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Sean Grande’s NBA awards ballot

Posted By Sean Grande On April 27, 2012 @ 1:56 pm In General | 19 Comments

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LeBron James is an easy choice for MVP. (AP)

I’m not sure when exactly it happened.

Media, communication, society, it all changes pretty fast these days. But at some point, probably somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, the concept of anonymity started to become a problem. It was manageable then, the occasional encoded e-mail address and what not. But with Twitter, it’s now an epidemic.

And of course the problem isn’t anonymity, it’s a wonderful thing if you’re fortunate enough to have it. The problem, is that it comes with a certain amount of entitlement. That lack of awareness, fake-tough bravery that usually comes after too much to drink, or for those of us new parents, not nearly enough sleep.

People say the nastiest, vicious, twisted things when armed with a keyboard and the invisibility cloak of the Internet. They are, more often than not, the same people that would smile, shake your hand or ask for an autograph if they saw you in person. It’s a disturbing, ugly trend. I mean, sure it is. But it’s an absurdly small price to pay for the freedom of speech we’re blessed to have and the extraordinary age of technology in which we exist.

There are 100 million people on Twitter. If a few dozen backwards teenagers, bred in ignorance, tweet something offensive after Joel Ward scores the overtime goal for the Capitals, it’s not a story unless we make it one.

Morons have existed from the beginning of time. So has classlessness, ignorance and hate. And they always will. Progress isn’t eliminating them; that’s a noble idea but it can’t be done. Progress is recognizing it, isolating it and going on with life in the real world while the increasing minority of people fueled by race and hate grows extinct.

It’s how we got rid of disco, Members Only jackets and lava lamps. Just give it time.

Anyway, the point is that as big a fan of anonymity as I am … I don’t think postseason award ballots should be anonymous. Never have. I’ve been voting for NBA MVP and the other awards for 14 years now. It’s a privilege, not a right. And I think with that privilege comes a certain amount of accountability. I’ve always made my ballot public and I think everyone should. If you’re “expert” enough to get a vote, you should be able to defend your choices, that’s all.

That said, I’ll be submitting my ballots to the league shortly, and here’s what they’ll look like.

ALL-NBA

I always begin here. By picking the top 15 guys in the league, it starts my process in picking the five for my MVP ballot.

And the strangest thing about the all-NBA team this year? In fact, the strangest thing maybe about this truly strange NBA season? The center spot. For years now, it’s actually been a struggle to find three centers worthy of All-Star consideration. You’d convince yourself that Tim Duncan was playing center even if he wasn’t, or that Nene was really underrated. It was a struggle. This year, if you call Duncan a center, there were legitimately seven guys competing for the third spot.

Dwight Howard will get hurt in all the categories — Defensive Player of the Year, MVP, all-NBA — because of the (self-inflicted) drama of his season and the fact that he missed the final two weeks. But he’s still the gold standard at the position, and he played the same number of minutes this year that Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson did.

Andrew Bynum had a phenomenal year, to the point that I think he and Pau Gasol should really put a dent in the idea of Kobe Bryant as a strong MVP candidate.

Tyson Chandler is the Defensive Player of the Year, no question. And although Chandler’s 70 percent shooting was due to dunks and uncontested layups that come with playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, he had a phenomenal year.

Marc Gasol not only was sixth in the NBA in minutes played — Sixth! — he was a double-double, starting center on a homecourt playoff team. And if that sounds a lot like Roy Hibbert, it’s because he was as well. Duncan has willingly slid down the Spurs pecking order with Tony Parker having an MVP year. But he’s had some old-school Timmy nights.

It already was the best center year in the 14 years I’ve been in the NBA. The best since you had Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and David Robinson. (Can you appreciate what it must have been like for Acie Earl to enter the league then? I only ask as an excuse to get an Acie Earl mention in here.)

But that was before the unexpected addition of a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a 17-year veteran and rookie center. In January, Kevin Garnett had to play center in a TNT Thursday night game against Dwight Howard and the Magic. It looked like it might be a horrific mismatch.

It was.

Garnett destroyed him.

And that set the tone for one of the remarkable stories of the 2012 season. Kevin Garnett, weeks before his 36th birthday, shifting to center, continuing to dominate defensively while giving the Boston offense four shooters to play with Rajon Rondo. It was a game-changer in Boston’s season — maybe in the Eastern Conference season — and while a lot of people are talking about Rondo as an MVP candidate, he wasn’t even the MVP of his own team. That’s how good Garnett was.

My centers were Howard, Bynum and Garnett. Those three and Chandler were interchangeable.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant were easy choices as the first-team forwards. Kevin Love and Luol Deng second. Easy. The last two spots, not so much. Blake Griffin had a strong plus-minus year and obviously enough highlights to launch an ESPNBlake channel in Bristol. Danny Granger and Andre Iguodala were my toughest omissions. Granger was the best all-around player on the surprise team in the NBA, and Iguodala was great early but was as culpable for the Sixers’ collapse as anyone.

Gasol very quietly had a strong second half. Carmelo missed a lot of time but showed MVP flashes late in the year under Mike Woodson. But before the Blazers’ season fell apart, LaMarcus Aldridge was carrying them to a top-four spot in the West. He held that team together longer than it should have been able to stay held together.

A lot of people in Boston are not fans of Josh Smith, and with good reason, as he’s played poorly against the Celtics, it seems, for years. But the Hawks are a homecourt playoff team. That wouldn’t have shocked me at the start of the year. I really liked Atlanta, but that’s because to me Al Horford was ready to have the kind of season that would get him on this list. For him to miss the year, and the Hawks finish ahead of Boston, Orlando and New York in the East? Didn’t seem possible. Smith drives people crazy, I get it, but he’s earned this spot. Led the league in defensive win-shares, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Kobe are in the MVP conversation, those are the first three guards. After that, to me the other three aren’t hard. You have Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook. It’s just a matter of the order. Westbrook gets the fourth spot over Rondo in a tight one because he played every game on a better team. Rondo missed 20 percent of the season and had some bad nights. Rondo’s 20 best games were as good as anyone’s in the league, but he’ll be an MVP candidate when you get that two or three nights out of three, not one. You can talk about Steve Nash, but that would be an honorarium. Derrick Rose missed nearly half the year, he’s out. Mike Conley deserves to have his name here, for the same reasons as Marc Gasol.

In any case, here’s how it came out.

First Team Second Team Third Team
Forward LeBron James
Kevin Love LaMarcus Aldridge
Forward Kevin Durant Luol Deng Josh Smith
Center Dwight Howard Andrew Bynum Kevin Garnett
Guard Chris Paul Kobe Bryant
Rajon Rondo
Guard Tony Parker Russell Westbrook Dwyane Wade


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Now you see why I do all-NBA first. Now we’re down to 15. Well, 16, because Chandler deserves top-10 consideration. The top two spots are a no-brainer to me. People will say, write, blog and tweet anything about LeBron James — a lot of it fair, most of it hilarious. But let’s just step away from that for a second to say this: LeBron isn’t just the MVP in a runaway, easy choice. You can put his 2011-12 season with any MVP’s of the last decade, maybe back to Michael Jordan. I’m sure some people will vote for Durant; I actually know someone who’s voting LeBron third. But as Hubie Brown would say: Come on now. … LeBron is the best player in the world. … We know this.

The only questions for me were: 1) Who gets third, Tony Parker or Chris Paul? And 2) Is there a wild-card candidate that would knock Kobe out of fifth? The first wasn’t as complicated as I thought. Chris Paul probably will get third, but in the West, who was the best player on the best team? Parker. And after looking at Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and Luol Deng, I begrudgingly went with Kobe fifth. I have some remorse about not putting Deng fifth, but I’ll live with it; you can’t go wrong with Kobe on your ballot this time of year.

My ballot: James, Durant, Parker, Paul and Bryant … with Deng at 5½.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

I really had a lot of difficulty with this one. I mean, the winner was as easy as it gets. Kyrie Irving is special. And he’ll do this award proud, meaning we’ll look back in five years and be glad he won. His name will fit in with all the others: Larry Bird, Duncan, Shaq, LeBron, Emeka Okafor. OK, not all the others.

But the other two spots were very difficult for me. This year, we’ll call it the Ricky Rubio dilemma. Clearly, he was the second-best rookie, and right there with Kyrie in terms of impact on a team — and really a franchise. But playing into Doc Rivers‘ notion that his favorite ability in an NBA player is availability, he doesn’t make the top three. Playing 41 out of 66 games just isn’t enough for me. That’s missing nearly 40 percent of the season. So, that left me with two spots to fill and no shortage of candidates.

Brandon Knight is an attractive candidate, but he finished last on his team in plus/minus. Kemba Walker by the way, has one of the worst plus/minus ratings in NBA history and finished dead last in the league in field goal percentage, so no thanks. That Big East tournament seems about 10 years ago now.

Kenneth Faried and Greg Stiemsma are both bigs who made much larger impacts on playoff teams than we could have thought. But neither getting to 1,000 minutes hurts their cause.

MarShon Brooks played a  lot. But not very well and on a bad team. Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas I had ahead of Brooks, but not on my top tier.

So I was left with Iman Shumpert, Kawhi Leonard and Chandler Parsons for the other two spots. Shumpert was very good defensively, but so was Leonard on a much better team.

So what did I do? I left then both off, completely backtracked and reconsidered on Rubio, giving him the third spot, and I likely will be the only one who voted Parsons second. He was a starter on a winning team. He didn’t do anything extraordinary, but he did almost everything well.

My ballot: Faried likely will get the third spot, but I went Irving, Parsons, Rubio.

SIXTH MAN

Very similar to Rookie of the Year. Obvious choice, followed by several, hard-to-distinguish choices for second and third. James Harden will win, and should win, and it doesn’t take a Metta World Peace elbow to the side of your head to drive that home.

It actually wasn’t a great year for sixth men. Al Harrington played a nice role for Denver. The Sixers had two strong candidates, one offensively in Lou Williams, the other defensively in Thaddeus Young. Jason Terry has been a stalwart in this category, and people like new blood but I don’t think enough happened to displace him. Lamar Odom and Big Baby Davis, two strong candidates last year, weren’t this year.

My ballot: I went with Harden, Williams and Terry.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER

My ballot: Chandler, Howard, Garnett. Near misses for Deng, Tony Allen and Elton Brand.

COACH OF THE YEAR

I have always hated this category. So do coaches, by the way. Here’s what I mean: Doc Rivers was Coach of the Year as a rookie in 2000. He hasn’t come close to winning it since. Does that mean he was a better coach then? The funny thing about this year was how it changed during the year. Stan Van Gundy and Kevin McHale were strong candidates two-thirds of the way in, but they won’t get near it. There are at least six interchangeable candidates: Greg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Rick Adelman, Lionel Hollins, Doc Rivers. That’s the order I think they’ll finish.

My ballot: I went Vogel, Pop, Thibs, but it was basically flipping a coin.

MOST IMPROVED

Not a fan of this category — too esoteric. Avery Bradley won’t get a sniff even though I’ve never seen an overnight improvement like his this year. Ryan Anderson could win, and probably will. Some think Jeremy Lin is a no-brainer. But as impactful as the Linsanity stretch was, it was seven weeks long. That’s it, seven weeks. He played less than half the year. That said, he deserves some resonance in a season that everyone will remember him for. The unspoken rule is this is for a guy that went from the periphery to legitimate NBA standout. If it was from standout to star, you’d be talking guys like Bynum, Conley and Josh Smith.

My ballot: I went Anderson, Lin and Nikola Pekovic.

And there you have it, a difficult year to navigate if you cover the league, a difficult year to get the awards right, but we did our best to handle both.

And without anonymity.


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