The 2012-13 regular season has been over for a little more than a week, but as far as this column is concerned, it can’t officially end until we hand out a few awards. Let’s begin:
The Big Opportunity, Huge Disappointment Award – to Josh Smith.
Acceptance Speech: With Joe Johnson gone, and in the last year of his contract, Smith had the right circumstances and the motivation to improve on his big stats from 2011-12 (18.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.7 spg). Instead, Smoove declined in points (17.5), boards (8.4) and steals (1.2) while shooting a career-worst 51.7 percent from the line. He did post 4.2 apg and 1.8 bpg – his best in those categories the last three years – and hit a career-best 0.8 3s per game, but it wasn’t enough to salvage a frustrating season: Smith finished 92nd in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings, largely because of that free throw percentage.
Taking a step back, I realize that averaging around 18, eight and four with standout defensive stats is nothing to be too upset about. But given the expectations, it’s fair to complain – and fair to be worried about Smith’s decline. The free throw percentage has dropped nearly 21 points in two years (from 72.5 in 2010-11 to 51.7 this year), and he's not the dynamic shot-blocker he used to be. After posting 2.6 bpg his first four years in the league, he has averaged 1.8 the last five years (and this year, posted just 1.3 bpg from Feb. 1 onward). Yes, 1.8 is still pretty strong, but the decline in two major categories is significant for a player who turns 29 next December – and is visibly not as explosive as he used to be. As a Hawks fan I appreciate what Smoove has done despite all the maddening and perplexing moments, but I would not want to sign him to a max deal this offseason.
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The Nice Suit Award – to Kevin Love, Andrew Bynum and Derrick Rose.
Speech: There was some risk involved (and patience required) in drafting these three heading into the season, but even the most extreme pessimist probably couldn’t have imagined that they’d combine for 18 games – all from Love. Let’s break down these maddening injury situations one-by-one:
Love: I’m willing to call this season somewhat of a fluke, and will gladly draft him in the first round next year, but there is some lingering injury risk here. Love played 81 games his rookie year, but has missed an average of 21 games in the four years since. Those numbers are obviously skewed by the fact that he missed 64 games this year, but if you draft him, you have to be prepared for some missed time.
Bynum: For a lot of owners it may still be too soon to talk about this, and it's understandable if that's the case. Unfortunately, Bynum looks like a guy with degenerative knees and limited motivation – and personally, I’ll be shocked if he ever plays 70 games in a season again. (He has only topped 70 games once – in 2006-07 – and has missed an average of 35 games the last six years, including his festering, smelly zero from this year.) Someone will probably throw a lot of money at the 25-year-old this offseason, but it strikes me as a huge mistake.
Rose: In a word: bizarre. I just don’t understand how a player of his caliber who has been cleared to play for this long can accept not being on the court during the playoffs. I won’t be at all surprised to see him come back and post big numbers next year, but this has been and continues to be a flat-out strange episode. I think the only lesson here is: As tempting as it is to draft and stash high-upside players who are out the first several months of the season, you’re probably better off starting the year with guys who can help your squad from day one.
One Giant Leap Award – to Paul George.
Speech: You could easily give this award to James Harden, but it was pretty clear he was going to go berserk once he got dealt to Houston. George, meanwhile, went ahead and put together an old-fashioned third-year breakout: 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.2 3s, finishing 18th in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings while almost single-handedly disproving the notion that you can’t trust a guy with two first names. Still just 22 years old (he turns 23 in May), George has the look of a first-round pick in fantasy leagues next year (and I’ll list my top-10 for next season before we're done).
Deadline Bonanza Award – to Tobias Harris.
Speech: I won’t go on a rant about how Milwaukee should have given Harris more of a chance, because I wasn’t really screaming for more Harris playing time when he was stuck on the bench (I was too busy screaming for more playing time for Ersan Ilyasova). However, it turns out that we all should have been yelling way louder, because after being dealt to Orlando, Harris posted 17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.0 3s, including a monster finish in April: 19.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.4 bpg and 0.8 3s in his last eight games. Bottom line: If you’re in any of my leagues next year, and you draft him before me, I will be angry. (I'm talking to you, Cousin Eli.)
The Spirit Award – to Stephen Curry.
Speech: Curry this season was a classic case of an aggressive draft mentality paying off. After playing in only 26 games last year (and posting just 14.7 ppg and 5.3 apg), he came into this season as a huge risk. But for owners who were willing to gamble on upside, the reward was robust: 22.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.6 spg and 3.5 3s in 78 games – and a No. 4 ranking on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul (three players who aren’t winning any awards in this column because they pretty much finish 1-2-3 every year). However, if you’re inclined to go aggressive on draft night next year, I wouldn’t argue with making Curry the third player off the draft board – ahead of Paul – despite yet another ankle injury that made Curry a question mark heading into Friday’s Game 3.
The Random, Unpredictable Short-Term Breakout Award – to Samuel Dalembert.
Speech: This should probably just be called The Samuel Dalembert Award, because it seems like every year he spends at least a little bit of time trying to trick owners into thinking he’s a reliable fantasy starter. This season, his noisiest moment was a random 35-point, 12-board jamboree on Feb. 5 (one game after he had scored zero points in six minutes). Dalembert did post a couple strong lines after that monster night, but predictably drifted back to irrelevance, hitting double figures in scoring just three times after mid-February. If you somehow had him in your lineup that night, it's okay if you're still talking about it.
The Joseph “Blue” Pulaski Award (old guy makes a big impact) – to Tim Duncan.
Speech: In real life Duncan’s speech would probably be about two sentences long, so in the spirit of that I’ll make this one brief. Bottom line: Despite a handful of poorly-timed DNP’s, he played in 69 games, and posted first-round value when he was out there (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 2.6 bpg). Even though he turned 37 on Thursday, I can easily envision him doing something similar next year.
Matt’s Mea Culpa Award – to Kawhi Leonard.
Speech: Back in January, I wrote out a detailed explanation of why I wasn’t really expecting a breakout from Leonard this year. And then he broke out. From Feb. 1 onward (29 games), the 21-year-old averaged 14.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg and 1.0 3s, numbers (along with good percentages and low turnovers) that made him the No. 15 player in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings during that stretch. In sum: Whoops.
A Few Rookies Ready for Big Things Next Year
Bradley Beal: We saw a major hint of his potential during a nine-game run in February/March (20.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg and 2.1 3s). And though I worry a little bit about the recurring ankle/leg injuries, it won’t deter me from drafting Beal next season.
Andre Drummond: Free throws are a major issue, but if you’re able or willing to overlook those, there’s monstrous upside here. Drummond returned from his back injury to post 11.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.2 spg and 1.1 bpg in his last 10 games. Like Beal, he turns 20 this summer.
Jonas Valanciunas: Over the final month of the season (14 games), Valanciunas averaged 15.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 1.9 bpg, shooting 63.4 percent from the field and 85.4 percent from the line. For more on Valanciunas – and other players with breakout potential – check out Adam Levitan’s write-up right here.
If I Drafted for Next Year Today – My Top-10
1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Stephen Curry
4. Chris Paul
5. James Harden
6. Russell Westbrook
7. Kevin Love
8. Kyrie Irving
9. Paul George
10. Carmelo Anthony
And, that officially does it. I’ll try to check in with an offseason Stew or three before next season arrives. In the meantime, I’ll be taking part in the futile endeavor of rooting for the Hawks. When they inevitably lose, I'll move on to:
A) Rooting for the Warriors (that series with the Nuggets is by far my favorite of the first round);
B) Hoping for a Thunder-Heat Finals rematch (somehow won by the Thunder); (Update: Russell Westbrook knee surgery. Ouch)
C) Regretting the fact that I drafted Al Horford so early while attempting to stomp Dr. A and the rest of the Rotoworld crew in this fantasy hoops playoff league.
Thanks for reading this year. See you around here sometime this summer.