Alternative awards: Most valuable tanker, biggest reclamation project and more
With the end of the regular season and the commencement of the NBA's award season comes occasion to partake in the long-existing Internet practice of handing out entirely made-up awards. Below are a handful of fictitious honors -- some follow-ups from our in-season alternative awards, others entirely new -- designed to highlight those superlatives that which standard NBA awards fare fails to capture.
Most Valuable Tanker
Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers
Tanking in itself might be an overstated problem on the NBA scene, but there can be no question that the ever-singular Sixers set out this season to lose as many games as possible. More crucial to that effort than any other player has been Wroten -- an amazingly athletic, high-variance guard who eats up possession after possession with inefficient return. Wroten could pan out nicely if he ever hones his jumper and settles his game down, though for this season's Sixers he was a perfect low-cost prospect to carry the tanking banner.
Consider his credentials:
• Wroten has the absolute worst turnover rate in the league for a player of his usage.
• Wroten has been the single worst three-point shooter in the league this season, and is having one of the worst three-point shooting seasons of all time.
• Wroten's effective field goal percentage is fourth-worst in the league among players of similar minutes and usage.
• On top of it all, the abjectly horrible Sixers have been 3.4 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
For a player with those qualifications to play some 1,700 minutes is rebuilding in its purest form. There is so little incentive for these Sixers to win games that their time and touches are better spent on a player like Wroten than a more capable veteran. Wroten is, at present, a bad NBA player. His defense is as sloppy as one would expect of a raw 20-year-old playing with other young players in a haphazard system. His right hand collects dust as a function of his left-hand-dominant game. He excels at getting to the rim but seems clueless once he arrives there -- a tendency that may well feed his admirable free throw rate by way of mutual confusion between Wroten and his defender. Yet there's an undeniable spark in Wroten's drives that isn't easy to find in a low-cost asset. That warranted deeper inspection and investment for a Sixers team with minutes to spare, setting up a scenario in which Wroten would either pleasantly surprise or actively contribute to the team's losing.
He's done more of the latter than the former, though in the process gave coach Brett Brown an detailed and extended look at what he does well and where he needs work. It's not as if the Sixers need to come to any determination regarding Wroten in the near future, after all; he's under guaranteed contract for next season with an affordable $2.2 million team option in 2015-16. Philadelphia has a flexible timetable with which to decide how to best make sense of Wroten's idiosyncracies and an increasingly informed perspective from which to make that decision. Such is the benefit of a deliberate rebuild, where letting Wroten loose was very much a part of a larger plan.
Best High-Usage Lineup
This lineup strikes a damn near perfect balance of offense and defense with just the right arrangement of skills sewn throughout. Curry and Thompson offer scheme-busting spacing to a lineup with two traditional bigs -- one of which fancies himself a mid-range shooter but has struggled in that regard this season. Iguodala and Bogut help match up and clean up whatever falls through the gaps defensively by virtue of relying on Curry and Lee in the same lineup. Lee and Iguodala are committed cutters who can take advantage of the passing acumen throughout. Curry and Lee's shot creation alleviates the others of that responsibility, in turn freeing them up for what they do best.
Worst High-Usage Lineup
It's pretty amazing to think that this group played so miserably while only logging time in nine of the Sixers' 26 consecutive losses. Oh, what could have been had Sam Hinkie not broken up a dynasty at the deadline.
Most Promising Reclamation Project
Most of this season's other notable turnarounds have faded, but nothing -- not rain nor sleet nor lineup changes -- has kept this point guard from his appointed duty as a Bull. This has very clearly been the most successful stretch of Augustin's NBA career. Months before arriving in Chicago he was cut loose by the Pacers for his stunted offense and horrid defense. Then in December he was released outright by the Raptors, with whom Augustin made 9.1 percent of his three-pointers and nearly produced a turnover for every assist. His NBA equity was nearly depleted; players like Augustin tend to find opportunities if they hang around, but disappointing so profoundly didn't bode well for his professional future.
If not for the Bulls' point guard desperation in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury, Augustin could have gone unclaimed for months. Even if he were picked up, it seems unlikely that he'd undergo this same kind of renaissance; this was a perfect coincidence of need and ability, which in turn helped steady a player for whom confidence had evidently become an issue. Augustin was a wreck in Indiana, yet he's been nothing short of amazing since stepping in to provide just the dose of creative proficiency that the Bulls needed.
Donald Sloan, Indiana Pacers
The tailspinning Pacers are never quite so bad as when Sloan is on the floor. If anything that has been a byproduct of him stretching into an oversized role as needed. C.J. Watson's various injuries have forced Sloan to play a bit more than he probably should against tougher competition than he can likely handle. Indiana's plodding offense, too, does his game no favors. Still, there's something special about a player surrendering a swing of over 20 points per 100 possessions whenever he steps on the floor, particularly when he seems to fit poorly with all that the Pacers do and all the lineups they commonly employ. It's apparently the lot of some Pacers guard to be in over his head.
Medal for Marksmanship in Corner Three-Point Shooting
Naturally. Korver isn't just one of the most prolific shooters of corner threes in the league, but the very best -- percentage-wise -- among the top 80 in corner attempts. This despite the fact that opponents know his intentions precisely. It's not as if Korver is much of a threat to dribble drive from the corner against a hard close-out; he wants to take the shot, his teammates want him to take the shot and Korver's long-standing excellence beyond the arc says he damn well should take it. Still, he's so smart in how he maneuvers into the corner and so selective with his attempts that he can rack up corner tries while still hitting 53.1 percent of his shots. Brilliant.
Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder
Perk has always been a man of great charity, though his donations to his opponents via turnovers have come with even greater frequency than usual this season. It's as if his benevolence compensates for his dwindling minutes; Perkins commits virtually the same number of turnovers on a per-game basis relative to last season despite logging six fewer minutes on average.
The reason for that is a career- and league-worst turnover rate. Somewhat impressively, Perkins manages to give away the ball to his opponent on 29 percent of his possessions -- a brutal turn for a player who already drags on the Thunder offense. Kudos to Perkins, I suppose, for facilitating (the other team's) fast breaks, setting upeasy scores (for the opposition) and helping lesser teams keep pace with the Thunder. Few NBA players are so accommodating. But even basketball altruism has its reasonable limits, which Perkins may well have crossed.
10th Man of the Year
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
It's appropriate that Collison grabs the honor this season, as this fake award very much embodies his spirit as a player. Even when playing a more prominent role with bigger minutes, Collison is a 10th man to his core -- a terrific defender, a collector of floor burns, a quirky offensive contributor, and a foul-prone specialist. There are tons of candidates (Mason Plumlee, Jordan Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Matthew Dellavedova, Kevin Seraphin, Nate Wolters, DeJuan Blair, etc.) well worth considering, though why settle for a merely qualified player when the living standard for 10th-man play rolls on?
Gunner of the Year
Consider this: Speights, a trigger-happy reserve big man, gets 12.3 touches in 12.1 minutes per game. He puts up a shot on 5.3 of those touches on average. If Kevin Love maintained that same ratio of shots per touch, he'd put up 37 attempts per game. The man leaves nothing to chance; every time out he's going to get his, even if he has to derail Golden State's offense to do so.
If Prigioni were paid per shot he would likely starve. It's just not in his nature to end a possession. Instead he makes the extra pass to a fault, ever in search of the right play. He's so well-intentioned that it's hard to hold his shot aversion against him, though at times Prigioni's reluctance to pull the trigger on open threes has been a problem for a Knicks team that works to create those openings. New York isn't short on players keen to take the shots Prigioni leaves behind, but would that this sharp, accurate shooter allow himself just a few more long-range attempts here and there.
Screener of the Year
He might not lay out opponents with strong, blindside picks, but Lopez gets the nod simply by using such a huge frame so intelligently. I'm not sure it's fully appreciated how difficult it can be to get around a screening seven-footer; Lopez has a wide, strong base that forces opponents to veer way off course, as if a Buick were parked in a base-runner's path. For a defender, going under a pick that large might be just as time-consuming as fighting over it. There just isn't a clean, efficient way for opponents to work their way around Lopez once he establishes position, as can be seen in the scramble that results when the Blazers center clears room for one of Damian Lillard's drives or Wesley Matthews' curls.
Over the course of this season, Sullinger -- the Celtics' self-appointed enforcer -- has racked up six flagrant fouls -- more than double that of any other player. In fact, no player has hit that total in over a decade; Metta World Peace's nine flagrant fouls in the 2002-03 season sets the gold standard for irresponsible physicality, though Sullinger's efforts this season earn him a bruised and bloodied silver.
The Honorary Dikembe Mutombo Award for Achievement in Immortality
Derek Fisher, Oklahoma City Thunder
In 50 years Fisher will still be hitting threes and trying to blow up screens for some NBA contender. So it has been and so it shall be, no matter the guffaws of the basketball world. It's fascinating how irksome fans seem to find Fisher's ongoing relevance. He's greeted with groans for simply continuing to do what he's always done, albeit to greater effect than one would expect of a guard nearing 40. That Fisher is actually playing well might be the sharpest jab of all. Time, it seems, bears little impact on whether Fisher makes or misses a dagger three. Statistical support provided by NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.