SI.com's 2013-14 NBA awards: Durant unanimously voted Most Valuable Player
With the 2013-14 season coming to a close, SI.com's NBA writers reveal their picks for the league's top performers. And for those curious, here are our midseason awards and preseason predictions. (All stats are through April 15.)
Most Valuable Player
Chris Mannix: Kevin Durant, Thunder
James effectively conceded the MVP to Durant last week, and with good reason: Save for a brief stretch at the end of February, Durant has been consistently dominant. He led the NBA in scoring (career best 31.9 points with one game to play) and surpassed Michael Jordan’s record for consecutive 25-point games (41). He is as complete as he has been at any point in his career and gets bonus points for putting OKC on his back during Russell Westbrooks extended absence. Ask any scout: James is still the best player in basketball. Same scouts: Durant is having the best season.
Lee Jenkins: Kevin Durant, Thunder
Ballot: Durant, LeBron James, Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin, Al Jefferson
Durant is runner-up no more. After finishing second to James three times in the MVP balloting, he overshadowed him this season. James was still spectacular, but his production dipped a bit, opening the door for Durant. The race for third was equally competitive. After Paul George faded, a handful of versatile big men emerged, led by Noah, who does not score much for an MVP candidate but carried the Bulls on both ends of the court over the past two months.
Ben Golliver: Kevin Durant, Thunder
The clear choice is Durant, who boasts more wins, better numbers and a better narrative than James. I expected a monster scoring season from Durant, but I didn't foresee the Thunder star surpassing James in catch-all advanced stats like PER (which James has led the league in for six straight seasons) and Win Shares. He provided value through sheer ability, historic consistency and leadership, and his title quest will be one of the league's most entertaining storylines over the next few months. James remains a clear second, followed by Paul (the engine behind a Clippers juggernaut), Curry (the most dynamic offensive player besides Durant and James) and George (a two-way rock for the East's best team, who makes the cut despite fading a bit since the All-Star break).
Rob Mahoney: Kevin Durant, Thunder
Ballot: Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Durant might have initially gained ground in the MVP race by way of circumstance, but in the months since he's pushed ahead by dominating in every setting possible. With or without Westbrook, on or off the ball, facing single coverage or triple teams -- context seems secondary with Durant, who has been so holistically excellent that he's outpaced the best player in the league. Beyond that, I like Curry for his transformational influence on Golden State's offense, Paul for his brilliant (and somehow unheralded) two-way utility and Griffin for his growth into a more fully formed star.
Matt Dollinger: Kevin Durant, Thunder
Ballot: Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Joakim Noah, Paul George
This has nothing to do with voter fatigue. Durant has taken his game to new heights, while also managing to diversify it in the process. He averaged a career-best 5.5 assists per game and dealt 100 more dimes than any other Thunder player this season. He also led the league in scoring while toeing 50/40/90 shooting splits. He's prolific and proficient -- a deadly duo that made him the most potent player in the league this season. The rest of my ballot is made up of the most indispensable players of 2013-14. The Heat, Clippers, Bulls and Pacers wouldn't be where they are without brilliant play from its No. 1s.
Most Improved Player
Ballot: Davis, Goran Dragic, Lance Stephenson
Voting for this award is subjective, to say the least. Does it belong to the star who becomes a superstar? The middle-of-the-road veteran who rises from the pack? My ballot features a little of both, but it’s impossible to overlook Davis, a holy terror on both ends of the court who makes me think Durant has some competition as James’ heir apparent. That Davis has added a reliable mid-range jump shot and an emerging post game to his elite-level defense at the ripe age of 21 is downright scary. The Suns' Dragic deserves some award (“Player Who Strapped What Was Supposed To Be A Crappy Team On His Back And Nearly Got It In the Playoffs?”). The Pacers' Stephenson will get his reward in free agency this summer.
Jenkins: Gerald Green, Suns
Ballot: Green, Anthony Davis, Miles Plumlee
Two of the players on this list – Green and Plumlee – were involved in the same trade last summer, sent from Indiana to Phoenix, where they have become bedrocks. Plumlee went from 0.9 points and 1.6 rebounds to 8.2 and 8.0, but his emergence was not even as stunning as Green’s. In 2009, Green did not have a job in basketball, signed with a team in Russia, was released by a team in China and eventually landed in the D-League. This season, he averaged 15.8 points for the resurgent Suns. He should be awarded with a golden cupcake.
Golliver: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Ballot: Davis, Gerald Green, Lance Stephenson
As a former No. 1 pick who hadn't yet reached legal drinking age, Davis and "anticipated improvement" were synonymous entering the season. Nevertheless, he blew past any reasonable development curve, averaging 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and a league-leading 2.8 blocks. Davis' PER (26.5) is the highest ever for a player during his age-20 season, including LeBron James. Going from "potential franchise player" to "bona fide franchise player" this quickly and this effortlessly makes his growth more impressive than that of the rest of a loaded field. Green's mid-career emergence and Stephenson's blossoming as an all-around talent make them both worthy runners-up.
Mahoney: Goran Dragic, Suns
Ballot: Dragic, Blake Griffin, DeMar DeRozan
The reasonable candidates for this award run dozens deep, but Dragic is the most convincing. His role isn't all that much different from last season; he was as pick-and-roll-focused then as he is now, logging comparable minutes as a solid NBA starter. But he's made the jump to NBA stardom through well-rounded improvement. He's more productive, more efficient and more demonstratively capable than ever before -- not simply unleashed but more fully evolved.
Dollinger: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Ballot: Davis, Lance Stephenson, Goran Dragic
The rate of Davis' evolution continues to marvel. Keep in mind Davis is nine years younger than LeBron James. He's a defensive anchor, leading the league in blocks, and he's a blossoming offensive star, raising his scoring average by seven points per game. Stephenson has been the best player on the best team in the East for portions of this season, using his unconventional playmaking to spark the Pacers' often-stalled offense. His tenacity on defense and vision on offense make him one of the best two-way players in the league.
Coach of the Year
Mannix: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls
Ballot: Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Jeff Hornacek
In adversity vs. Thibodeau, Thibs wins every time. No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no problem for the Bulls, who have the East’s best record since Jan. 1 (36-15). Thibodeau has refused to allow the Bulls to fold, pushing them defensively (No. 2 in efficiency), developing Noah into one of the NBA’s best passing big men and turning D.J. Augustin -- D.J. Augustin! -- into arguably the best backup point guard in the game. The Bulls' unflinching faith in Thibodeau is a testament to his talent, which, in a crowded COY field, deserves to be rewarded.
Jenkins: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls
Ballot: Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek, Steve Clifford
He lost Rose to another knee injury. He lost Deng to a trade. His leading scorer was Augustin, who has played for four teams in two years and was waived by the Raptors in December. But Thibodeau always finds a way, this time by installing Noah as a point center and proving that even new acquisitions can master his defensive system. The Suns' Hornacek and the Bobcats' Clifford, meanwhile, took over teams that were expected to tank or be terrible and delivered seasons more satisfying than any number of Ping Pong balls. Phoenix and Charlotte go down as the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Golliver: Dwane Casey, Raptors
Ballot: Casey, Gregg Popovich, Jeff Hornacek
There are a number of great "he did more with less" coaching stories out there, including Thibodeau, Hornacek and Clifford. But how about a little love for Casey? His relatively anonymous Raptors roster took off after the Rudy Gay trade, posting at least a 14-win improvement over 2012-13. Casey -- who entered the season on the hot seat and with a new GM who didn't hire him -- deserves credit for coaxing career years out of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and instilling a culture of hard work that's produced a top-10 defense. Toronto entered the season looking like it would be stuck with the Clevelands and Detroits of the world, but instead is in position to potentially win just its second playoff series in franchise history.
Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs
Ballot: Popovich, Steve Clifford, Jeff Hornacek
An award intended to honor the best coach could go to no one else. Far more difficult was pinning down the runners-up. Thibodeau has a deserved gripe here, but I've been even more impressed by the work of two first-year coaches who maximized their rosters. Between them I gave the edge to Clifford, whose work with the Bobcats has gone remarkably undercovered. Clifford built a borderline top-five defense around Al Jefferson. He installed a smart, functional offense, too, even if Charlotte doesn't yet have the talent to make it work.
Dollinger: Jeff Hornacek, Suns
Ballot: Hornacek, Steve Clifford, Tom Thibodeau
This might be the hardest end-of-year award to decide. Thibodeau and Popovich did incredible jobs, but the newcomers impressed me most, particularly Hornacek. I pegged the Suns at No. 29 in my preseason Power Rankings. Even worse, I added this stroke of genius: "Don't expect Jeff Hornacek to win much in his first season as coach." Welp, Hornacek will win 47 or 48 games. His was the most impressive coaching job, even if the Suns narrowly missed the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year
Mannix: Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
Ballot: Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee
A three-time Rookie of the Month, Carter-Williams should be a runaway winner. Carter-Williams has surged to the finish, averaging 14.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists in March (the first rookie since Grant Hill to post those numbers in a month) and scoring 20-plus points three times this month. The 22-year-old point guard has been the lone bright spot in a forgettable season in Philadelphia.
Jenkins: Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
Ballot: Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee, Victor Oladipo
This was a wretched rookie class and Carter-Williams takes the honor in part because he played for a team with few other legitimate NBA players. But he did take advantage of his opportunity, leading all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals, proving to be a cornerstone of the 76ers' ambitious rebuilding project. The Nets' Plumlee was not as prolific as Carter-Williams, but he was more efficient, fortifying the frontcourt for a top-five team in the East.
Golliver: Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
Ballot: Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke
Mason Plumlee's late push is compelling, but my ballot rewards the three rookies who have logged the most minutes. Carter-Williams led the group in scoring, rebounding and assists. Some of that was a product of very unusual circumstances in Philadelphia, to say the least, but Carter-Williams deserves recognition for making the best of an atrocious situation. Although I'm not necessarily convinced that he will enjoy the best career from the hard-to-read 2013 class, Carter-Williams had the most impressive overall output.
Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Magic
Ballot: Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke
Determining this award boils down to which of Carter-Williams' first-year faults are his own and which are the products of playing a crazy, chaotic style on a hopelessly ill-equipped team. Accountability can be tough to peg in circumstances such as these, But I ultimately held him responsible for his unbridled streaks of shooting inefficiency. I prefer Oladipo, if only slightly, because he's a bit more controlled on offense and clearly the better defender.
Dollinger: Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
Ballot: Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee
Carter-Williams, Oladipo and Trey Burke were the only rookies to average at least 30 minutes per night, giving them a decisive advantage on the field, but Plumlee deserves credit for playing his reserve role to near perfection, giving the Nets a shot-blocker and efficient scorer at center in the wake of losing Brook Lopez. Oladipo has displayed the most promise of any rookie this season, but Carter-Williams wins on account of superior production and the better season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Mannix: Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Ballot: Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala
Hibbert opened the door for some competition (mostly from Noah) with an anemic final month, but his season of work can’t be overlooked. Hibbert is still one of the NBA’s most feared rim protectors (verticality!), and though his confidence has been ravaged during the Pacers' tumultuous recent stretch, he is the backstop of the league’s best defense. Noah, a better pick-and-roll defender, just misses out. Iguodala, who has helped transform the Warriors' defense into a top-three unit, is right behind them.
Jenkins: Joakim Noah, Bulls
Ballot: Noah, Roy Hibbert, Patrick Beverley
This was Hibbert’s to lose in February, when he was protecting the rim for Indiana’s historically stingy defense. But the Pacers slipped in every area, while the Bulls surged, keyed by Noah’s back-line presence. Noah may not get along with Kevin Garnett, but he has become Garnett 2.0, barking commands and smothering pick-and-rolls. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is another strong candidate, but Beverley deserves recognition for giving the Rockets a defensive identity and irritating the league’s many superstar point guards.
Golliver: Joakim Noah, Bulls
Ballot: Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan
Noah vs. Hibbert is the Defensive Player of the Year's version of Larry vs. Magic or Mantle vs. Mays. Stylistic considerations -- Noah's manic versatility vs. Hibbert's statuesque traditionalism -- frame the debate, but you can't go wrong either way. Although Indiana's defense barely edges Chicago's as the league's best, Noah has logged more than five minutes per game more than Hibbert, increasing his relative impact. No one fills the paint and contests shots at the rim better than Hibbert, but Noah has been a vastly superior rebounder, outperforms Hibbert in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and has had less help and more variables (Rose injury, Deng trade) to overcome.
Mahoney: Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Ballot: Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala
A few rough months didn't much change the fact that Hibbert has been the most important, game-changing defender in the league this season. His ability to wall off the paint and protect the basket (where he allows opponents to shoot just 41.7 percent) are vital to the NBA's best defense. As great (and versatile) as Noah is in covering ground and handling a wider variety of threats, he just can't claim the same absurd degree of structural impact.
Dollinger: Joakim Noah, Bulls
Ballot: Noah, Andre Iguodala, Roy Hibbert
All three of my nominees anchored top-three units in defensive efficiency. Watching Noah play defense is like watching Rafael Nadal play tennis. His intensity and creativity make him a unique defender and his versatility makes him more valuable than Hibbert. Iguodala has brought a new mentality to Golden State and made the former run-and-gun specialists into a balanced playoff team.
Sixth Man Award
Mannix: Taj Gibson, Bulls
Noah gets the lion’s share of the credit for the Bulls' second half surge -- deservedly so, I might add -- but Gibson’s contributions can’t be overlooked. Playing behind Carlos Boozer, Gibson has been an iron man (he's played every game) while averaging a career best 13.1 points and providing his usual stout defense. Gibson gets more fourth-quarter minutes than Boozer, a testament to Thibodeau’s faith in the fifth-year forward.
Jenkins: Jamal Crawford, Clippers
Ballot: Crawford, Taj Gibson, Markieff Morris
Crawford and Gibson are completely different players -- one a streaky distance shooter, the other a rugged defender and finisher -- but both can lay a claim to this award. Crawford could win it just about every year, but this season he has been even more productive than usual, scoring 18.6 points, astounding for a bench player. The only mark against his candidacy is a calf injury that kept him out the past two weeks.
Golliver: Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Ballot: Ginobili, Markieff Morris, Taj Gibson
Ginobili's plus-13.4 net rating (112.6 offense, 99.3 defense) is comically good and a reflection of just how dominant San Antonio's reserves have been. Although Ginobili is fully deserving of the award based on his individual play (12.4 points, 4.3 assists, 46.9 percent shooting, 20.1 PER), I also like the idea that the Spurs, who don't have a single player averaging more than 30 minutes, would take home the league's only recognition of bench success.
Mahoney: Taj Gibson, Bulls
Ballot: Gibson, Manu Ginobili, Markieff Morris
Gibson has been one of the best defenders in the league. He's nearly as flexible as Noah in containing smaller, quicker guards, and the better option between the two in defending at the rim. That Gibson has refined his offensive game (particularly in the post) to help stabilize the Bulls pushes him to the forefront of the Sixth Man conversation, where he just barely edges the equally deserving Ginobili.
Dollinger: Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Ballot: Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, Taj GibsonAt age 36, Ginobili's numbers per 36 minutes are fittingly right on par with his career averages. But Popovich rarely allows his ace in the hole to play that long, limiting Ginobili to his fewest minutes since his rookie season. When the veteran is unleashed, though, he's better than any other reserve the league has to offer -- and most of its starters, too.