It was especially tough filling out the NBA awards ballot this year.
Some seasons, there are no-brainers. But there weren’t nearly as many this time in another competitive season in the Western Conference and with some surprises in the Eastern Conference.
Without further delay, here are my award winners, as submitted to the NBA last week.
MVP: Stephen Curry, guard, Golden State
I leaned toward James Harden for some time. Carrying an injury-plagued Houston Rockets team was certainly MVP-worthy.
But I went with Curry in the end. He was among the league leaders in scoring (sixth, 23.8 points per game), assists (sixth, 7.7) and steals (fourth, 2.04). He set a league record with 286 three-pointers.
Curry also elevated the Warriors to an elite level. Curry has talent around him, but how much better are Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Co. because they play with Curry? The entire team benefits as defenses try to stop Curry.
A franchise-record 67 wins later, that proved nearly impossible.
Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan, center, L.A. Clippers
The most important part of defense is securing possession, and no player was better at making sure his team had the ball than Jordan.
He led the NBA in rebounding (15.0 per game) in addition to total rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounds.
Jordan was fifth in the NBA in blocks (2.23 per game).
I seriously considered two Warriors, Green and Bogut. But Jordan’s dominance on the glass put him over the top for me.
Coach of the Year:
Steve Kerr, Golden State
No first-year coach has won more than Kerr’s 67 games. But it’s not just wins that stand out with him.
Kerr also had to step into what could have been a difficult situation in the locker room. Mark Jackson was popular with many players, including Curry. But Kerr built upon the defensive foundation laid by Jackson and won the team over with an offense that became the best in the league.
Not only did Kerr avoid disrupting the Warriors, he made them better.
Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas, guard, Boston
Weren’t the Celtics supposed to tank this season?
Once they acquired Thomas, that thought dissipated as he willed the Celtics to the postseason.
This was Thomas’ first season out of Sacramento and as exclusively a sixth man. He was effective off the bench in two cities, first in Phoenix and then as a super sub in Boston.
Thomas averaged 16.4 points, made clutch plays for the Celtics and helped make his teammates better.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins G/F, Minnesota
Wiggins was drafted first overall by Cleveland but ended up in Minnesota thanks to a three-team trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.
Expectations were high, and injuries to Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic made the season tougher.
Wiggins led rookies with 16.9 points per game and was eighth in rebounds (4.6) and seventh in steals (1.0).
Elfrid Payton proved more than capable as a starting point guard for Orlando. Nerlens Noel showed flashes of being a standout defender in his first season after missing last season recovering from knee surgery.
But Wiggins had to step up early and gave the Timberwolves a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal season.
Most Improved Player: Jimmy Butler, guard, Chicago
Butler’s improvement came without increased playing time; he has averaged 38.7 minutes in each of the last two seasons, but in 2014-15, he became a potent offensive threat.
Butler averaged 20.0 points, up from 13.1 last season. His shooting percentage increased from 39.7 percent to 46.2 percent. He made 28.2 percent of his three-point attempts in 2013-14 and 37.8 percent this season. Butler also increased his assists from 2.6 to 3.3 per game.
Butler’s career season made him an All-Star, and he could be the key to a deep postseason run for Chicago.
Guards: Curry, Golden State; Harden, Houston.
Forwards: LeBron James, Cleveland; Anthony Davis, New Orleans.
Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings.
Wiggins, Minnesota; Payton, Orlando; Noel, Philadelphia; Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers; Nikola Mirotic, Chicago.
All-NBA Defensive Team
Green, Golden State; Davis, New Orleans; Jordan, Clippers; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio; Tony Allen, Memphis.