Magic Johnson declared the race over in late March and Kevin Durant the winner. LeBron James even delivered a concession speech last week. With James abdicating his throne, Durant seems poised to win his first Most Valuable Player trophy at the age of 25.
I still consider James to be the best all-around player in the game today, but conceded to the masses and voted for Durant on my awards ballot as well.
For the first time this season, the Pro Basketball Writers Association voted to make all 129 ballots public so fans can scream and holler at us much like they do in baseball. Can’t wait.
In the effort of full transparency, here is the ballot I submitted along with a brief explanation for each category.
Most Valuable Player
Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson
Durant has been the most consistent from start to finish, carrying the Thunder for stretches when Russell Westbrook was injured. A big reason for that is his growth in areas besides scoring.
Durant has improved as a defender, he’ll set a career high in assists this season and his rebounding numbers remain solid. James’ days as an MVP aren’t entirely over, but Durant has more of these coming in his future.
Jefferson makes my ballot for the remarkable transformation he fueled in Charlotte. Take him off the Bobcats and they’re probably sitting where the Cavs are today.
Goran Dragic, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry
Plenty of worthy candidates, but Dragic stands high above the field. He blossomed from a JAG (Just a guy) into a franchise cornerstone, averaging a career-high 20.7 points and joining Dwyane Wade as the only guards to shoot better than 50 percent (Tony Parker is on the cusp at 49.9 percent).
Dragic is one of a number of Suns who command votes for this award, which is a credit to first-year coach Jeff Hornacek (we’ll get to him in a minute).
Anthony Davis and John Wall both deserve consideration here, but both are former No. 1 overall picks simply fulfilling expectations. These three far, far surpassed expectations anyone held for them this season.
Joakim Noah, DeAndre Jordan, Roy Hibbert
Full disclosure: Defense is much more difficult for writers to gauge, proven each of the last two years when the writers’ choice here (Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol) didn’t even make the coaches’ first team.
In an effort for better accuracy, I took a random, anonymous poll of NBA players and coaches to see who they liked for defensive picks. Noah was the clear-cut winner for his tenacity and athleticism. He is the anchor to one of the best defenses in the league.
Jordan edges Hibbert for second place based on rebounding numbers. Hibbert has mastered the NBA’s rule of verticality, but he should be a better rebounder given his size.
Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson
At 36, Ginobili remains the most remarkable reserve on the league’s most remarkable team. He began Saturday enjoying the second-highest shooting percentage of his career, and while other scorers put up better numbers, Ginobili’s value to the Spurs is well beyond scoring averages.
The Cavs’ Dion Waiters deserves some attention for being the East’s leading bench scorer, but the Cavs’ record will likely hurt his chances.
Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladpio, Trey Burke
Just a brutal field this season. Carter-Williams essentially won the award with a strong first month and coasted the rest of the way. Coming up with All-Rookie teams was much more difficult than it should ever be.
Jeff Hornacek, Gregg Popovich, Steve Clifford
There are plenty of worthy candidates here, including Toronto’s Dwane Casey, the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau and Portland’s Terry Stotts. But the job Hornacek did this season was remarkable.
The Suns were expected to win fewer than 20 games this season in the incredibly deep West, but Hornacek coaxed career years out of unheralded players like Dragic, Markieff Morris, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee.
Clifford did a similarly terrific job with the Charlotte Bobcats, but he is unfairly deducted points for doing it in the weaker Eastern Conference. And every year the Spurs are counted out as too old, and every year Popovich has them on top. At this point, the award should be renamed in honor of Popovich, who is the best coach of this generation.
All-Rookie first team
Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Gorgui Dieng, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Dieng and Hardaway make it for strong finishes to the season. Plus there wasn’t much else from which to pick.
All-Rookie second team
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kelly Olynyk, Mason Plumlee, Cody Zeller, Matthew Dellavedova
It’s remarkable that in a draft this bad, Delly was passed over 60 times. He’ll never be a star, but he’ll play 10 years in this league and make a lot of money.
All-Defensive first team
F - LeBron James, F - Andre Iguodala, C - Joakim Noah, G - Jimmy Butler, G - Patrick Beverley
I again consulted players and coaches for this, particularly for the guards, who can be difficult to gauge. Chris Paul didn’t get much support despite being the league-leader in steals. Guys who accumulate a lot of steals are often seen as gamblers.
For every two they get, they miss five and leave the defense behind them vulnerable. I’ve never thought James receives his just due for how good he is defensively and his ability to defend all five positions.
All-Defensive second team
F – Kawhi Leonard, F- Serge Ibaka, C - DeAndre Jordan, G - Tony Allen, G - Avery Bradley
Paul George deserves to make it somewhere, but is squeezed out by Leonard upon recommendation of a few players. George is a better defender than either guard on the second team, but the league encourages us to keep these positions true to the actual positions guys play. Allen, while getting older, is still highly respected amongst his peers as a lockdown defender.
All-NBA first team
F - LeBron James, F - Kevin Durant, C - Dwight Howard, G - Chris Paul, G - Steph Curry
Perhaps it looks hypocritical to vote Al Jefferson fifth on my MVP ballot and then make Howard the first-team center, but, to me, Howard is the better player and Jefferson is more valuable to his team.
All-NBA second team
F - Blake Griffin, F - LaMarcus Aldridge, C - Al Jefferson, G - James Harden, G - Tony Parker
The forward position is ridiculously deep in this league. Anthony Davis had a monster season and can’t fit anywhere.
All-NBA third team
F - Kevin Love, F - Paul George, C - DeMarcus Cousins, G - John Wall, G - Kyrie Irving
I’m still not convinced Irving deserves to be here, but all the injuries in the East (Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose) diluted the field. Irving edges out Dragic and Damian Lillard for the final spot on my ballot.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.