NBA: Eastern Conference playoff preview
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NBA: Eastern Conference playoff preview Staff
Thursday April 16th, 2015

With the 2014-15 NBA regular season in the books,'s NBA writers are handing out hardware to the top performers of the year. Up first, the great MVP debate...

Playoff schedule | NBA team grades | Playoff primer | Alternative awards

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Most Valuable Player

Chris Mannix: James Harden (Rockets). This was, in a word, excruciating. I have no issue with a vote cast for Stephen Curry. He’s the best player on the best team, and he’s the most impressive off-the-dribble player I’ve seen since Kobe Bryant was in his prime. At times, Warriors games look like a video game, with Curry toggled to All-Star and everyone else playing on rookie. He’s great. But this season, Harden was just a hair better. Houston’s injury woes put the kind of pressure on Harden that Curry wasn’t forced to face, and Harden delivered. He scored, rebounded and assisted, all while teams drew up entire game plans based on stopping him. Am I unfairly penalizing Curry for Golden State’s good health and wire-to-wire dominance? Maybe. But Harden’s ability to elevate Houston over adversity really resonated. Runners-up: Stephen Curry (Warriors), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Lee Jenkins: James Harden (Rockets). I’d request one more spot on my ballot for Chris Paul as well. The pool of legitimate MVP candidates is unusually deep this season and you could make a compelling argument for anybody in the top six. I’ll choose Harden, for dragging the undermanned Rockets through a stunning regular season, and demonstrating everything a modern franchise wants from its franchise player: making and creating lay-ups, free throws and threes at near historic rates. But Curry is the clear front-runner, and it’s hard to argue against him, either. Runners-up: Stephen Curry (Warriors), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry (Warriors). As deep as this year’s MVP field was, 2014-15 was clearly the year of Stephen Curry. No one guided his team to more wins (67), played at a high level more consistently, or produced more highlights and feel-good moments. Curry aced all of the major advanced stats (No. 3 in PER, No. 1 in Win Shares/48, No. 1 in Real Plus-Minus), posted gigantic impact numbers (+16.8 net rating) and led one of the most dominant teams in NBA history (+10.1 point differential entering Wednesday). He made his teammates better, made defenders fall over, and made himself into a more reliable defender. He led the league’s No. 2 offense in scoring, and managed to shoot 48.8/44.2/91.4 for the season despite constant attention. The Warriors led the league in assists, and he led the Warriors in assists. He helped the Warriors post the league’s best record in “clutch” games (22-8), even though he also guided them to so many blowouts that he didn’t need to play in the fourth quarter in roughly one-quarter of Golden State’s game. He cultivated the league’s best home-court advantage and has restored championship dreams to one of the league’s most tortured fan bases. There’s a good chance he’s made someone in your life enjoy basketball more than they used to, and he did it all without a hint of controversy. The MVP discussion is fun, but this really isn’t a debate. Runners-up: James Harden (Rockets), Chris Paul (Clippers), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Stephen Curry hits 77 straight three-pointers during Warriors practice

Chris Ballard: Stephen Curry (Warriors). Crazy Steph stat: Curry didn't even lead his own team in shot attempts per game (Klay’s just ahead and, overall, Curry is 15th in the league). He plays 32 minutes, sits out fourth quarters regularly. These are not drawbacks. These are testaments to his impact. Real plus-minus, eye test—however you gauge it, he’s the MVP. Savor it now; one day you’ll be telling your kids you saw Steph shoot the ball in his prime. Runners-up: James Harden (Rockets), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), LeBron James (Cavaliers)

Rob Mahoney: Stephen Curry (Warriors). When in doubt—and the competition among the top candidates should inspire plenty of it—I default to the game-changing shooter who provides the systemic basis for an elite offense while coming into his own as a contributor for the best defense in the league. These other four candidates (along with honorable mention Russell Westbrook) are brilliant. Yet I’m not sure that any among them has had quite the same weight to their play this season as Curry. His very presence is a burden to an opposing defense, his every touch a reason for panic. The value therein is as incontestable as one of Curry’s pull-up jumpers. Runners-up: James Harden (Rockets), Chris Paul (Clippers), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Phil Taylor: Stephen Curry (Warriors). What Harden has done in keeping the Rockets near the top of the Western Conference despite all their injuries is remarkable and would earn him the award in most other seasons. But how can you deny the player who led his team to one of the best seasons in NBA history? Curry may have had more talent around him than Harden did, but his supporting cast wouldn’t have looked as good without Curry’s court vision and ability to command extra defensive attention. The best player on the best team may sound like a simplistic formula, but in this case, it yields the correct result. Runners-up: James Harden (Rockets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Defensive Player of the Year

Mannix: Draymond Green (Warriors). A disclaimer: If Leonard didn’t miss 19 games, this award would be his. Leonard is a scorer-seeking missile that Gregg Popovich can deploy on anyone from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant. Leonard’s injury opened the DPOY door for Green, who is instrumental to Golden State’s switch happy defense. Green can bang in the post and step out and harass guards, using his long reach and quick anticipation to rack up steals (1.6) for the NBA’s top rated defense. Think about it: Green is an 11.7 point per game scorer who, because of his defense, is in line for a near max contract. Runners-up: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), DeAndre Jordan (Clippers)

Jenkins: Draymond Green (Warriors). It’s been 11 years since a wing won Defensive Player of the Year, and a familiar case could certainly be made for rim protectors like Rudy Gobert, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis, and DeAndre Jordan. But some of the most valuable defenders in today’s NBA are dynamos who can stick with just about anybody. The reason why the Warriors have the league’s No. 1 offense is fairly obvious. The reason they have the No. 1 defense is Green. There are other factors, of course, but he has provided the edge to go along with the splash. Runners-up: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)

Golliver: Draymond Green (Warriors). The future is now when it comes to NBA defense: all three players on my ballot are 25 or younger. You could flip a three-sided coin and pick any of these guys for this award. Green has become the poster child for defensive versatility, switching out to defend guards, shadowing elite wings, banging with low-post bruisers, and even filling some minutes as a small-ball center. Leonard has somehow gotten away with playing with magnets for hands, swiping 2.3 steals per game and locking down opposing stars. Gobert has emerged from Utah’s bench as an elite shot-blocker, shot-alterer, and mind-changer (he can smell your fear if you enter the paint hesitantly). Again, all are worthy candidates. Leonard ranks second in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, Green ranks fourth and Gobert ranks 11th. When it comes to impact on their teams’ defensive rating, Leonard is +5.2 for the league’s third-best defense, Green is +5.9 for the league’s top defense, and Gobert is +7.4 for the league’s 12th ranked defense (since the All-Star break, however, Utah ranks first). Ultimately, I’ll go with Green because he played the most minutes of the three players. Unlike Leonard, he didn’t miss an extended stretch due to injury. And, unlike Gobert, he was a full-time starter all season long. Runners-up: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Rudy Robert (Jazz)

Nerlens Noel's progress giving 76ers something to feel good about

Ballard: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs). The Warriors had the best defense, and Green is a deserving winner here (Andrew Bogut would also be on this list if he’d played more games). But Leonard is the most intimidating on-ball defender in the league, and as close as there is to a modern-day wing stopper. There’s a great clip going around of LeBron’s reaction when Kawhi checks back into a game. Sums it up better than any words can. Runners-up: Draymond Green (Warriors), Rudy Gobert (Jazz) 

Mahoney: Draymond Green (Warriors). Although many on the Warriors’ roster and coaching staff deserve credit for the team’s stingy, top-ranked defense, none among them is as systemically critical as Green. It’s his mobility that keeps Golden State’s matchups fluid in response to circumstance. It’s through Green’s instincts (working in perfect concert with Bogut’s) that the second line of defense always seems to rotate in time to influence a play in progress. It’s his quick hands that drive opponents crazy, his footwork that blocks off driving angles, and his energy that keeps the Warriors flying around the court. Green doesn’t fit the model of the shot-swatting big man or the lockdown wing defender, yet he’s a worthy choice for all the ways his speed and intelligence shape Golden State’s defensive structure. Runners-up: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Andrew Bogut (Warriors)

Taylor: Draymond Green (Warriors). At 6’7” Green guards everyone. He’ll muscle a power forward off the low block on one possession and switch out to contain a point guard on a screen-and-roll the next. His defensive versatility was perhaps the biggest key to the Warriors’ league-leading defense, allowing them to switch on screens without being vulnerable to mismatches. Leonard has similar skills as both an on-ball and team defender, but he missed nearly a quarter of the season with injuries, which gives Green the edge. As for Gobert, the shot-blocker from France, anyone whose defense inspires nicknames like the French Rejection and the Stifle Tower deserves strong consideration. Runners-up: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images Sport

Most Improved Player

Mannix: Jimmy Butler (Bulls). A second half injury ended the early season MVP talk, but Butler remains the runaway winner here. Butler ratcheted up his scoring and playmaking this season, and restored his shooting to respectable numbers after a peculiar drop off last season. And he’s an elite defender that Tom Thibodeau works to the tune of 38.7 minutes per game—highest in the league. Gobert transformed Utah’s defense in the second half and Whiteside came out of nowhere, but Butler should run away with this one. Runners-up: Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Hassan Whiteside (Heat)

Jenkins: Jimmy Butler (Bulls). Whiteside should probably be in his own category for players who come completely out of nowhere to nearly average a double-double. But I’ll go with Butler, who built up a massive lead for this award in the first half, and has sort of cruised to the finish. Gobert nearly caught him, emerging as arguably the most formidable defensive center in the league, but it’s important to remember what Butler did early in the season, morphing from a defensive stopper into a two-way force who kept the Bulls afloat. Runners-up: Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Hassan Whiteside (Heat)

Golliver: Jimmy Butler (Bulls). This race got a lot more interesting once Jimmy Butler missed extended time with an elbow injury, but the Bulls’ All-Star guard is still my pick. Although his totally unexpected 20 points per game average will dominate the discussion, Butler also ramped up his rebounding (5.8 from 4.9), assists (3.3 from 2.6), free throw attempts (7.1 from 5), shooting percentage (46.2%), and three-point percentage (37.2%). It’s fair to say that he was a totally different player this year, after a summer of hard work, and the advanced numbers reflect that progress. Butler’s PER jumped from 13.5 last season to 21.3 this season, his Real Plus-Minus improved from 2.13 last season to 3.46, and he posted a career-best 10.9 Win Shares, up from 7.1 last season. What really sets him apart is where the improvement landed him. Last year, he was a defensive specialist fighting nagging injuries and struggling to make a big impact on Chicago’s offense. For long stretches of this season, Butler was arguably the East’s second-best overall player behind LeBron James. Runners-up: Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Draymond Green (Warriors)

The start of something big? Young Jazz reveling in second-half surge


Ballard: Rudy Gobert (Jazz). Always a little weird choosing this award, as there seems to be a ceiling for the starting point. Can Harden be a candidate? Anthony Davis? In Green’s case, how much of his improvement was on account of opportunity? Either way, there are four exceptionally deserving candidates (including Hassan Whiteside). Gobert gets the nod here on account of how far he came, in such a short time, from project to franchise cornerstone in a matter of months. Runners-up: Jimmy Butler (Bulls), Draymond Green (Warriors)

Mahoney: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs) The player Leonard is today bears only passing resemblance to the one we saw at the end of the 2013-14 season. In the months since, he’s grown from skilled defender to maybe the best in the league; he’s stepped out of pick-your-spots inconsistency and into every-night command; and he stands convincingly as both the Spurs’ best player and one of the 10 best in the entire league. Any of a dozen or so could realistically contend for this award, though none among them has come so far so quickly—much less against the exponential incline to elite standing—as Leonard. Runners-up: Jimmy Butler (Bulls), Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Taylor: Jimmy Butler (Bulls). Butler transformed himself from a nice complementary player to one of the best two-way guards in the league. He averaged 13.1 points a year ago, and no one expected him to jump to 20 and become the Bulls’ leading scorer. Green and Whiteside are both fine defenders who made major strides offensively, (and Jazz center Rudy Gobert became a defensive force after looking lost a year ago), but none of them had to become as much of a centerpiece for their teams as Butler did. Runners-up: Draymond Green (Warriors), Hassan Whiteside (Heat)

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Sixth Man of the Year

Mannix: Lou Williams (Raptors). Williams is the quintessential sixth man. He can score, which he is doing at a career-best clip (15.5 points) this season. He gets to the free throw line (4.9 per game) and he is reliable when he does (86.1 percent). He’s not the most efficient scorer and he can be streaky, but for most of the season he has been a reliable scorer for a potent Toronto offense. Isaiah Thomas snares the No. 2 spot thanks to a terrific post trade-deadline run with Boston. Runners-up: Isaiah Thomas (Celtics), Jamal Crawford (Clippers)

Jenkins: Isaiah Thomas (Celtics). What a bizarre year it has been for Thomas, who entered free agency last summer with one wish, to finally become a starting point guard. Then he signed with the Suns, who already had two starting point guards, and was traded at the deadline to the Celtics, who were developing rookie floor general Marcus Smart. But Thomas immediately emerged as Boston’s best offensive option. He’s averaged more than 19 points and 5 assists since the move. Runners-up: Lou Williams (Raptors), Marreese Speights (Warriors)

Golliver: Lou Williams (Raptors). It’s easy to knock the Raptors’ accomplishments this season, given how inconsistent they’ve been since the All-Star break. Still, this is a squad that topped the Atlantic Division with 49 wins and posted the league’s third-best offensive efficiency. Central to both of those achievements was Williams, a Hawks cast-off plucked by GM Masai Ujiri last summer. The fit looked good on paper—an unapologetic gunner playing for a coach in Dwane Casey who gives his guys a loose leash—and it played out even better than expected. Williams put questions about his surgically-repaired knee behind him this season, averaging 15.5 PPG and 2.1 APG while serving as a stabilizing force when starting guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry missed time due to injury. Known for his shot-creating ability and late-clock aptitude, Williams posted a +6.8 net rating and ranked second among shooting guards (behind MVP candidate James Harden) in offensive Real Plus-Minus. Although he’s far from a perfect all-around player, Williams certainly did what he does best for a successful team that needed every bit of it. Runners-up: Andre Iguodala (Warriors), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics)

Extra Mustard
Gilbert Arenas talks trash to Raptors, Bulls on Instagram

Ballard: Lou Williams (Raptors). Ginobili may look broken-down but his impact is still substantial—a top 30 real plus-minus and crucial playmaking role that will undoubtedly increase in the playoffs. Mirotic carried the Bulls for weeks. But Lou Williams wins out for his tidal waves of scoring. A classic get-hot-stay-hot player, he kept the Raptors afloat at times. Runners-up: Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)

Rob Mahoney: Lou Williams (Raptors). Not every team could find a place for a ball-holding, volume-shooting guard like Williams, but in Toronto he’s perfect. It was through Williams that the Raptors survived the absence of DeMar DeRozan and the wear-down of Kyle Lowry. Williams is back in peak, foul-drawing form—his shifty perimeter game often leaves defenders guessing and overcompensating in exploitable ways. The result is a scorer who gets to the line with superstar frequency and scores more points per minute than Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard. Williams’ role is a bit more narrow than lead guards of that ilk, but a specialist’s focus allows him to sustain Toronto as needed. Runners-up: Andre Iguodala (Warriors), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics)

Taylor: Andre Iguodala (Warriors). This honor usually goes to instant offense guys, but Iguodala’s more subtle contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. When he’s on the court the Warriors defensive efficiency improves from 99.8 to 96.4, and he has held opposing shooting guards and small forwards to player efficiency ratings below 10, according to He’s also been a decent three-point shooter (34.8%) and a solidifying presence on the Warriors’ second unit, which might be the league’s best. Both Williams and Thomas have been high-scoring reserves (Williams came off the bench to lead the Raptors in scoring 17 times) but no bench player matched Iguodala’s all-around impact. Runners-up: Lou Williams (Raptors), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics)

Ron Turenne/Getty Images


Rookie of the Year

Chris Mannix: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves). I’ll admit: I was tempted to vote for Mirotic. There is just something about handing this award to a stat-stuffing rookie on a terrible team that doesn’t sit right. Not when Mirotic—an unusually experienced rookie—is putting up solid numbers in meaningful games. But Wiggins is more than just a volume scorer. He shook off a tumultuous offseason and slipped into a leading role in Minnesota, where Flip Saunders has slowly unlocked his defensive potential. Consistency counts, and no rookie has been more consistent than Wiggins. Runners-up: Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Nerlens Noel (76ers)

Jenkins: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves). Elfrid Payton is in this conversation also. But the moment Jabari Parker tore his ACL, Wiggins became the front-runner, and he did nothing to relinquish that spot, averaging more than 19 points and 4 rebounds since the All-Star break. Wiggins holds off a second-half surge from Mirotic, who does not have Wiggins’s raw numbers, but also doesn’t have anywhere near his freedom. In limited time, Mirotic has helped anchor the Bulls front-court, and he will play a huge role in the playoffs. Runners-up: Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Nerlens Noel (76ers)

Golliver: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves). This was another rough year for rookies. Of the 2014 draft’s 14 lottery picks, only six managed to play at least 50 games this season, and Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Doug McDermott were among the high-profile names stuck dealing with injuries. The top Rookie of the Year contenders came down to Andrew Wiggins, 2014’s No. 1 overall pick, a 2011 first-round pick in Nikola Mirotic and a 2013 lottery pick in Nerlens Noel. This vote reluctantly goes to Wiggins. He logged more minutes and scored more points than his competition, although the advanced statistics don’t look particularly kindly at his overall production or the Timberwolves’ quality of play with him on the court. It’s hard to hold his team’s struggles or his individual inefficiency against Wiggins, as he was totally thrown to the wolves in Minnesota with very few players around him that were capable of making his life easier. Wiggins responded with a season that surpassed expectations, he provided more than a few glimpses at his superstar potential, and he was a good soldier about all of it. Given his middling showing in metrics like PER and Real Plus-Minus, Wiggins stands as a somewhat uninspiring conventional candidate, but none of his less conventional competitors (Noel was a defense-first guy on a really bad team, while Mirotic came off the bench for the playoff-bound Bulls) did quite enough to demand attention. Runners-up: Nerlens Noel (76ers), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)

Unlocking Andrew Wiggins' potential

Ballard: Nerlens Noel (76ers). Wiggins was impressive, and he’ll win the actual award, but the nod here is for Noel on account of his defense. There are lots of players in the league who can score. Very few can defend like Noel. He finished top 10 in steals and blocks and eighth in defensive rating, ahead of Marc Gasol. As a rookie. On a really, really bad team. Take into account his offensive improvement and his case is even stronger. Runners-up: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)

Mahoney: Nerlens Noel (76ers). Another award left to a virtual coin flip. On one side is Wiggins, a 19-year-old wing well ahead of the curve in terms of on-ball coverage and creating his own offense. On the other is Noel, the stat-stuffing anomaly at the center of Philadelphia’s surprisingly competent team defense. I picked the latter on the basis of Noel’s contributions translating more easily to the team level and his offense (once a disaster of awkward, forced misses) progressing to the point of acceptability. With Noel on the floor, Philadelphia allowed just 100.4 points per 100 possessions this season—a mark that would hover around the top five in the league this season. Wiggins may be the brighter star and is easily the more promising scorer, but Noel’s shot-altering influence is remarkable for a first-year player. Runners-up: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)

Taylor: Andrew Wiggins (Wolves). Wiggins led all rookies in scoring with 16.9 points per game, and he had four games of at least 30 points, more than any other first-year player. Yes, he got the chance to play lots of minutes and put up impressive statistics because the Wolves were so bad, but the other way to look at it is that he played those heavy minutes without ever hitting the rookie wall. In fact, he improved as the season went on. Wiggins averaged 12.3 points in November, but 23.3 in April. By season’s end, he was playing like a star. This one is an easy choice. Runners-up: Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Nerlens Noel (76ers)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


Coach of the Year

Mannix: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks). Steve Kerr smoothed out the rough edges of an uber-talented Warriors team and Brad Stevens defied all expectations to get the midseason gutted Celtics into the playoffs. But in Atlanta—San Antonio East, if you prefer—Budenholzer has developed an unselfish, equal opportunity offense and a sturdy defense he helped mold as an assistant with the Spurs. Budenholzer gets an edge because few—including the knucklehead at SI that picked Atlanta to finish 10th in the conference before the season—didn’t see Atlanta coming, whereas the perception coming into the season was that Golden State just needed a little polish post-Mark Jackson to become a title contender. Runners-up: Steve Kerr (Warriors), Brad Stevens (Celtics)

Jenkins: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks). It’s not easy beating out a guy who took over a No. 6 seed that made no major off-season acquisitions and turned them into the best team in the NBA. But in less than two years, Budenholzer has indoctrinated the Hawks with a Spurs-like system, steered them through a Sterling-like scandal, and created an all-for-one ethos that yielded four All Stars—none of whom anybody would have pegged as All Stars six months ago. Back then, the Knicks were projected to win as many games as the Hawks. Now, Atlanta is No. 1 in the East. Runners-up: Steve Kerr (Warriors), Jason Kidd (Bucks)

Golliver: Steve Kerr (Warriors). Elite coaches often get hit with the “wizard” tag, and there’s definitely a little magic swirling around what Steve Kerr has accomplished this year. The rookie coach inherited a 51-win team, replaced two veteran starters (David Lee and Andre Iguodala), stayed the course through an off-season of trade rumors, scrapped the offense, turned up the pressure on defense, empowered his stars a la Phil Jackson, cultivated a deep bench a la Gregg Popovich, pushed the pace a la Mike D’Antoni, and dished enough one-liners that the media couldn’t help but eat out of his hands all along the way. The end results? The Warriors put together one of the most dominant seasons in league history (a +10.1 point differential), they proved capable of playing at an elite level on both sides of the ball, and they enter the playoffs as the title favorites one year after bombing out in the first round. Kerr’s arrival transformed the Warriors’ coaching staff from dysfunctional to hyper-functional, and his tough decisions and tone-setting are worthy of awards recognition. Runners-up: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Jason Kidd (Bucks)

Atlanta Hawks: Doing their fair share

Ballard: Steve Kerr (Warriors). As you can see by my ranking, I’m basically giving all three spots to Pop, in one form or another. This was the season of the Spurs system, an affirmation of ball movement, unselfish play and team defense. Budenholzer did remarkable work in Atlanta. Pop shouldn’t be downgraded on account of a championship last season. And Kerr accomplished perhaps the hardest feat in the NBA: taking a team from pretty good to great. He took a long-view approach but succeeded immediately. He made one savvy decision after another. He got complete buy-in from his players. He made it about team, not ego. Runners-up: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Gregg Popovich (Spurs)

Mahoney: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks). Consider this: The Hawks—who didn’t make a single significant offseason addition, don’t have a compelling candidate for the Most Improved Player award, and have effectively coasted (and rested) since January—are 22 wins better than last season. Returning Al Horford is a huge piece of that improvement. Even more of it is Budenholzer’s success in continuity after his veteran roster had time to fully absorb and implement his designs on both ends. Runners-up: Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Steve Kerr (Warriors)

Taylor: Steve Kerr (Warriors). Point to one coaching misstep Kerr made this season... We’ll wait. He took essentially the same group of players who won 51 games and finished as the sixth seed in the West a year ago under Mark Jackson, and turned them into a 67-win powerhouse. Kerr did it by opening up the offense and transforming the Warriors into masters of ball movement while maintaining their often overlooked emphasis on defense. He hit all the right notes both as a strategist and a handler of players. It took a nearly flawless coaching performance to give him edge over Budenholzer, who made the Hawks the most surprising team in the league by turning them into San Antonio East. Runners-up: Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Brad Stevens (Celtics)

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