision and the Parade has dissipated, at least for me. It's MVP No. 3 for the King.
LeBron James
LeBron has been the best player in the league for a few years now, and because of that, he's been held to an unfair standard with this award. Essentially, not only must he outplay every other NBA player, he must outdo himself. With the best season of his career, LeBron did that.
LeBron James LeBron James
He's pretty clearly been the league's Most Outstanding Player, and any attempts to drive a semantic wedge between that fact and the presence of the word Valuable in "Most Valuable Player" are tiresome. James provided the most value by definition, because he was the league's best player.
Who is your Rookie of the Year? Kyrie Irving
When you combine court time with quality of play, I think you have to go with Irving, even though he missed so many games toward the end of the season. It's tempting to give Kenneth Faried some love, but I think the minutes gap between is to large. Isaiah Thomas has to be high on the list as well, which is certainly not something I saw coming.
Kyrie Irving
At the time Ricky Rubio's season ended, I have no idea which of the two rookie point guards was better. Unfortunately, I never had to make that call.
Kyrie Irving Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving. A healthy Ricky Rubio would have--well, no, that wouldn't have changed anything. Irving was outstanding, posting Iverson-esque numbers at age 19. Give him the ROY already.
Who is your Defensive Player of the Year? Andre Iguodala
This is a three-man race between Iguodala, LeBron and Tyson Chandler, but I'll agree with Kevin's piece from the other day and go with Iggy. He's the key component to an elite defensive team, and gets the box-score stats as well as the play-by-play metrics. Chandler's case is interesting. I am certain of the impact he's had on New York's defense. But I can't prove it. That's the rub.
Tyson Chandler
I think Dwight Howard the player has been overlooked this season due to Dwight Howard the malcontent, but when his season ended prematurely, that pushed Chandler ahead.
Andre Iguodala Dwight Howard
After his immature dealings with the Magic organization, we all want to find an excuse to pick against him. But, with apologies to Tyson Chandler, Josh Smith, LeBron, and Andre Iguodala, you can't--Howard is still the biggest defensive force in basketball, and it's not particularly close. When motivated, nobody can dominate a game at that end like he can.
Who is your Sixth Man Award pick? James Harden
Like Manu Ginobili before him, Harden is a core player who happens to come off the bench.
James Harden
Obviously.
James Harden James Harden
Philadelphia's duo of Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young have been impressive, but Harden's numbers are just too impressive to ignore. On a per-minute basis, he might be one of the top 10 players in the entire league.
Who is your Most Improved Player? Avery Bradley
Given Bradley's late-season surge coincided with Boston's team resurgence, I'll go with him. He's a fascinating player to watch.
Jeremy Lin
If it weren't for his injury, he'd be a runaway choice. But Lin showed so little last year and so much in his run this year that he still gets my vote, albeit very narrowly over Nikola Pekovic.
Nikola Pekovic
But I think M. Haubs may have convinced me to re-boycott the award.
Nikola Pekovic
With Lin missing so much time late in the season, it's hard to pick against Pekovic, who was quite good in 2012 after being extremely bad in 2011.
Who is your Coach of the Year?Tom Thibodeau
There are two paths to this award: exceeding expectations, or meeting despite of a rash of injuries. He's taken both paths to the trophy.
Gregg Popovich
The system Tom Thibodeau installed last season once again did wonders for the Bulls, even with Derrick Rose out. But the way Popovich has made over the Spurs' style demonstrates even more impressive coaching.
Gregg PopovichMonty Williams
I'll go with Williams for the reason I laid out in this article. He really did more with less talent than just about any coach in the league this season.
Who was your favorite player to watch this season? Kyle Korver
Korver has become my favorite player in the NBA. Pretty sure there is some personal bias here. He's an Iowa boy like me, only he became what I thought I would become when I was 11 years old. He's a heck of a nice guy to boot.
Ben Wallace
His toughness and smarts, despite a diminishing physical ability, really stood out on a sub-par Pistons team. Wallace is too proud to play poorly, and I think that's what continues to make him effective.
Ricky Rubio
Many good candidates, and I'm tempted to pick my man Gustavo Ayon. However, I can't look past Rubio making the Timberwolves a League Pass must prior to his untimely injury.
Carmelo Anthony
I have really enjoyed watching Anthony during his late-season scoring tear. When he's rolling, Melo's technical mastery of the offensive game is beautiful--the footwork, the ridiculous arsenal of moves and counter-moves, etc. He was one of the most unpleasant players to watch early in the season, but one of the most entertaining late in the season. Go figure.
Who was your favorite team to watch this season? Chicago Bulls
It was a joy to watch the Bulls just keep winning despite all the injuries. This team just does it the right way. No one gives a rip about anything individual. They are collectively unselfish to a fault, and they play hard on a nightly basis.
Minnesota Timberwolves
My honest answer is the Pistons, as it is every year. But beyond them, I really enjoyed watching the Timberwolves before Ricky Rubio's injury. It was fascinating to see.
New York Knicks
First off, for better or worse, I love watching J.R. Smith. Then add in the many subplots, a great Madison Square Garden crowd and I think the Knicks delivered many of this season's most memorable games.
Philadelphia 76ers
When the Sixers were clicking (remember that?), they were incredibly entertaining to watch. Two of the three games I saw in person this year consisted of Philly destroying the hopelessly bad early-season version of Washington in January and the Celtics in March. Sadly, that squad no longer appears to exist, but it was a fun team while it lasted.
Which first-round matchup most excites you? Knicks-Heat
... and I'm not even a television executive. I think it's going to be really interesting to see how, or if, the combination of Melo playing really well and New York's amazing defensive improvement will give the Heat trouble.
Grizzlies-Clippers
Based on quality of teams alone, this is second-round or conference finals quality. Add the flash-vs.-brute factor, and I can't wait to watch.
Knicks-Heat
Along the same lines. I think there will be more competitive series, but this is the one that is likely to feature the most pure entertainment.
Grizzlies-Clippers
I think it's going to be the most evenly matched series of the first round, though the Grizzlies are better than their full-season numbers would lead you to believe. It's either that one or Boston-Atlanta.
Who do you most want to see later in the playoffs? Bulls-Heat
I've been waiting on the rematch since last spring. I'll be very disappointed if it doesn't come to pass. Then, of course, I'd love to see the Bulls win.
LeBron James
I don't think he has the killer instinct of a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, but I see no reason LeBron can't succeed late in the playoffs. I hope he proves that this year and quiets his unreasonable haters.
Thunder-Lakers
Oklahoma City-San Antonio would be terrific, too, but after last Sunday's game and the Metta World Peace elbow, the emotions for this possible semifinal matchup would run high.
Bulls-Heat
I agree with Bradford; I want to see the Heat and Bulls renew hostilities in the Conference Finals. That's really the matchup we've been waiting for since we found out there'd be a season after all (well, that and OKC vs. the winner).
Which team with home-court advantage drew the toughest opponent in the first round? Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta finished with the better record, but I don't see them beating the Celtics. Boston is destined to play the Bulls in what will be a great semifinal series.
Memphis Grizzlies
The Clippers could definitely win a title this year, and I'm not sure I feel that way about another bottom-four playoff team in either conference.
Memphis Grizzlies
Even with home court, I don't like this matchup for them at all.
Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta, who had the better record (and, statistically, the better season) but finished #5 to Boston's #4 seed, gets a really difficult first-round foe in the Celtics. Boston has been hot of late, and they will benefit a great deal from shortening their rotation in the playoffs (since their bench is terrible).
Who wins the East? Miami Heat
I still think it's Miami. Alas.
Miami Heat
When rotations get tightened, LeBron and Wade will lift Miami over Chicago.
Miami Heat
Sticking with my preseason pick for now because I think there's an extra gear here that Chicago lacks, as was the case last season.
Miami Heat
I want to pick the Bulls, because they once again had the better season and have home-court again as well. But I just can't go against the Heat's Big Three here.
Who wins the West? Oklahoma City Thunder
Even though the Spurs have played so well down the stretch, I still think it's the Thunder's season. I hope they meet in the West Finals, though. That will be a great series.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City will continue its upward trajectory, besting the Spurs in the conference finals.
San Antonio Spurs
The best team in the conference, plus they match up well with the other two division winners.
Oklahoma City Thunder
They've been the pick all season, and I see no reason to change that now, even with San Antonio grabbing the #1 seed out West.
Who wins the NBA Finals? Miami Heat Miami Heat
LeBron will be vindicated--until everyone complains he won only during a lockout-shortened season, so it doesn't really count.
San Antonio Spurs
Take away the name of the team and focus on what San Antonio has accomplished this season and it's overwhelming. The Spurs were the league's best team despite playing much of the season without arguably their best player and did the best job of any team of getting rest for this condensed postseason. They go 11 deep and can win playing any style. They should be the prohibitive favorites.
Miami Heat
I'm putting my championship eggs in their basket again, because history says teams led by that caliber of talent don't lose 4 out of 7. That sentiment was wrong last season, but I'm banking on that being an exception to the larger rule.

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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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