Triple Threat Weekly: Bringing Home the Hardware

Weekly NBA Content by Back of the Jersey

In this week’s NBA Triple Threat Weekly, Tyler and Jim explore this year’s top performers. Despite a long list of candidates for league MVP, Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year – the Back of the Jersey duo dish out their season ending awards.

Coach of the Year

Candidates: Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks), Dave Joerger (Memphis Grizzles), Kevin McHale (Houston Rockets), Monty Williams (New Orleans Pelicans), David Blatt (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Tyler

Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks: I was generous enough to give a “shout-out” to a few of the coaches around the NBA who have led their teams to admirable seasons. But, the Coach of the Year award simply comes down to two coaches: Steve Kerr & Mike Budenholzer. In his rookie season as coach, Steve Kerr managed to win over 60 games in a top-notch Western Conference. Certainly an impressive accomplishment, and if Kerr were to win Coach of the Year, no would take the time to argue it. But, if I had my choice, Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer deserves to win the award, and here’s why:

After taking over in May of 2013, “Coach Bud” has been at the helm in Atlanta for two full seasons. With the franchise waning under his predecessors Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, the Hawks have gone from being muddled in mediocrity to the current tune of top dogs in the East. There’s no doubt that a transition period existed between the Iso-heavy philosophy of the Woodson/Drew eras and the new culture of “team-basketball” that has been implemented. This style, which Budenholzer brought over from San Antonio, won just 38 games in an average Eastern conference last season. However, this season it has flourished. The Hawks are currently 59-19 – good enough for a franchise record number of wins. What has been the most impressive part of this Atlanta Hawks season? The same roster as last season’s mediocre squad. For those who have watched the Hawks at all under Budenholzer’s brief tenure know how well this team is coached. It is apparent that team chemistry has been crucial to the turnaround, and it will be interesting to see if that begins to wane in the wake of the Sefolosha-Antic NYC nightclub incident earlier this week.

Kerr’s season “in the Bay” has been great, but Budenholzer’s season “in the A” has been even better.

Jim

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors: The Warriors appear headed for a 67-15 season, provided they beat the Timberwolves, Grizzlies and Nuggets, all of which are home games. Only 9 other teams in NBA history have won 67 or more games. The Warriors seem like a lock for 66 wins but if they’re able to get to 67 wins, they would join hallowed company. The Warriors would be the first team since the ’06-’07 Mavs to win 67 or more games.

The team is also crushing opponents. They are a league best (and historically insane) +10.2 in point differential. For context, the next best team, the LA Clippers, have a +6.5 point differential. While the Warriors appear likely to outpace last year’s win total by 16 games (51 wins last season), the Atlanta Hawks appear headed for a 62 or 63 win season, which would be 24 or 25 wins better than their 38 win season last year.

I still give Steve Kerr the edge. To bring a #6 seed, 51 win team last season to one of the top 10 teams in NBA history based on winning percentage and point differential. I’m going with Kerr as my coach of the year.

Rookie of the Year

Candidates: Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls), Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers), Elfred Payton (Orlando Magic)

Tyler

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls: Sometime in mid-November, I was flipping between NBA games. The season was just a few weeks old, and I decided to settle on the Bulls-Blazers game. I thought to myself: two talented teams, some big names, surly this will be a good game to watch. After about ten minutes, I found myself glued to the screen not because of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, or Pau Gasol. I was amazed by how good this Nikola Mirotic guy was.

As the season progressed, so too has Mirotic’s game. In what seemed to be an unlikely series of events, Mirotic has played an incredibly vital role for the Chicago Bulls this season. Mired with injuries once again (which should come as no surprise, since the Bulls, are always injured), Mirotic has played his best when the Bulls have needed him most. The international sensation received his biggest break in December, when fellow rookie forward Doug McDermott was sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Mirotic took full advantage of the opportunity, and has emerged as more than a role player on a 47-win team. To illustrate how important the 6-10 sharp-shooting Yugoslavian has been for Chicago down the stretch, consider this: In his last ten games, the rookie has averaged 17.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG in 27 minutes of action.

Wiggins, Noel and Payton have been impressive – but for three of the worst teams in the NBA. Give me Mirotic for Rookie of the Year. All day, every day.

Jim

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: Raise your hand if you thought that Andrew Wiggins would be averaging more PPG than Kevin Love with a few games left in the season? Wiggins is slapping up 16.7 PPG for a Minnesota team that for the first time in a decade has a promising future.

Mirotic has been a revelation (and savior) for the Chicago Bulls’ injury-depleted roster but Wiggins stacks up more favorably when you review the entirety of each players’ body of work. Wiggins has started all 78 games this season and averaged nearly 36 minutes per game while Mirotic has only started 3 games this season and has averaged only 20 minutes per game this season. Let’s look at their splits side-by-side:

  • Wiggins – 16.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, 4.4 RPG & a PER of 13.68
  • Mirotic – 10.0 PPG, 1.0 APG, 5.0 RPG & a PER of 17.72

Although Mirotic has the superior PER, Wiggins has been the centerpiece of that Minnesota team all season long, whereas Mirotic has only really played big minutes post the all star break.

Steph Curry has blossomed into one of the top players in the entire NBA.

MVP candidate Steph Curry has taken his game to a new level this season.
(Photo courtesy of NBA.com)

Most Valuable Player

Candidates: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), James Harden (Houston Rockets), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)

Tyler

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Unlike the Coach of the Year scenario, this season’s MVP race is extremely close and could go to any of the above candidates. Since it’s looking more and more like Anthony Davis and the Pelicans will sneak into the 8th spot, it’s plausible to tap A.D. as a serious contender for the award. With that said, I feel that the race will ultimately come down to Curry, Harden, and James.

I think with how great all of these players have individually performed, the tiebreaker goes to the player who has achieved the most team success. And that player is Stephen Curry.

I won’t ramble on forever here, since it is quite obvious that any choice of the listed candidates can be deemed rational. I will let that stats speak: 23.6 PPG, 7.7. APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 48% FG, 44% 3-PT.

Oh, I almost forgot…63 wins…and counting. How do you top that?

Jim

James Harden, Houston Rockets: This MVP race is razor thin. Both players are reshaping how the game is played (pace & space) and are confounding their opponents on a nightly basis. These guys have been in a dead lock all season for MVP and with OKC fading in the last 10 games, this is truly down to a 2-man race.

Harden gets my vote due to getting his Rockets team to a potential top 3 seed in the Western Conference (although they dropped to the #6 seed last night with their loss to San Antonio) and to 55 or 56 wins. Without Harden, the Rockets are a lottery team this year. Dwight Howard has missed more games (40) than he has played (38). Terrence Jones has been in and out of the lineup, suiting up for only 29 games thus far this season. And Patrick Beverley, their defensive ace in the backcourt, was lost for the season due to a broken wrist last month.

Harden’s the leading scorer in the league and might have the first the first 700-200 season in NBA history, for free throws (680 thus far) made and 3-pointers (202) made. Harden is the MVP by a hair.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

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